Schools as Learning Organizations LO14233
Tue, 8 Jul 1997 16:14:54 -0400 (EDT)

Please find below an outline of the change strategy we have been using to
transfrom our school into a learning organization.


The aim of the change strategy is to move our school towards becoming a
Learning Organization. The hope is to create a collaborative culture at
the school where people have the confidence and ability to take an active
part in the learning process; where that process is one of productive
change. That culture should recognise that quality of life for both staff
and students is of equal importance and that the key to productive change
is commitment to the school derived from a set of common goals and values.
The principle characteristic of this change process will be the notion of
organic, systemic and sustainable change guided by the notion of personal
and collective reflection. Finally, in addition to satisfying the
internal demands within the school, the change process must satisfy the
external demands of society and attempt to establish a wide range of
partnerships in advancing and reflecting upon the change process.


The change process will be built upon the five disciplines identified by
Senge (1990) as being the components of any learning organization. These
are being applied as follows: (please note these are very broad brush
descriptions of the change strategy)

Systems Thinking: The key element within systems thinking is to keep
reflecting upon and articulating the interconnections which exist between
each element/ issue/ experience/ subject/ happening which occurs in the
school. By adopting a broad front it is possible to advance slowly
towards the eventual goal (think big, act small). This has the advantage
over the single initiative development which if obstructed for some reason
all progress comes to a standstill, whereas in the broad front approach
the obstruction will eventually clear or even be freed by developments
elsewhere in the school. Systems Thinking is a key discipline in
understanding the culture of the school and in allowing tacit
understandings to become explicit (the first step to cultural change).

Personal Mastery: By recognising that we are all learners (including
management) it is possible to appreciate that we are in control of our
own future much more than we think. The challenge is to initiate
double-loop learning where tacit knowledge is reflected upon, with a view
to initiating change. By recognising that we all have a fundamental need
to self-actualise the school can develop opportunities for individuals to
contribute to their own professional progress. A key to personal mastery
is the identification of potential barriers which might prevent mastery
from taking place. This recognises that it is frequently our inability to
identify the problem which prevents progress rather than our inability to
come with a solution. It is also of great importance that opportunities
for personal reflection and the learning of new skills and knowledge are
made available.

Mental Models; The culture of a school can be represented by the values,
beliefs and structures and procedures which represent "this is the way we
do things here". The culture of any school is often dominated by unspoken
perceptions which guide the way in which people behave; of which people
are frequently unaware or unable to properly articulate. These mental
models are conservative and reactionary and present an inertia which must
be overcome for real change to take place. The difference between
espoused-theories and theories-in-use (see attached) must be exposed and
debated for the status quo to be properly challenged.

Building Shared Vision: This demands that there is an opportunity for
bottom-up and top-down initiatives which allow a shared sense of purpose
to be developed. A key feature of shared vision are the means made
available to facilitate communication and the openness of those involved
in the change process. Once again barriers to promoting a shared vision
must be identified before change strategies can be implemented, for
example, departmental fragmentation.. A common and perhaps over-used
phrase can sum up shared vision "ownership" yet that ownership must be
real and be seen to be a firm and sustainable commitment.

Team Learning: This sees all those within the school environment as a
community of learners. Team learning obviously depends to a great extent
upon the some of the other disciplines being developed for unless people
can begin to reflect upon their own weaknesses and strengths there is
little likelihood that productive team learning will take place.
Nevertheless, it is a key discipline within the development of any
learning organization as it recognises that the collective potential of a
group is always superior to the potential of an individual. Team Learning
will involve such groups as: departments, faculties, management team, ad
hoc development groups, links with external bodies, links with pupils.


The key feature of the leadership role in a learning organization is that
which the leader is not. That is that the leader is not a heroic figure
leading by sheer force of personality. The leader's role is more akin to
a designer who is designing the learning process for the organization.
The leaders should constantly be reinforcing the collaborative aspect of
change and encouraging others to become involved in the change process.
It is more about advancing commitment than control. The leaders should be
attempting to reinforce systems thinking wherever possible so that
everyone can begin to see how their role contributes to the overall
function of the school and how previously disparate elements of the school
can be seen to be related. The leaders should listen and build
relationships with all those involved in the school and in turn encourage
the notion of the reflective practitioner. A key feature of the leaders'
behaviour will be the notion of MBWA (managing by wandering around) and
the modelling of the type of behaviour which should be reflected
throughout the school.

NB. If anyone would like to receive a critique of the management culture
which existed in the school prior to the change strategy being implemented
I would be pleased to send them a copy downline.


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