Changing where Learning Lives

A quote that caught my attention on Twitter the other day is “So much school reform, and so few results.” What are our hunches why?

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Granted, there are a lot of moving parts to change leadership. Change is a layered, complex set of needs, thinking, action, assessment feedback, and iterations.

As we reflect on the shifts in the ways we think and work in schools, we might notice that there is a relationship between the complexity of the facets of changing schools and the ways educators need to respond. Our responses need to be framed within the complexity of the problems we face as we work toward coherent, aligned systems in which people –whether they are students, teachers, administrators, parents and the communities in which schools are situated—respond to the shifts we aim to enact.

At the Thinking Collaborative conference at Hong Kong Academy last month, a takeaway that resonates with me is that in the complex work of change management, there is a constant guiding principle of education that educators and school systems seem to seek: to be self-directed. To convey individuals and groups into becoming self-managing, self-monitoring, and self-modifying people.

If we aim to develop self-directed learners, how might the following support that aim:

  • If students are always told by adults what they have learned, how they have learned, and why they have learned and do not become invested in these facets of learning themselves through self-management, self-monitoring and self-modification, how will students learn how to be self-directed?
  • If teachers are always evaluated by someone else, in a process in which assessment of practice is something done to them instead of something they manage, monitor and modify, how will these teachers become self-directed?
  • If teachers and students both are assessed through mainly external processes on their learning and practice, how will they develop growth mindsets?
  • How might change leadership in schools allow for a change in the narratives of these schools, if the systems and processes in place do not allow for self-management, self-monitoring and self-modification?

Bob Garmston’s session on Adaptive Leadership mentioned the four facets of adaptive leaders: character, courage, compassion and capacity. Of these, we reflect on what might become an inception of systemic change so that schools can enact a culture of self-directedness. Courage stands out as a prime need.

Courage in change leadership might include some of these considerations:

  • How might we lead students to become self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying individuals through a stubborn and explicit embedding of approaches to learning skills in our programs?
  • How might we allow teachers to become self-directed learners through a practice driven self-assessment process in which teachers plan, monitor, and assess their own growth instead of relying on external evaluation?
  • How might we launch a culture of growth through structures and processes, which honor individual learning diversity, and how might this diversity in our communities fuel our own inclusive approaches to learning?
  • How can we align our school missions, in which “life-long learning,” “reflective,” “independent inquirers,” and other attributes populate our words, so that these words become the actions that populate our day to day results?

Alan Bowring [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Alan Bowring [CC via Wikimedia Commons]
It seems that when we change pedagogy or process, whether it is the approach to learning or the approach to teacher growth and other learning processes in schools, we change where authority or ownership lives.

By changing to more student-driven pedagogy, we transfer ownership of learning from teachers to the students.

By honoring teachers as developing learners themselves through a self-directed, self-monitored and self-modified process of assessment of practice, we transfer ownership of the art of facilitating learning into teachers’ hands.

By building an environment that values inquiry and intellectual risk-taking rather than just ‘the right answer,’ we transfer the improvement of a school into the hands of those who learn, and we bring to the forefront of our day to day actions the value of learning, which is a process enriched by mistakes and iterations.

Results are mere by-products of purposeful engagement and cyclical learning. In well-supported cycles of learning, we get better at what we know, understand and do. As we master the approaches to learning that we meet as cycles of learning increase knowledge, deepen understanding and strengthen skills, we gain the confidence to approach complexity –those open-ended, non-linear, dynamic problems that are usually unfamiliar.

By changing the conditions of places where learning lives for young and adult learners in our communities, we become self-directed organizations. And in these brave spaces, learning lives.





Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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