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Category Archives: Learning Organizations

Father Day’s

I subscribe to a daily meditation written by Father Richard Rohr. a Franciscan priest.I talk and write about the concept of common sense, which I understand as local and global. Father Rohr cast it from a theological perspective, I think the explanation provides an insight gained without reading Gadamer’s Truth and Method. I believe there is a universal truth or common sense (Vico called this sensus communis), something that makes us all brothers and sisters bringing us together in community. I think Father Rohr offers an explanation though his meditation on Father’s Day helping us to live in community each day. Certainly, Rilke does.

“It is this sense that founds community” (Gadamer, 1989, p. 19).

Gadamer, H-G. (1989). Truth and method. (J. Weinsheimer & D. G. Marshall, Trans.).  New York: Continuum.

Catch only what you’ve thrown yourself, all is

mere skill and little gain;

but when you’re suddenly the catcher of a ball

thrown by an eternal partner

with accurate and measured swing

towards you, to your center, in an arch

from the great bridgebuilding of God;

why catching then becomes a power–

not yours, a world’s.

–Rainier Maria Rilke

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Friday Morning’s Thought

I received this from someone yesterday and thought I would share it. Public education is in need of a make over. What does that mean? That is a hard question to answer without a new conversation and a pause to fully understand what our children need. Here is a starter. Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a source of this quote is George Takei the actor who played Sulu in Star Trek. I am not a Trekkie, but I like this quote. The points that stand out are the purpose of education, the interplay between power and morality, and the need for wisdom. I follow several on-line forums about leadership. Even there, the leadership experts frequently confuse knowledge, information, and wisdom often using those words loosely and interchangeably. Wisdom emerges from values named and held within community–sensus communis or common sense. What passes from generation to generation is its common sense, what it holds and names as values in a society. This takes a compassionate conversation which is rare.

Take care and enjoy those you come in contact with today.

Fragmentation

Fragmentation.

This is an interesting, albeit American-based view of the charter system and the overall fragmentation issue of public education. I am not an advocate of reform. That tends to tinker at the edges. I advocate transformation. This requires new conversations at the grassroots. What does public education mean to you, your family, and the community you live in?

Leadership Is a Conversation – Harvard Business Review

Leadership Is a Conversation – Harvard Business Review. Here is an excellent article form Harvard Business Review. Leading is about a conversation. Leaders need to recognize the importance of listening mindfully and attentively otherwise their role is one of management.

Are educators ready for this? Conversations are much harder work than using glib commentary.

Professional Learning Communities at Work by Dufour and Eaker

I read Professional Learning Communities by Richard Dufour and Robert Eaker several years ago and attended conferences about the concept. We implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLC) in our school with early, but unsustainable success.

Thesis: The authors proposed “the most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is developing the ability of school personnel to function as professional learning communities” (p. xi).  Professionally, educators need awareness of emerging research to fuel personal learning and support student learning. Communities form and they foster “mutual cooperation, emotional support, and personal growth as [people] work together to achieve what they cannot accomplish alone” (p. xii). Teachers safely move from isolation and risks are taken extending personal and collective learning when a PLC is effectively implemented, integrated, and supported in a school.

CharacteristicsThis is an annotated version, but successful and sustainable PLCs have six characteristics:

  • Shared mission or purpose, shared vision or what we hope to become, and shared values guiding the process. Shared mission advertises purpose outward. Shared vision energizes staff. Values are personal and community attitudes, behaviours, and commitments which are normalized over time.
  • Collective inquiry fuels the process. What do we want to change? What ways are things as they are challenged? There is collective conversation and personal reflection. The latter is the oxygen that breathes new life into the dialogue and provides fuel through new questions.
  • Collaborative teams provide renewal. Collaboration acknowledges the dysfunctional nature of communities. What do we do when there are dissenting voices and disagreement? What value will we name here?
  • Action and experimentation are always in evidence. “Even seemingly chaotic activity is preferred to orderly, passive inaction” (p. 27). Teachers experiment with emergent ideas making innovation essential in a PLC.
  • Everyone commits to continuous improvement. Questions emerge and are actively sought out, but there are touchstones principles such as “What is our fundamental purpose?”
  • With continuous improvement and action orientation there is an iterative process in the form of quantitative, qualitative, or mixed research. The object is to shake up the status quo and find new ways of safely supporting both staff and students. What are we doing that we want to change? (pp. 25-29)

Questions: Who has had success in implementing a PLC in their school or jurisdiction? What were the important takeaways including what worked and what did not work? What did you do to overcome the bumps along the way? What can a school starting or restarting the process do to sustain energy and get early work done successfully while recognizing the achievements even when they are small?

Recommendation: The book is about 300 pages, but is an easy read. The authors synthesized leadership literature inside education i.e. Lezotte, Sergiovanni, and Fullan and outside education i.e. Bennis, Senge, and Deal and Kennedy and saved some reading.

I recommend the book for those ready, willing, and patient enough for a transformative journey. The process requires time and immediate classroom benefits to sustain it. Cultural change is messy and requires leadership, perhaps previously untapped in education. Effective support and communication are required for sustainable, successful results to emerge. Early conversations focused on mission, vision, values and normative behaviours are uncomfortable, but necessary. My questions attempt to flesh out these concerns, as we are embarking on this journey again.

I know schools in Canada, the USA, and internationally have successfully implemented PLCs and I want to draw on the experience and wisdom already in place. I am looking for process and product, but not a cookie cutter formula per se. I look forward to hearing from many of you.

Dufour, R. and Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington IN: National Educational Services.

Responsibility

I wrote about requiring a new culture in education which can lead to a new structure. I created a link to an article in that post and part of the article was an interview with Pasi Sahlberg.

Sahlberg stated, “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish. … Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

I understand responsibility as internalized and roles or tasks are conscientiously attended to and accountability is external and forced into place leading to feelings oppressed or alienated. Responsibility is personal or professional competency gained through maturity in a role. Accountability is personal or professional incompetency and immaturity which can  potentially be a result of change or newness in a role. Responsibility emerges in an organization when there is trust and a belief people can grow into and learn their roles. People become responsible because they are supported and cared for while they learn. A collaborative, compassionate culture emerges and subsequently a new structure for relationships to exist emerges.

The Space Should Be Bounded and Open

I believe paradox is essential for educational transformation. Parker Palmer described paradox as a creative tension or “a way of holding opposites together that creates an electric charge that keeps us awake” in his book The Courage to Teach. He argued “the poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold them together, and they generate the energy of life, pull them apart, and the current stops flowing…and we become lifeless.” I elaborated on paradox in my posts Abundant Community and Paradox of Community. I propose paradox be used to revitalize the institution we call school and the conversations about this necessary enterprise.

Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach presented six paradoxes and identified ways in which they could serve us in the classroom through pedagogical design. I believe they serve educators and their communities as foundations for conversations and a long overdue transformation.

The first paradox is “the space should be bounded and open.” School cannot be a one size fits all approach, but it cannot be a chaotic, wide-open system. There are many ways to understand school from home schooling to traditional. In between, there is diversity. Is school a building? Could it be a virtual gathering? Could it be a combination? Rigid boundaries should be replaced by flexible boundaries. If they do, then we can ask, “What serves the child?” What serves the community?”

Over the next while, I will look at each paradox, and explore how they lead conversations towards transformation.

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