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Checking the Climate in Your School

Vic Goddard often says that school leaders “make the weather”.  You certainly have a massive impact; your sunny disposition or stormy nature can set the tone for the rest of the school.  Over time, for better or worse, the weather dictates the climate within the organisation.

Working with a group of middle leaders, from schools across the Fylde Coast, I introduced them to Hay Group’s work on climate.  (Following some intense work with Hay Group a decade or so ago they gave me permission to use their work.)  Rather than presenting the information I introduce leaders to it with a simple card sort.



Take the eighteen statements and put them in one of two piles; agree and disagree.  I always suggest that people don’t over think their response; what’s your gut feel?  This whole exercise comes with a bit of a health warning; there isn’t a reliability measure.  However, it can identify some interesting lines of inquiry.  Any conclusions drawn need to take into account your own/others perceptions; be tentative with what you infer.

The talking points come when you pull the “agrees” together.  People bring up all the statements they agree with and we sort them with similar statements put together, on a table.  The sorting is always done in a set order; clarity (C) first followed by standards (S), then rewards (Rew) and responsibility (Res) and finally flexibility (F) and team commitment (TC).  Each of the climate elements has three statements associated with it

Pulling the data together into a graphical form you can start to look for patterns.  The data above is from thirteen staff who worked in five or six different schools.  The exercise feels safe as your individual decisions about agree/disagree are now lost and aggregated in the group’s response.

First up we discussed the lack of clarity people had about the school’s vision.  It helps when everyone knows which way west is; not only what you are doing as an individual but how this contributes to the greater organisational goal.

The next section on standards brought us to a grinding halt.  Only four of the attendees – less than a third – agreed that in their schools “mediocrity is not tolerated”.  That’s not great; we have to aspire to more.  Correctly or incorrectly, I tend to read this as people saying poor standards and poor outcomes for children and young people are going unchallenged.  You’d address this issue before looking at other aspects of climate.

We talked through the difficulties we had with rewards as a profession; individually wanting recognition but instinctively veering away from payment by results.  Discussions about the challenges of getting new ideas accepted and actioned due to a lack of process or a strong vision that guides but at times can also limit innovation.

The one that always surprises people at first is the lack of team commitment; whether everyone is working towards a common objective.  We are a profession who believe or want to believe we are all committed to the cause but secretly doubt whether everybody is.

The session ends with a discussion about different styles of leadership and how these may lead to desired changes in the school’s climate.  In the end leadership is a set of behaviours; a sunny smile is a good start.  A stressed out leader on a rant is not.

Keep an eye on the weather; climate change is real and can be deliberately brought about as we work with people to benefit our children and young people.



4 thoughts on “Checking the Climate in Your School

  1. I believe the hardest task to develop in changing or maintaining climate is the teacher buy in. All teachers have to believe in the mission, vision and leader. The leader will have to rally the teachers together and include their input into the process. As long as it is result-oriented and discussed at every opportunity, one can quickly develop a cohesive team and the intended environment.

    Posted by Stephanie Nixon | April 7, 2017, 10:33 pm


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