A supportive learning culture among staff, mutual respect and motivational development for everyone! That needn’t be just a ‘blue sky’ dream. In the first of a CPD Week series, Elizabeth Holmes explains how to start creating a sustainable learning culture in your school

I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.
Ralph Nader

Just like in any worthwhile task, preparation is vital in professional development if the positive outcomes are to be maximized. Over the next few weeks we will explore how to create a sustainable learning culture within your school, so that development becomes inherent in its day–to-day-operations.

Creating a learning culture: part one
Organisational culture is the key to success in achieving your goals as a professional development leader. Good intentions, sound groundwork and sufficient resources will not achieve the outcomes you want unless the overall culture within your school supports and sustains learning. 

We might be forgiven for assuming that all schools are just such an environment, totally supporting all learning endeavours and positively encouraging staff desires for innovative professional development. But anyone working within education knows that this isn’t necessarily so, leading to the loss of committed and enthusiastic teachers who are willing and able to push education’s boundaries beyond their current locations. 

The solution is to create a learning culture that can become so enmeshed in your school’s way of being that it becomes inextricably interlinked. This isn’t just a pie in the sky dream! Read on to find out how to get started.

First steps
These ideas and critical questions will help your school to begin to formulate an approach to sustaining a learning culture which is supportive of the needs of all within its community:  

  • Clear the decks – Being saturated with information isn’t necessarily the way forward. Sometimes the best way to begin to create a learning culture is to strip away some of the detritus, literally and metaphorically, to create a clean slate on which to begin.
  • Take stock – Look at the degree to which individuals can take the initiative when it comes to learning both professionally and personally.
  • Look at the leaders What is the attitude to leadership in your school? Are the leaders those who have acquired knowledge and skills, or those who are particularly good at being non-stop learners, willing to share freely what they have to offer others?
  • Redress the balance – What is the bias in your school: breadth or depth? Or are there contradictions that staff must pick their way through? Has your school thought about how a balance between breadth and depth might be achieved? Is it clear what each development activity is setting out to achieve?
  • Blend it – Emphasise the need to blend learning as seamlessly as possible, so that you don’t end up with disconnected pockets of knowledge and skills that would double their impact when combined together.
  • Create space for surprises – Take a look at your ‘rules’ surrounding CPD. Can you cut away any of them to facilitate more effective and sustainable learning? Keep things fluid and flexible, while serving your school’s plans for progress and development, and allow space to be pleasantly surprised by unexpected opportunities for progress.
  • Personalise learning for staff Do staff members have opportunities to learn:
    • what they need in order to perform better?
    • at their own pace?
    • in a style that suits them?
    • with a sense of ownership over what and how they learn?
    • within the context of their work?
  • Gauge respect – What is the sense of mutual respect within your school and among staff members?

Find out more…
Next week we will be looking further at ways of embedding a learning culture within your school.        

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.