Following on from her initial look at how to create an ideal learning culture at your school, Elizabeth Holmes looks deeper at how to follow it through and align a sustainable learning culture with your school’s other priorities

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is increasingly important to pay attention to the kinds of cultures we create during the course of our daily work. With that in mind, we look at how to develop a learning culture in our schools for the purpose of professional learning

Creating a learning culture: part two
Following on from the initial steps we explored last issue, which suggested ways of creating a learning culture fit for your context, this issue we look at ways of taking this much further and deeper into the psyche of your school. The one proviso is that the ideas be used as a springboard for framing a learning culture which draws on the contextual intelligence you have in your setting!

Taking it further

  • How clearly defined are your school’s aims? For example, do you have a clear lead on CPD management and a clear lead on quality of provision, standards and achievement?
  • Are needs matched as carefully as possible in any coaching and mentoring that goes on in your school?
  • Face to face communication is a very effective tool for development in schools, yet memos, emails and other impersonal forms of communication serve to reduce the opportunities for talking to colleagues, and gleaning the many potential benefits to be gained from ensuing conversations (benefits which simply don’t exist via email!). Make personal interaction a priority.
  • If your school has identified preferred practice in any dimension of its work, how effectively is this modeled for all staff? Modeling helps to prevent the mismatch between what actually happens and what schools say happens!
  • Collaborative and collegial practices are great for developing a sound learning environment. Are your staff able to access this way of operating?
  • A learning culture is also a culture in which personal and organisational reflection is practiced and encouraged. Does your school facilitate this?
  • A spirit of mutual vulnerability has been shown to be effective in furthering staff development. This means creating a culture in which staff are not afraid to go to one another, regardless of ‘rank’, and start a dialogue about development in the knowledge that both can learn from the situation.
  • Also a spirit of experimentation is present in a healthy culture of learning. If staff are afraid to try new things, development is necessarily blocked and progress will be limited. Even when trying to create balance, there must be movement. Make sure there aren’t any brakes being applied which are stifling development.
  • Personalising CPD is a national priority and yet this is still a sticking point in many schools. Asking tough questions about how effectively professional learning is personalised in your school can help to trigger change.
  • Does your school have intelligence on the professional learning skills which already exist among your staff and may be utilized? How often are knowledge and skills audits updated?
  • Keep on asking questions! And don’t rush at finding answers. Take time to reflect on previous practice as a way of finding evidence to inform future direction.
  • Think about the subtle differences between training and learning. Training is most usefully done on the job while learning might benefit from some distance from the classroom. Can you factor these subtleties into the CPD that goes on in your school?
  • Remember that quality is invariably more valuable than quantity in professional learning. One concept elegantly developed will serve someone far better than several concepts thrown together and grasped only moderately well. Always go for quality!

While these ideas will undoubtedly help your school to move towards sustaining a positive learning culture, one aspect of great professional learning in schools should never be overlooked: the celebration of success!

Find out more…

  • Recap – last week’s issue of CPD Week covered the initial steps that can be taken towards creating a culture of learning in your school among staff members.
  • Aide memoire – use this summary diagram for creating a learning culture.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.