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Transforming schools into learning communities Benjamin Stewart October 12, 2008
Transforming Schools Abstract
This paper looks at how transforming schools to a learning community involves all stakeholders. Administrators must establish good school-community relations in order to establish a learning community between systems. Additionally, administrators also must collaborate with teachers in establishing a vision and collective commitments that state the action-oriented responsibilities of the group that end up driving the transformation process overall. It was determined that common learning community principals apply to all stakeholders, regardless of their level of involvement within the network: a) everyone has a voice; b) decisions for the group are reached by consensus; and c) individual stakeholder goals are respected as well as the goals and objectives of the group.
Transforming Schools Transforming schools into learning communities Transforming schools into learning communities requires a shift from an individualistic to a collectivist perspective. Establishing desired results means attending to the goals and objectives of both the participants and the community as a whole. Changing from the “I” to the “We” involves designing, implementing, and managing a shared vision throughout the community in such a way that empowers teachers to share and reflect on best practices, thus
driving to increase student achievement. Specifically, teachers, students, and administrators each have a particular role in how they interact in the learning community. To the degree that schools can transform into a learning community depends on the level of involvement of all stakeholders. Administrators Administrators have a key role in the transformation process due to their direct communication they have with all stakeholders (e.g., community, school board, teachers, students, and parents). The superintendent, for example, creates a bond between the school and community through a variety of forms of communication: mass, direct, small group, and personto-person. In order to promote beneficial school attributes to the public – like a professional learning community – Bagin, Gallagher, and Moore recommend a more direct form of communication that includes “case statements, letters, direct mail, prospectuses” etc. (2008, p. 79). School-community relations inform taxpayers on how their tax dollars are being spent. Policy committees that involve administrators, teachers, and civil leaders bridge school and community by having both groups work towards a common goal. The way in which a policy committee interacts is similar to how a learning community interacts: collaborative, collegial, compromising, empowering, etc.
Transforming Schools Principals seeking to establish a shared school vision must reach out to teachers in a similar fashion as superintendents do to reach out to the community. Instead of principals and other administrators establishing a vision that is then imposed on the rest of the stakeholders, a bottom-up approach involves teachers and students in the decision-making process. For example, a questionnaire might be used to ask the following questions to students: 1. What are your plans after graduation? 2. What are three things you like and dislike about school? 3. How important is your role in your own high school education? 4. Describe your favorite teacher and explain why. 5. How involved are your parents in your educational development? 6. When you need additional academic or personal advice, who do you turn to? Why? The following questions might be presented to teachers: 1. What are your professional goals as a teacher? 2. Describe the ideal student after spending three years at our school. 3. What knowledge, skills, and dispositions would this student have? The point is to hear everyone´s comments, not leaving anyone out. Each person has a voice and the opportunity to express an opinion, and once everyone has been heard, then a collective commitment is developed that is based on a group consensus. A collective commitment is how schools will reach their vision. DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker (2008) use if/then statements to present action-oriented solutions to address particular visions in the following way: If + school vision, then + collective commitment. Just as teachers and students were included in the developing the vision, they too should be included in developing the collective commitments. Failure to do so results in a power struggle between
Transforming Schools administrators and teachers whereby principals, for example, impose their own particular vision onto to teachers and students. Teachers and students
The classroom as a learning community has been greatly influenced by technology. Dron and Anderson (n.d.) make a distinction between “groups”, “networks”, and “collectives”, which is aligned with Siemens´s notion of “connectivism” (Connectivism…, 2005) . Groups are defined as typical classrooms that maintain the traditional roles of teacher and student whereby content delivery is dictated solely by the teacher with little choice given to the student. In contrast, a network is a series of links between its participants and information-providing appliances and affords the learner various options in information delivery (i.e., books, blogs, wikis, learning management systems, etc.). A collective is similar to networks except the participants are peripherally involved in an aggregate set of networks. This meta-network participation provides the means of selecting pertinent information from a wide variety of network communities depending on interests of the student. The classroom as a learning community takes the strengths of each of these entities so that students collaborate on group and individual goals, have a degree of choice as to how they would like to receive information, and are given the opportunities to self-correct and self-reflect on their own participation in a nonthreatening way. As administrators do with their teachers, so too much teachers do with their students. Negotiated, meaningful, and purposeful dialog between teachers and students take the learning process through a series of give-and-take exchanges that lead to a more communal environment. Another approach to creating a learning community within the classroom is through the notion of mobilization. Price´s push for more parental and community involvement stresses the
