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Any organisation, to be sustainable and successful, needs to be a ‘learning organisation’ in the face of evolving 21st century challenges. Many well-meaning school leaders think getting schools to be learning organisations is only a matter of articulating a clear vision, giving teachers the right incentives, and providing lots of training.

These are essential. However, what we need is more and this is eloquently presented in The Harvard Business Review by David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson and Francesca Gino in their article ‘Is Yours a Learning Organization?’ There are three basic building blocks of a learning organisation that have been discussed in this article, and I have adapted their ideas in the context of schools.

The first building block is that schools must provide a supportive and enabling environment to its teachers. They must feel psychologically safe and not feel fearful and marginalised. They must be comfortable with disagreeing with peers or authority figures, asking naive questions, owning up to mistakes, or presenting a minority viewpoint.

City School, Google’s Tech Valley sign MoU

Opposing ideas and competing perspectives should be welcomed as this enables innovative thinking and creativity. Teachers should be encouraged to explore and experiment and come up novel approaches. They should feel safe to take risks.

Reflective teaching should be encouraged as in the regular and scheduled day, one loses the ability to reflect and be innovative. Time for reflection needs to be built into the school schedule and culture. ‘BA’ or reflective and collaborative spaces, a Japanese concept, need to be created. A culture of ‘errors and investigations’ needs to be replaced with a culture of ‘accidents and analysis’ to promote responsible action, collaboration and transparency.

Teacher teams must be encouraged to collaborate and perform as PLCs ‘professional learning communities’. Collaboration and team-work and the collective expertise of teachers deeply impacts student attainment, as expounded by the renowned Australian educator, John Hattie.

They must feel autonomous and their input and advice, valued and respected. When teams of teachers work together, they can engage in co-construct understanding, creating new knowledge and addressing adaptive challenges more effectively. Sharing wisdom with colleagues, working on school improvement plans, challenging the status quo are an alternative to top down, formulaic, and short-term strategies.

Encouraging a growth mindset, an idea proposed by researcher Carol Dweck at Stanford University, in the school will work wonders for the progress of teachers to become more confident and self-actualised. A growth mindset enables teachers to take responsibility for improving their practice and setbacks and feedback are seen as an opportunity to learn and grow their skills. They actively seek learning opportunities and new challenges. They have positive and high expectations of their students.

The second building block is for schools to have concrete learning processes and practices. The learning must not only be inward-looking but outward-looking, too. Sharing of best practices and collaboration beyond physical borders is essential. Research, leading to learning and resulting in development will enable the school to be a learning organization.

Facilitation for voluntary participation in adaptive, emerging and flexible goals enables a feeling of well-being in teachers. An analysis based on WWW/EBI (What worked well/Even better if) for post-analysis and WWWW/WCGW (What would work well/What could go wrong), while planning, ensures essential information to move quickly and efficiently, and goes a long way in achieving institutional excellence. An AAR ‘After Action Review’ process, framed by four simple questions: What did we set out to do? What actually happened? Why did it happen? What do we do next time? (Which activities do we sustain, and which ones do we improve?) are vital for a successful attainment of goals.

Pakistan’s education system

The third building block to impact organisational learning is strongly influenced by the behavior of school leaders. They must have the ability to ‘actively listen’ and to understand the unspoken word too. They must encourage dialogue and debate and multiple perspectives for probable solutions. They must demonstrate through their own behavior a willingness to entertain alternative points of view, enabling teachers to feel emboldened to offer new ideas and options. Open-minded discussions based on a brave stance on ideas without any fear of rebuke enables a flourishing learning environment. These ‘building blocks of organizational learning’ follow McKinsey’s MECE principal; ‘mutually exclusive, collaboratively exhaustive’.

Jim Knight’s partnership principles of equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, praxis, reciprocity and trust in professional learning and development must serve as the guiding beacon for the school to be a learning institution of excellence. Effective leadership behaviors help create and sustain supportive learning environments, which in turn, make it easier for teachers to execute concrete learning processes and practices smoothly and efficiently. This leads to a virtuous cycle where concrete processes provide opportunities for leaders to behave in ways that foster learning and to cultivate that behavior in teachers.

In practice, a school that has this environment will be one where you see student-centred learning in the class rooms and as you pass by the classes, there will be happy and enthusiastic ‘academic chatter’. On the playing field and in the corridors, you will see students engaging with one another and with teachers. Google shared spaces will exist where teacher teams share and learn from best practice. Subject areas will be present where face to face intra-subject and cross-curricular discussions will take place. An Enrichment Programme will be in place at the school to provide students and teachers with opportunities that exist beyond the limited curriculum of schools.

Boys and girls will be engaged in cooking, gardening, DIY, AI, Robotics, Music and Singing classes etc. DLCB ( Digital-learning Capacity Building) and RLD ( Research, Learning and Development) Teams will be actively creating need-based contextual programmes for life-long learning of teachers.

The school will have EdTalks, a platform for teachers to come together to discuss and engage in problem-solving. Student voice along with student well-being will be pivotal, and all strategies will be geared towards this focal goal.

As an example, currently, all these learning blocks are in practice at schools where academic enrichment and counseling services adapted to the digital medium and teacher teams have joined hands and created the perfect virtual school going beyond the confines of the physical space.

The learning from all of this is that as a learning institution sharing good practice and best experiences with fellow schools in the community, is tantamount and should be an industry-wide feat.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Ainee Shehzad

The writer is a valedictorian Commonwealth Scholar with an MA in Education and International Development from UCL, IOE and has a Civil Engineering degree. She is the ex-director of Studies at Karachi Grammar School and ex-Principal at Habib Public School. Currently, she is working as an education consultant.


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Ghazala Sajjad Dec 04, 2022 11:23am
The author brilliantly explains learning organisations in her article: encouraging growth mindset, learning communities self analysis and -- being good listeners to teachers will increase capacity & motivation to improve classroom practice
thumb_up Recommended (0) reply Reply
Imran Ali W, UK Dec 06, 2022 12:23pm
Horrible writing. Grammatical mistakes from top to bottom. Please proofread your articles.
thumb_up Recommended (0) reply Reply
Muhammad Danish Gazdar Dec 06, 2022 05:05pm
Nice article !
thumb_up Recommended (0) reply Reply

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