Last weekend at the Long Island Connected Educator’s Summit, Tony Sinanis and I facilitated a session, 5 Ways to Support a Culture of Learning. A few days prior to the conference he shot me over a bunch of ideas and then we worked together to refine them for our presentation. So, as a disclaimer, these “5 ways” are more his than mine, although I do agree with them.
That being said, here are the five ways to support a culture of learning. And, after each one are three points to consider.
1. Leaders must model learning first
- Cultures of initiatives are not sustainable; we need cultures of continuous learning modeled by leaders. What matters most is that everyone is always moving forward, while we’re respectful of the fact that not everyone moves at the same pace.
- If you’re learning, and nobody knows, it still matters. But, it matters more if you let others know how you’re bettering yourself. One way I do this is by including the title of the book I’m currently reading at the bottom of my emails.
- While experience is a great teacher, I strongly believe we must also be intentional about learning in other ways. Don’t be afraid to set some goals (what gets scheduled gets done): read one article a day, read books four hours a week, watch one TED Talk a week, go to three conferences a year, etc.
2. Feedback must be a normalized and welcome part of the learning process
As leaders, if we want others to be accepting of our feedback, we must be modeling the way by being mindful of how we act when we’re constructively criticized.
A person’s default response to feedback can be very telling. Do we get defensive in an effort to embrace the status quo or do we ask for more information, clarification, etc.?
We probably shouldn’t assume we know everything there is to know about feedback. So, it wouldn’t hurt to read up on it. One book that Tony recommends is Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone. I can also recommend How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students by Susan Brookhart, and this blog post by Grant Wiggins.
3. Voice and choice must be part of the learning – we learn deeply when it matters (must be aligned to vision)
- When it comes to professional development, while educator voice and choice is valuable, too many options can lead to a lack of focus. As Douglas Reeves tells us, “Large-scale improvement is most likely to occur when a few school improvement initiatives are implemented deeply, not when a laundry list of initiatives is implemented in a scattershot manner.”
- For those leading these changes, we must constantly gauge how it’s being received by all parties involved, and then adjust accordingly (in very much the same way teachers assess their students and then modify their teaching as needed). There’s no shame in calling an audible in the middle of an initiative.
- There’s a difference between focusing on what we want to do and focusing on what needs to be done. Often times, difficult conversations are necessary in order for us to uncover what our students need (as opposed to reverting back to our strengths or “the way it has always been done”).
4. Collaboration and reflection are embedded in the learning cycle
- George Couros has written, “Isolation is now a choice educators make. If you feel alone, it is because you are not willing to connect.” We should be going out of our way to learn with others. Here are five ways my former district broke out of isolation when implementing Writing Workshop (and these ideas can be applied to pretty much all topics and subject areas).
- As I’ve said before, even if we don’t believe in pretty much anything a particular person says and does, we can be intentional about finding ways to learn from him, while also making sure to acknowledge what he brings to the table. We can’t expect others to want to learn from us if we’re not willing to learn from them.
- Reflection is most valuable when it’s leveraged as part of the learning process, as opposed to something tacked onto the end of the learning (potentially because someone said we had to do it).
5. Inquiry should guide and frame learning opportunities
- Every time we run professional development, we have an opportunity to model the type of teaching and learning we want to see taking place in classrooms.
- Nobody ever said, “My students deserve this because [insert education researcher here] said so.” While research certainly has a place during professional development, it should be used to complement the hands-on activities, discussions, stories, etc. (similar to how direct instruction is treated during inquiry-based learning).
- As much as possible, let’s try to move away from, “Here’s a better way to do this,” to instead creating the conditions for others to uncover the idea that there just might be way for them to improve upon their current practices.
In the End
The Long Island Connected Educator’s Summit is going five years strong, and I’m proud to say I’ve been to the last four. The conference is the brainchild of Dr. Bill Brennan of Farmingdale Schools, and he consistently puts together organized events with stellar presenters and worthwhile learning opportunities. Make sure to check it out in 2019.
How do you support a culture of learning?