Schools as 'Learning Organisations'

Schools as 'learning organisations' is a key concept behind the revised IB Standards and Practices (2020).

How nimble are you to meet change and adapt to new circumstances? How do you learn as a school? How deeply ingrained is 'learning' in the very fabric of your school - not only within classrooms, but also the staff room and the board room?

The concept of a learning organization was first developed by Peter M. Senge in 1990, a senior lecturer of leadership and sustainability at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). The term is not restricted to educational organizations - it is used widely in the business world. His book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ (1990) discusses learning organizations.

A ‘learning organization’ is one that encourages and facilitates continual learning so that it can adapt and transform itself not only to survive but to excel in rapidly changing environments. In the words of Senge: “The rate at which organizations learn may become the only sustainable source of competitive advantage”. Learning organization can also be defined as an “Organization with an ingrained philosophy for anticipating, reacting and responding to change, complexity and uncertainty.” (Malhotra, Yogesh, 1996)

Peter Senge has defined the learning organization as the organization “in which you cannot not learn because learning is so insinuated into the fabric of life.” According to him the learning organizations are “ …organizations 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”.

The role of a school leader in the learning organization is that of a designer, teacher, and custodian who can build shared vision and challenge prevailing mental models through bringing to it new ideas, innovative methods and appropriate challenge. They are responsible for the learning of the whole organization and of all within the organization.

Reflect

  • How do members of your school see themselves - do they see themselves as actors who are able to make things happen or part of the cogs of a larger wheel?
  • How do you as a school learn from experience?
  • What processes and systems do you have in place to deeply reflect about what you are doing, assess what is going well and act on what needs to change?
  • How is new learning incorporated into the very structure and culture of the school – or, on the other hand, does it feel like just another innovation or intervention?
  • Do you actively create, capture and mobilize (new) knowledge to allow you to adapt to changing environments?
  • How do you as school leaders make decisions and bring about change and new behaviors in your staff as a result of these decisions?
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