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Monthly Archives: February 2011

Mental Models

“Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action” (Senge, 2006, p. 8).

Mental models are not something new. This article was written in 1999.

What pictures do we have of a school, a teacher, or an educational expert? We can begin by asking what purpose school serves in the 21st Century. Are the purposes of the 21st Century at cross purposes with the school model which, in its current incarnation, is only about 50 years old?

If schools educate using a 19th Century model, what does that say about recent ‘reforms’ undertaken in education?

Consider the following example of a mental model. What is a library? In the 21st Century, do the box stores with their coffee shops and chairs qualify?

Why do we have schools? What purposes do they serve in the 21st Century? Does the existing model meet contemporary needs?

We need to reflect upon and converse about the mental models we hold of students, educators, parents, school as a place, leadership, knowledge, technology, and expertise.


Underlying Disciplines of a Learning Organization

In upcoming postings, I hope to offer examples of each discipline of a learning organization.

Which discipline comes first? Is there a correct order? I start with mental models which I present in another posting. There is a need to accept innovation, in the 21st Century, as more than just preserving self-interest fostered in and by the educational oligarchy.

Alison Zmuda (2010) in Breaking Free from Myths about Teaching and Learning: Innovation as an Engine for Student Success suggested “change your thinking; change your experience….make the status quo no longer a comfortable place to reside” (p. 29). Reframe educational structure, purpose, and roles. Innovation is not for the faint of heart or covering blemishes with another layer of scientific management, bureaucracy, and/or technocracy. That thinking created the problems we face. Consider what Einstein said:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.



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.

Progressive Education — A New Way to Learn

When I presented at the Teacher’s Convention on Friday February 11, I was asked by several participants about where I taught. As well, several people indicated in their feedback they wanted to know more about my school. I am always pleased to share about  the best teaching assignment one could ask for.

For the past 11 years, I have had the good fortune to co-create learning with a wonderful group of students, families, and colleagues. I teach in an alternative, progressive Grades 1 – 9 environment where shared responsibility for each others’ learning and continuous learning are cornerstones. Parents, students, and educators share and contribute to an ongoing vision and, as a result, have created a unique school model.

We have three multi-grade classrooms with students attending on a part-time basis, with some of the learning being delivered through a home school component. Elementary students attend every Tuesday and Thursday and receive instruction in Social Studies, Science, Music, Health, Art, and Phys Ed. While at home, their parents deliver instruction in Math and English Language Arts, and complement the Music, Health, Art and Phys Ed.  Junior High students attend the same days as the younger students plus every other Monday. While at school, they receive instruction in Social Studies, Science, English Language Arts, and a variety of complementary courses. Math is taught at home.

Parents are active participants in both the home and school components, and provide in-class assistance about once per month, receive teachers for visits and, with teacher guidance, select resources. While in the classroom, the parents are asked to contribute in  meaningful ways to the learning of their children. They participate in direct instruction, help with planning and delivery of complementary courses, and provide wonderful insight into the lives and learning of their children.

This educational enterprise serves as an example of a learning organization (Senge, 2006) where all participants share a common vision instilled by a passion for the learning of children and adults in a unique school model where everyone learns and grows together.

Teacher as Transformer

On Friday February 11, 2011, I will be presenting at the North Central Teacher’s Convention. The topic will be Teacher as Transformer. I believe we, as educators have a great, untapped ability to make profound and lasting change in our classrooms. We will have to create touchstones to help us reflect on our practice as we learn with students, parents, community members, and our colleagues. We can no longer go it alone. “The Village” will have to raise each child together. We have the tools and strategies available in the form of Learning Organizations and Communities of Practice. The question is whether we are able, in our practice, to recognize the tools and become the builders of community needed in public education of the 21st Century.

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