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Learning Organizations

Peter Senge, in a 1995 interview, suggested schools and school systems are not learning organizations. He went as far to call them oppressive places with little learning happening. More recently, he indicated most organizations do not encourage personal mastery, vital to learning organizations. Personal mastery is not to be confused with learning for the sake of learning. It is the underlying passion and spirit of learning we undertake as learners. It ignites a fire in the belly of the learner.

Issues such as centrally dictated, fixed curricula, enforced professional development, hierarchical leadership , the roles people and community play in the 21st Century educational enterprises, and relationships within the systems we call ‘school systems’ must be reexamined. Yes, there is an urgency; however not at the price that bureaucratic efficiencies exact. Effective dialogue needs to consider the urgency of time and the quality of what emerges from the time spent in dialogue. To achieve this, I believe we need a new, flatter, leaner organization to emerge in public education doing away with arcane bureaucracies and technocracies currently existing and stifling the learning of all learners thus limiting what can be accomplished collaboratively. I am not suggesting a cookie cutter process. This journey requires courage, effort, and a shaking up of the status quo.

Learning organizations are places where

people expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire [shared vision], where new and expansive patterns of thinking [mental models] are nurtured, where the collective is set free [personal mastery], and where people are continually learning how to learn together [team learning] (Senge, 2006, p. 3).

Is it possible to not merely change the 21st Century schoolhouse, but transform it?  Have we created new mental models, developed a passion through personal mastery, developed a shared vision, and engaged in team learning?

O’Neil J. (1995).  On schools as learning organizations: A conversation with Peter Senge.  Educational Leadership 52 (7).  20 – 23. Retrieved July 27, 2010 from Academic Search Complete database. (AN 9505023473).

Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization.  New York: Doubleday.

About ivonprefontaine

I have been an educator for almost 20 years. Prior to that, I worked in private industry for 15 years, then returned to university to earn my education degree. For the past 11 years, I have been a co-creator of learning in a unique, progressive, alternative educational school of choice. Currently, I am engaged in a doctoral program at Gonzaga University in Spokane. A main theme in my learning there has been the roles of systems thinking, complexity theory, and organizational theory, and how they apply to education generally and the learning environment I share with students, parents, and colleagues.

6 responses »

  1. I do like the definition of learning places.
    The Swiss model of education seems based on training for employment with less university objective. I would be interested in your perspectives.
    Our High School was honored to have H R McMillan as a guest speaker at Grad. 1961 His message then was more to the system than to the students. To paraphrase, Teach the basics, yes, but more important, teach students to think, give a yearning to discover, encourage them to co-operate.
    I have the impression that even though knowledge is increasing at an ever increasing pace, education still has it’s sacred cows which diametrically oppose progress.

    Reply
    • I am not familiar with McMillan’s work, but used Peter Senge’s writing on systems as part of the underpinning for my doctoral candidacy paper. We will always need a variety of different people to fill a variety of different jobs. Some will need university education and others will not. We need a system that, as you so aptly paraphrased, teaches us to learn. to think, to discover, and co-operate. Parker Palmer, one of my great influences, said, and I paraphrase, we enter into relationship with each other and the subjects we learn. That requires curiosity, a desire to explore and learn, and be in relationship with other people.

      Reply
  2. MacMillan was an industry magnate in forestry. The reason I mentioned the Swiss model is that Canada seems to have an abundance of educated people in jobs below their education level yet, a lot of jobs going begging for applicants especially here in Alberta.
    If reports are correct, Canadian universities (for example) educate far more teachers than are presently hired by the provinces. If the ratios of students to placement is at a discrepancy, then a lot of wasted university education dollars and time is wasted and a lot of students are acquiring debt needlessly. That cannot be beneficial to any part of the system or our country.
    Is there a way, or a better way, to channel students toward an appropriate career? Would that be limiting their freedom of choice?

    Reply
    • Actually, I would agree with you on many counts. Let me clarify your point about too many teachers. Increasingly, education is seen as a degree or a means to an end. My wife works in private industry and many teachers, some of who never entered the classroom as teachers, work successfully as executives with her. About 50% of young teachers leave within 7 years of entering the profession. They find they make a better living and with more support outside of education.

      Your point about channeling students would not limit freedom of choice. Former students have told me they did not want to go to university. One of our sons has a journeyman’s ticket and another will receive his this summer. They make good livings, contribute to society, and are intelligent people. This is what they want to do and I think we need to help our children find their path. We cannot make it for them, but we can offer guidance. That might include wise choices placed in front of them. Is this what you want or is this what you want? Discernment is an element that is not included in many children’s education.

      Having said all this, the education system is broken and needs healing. Peter Senge who I mentioned earlier in our conversation mentioned in 1995: “Education is oppressive.” That has not changed for the better in almost 20 years. We need to change the conversation which is central to what you are saying and asking.

      Reply
      • So in reality it all comes down to politics. So who is listening? The younger generation needs to be inspired to get involved in political issues and VOTE. Are teachers handcuffed by what or how they present current affairs to their students?

      • I am not handcuffed, but I am seen as always on the boundaries of what I do. I think others do and are reluctant to speak too radically.

        To some extent, it comes down to politics. The questions are: “What am I willing to do? What am I willing to risk?” I always help students realize that taking a stand is good, but not to expect immediate change. They respond well to that.

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