The term climate is used in schools, particularly in the USA, where it refers to 'the quality and character of school life'.... School climate reflects the patterns of students', parents' and school personnel's experience of school life and the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures - its an experiential phenomenon (1). This meaning focuses on a particular school environment and I wanted also to consider the climate within which educational institutions exist so I went back to the idea of 'climate' as a phenomenon involving the overall pattern of temperature and precipitation experienced in a particular regions of our planet. These zones are affected primarily by latitude, altitude, wind movements, distance from the sea and major sea currents. From year to year the climatic zones appear stable but on the scale of decades, centuries and millennia we can observe shifts in response to fundamental changes in such things as rises in greenhouse gases and global changes in ocean currents as polar ice melts. If we look at the geological time scale we see climate changes affected by movement of the landmasses through plate tectonics.
They are clearly complex in their origin, influenced by many factors that change over time and clearly influence the societies which inhabit their regions. Humans adapt to live their everyday life in different climatic zones and as change is slow, in general, they are able to cope with the effects of change. Within climate zones we have weather and weather can sometimes be extreme. Weather determines our daily responses to living within a particular climate and often demands an immediate response in our behaviours - for example to avoid getting soaked, frozen or over heated.
Both climate and weather provide us with a complex set of atmospheric conditions that are subject to change and both can be used as metaphors for viewing the conditions for, and responses to, change within a higher education system. The educational climate relates to the fundamental pattern of beliefs and ideas within a society many of which transgress different societies who share the same values about the aims and purposes of higher education, conceptions of learning and the way learning can be encouraged and supported and the ways in which institutions are configured to support higher education. The educational climate is sustained by the global patterns of thinking and behaviour of the people who teach, develop, administer and govern higher education. Changes in this pattern of thinking and behaviour happen relatively slowly through the sharing and discussion of new ideas as they emerge and are distributed through books, social media, conferences and slowly translated into new beliefs and social practices of the people who teach, develop, administer and govern higher education.
Within this constellation of climatic beliefs and ideas we have the equivalent of weather. In England these are such things as new government policies like the introduction or raising tuition fees in England, or additional funding for certain types of activity - like widening participation, or new forms of regulation like the Quality Framework developed by QAA at the start of 21st century, the National Student Satisfaction Survey, or the introduction of new institutional policies, frameworks strategies and imperatives. Like the weather we experience on a daily basis, such things require us to respond quickly and collectively they combine to produce a climate within which people develop their sense of belonging and attitudes to change. Most individuals respond to the drivers of change only when they have to, but some individuals who develop and lead new practices, strategies and technological developments (innovators, developers and managerial leaders) generate their own 'weather' when they come up with new ideas and invent new social and/or technological practices and these can impact on the wider institutional environment.
Which brings us back to the idea that organisations create their own climates and micro-climates reflecting the culture, the way people feel about their environment and the way people think and behave within that organisation. Organizational climate generally refers to the degree to which an organization focuses on and emphasizes such things as: concern for employee well-being and their learning and development, encouragement, involvement and empowerment of people working in the organisation, and appreciation and recognition for their efforts and achievements, and support for individuals' creativity and innovation. I've been fortunate in my career to feel that the environments I have worked in have enabled me to feel I could try to do things that required my creativity without fear of being pilloried if I failed. But I also recognise that this feeling is a very personal thing as I worked alongside colleagues who experienced the same organisational environment in a different way because, for example, they had a more difficult relationship with their manager (who could have been the same manager as I had). So 'climate' is both a general set of circumstances that shape our attitudes and beliefs and a particular set of experienced circumstances and relationships that affect us as individuals and enable or inhibit our thinking and actions. This way of thinking brought home to me the importance of the climate that envelops us in our ecologies for learning, developing and achieving (2) in which we use our creativity, and how a positive and optimistic orientation to the climate in which we work, stimulates or inhibits our creativity to produce very different results and performances. I wonder what other people think of this and I welcome the sharing of personal experiences that illuminate these relationships interdependences.
