The Culture of a Learning Experience

If you were asked to identify the most important elements of your school’s culture, what would they be?  I’m talking about the things that make your school your school, the things you are most proud of.

learning_smallTake a minute and write down your top three.

Your answer is important.  Perhaps you wrote about how students treat each other, about how the school seeks to involve all in equitable learning experiences, how academics, athletics and activities form the foundation of the school.  You might also point to the number of students who graduate and to the number of students who matriculate to higher education experiences as part of a culture worth having.

I’m wondering how you would describe the culture of the learning experiences that your students engage in?  What are the expectations, the beliefs, the support for, the diversity of, the essence of how and why students learn?

Would you have mentioned the attributes and quality of the student learning experience as a critical component of your school’s culture?  I’m not talking about graduation rates or how many kids get into Yale-all worthy end points as mentioned before.  I’m talking about the trajectory of the learning and how kids progress through learning.  I’m talking about all the good stuff that happens in that process, and what that says about your foundational beliefs about learning within your organization.  When identifying important elements of a school culture, would you have placed the learning culture as the most important element?

What is the culture of your students learning experience?  What do you believe deeply about how and why students learn?  And what role does technology place in that culture?

Here are three challenges to consider regarding the culture of learning and technology.

Let’s start with a school going forward with a 1:1 device implementation.  Would you expect to see technology use in every classroom?  What about the teacher that says put the devices away and continues with 1992?  That is a direct challenge to the spirit of a 1:1 and at scale, can destroy the very premise of all kids with devices and what that can mean.

In your culture of learning, would this be tolerated and would it be acceptable?  In your culture of learning, whose needs are first and foremost?  Would a teacher be allowed to make that choice?   If you answered yes, then your culture is about teacher needs rather than about a culture of student learning.  Pure and simple.

And I realize that they can’t be used all the time.  That’s different than never using them.

Or, in your culture of learning, has the decision to provide students with a device a shared one?  Is the consensus of the building in support of such a move, and does that carry the day?  And for those who are on the other side of consensus, are they willing to put aside their personal views and embrace the organizational vision and make it work for the kids?

In your culture of learning, do you have teachers and students?  Or in a 1:1 environment, can that break down to a set of experiences where all are just learners?  I’m serious about that, I’ve seen that happen, and its remarkable.  Certainly the adult in the room ultimately has the say, but what happens when large scale disruption occurs and everyone in the room has to figure it out?  That means that the historical roles of teacher and students are indeed history, and that learning together is the norm and expectation.  Each group challenges each other, and each contribute to the understanding of all, and the outcome is the development of a true learning community across the school and a culture of learnership.

Another example.  In your culture of learning, where does equity and choice fall?  With your 1:1, will you allow students to use their own devices? So, in effect, you combine a device from the school with the devices they own in a combined device environment (see Bretag).  Such a plan says much about providing equity among the student body while still honoring their own capacity, along with helping them understand what they own is more than just a social tool, but can be an academic one as well.  Do you believe that all should have a baseline tool and capacity? Do you believe that they should have choice in what they wish to learn with, and that the role of the educators in the school is to assist them with negotiating that landscape, and not dictating it?  Such a perspective speaks about a culture of learning where equity and choice are fundamental pillars.

So, did you identify the culture of learning as one of the top three elements of your school’s culture?

I believe that creating, sustaining and growing a culture of learning should be the number one priority of a school.  In fact, what a great mission statement for a school:

“The mission of this school is to create, sustain, and grow a culture of learning for all”


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