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Becoming a Learning System

In 2009, Learning Forward released its seminal text Becoming a Learning School which has guided the school improvement efforts of district and school leaders across the world. The book provides educators with a framework for using professional learning as a key lever for improving the effectiveness of teachers, teacher-leaders, principals, central office personnel, and others whose work impacts the learning environments of students.

In 2013, the follow-up text, Becoming a Learning System, will be released. Our goal with this book is to explore how systems (school districts, charter management organizations, and networks of traditional and non-traditional schools) can create environments that foster effective teaching and learning in every classroom and every school. In essence, it's about taking learning schools to scale.

The concept of a learning organization is not new. Peter Senge and his colleagues were among the first to coin the term more than 20 years ago. Senge defined learning organizations as places where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

For school systems to remain viable entities, they need to be flexible enough to respond to the rapidly changing conditions around them. They must "learn" and adapt quickly while simultaneously supporting principals, school-based teams, and individual classroom teachers. Procedures and practices must be developed that respond to outside influences (e.g., Common Core student standards, ever-changing technologies, national guidelines, etc.). School systems must be prepared to be in a constant state of learning.

For the purposes of our work, we believe learning systems...

  • Value the learning of its adults as much as its students
  • Have a collective commitment to the continuous improvement of individuals, teams, structures, and processes throughout the organization
  • Provide the conditions that scale and sustain effective practice
  • Have a commitment to innovate
  • Celebrate and honor success
Most of the focus of the book will be the central office of the system. At the school building level, what happens in central offices is often considered a mystery. Typically, teachers experience the district office only when they are hired or are required to participate in mandated professional development. Principals and assistant principals are there more often as they engage with district personnel around a host of management issues. In essence, the central office is often perceived as the place where decisions and made and directives originate.

In a learning system, we believe the central office is a very different place. Trust exists across departments and throughout the system. The system partners with schools versus seeing its role as controlling them. Because learning for adults is valued, learning communities are the norm at the district and building levels. Professional learning systems are in place, and resources are allocated to support them.

During the next few months, you'll hear more about Becoming a Learning System. Teachers and leaders, if you feel your system is a "learning system," we'd love to hear your comments.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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