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Culture of Compliance or Culture of Learning

Learning: “We define learning as the transformative process of taking in information that—when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced—changes what we know and builds on what we do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us.”
–From The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

This is the definition that resonates most with me. I feel that my job as a school leader is to create meaningful change in students, staff, colleagues and our organization. The part that resonates with me the most is “It is based on input, process and reflection” For us to grow as a learning organization I believe that it is crucial to have input from all stakeholders, a process for providing feedback and time to reflect and discuss. This takes a great deal of time and also requires structures to allow for this process. I know as a leader I do my best work and am most effective when I have time to reflect and to get input and feedback from my colleagues. I need to ruminate to consolidate.

Compliance: 1. the act of conforming, acquiescing, or yielding
2. a tendency to yield readily to others, especially in a weak and subservient way 3. conformity; accordance.

There are times when compliance is required in schools: standardized testing, health and safety, employment law and government regulations. These are not situations in which input, process, and reflection are provided or encouraged. Most decisions that are compliance based are made at levels way beyond the school. They are outside our locus of control.

I have read several things this week that have made me reflect on these concepts, a blog post shared by @georgecouros called Questions of Compliance or Empowerment and an recent article in the Harvard Business Journal How the Best School Leaders create Enduring Change” by Alex Hill, Liz Mellon and Ben Laker. How do these concepts apply to me as a leader? What kind of a culture do I want to foster in my school? How do I create the conditions for a learning culture? How can we better work as a team to insure that we are fostering a culture of learning and not a culture of compliance? How do we focus on the items within our locus of control so we do not feel frustrated or angry with those that are not?

In the HBR article they break it down into several building blocks. The building blocks that I felt most applied at this time and in my context where:

Challenge the board: Change takes time but boards want results immediately usually in the form of test scores. Research shows that most sustainable change takes 3 years. Focusing on attendance, parent engagement and staff absenteeism are 3 factors that directly affect improvement. The focus has to move from actual test scores to discussion about the progression of students.

I started thinking about data. What data or evidence outside of test scores show student improvement? What can we measure for individual students that shows growth in their learning? How can we analyze that data to tease out areas of strength and areas of challenges? What interventions can we put into place to support those students development?

This must be focused and intentional.

Engage parents: How can we involve parents in a way that creates a partnership that focuses on understanding and improving student learning? Many parents are unaware of best practices in schools. They look at things from their own experiences. They think that more homework and more memorization are the key to success. Rote learning as opposed to critical thinking. We need to provide parents with opportunities to experience and understand what their child is doing in the classroom and how it will make them more productive and successful in today’s world.

There is a place for some fun and informational events as well but we need to clearly identify the purpose and focus of these events so parents can see our role as schools as learning cultures and community builders. We want to set the direction and path for out school based on solid research about what we know and believe is best for our students. Parents must be a part of this journey but we need them to understand why we have chosen the course and how we will get there.

The last building block that I feel applies is: Teach better: 100% capable staff: We must hire, mentor and develop the best teachers. Our goal is to provide opportunities for teachers to grow and learn with our organization. This takes support from knowledgeable others like coaches, PYP coordinators and the admin team as well as opportunity. Collaboration is key for teachers to open their doors and minds to new ideas, teaching methodologies and assessment strategies. It is the right balance between pressure and support.

One of their other cautions or words of advice is what they called the “90/60” principle. They list 9 building blocks for success based on research. There is no way and organization can focus on all 9 blocks and succeed. They must focus on no more than 6 of 9. It is like what Steve Katz says in his work….organizations need to go an inch wide and a mile deep not a mile deep and an inch wide if they want to make meaningful and sustainable change.

My first step is to share this article with my admin team. I hope that it can be a starting place for discussion within our organization as we seek to intentionally improve our learning culture.

Where will you begin?

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