Chapter 9

Connecting Each Learner with the Power of the School

The purpose of a school is to organize learning opportunities for the maximum benefit of the students within its care. It would be assumed this would be done by applying what is known about learning and motivation and providing for maximizing the positive impact of all contributors. Instead, we are currently locked into a primitive system in which teachers working in relative isolation try as hard as they can to plan, develop, and present virtually all of their studentsí learning experiences. This situation is somewhat similar to the do-it-all line painter in the following, fortunately fictional, story:

A person was hired to paint lines down the center of a rural road. The painter was given a quota of painting an average of 2 miles per day to remain employed.  The first day the painter completed 4 miles and everything seemed great. But the second day, the accomplishment was down to 2 miles, and the third day to just 1 mile. The supervisor called in the painter who seemed thoroughly exhausted and wanted an explanation for the third dayís poor performance. The painter, sighed, Well, each day I keep getting farther and farther away from the bucket.

You might consider it a stretch to compare this exhausted painter with the situation in which most teachers find themselves, but let us consider a few points. Today, for the most part, teachers are left on their own to run back and forth trying to come up with their own resources and create their own learning activities to meet the tremendously varied needs of their students. Independently, they have to diagnose each studentís learning needs, often through their own self-developed techniques, as well as be aware and capable of delivering just the right learning option for each student. And remember, this is not a once a year need if you are going to fully support each learnerís efforts. It needs to occur continually. Individual teachers just do not have the necessary energy, sufficient mental span of attention, time, money, or resources to do this for all students. Because of this, many teachers burn out within a few years or become reconciled to the limitations of a one-size-fits-all way of educating children. We would not accept this in any other profession. In all other professional organizations, an extensive amount of research and planning is conducted in support of the professional practitionerís everyday activities. Doctors and engineers do not in general conduct extensive research or engage in the expensive and time-consuming process of developing the best tools and techniques possible for their profession. The people they serve certainly wouldnít want them to depend on their own self-made tools and techniques developed during their spare time. Practicing a profession is a full job of its own. Professional practitioners need to be supported by specialists in research and design and be able to take advantage of an extensive infrastructure that offers the whole spectrum of services needed to move the profession forward and provide the best services for the people they serve. They need to be part of a whole system.

Certainly, more personal planning and organization would have helped the unfortunate line painter, but for the work to be accomplished dramatically more effectively and economically, the painter would need to be part a whole system involving a variety of specialists using tools and techniques developed by other experts and managed as a coordinated whole. That is why you donít see generic line painters with their individual paint buckets scattered throughout our nation independently planning and painting lines on our highways and streets. But we still do find scattered throughout our nation individual do-it-all teachers who desperately try to meet the needs of all their students by starting from scratch finding out what they need, coming up with most of their own personally developed tools and techniques, and without being a coordinated part of a whole system that working together can out produce many times over that of individual teachers who have to do everything themselves.

We come then to the vital role of school leadership and management so that organizing for maximum learning opportunities can take place. As such, we need to consider:

  1. Strategic Management within the Schoolís Area of Legal Control and Authority
  2. Knowledge Management and Sharing
  3. Management of Productive Relationships with other systems who contribute to the educational process but are not under the schoolís legal authority, such as families and community organizations.

Of importance to all the above types of management is a shared vision of the mission of the school or the shared vision of what all the contributors working together want to see as the result of their efforts. This could be a personalized version of the national mission statement and commitment discussed in chapter seven. Of constant interest and attention should be determining and viewing the current situation along with the desired results of successfully organizing learning opportunities as stated in the shared vision. The tension and energy released by looking at both the current situation and desired results also help identify and direct appropriate actions and strategies that would get current situation and desired results ever closer.

Desired Results

 

 

 

CURRENT SITUATION

The school as an intelligent learning/educational system together with its contributors as a larger system can then effectively engage in productive learning cycles as they make incremental and quantum-leap improvements in organizing learning for students at their school.

       

Strategic Management within the Schoolís Area of Legal Control and Authority

In the past, the role of the school principal has been one limited largely to administration, such as budgeting, school personnel evaluations, implementation of district policies, and public relations. A principal could do little with educational leadership because of the primitive organization of schools with generic classes, fixed schedules, and relatively independent teachers. Moving to a more proficient organization in which the education of children is viewed as a total system rather than the sum of the individual efforts of teachers will provide the principal with many more opportunities to exercise educational leadership. Each employee of the school becomes part of a system of the whole working together for the common objective of providing maximum learning opportunities for all children. As a leader of an intelligent learning/educational system, the principalís major role becomes much greater and more important.

