Sunday, October 21, 2012

You say to-may-toe, and I say to-mah-toe...

The song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” was a big hit in 1937 when the Gershwin brothers wrote it for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movie, “Shall We Dance”. But, for the purpose of my blogpost this week, it suits my topic. Read on and you will see.

There are two types of learning models for organizations, both having gained much publicity and attention in the last 20 years. Each model has a variety of strengths and weaknesses, and have been used successfully in different types of organizations. They are “professional learning organizations” and “professional learning communities”. The latter predominantly refers to school organizations, and is espoused by a number of people, such as Shirley Hord, Thomas Sergiovanni, the DuFours, and others. The former was developed for business organizations by well-known management specialist and MIT professor, Peter Senge in 1992. The purpose of this blog is to begin a series of articles on what these organizations mean for our present day efforts to promote accountability and increase student achievement.

The model of the learning organization is a well-known framework for redefining and revitalizing organizations. Peter Senge developed it under the assumption that organizations derive their ability to adapt, learn, and assimilate from new information and issues much like a biological organism adapts to its environment. The model is made up of five components, when shown here will articulate the kind renewing of process advocated for these organizations.

Components of the Learning Organization

  • Systems Thinking: a conceptual framework that allows organizational members to assess their organization and measure the performance output as a whole and its various components.
  • Personal Mastery: commitments made by organization members to continually learn and develop proficiency within the organization’s efforts.
  • Mental Models: assumptions held by individuals and organizations. To become a learning organization these models must by challenged. The catch phrase “but this is how we always did this” must be removed from the culture for more risk taking, and effective vision.
  • Shared Vision: a key to team effort and motivation for members to learn from each situation.
  • Team Learning: the accumulation of individual learning into teams that continue processing issues, changes, and challenges. It engages members in open and frank discussions about how to do things more efficiently and better.

In comparison to this model, here are the components of the Learning Community, a model developed concurrently to the learning organization literature through the 1990’s and beyond, and advocated by Shirley Hord.

Components of the Learning Community

  • Supportive and Shared Leadership: a collegial environment of administrators, and teachers in working together to improve student learning. It is a decentralized organization where everyone works together on a team.
  • Collective Creativity:  where people from different parts of the organization can work effectively in creating the results and the future they desire, together.
  • Shared Values and Vision: is the collective commitment to work for the future and the results the community desires.
  • Supportive Conditions: the physical needs and people capacities required for members to work together for organizational learning, decision-making, problem solving, and creative work.
  • Shared Personal Practice: peers helping peers where teacher evaluation is renewing experience for professional development.

So, there you have the comparison of the two models. Both have the ability to do great things in education. Both, have proven effective for 21st Century School Leaders to adapt in their organizations. Many districts have begun the process of becoming learning organizations or communities. And still, there are obstinate systems waiting for a cataclysm to force the issue. Since the end result is to develop prepared, skilled members of the future, then schools need to reorganize their thinking and their processes to get students across the line of accountable progress. 

No matter what you call it, Learning Organization (To-may-to) or Learning Community (To-mah-to), find a way to learn more about these models and advocate for change in your schools.

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