Transforming Schools importance of having all stakeholders involved in increasing student achievement, especially
among minority groups. He encourages the importance of student motivation, the celebration of achievement, and the promotion of academic success (2008). Recognizing publically (i.e., in schools, in communities, and with parents) student accomplishments help students feel valued. In many cases, students do not get the support they need at home (Price, 2008), so schools offer an opportunity to do just that. This supports Sergiovanni´s “motivational „rules‟” where he put forth that extrinsic, intrinsic, and moral aspects of motivation drive behavior (1999, 55). The moral aspect of motivation in particular is often culturally driven and should be accounted for when implementing classroom activities and performance tasks that give students exposure to an authentic audience in the target culture. Classrooms of today are often reflective of the global society that it is. Teachers are often dealing with a diverse set of cultures, each having a different perspective on what the role should be for the teacher and student. Adapting to culturalization for the student can be more complicated when parents are slow to adapt to the target culture as well. Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbell (2008) address this situation by explaining the importance of acceptance and appreciation of the diversified classroom by bridging individualism (i.e., US or target cultural norms) and collectivism (i.e., a variety of immigrant cultures) together. Having students and teacher understand each of the cultures being represented in the classroom allows students to better understand the outside world as well. Communication with parents and supporting them as they adapt to cultural norms is an additional role teachers should embrace. Again, in a cultural sense, a learning community relies greatly on how stakeholders collaborate in dealing with the process of culturalization.
Transforming Schools Conclusion
Transforming schools into learning communities requires the active participation of all its stakeholders working towards a common goal. Administrators establish school-community relations that bridge the community to the school by providing ample information about how the school is being run. Moreover, administrators must maintain a collaborative and collegial work environment that permits teachers to have a voice in the change process. Similarly, teachers must establish the classroom as a learning environment so that students have a voice as well. Goals and objectives of the group are discussed in a way that respects individual goals and differences, and cultural differences must be appreciated through instruction and assessment practices that bring out the strengths of each of the learner. The entire transformation to a learning community requires the participation of the entire learning network: civic leaders, administrators, teachers, students, and parents. Regardless if it is establishing a learning community between a school and its community or at the classroom level, the principal elements are the same. A democratic approach enables all stakeholders to feel they have the right to participate in the transformation process - a process that is ongoing and promotes continuity when the members of the learning community change over time. As Blase and Blase mention as attributes of professional learning communities (or learning communities in general): a) “supportive and shared leadership”; b) “shared values and vision”; c) “collective learning and application of learning”; d) “supportive conditions”; and e) “sharing personal practices [or experiences]” (2004, pp. 178-181). A learning community establishes kinship and a space for people to work together towards a common objective. Schools that continue the process of transforming themselves into a learning community will be in a better position to offer a better learning experience for all its students.
Transforming Schools References
Bagin, D., Gallagher, D., and Moore, E. (2008). The school and community relations. New York, NY: Pearson. Blase, J. and Blase, J. (2004). Handbook of instructional leadership: How successful principals promote teaching and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Dron, J. and Anderson, T. (n.d.). Collectives, networks, and groups in social software for elearning. Retrieved September 28, 2008 from http://www.editlib.org/index.cfm/files/paper_26726.pdf?fuseaction=Reader.DownloadFu llText&paper_id=26726 DuFour, R., DuFour, R., and Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at work: new insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree (formally National Educational Service). Price, H. (2008). Mobilizing the community to help students succeed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Rothstein-Fisch, C. and Trumbell, E. (2008). Managing diverse classrooms: how to build on students´ cultural strengths. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Sergiovanni, T. (1999). Building Community in Schools. New York, NY: Jossey-Bass. Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. eLearnspace: everything eLearning. Retrieved September 28, 2008 from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm
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