The school should be an integral part of the districtís efforts to provide the best learning opportunities possible for all students. It can then take full advantage of the wider resources that then become available. For the same reason, the district should be an integral part of the region or stateís systematic efforts. In turn, the states should be an integral part of the systematic efforts of the nation. Within the schoolís authority, and with the permission, guidance, or help from the school district of which it is a part, and the school board, the school should plan and manage the best educational program it can design or adopt and then implement. Each school will need to make certain key decisions and there will always be a need for local planning as to the best use of its resources, but no school should have to rely solely on their own efforts to design the most effective ways to organize learning opportunities.

Of great significance and help would be the national infrastructure for learning empowerment. The school could review the research findings updated yearly by the National Commission for Educational Empowerment. It could utilize the anytime, anywhere computerized learning system. This means it could adopt a personalized version of the national curriculum objectives if the schoolís district has not already done so. It can adopt a personalized version of a personal profile capability to evaluate and help monitor each studentís mastery of those objectives and help manage selecting the best learning options for each student. A key decision would be whether to accept student mastery of objectives independent of which learning options were utilized to help the student achieve that mastery. This would allow the learner to benefit from help from all sources and would free learners from having to go through generic classroom instruction whether they have already mastered the objectives or whether they are even ready to profit from that instruction. Having these other resources available would also allow a reorganization of the processes by which learning opportunities are provided from a lock-step one-size-fits-all to a true match between learning need and learning option. It would provide the means to transform from a generic class schedule in which all students receive the same instruction ready or not, to a truly responsive one that could better match learning needs with learning options.

The school, if the district has not already done so, could also evaluate and possibly take advantage of the educational prototypes or whole system models developed under the guidance of the National Commission or one of the nationís regional laboratories. The school or district could contract with the Commission or one of the regional laboratories to adopt and receive help in implementing the selected prototype in their school or district. This would involve training in and use of the strategies and tools that work together to produce the total effectiveness of the whole system for organizing learning opportunities, and the new specializations and division of labor the new system may require. It would undoubtedly involve a change from generic teacher job descriptions to a variety of specialized educational positions both in the school and by other contributors and organizations.

Knowledge Management and Sharing

Knowledge cannot be applied if it is not first acquired, organized, managed, accessible, and understood. A whole spectrum of knowledge is needed to organize effective learning opportunities, including learning principles, tools, strategies, activities, programs, ways to motivate, test, present, effective communication, and so on. It is important that systems acquire knowledge that becomes available to the system as a whole. For example, in medicine, there is an ever-growing repository of knowledge that continues to be further refined, researched, and applied by the entire medical profession. The same needs to be true in education. Certainly individuals have valuable knowledge and expertise. Some of that knowledge can be communicated in words, but some is tacit and must be observed. Opportunities need to be provided for this knowledge to be shared. Often, this means identifying the people who have this knowledge so they can be called upon as mentors or included as consultants for special projects, services, or development. A great deal of the knowledge that education needs to develop and manage needs to be institutionalized into systems, methods, and tools. Even though individual schools need to generate much of their own knowledge intelligence as to how to best implement proven educational methods or selected educational systems, much more is needed than schools could or should develop on their own. Extensive knowledge needs to be available through other supportive organizations and the continuing build-up of knowledge under the guidance of the National Commission for Educational Empowerment and regional educational laboratories.

Management of Productive Relationships with Other Systems who contribute to the Educational Process

There are many other contributors to the potential success of learners. First on the list are parents. It is important that the school develop synergistic relations with parents and other community organizations. Adoption of the anytime, anywhere computerized learning system is a huge step in this direction because it provides a direct way for parents and others to help learners achieve mastery of specific objectives and have that mastery recognized. The school staff needs to listen to parents and find out their needs, strengths, and ways they would like to contribute. Ways should be explored and developed for them to also access the knowledge that would be valuable to them in exercising their important roles. Parents, for example, should be able to learn what actions on their part could make the most difference in the success of their children. Community libraries need to know how they can best use their services in ways that maximize their impact on the success of learners. School staff, parents, and leaders and members of supportive organizations need to learn how to hold conversations together, compare ideas and views, and become effective contributors to a system that is much greater than the sum of its parts.