Leadership Conscious Focus: Collaboration, Creativity & Culture | Barkley

Leadership’s Conscious Focus: Collaboration, Creativity and Culture

Cathy Merrill, a chief executive of Washingtonian Media, provided an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled, As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.

She shares a concern regarding many employees, who have been successful working remotely, desiring to stay in a virtual role. She points out that when we went virtual, most organizations started at a place where employees knew one another, which made remote work considerably easier and more productive. They could rely on office cultures — established practices, unspoken rules, and shared values, established over years in large part by people interacting in person. She suggests that re-creating a workplace where a good culture of trust exists will be harder to build virtually.

“While remote working is certainly industry- and job-dependent and the future employment scene will probably be some type of hybrid, the CEOs I have spoken with fear erosion of collaboration, creativity, and culture.”

I believe that these items, that Merrill felt were important for an organization’s success, present areas for which school leaders should plan for consciously. How do you build time, space, and opportunities for these to occur in your school?

I am continuing to think about the importance of the “opening” of schools, be it a summer program or the next school year. This is an opportunity for a reset. How much do we want the opening to be reflective of the past school days and to what degree do we want to create a new understanding of teaching and learning? I think Merrill’s concern for collaboration, creativity, and culture provides a good conscious focus for school and classroom leaders.

culture - word abstract in letterpress wood type printing blocksCulture

I recently listened to a head of school describe that he realized the leadership team was jumping into planning for the start of next year working with forms and structures from previous years. He decided they needed to stop and consider differences that might be desired now. In a post from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Leah Shafer shares a set of questions around culture for school leaders to explore. Did the pandemic shine a light on any important, missing elements in your culture? Consider exploring these questions prior to planning for the start-up:

  • What fundamental beliefs do we want community members to hold about the work they do?
  • What do we want community members to value as being right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust about the work they do
  • What expectation should everyone have about the appropriate or desirable way of operating; what agreed-upon rules should guide behavior?
  • What actions and attitudes do you expect to consistently observe?
  • What will be the tangible evidence of beliefs, assumptions, values, norms, and behaviors?


The ability to imagine new ways of solving problems, approaching challenges, making connections or creating products. Creativity is not based on a formula, but on thinking that relates to discovery and inquiry.

In what ways did the demand of virtual and hybrid teaching tap the creativity of your staff? How will you encourage continuous creativity from educators to impact student learning?

A Gallup report Creativity and Learning reported these findings:

  • Creativity in learning produces positive critical outcomes for students, which are further enhanced when teachers leverage the full potential of technology.
  • Although technology access is widespread, its use is often limited to activities that are less creative and fail to harness its full potential.
  • A supportive and collaborative culture, training, and autonomy to try new things are key factors that help teachers bring more creativity to learning.

Teachers who feel that school leaders and parents support their efforts and report school leaders giving them autonomy to try new things are more likely to emphasize creativity in learning. Training and collaboration with peers were shown to increase teachers’ creative use of technology.

Ideas Definition Magnifier Shows Creative Thoughts Invention And Improvement


In a blog exploring teacher collaboration, Lauren Davis identified these strategies to support effective collaboration with PLCs:

  • Develop and agree upon a shared vision and goals.
  • Foster a sense of community. (Relationships)
  • Establish group norms and expectations.
  • Leverage discussion to work through conflicts.

I appreciated the sequence of Davis’ strategies. I have been using the phrase “goals before norms”. When there is a commitment to important goals with people you know, norms and expectations naturally emerge to increase the team’s success.

Merrill’s focus on culture, creativity, and collaboration provides a great agenda for a school leadership team’s summer retreat as you plan for greeting staff and students this Fall.

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