Factors and conditions that support, encourage and enable strategic change through bottom-up innovation (Baker, Jackson and Longmore 2014)
Leadership, management & facilitation of strategic change & bottom up innovation
1 Leadership is shared and distributed throughout the organisation
2 A strategic vision that inspires people to create their own visions for change that they will embody
3 A strategy for both planned and emergent change
4 A strategy that involves the whole socio-cultural environment
5 Involvement of brokers to facilitate change across and between organisational structures, hierarchies and boundaries
6 An effective but flexible approach to managing and accounting for resources
Environmental /cultural factors that support, encourage and enable strategic change and bottom-up innovation
An environment/culture that :
- promotes effective, honest and meaningful communication
- recognises and supports resolution of local contentious practice and facilitates rather than inhibits progress
- encourages/facilitates new relationships and collaborations to foster change
- provides emotional support and celebrates what has been achieved
- values learning and encourages and enables people to share what has been learnt so that it can be used and adapted to other contexts
- encourages people to take risks to put themselves into unfamiliar situations where they need to harness their creativity to realise their ideas and actualise themselves
These factors go a long way to showing what is important in creating an institutional climate within which people feel encouraged, trusted and empowered to contribute to the strategic change process through their own efforts and inventions. Innovators in higher education institutions are driven by their own visions of a better world and self-belief that they can make their world better and by a deep sense of moral purpose and concern for their students' learning and achievements. They are able to sustain these beliefs through thick and thin. They don't just have ideas they enact and embody their ideas and gain feedback from their actions that continue to reinforce their self-belief or enable them to adjust themselves towards better performances and solutions. But they benefit from being located in an environment in which they feel trusted and supported. The relationships innovators have with their environment (including it's climate) is profound. In the words of Carl Rogers (3) creativity is 'the emergence in action of a novel relational product growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of his life'
There is a strong overlap with the extensive organisational research conducted by Amabile and Kramer (4) on the socio-cultural work environment who identified four categories of nourishers that have a significant impact on the way people feel about their work environment and on their creativity and productivity in their work namely:
1 Respect - managerial actions determine whether people feel respected or disrespected and recognition is the most important of these actions.
2 Encouragement - for example when managers or colleagues are enthusiastic about an individual's work and when managers express confidence in the capabilities of people doing the work increases their sense of self-efficacy. Simply by sharing a belief that someone can do something challenging and trusting them to get on with greatly increases the self-belief of the people who are engaging with the challenge.
3 Emotional support - People feel more connected to others at work when their emotions are validated. This goes for events at work, like frustrations when things are not going smoothly and little progress is being made, and for significant events in someone's personal life. Recognition of emotion and empathy can do much to alleviate negative and amplify positive feelings with beneficial results for all concerned.
4 Affiliation - people want to feel connected to their colleagues so actions that develop bonds of mutual trust, appreciation and affection are essential in nourishing the spirit of participation. One of the challenges for innovators is that they often feel alone because they are moving into new territory by themselves - where there is no-one they can affiliate with! By connecting innovators to each other and to an overall strategy organisations can help build new affiliations amongst innovators.
Climate is very much part of the institutional ecosystem and any institutional ecosystem that wants to involve people in innovation needs to be mindful of whether its own climate promotes or inhibits change or simply sustains what already exists.
So how do I fit into this complex pattern of educational climate change and weather? In my last role within an institution I think I was trying to bring about a change in the institutional climate and through this have a wider impact on the climate of UK higher education. I'm no longer working in an institutional environment so I try to feed my ideas into conversations and discussions that help nurture the climate for change across higher education. This way of thinking connects to the topic of my talk at DIT namely learning ecologies and institutional ecosystems as higher education institutions are connected and subject to influences and forces analogous to climate and weather.
What do you think are the important global and local factors influencing the climate for change in your institution?
ADDENDUM - after writing this post I came across a very good example of how a change in Government policy - proposed introduction of Teaching Excellence Framework in England can have an impact on the climate for change in Scottish higher education. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/blog/tef-view-scotland-professor-frank-coton-university-glasgow
2) Jackson, N.J. (2016) Exploring Learning Ecologies, Available from Lulu https://www.lulu.com/
3) Baker, P., Jackson, N.J. and Longmore, J. (2014) Tackling the Wicked Challenge of Strategic Change: The story of how a university changed itself Authorhouse.
4) Rogers, C.R., (1961) On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
5) Amabile, T. M. and Kramer, S. J. (2012) The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
climatic zones http://www.geography.learnontheinternet.co.uk/topics/climatezones.html
organisational climates - my own