CLARITY Volume 12 - Systems and Schools as Learning Organizations Seek Positive Solutions!

Virtual learning during the pandemic has changed everything and nothing. Organizations such as schools, have been undergoing major cultural transformations while struggling to survive in the financially-strapped, resource-poor environment created by an uncertain economy. Change in teaching requires major transformation in the culture of a school, a complex undertaking in the best of circumstances. As Huberman forewarned (in Prestine, 1994, p. 31), schooling is a "complex, coherent, and resilient ecosystem . . . with an awesome capacity to wait out and wear out reformers”. Profound change in teaching became an imperative with COVID-19; the capacity for change was underscored by the demand for adoption of increasingly ubiquitous social media and technologies, adoption of which had previously been resisted - successfully.

All of the changes that many say individuals and teams of teachers need to make in schools are likely to require assistance. One body of literature in Educational Administration offers insights that may lead to individual and collective solutions is Organizational Learning (OL) where change is initiated by some event, felt need, or perception of a problem (the stimulus – like COVID19).

Whether prompted from inside or outside the organization, the stimulus for OL begins with gaining better knowledge and understanding of the changes needed. Educators certainly have a stimulus for reflection on changes needed in schooling in this ‘new world order’ brought about by the COVID19 global pandemic.

In my research (Sharratt, 1996-2020), leaders of systems and schools who lead ‘Learning Organizations (LOs)’ may be sources for much needed reassurance and solution-gathering. According to that literature and also practitioner commentary, these leaders consider 5 ‘Big Ideas’ (Sharratt, 1996) in seeking positive solutions in calm and crisis:

  • Vision

  • Structure

  • Strategy

  • Resources

  • Culture

1. The Vision

Vision is the number one ‘Big Idea’ in developing systems and schools as Learning Organizations. Strategic leaders realize that a sustainable vision for system and school improvement work:

  • is built through consensus

  • is understood by all

  • fosters commitment to learning

  • relates to ALL students’ improvement

  • is aligned from system to schools and back again

  • moves the focus from ‘doing’ to ‘learning’

Positive Solutions During a Crisis

In calm and crisis leaders have been rising to lead the way in ensuring staff and student wellness is at the centre of decision-making. Leaders in Learning Organizations:

  • Give staff a sense of overall purpose: Blended learning opportunities include specific tasks that take advantage of online tools for deep learning and collaboration but also rely upon the foundational learning that does not change in an online structure (Parameter 11);

  • Begin with and often return to the vision of having shared beliefs and understandings (Parameter 1) - whether it is ‘learning from home’ or face-to-face. These leaders and teachers believe:

  • All students can learn given the right time and support;

  • All teachers can teach given the right assistance;

  • In having and implementing high expectations, offering early and ongoing intervention; and,

  • Can articulate why they are learning, teaching and leading the way they are.

The importance of having a shared vision through which to explore what is possible for ALL students, wherever the setting, is both an equity and excellence issue for me in times of calm and crisis, whether the road is bumpy or smooth.

2. Structure

Structures in ‘Systems and Schools as Learning Organizations’ can either inhibit or enable learning across the organization. Inhibitors such as a siloed approach to organize schooling or having no time in the school day for teachers to co-construct meaning together are often discussed in the research literature. Enabling Structures include:

  • Considering the relationship between vision and structures;

  • Sharing expertise among colleagues through ‘joint online and offline work’;

  • Celebrating voices of emerging student and teacher leaders;

  • Working across silos within and between schools and the system using enabling technology platforms;

  • Aligning the focus and priorities across a country, state, region, network, and schools.

Positive Solutions During a Crisis

Impactful leaders at a system or school level know they must sensitively and intensively action the following:

  • Communication as the key, constantly referring to the common beliefs for support;

  • Focus on stabilizing operational issues that underpin learning needs;

  • Make changes that are manageable and co-constructed;

  • Co-develop Operating Norms, Learning Intentions, Success Criteria for all staff members’ and students’ learning to ensure some normalcy and steady steering.

My Research indicates that an evidence-proven framework for leaders’ self-assessment and reflection on improvement that explicitly outlines actions is a necessity (CLARITY, 2019). Figure 2.1 displays the circular and iterative dynamic of the 14 Parameter Framework (Sharratt and Fullan, 2012; Sharratt, 2019) that provides the structure to keep a learning focus during challenging times.