Does Your School Have a Culture of Compliance or a Culture of Creativity?

One of the most difficult challenges in education is our posture toward the possible, which is directly tied to the type of culture that has been created over time in our schools. Take a minute and think about the culture of your school or district.  What one word might you use to describe it? Now think about the culture you want to create within your school or district. What one word might you use to describe the culture you want? If there is a gap between the culture you currently have and the culture you hope to have, take comfort in knowing that  (1) you aren’t alone and (2) there are intentional things you can do as the leader to start shifting your culture in the direction you want. Anything that has been designed, can be redesigned including your school’s culture. And while we have likely inherited a culture, the way we lead can have a drastic impact on the culture moving forward and permeate every aspect of our school or district.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to assess the current state of the culture of your school with a quick culture audit.  Where does your school fall on the continuum between having a compliant culture or a creative culture?

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So how do you build a design inspired culture—an environment where the mindsets and practices of designers are shared and become the new normal?   Put most simply, culture is a way of thinking, behaving or working that exists in a place or organization. When we are trying to transform our schools, our culture can be a huge barrier to change.  I firmly believe that our imagination and posture towards possibility is bound by culture.

The culture of school is radically at odds with the culture of learning necessary for innovation.
— Tony Wagner, Harvard Professor

Like any work viewed through a design thinking lens, we begin with empathy.  Why? Empathy serves as a catalyst to transform your culture. The very definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” It might sound very soft but empathy allows individuals to bring their experiences, their world views, their very lives into the workplace and create ideas for a better world. That same empathy allows their teammates to hear them, to see them, and to help them craft that vision. Without empathy, innovation is merely an empty idea. We cannot see our way to the future without our ability to see each other. If you are feeling the need to dive deeper into empathy work as you work to transform your culture check out “Putting the Human in Human-Centered Design.”  

Keep in mind that changing a culture isn’t something that happens overnight and it isn’t something that happens alone.  Getting clear on the culture you have and the culture you want is a fantastic first step!