Imagine a Culture of Learning

Imagine the world of learning that we want for our students. We envision classrooms and schools where scholars experience:

  • Learning driven by agency and autonomy
  • Deep critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Self-reflective and self-aware development of emotional and social intelligence
  • Collaborative interaction with others
  • Creative expression
  • Curiosity and imagination
  • Innovation and entrepreneurialism

These “dispositions,” Ron Ritchhart writes, cannot be directly taught or tested, but must be “enculturated” or “learned through immersion in a culture.”

So, what is that culture and how do we cultivate and sustain it?

Beautiful mother of pearl in a stunning Nautilus shellThe first and most basic answer is that the culture of the school or the school system, must be, for adults as well as for students, full of agency and autonomy, deep critical thinking and problem solving, high levels of emotional intelligence and collaboration, creativity, curiosity and imagination about teaching, learning and leading, innovation and entrepreneurialism.

Mindsets and skillsets at multiple levels must change in deep and profound ways in order to get us to this culture of learning. From school superintendent to teacher and coach to principal, we must all be leaders of learning, embracing a growth identity and embracing our role as public learners.

That is why my working theory of action, crafted with my colleague, Donna Micheaux, is now my guiding through-line for organizational change and transformation:

When the learning for adults in the system mirrors the learning we desire for students—deep, meaningful, engaging and expressive–we will have powerfully effective and equitable schools.

Elena Aguilar, whose insights on coaching and school transformation I admire, says it like this: “In order to meet the needs of all students, we must transform the experience for the adults who work in schools. Until we address the social, emotional and learning needs of educators, we won’t be able to transform the experience for students.”

Beginning the Culture discussion

So, over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be blogging about this topic. I want to explore this in more depth, writing to discover what I think and what I know about these ideas, and to elicit your thinking in order to put legs under this theory. As we come to understand what the daily lives of teachers, superintendents, coaches and principals—as well as leaders in other kinds of organizations—would look like if these ideas were enculturated, we take a step closer to realizing this world of learning.