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Three elements of organizational learning

There seem to be three basic organizational elements that can be put in place to allow the deep learning cycle to kick in:

Guiding ideas

Deliberately articulated, profound statements that provide a philosophical underpinning for organizational change (like the ideas about liberty and law embodied in the United States Constitution). There is enormous leverage, for either school or community leaders, in articulating the future direction of the school.

Innovations in infrastructure

Just as there is a physical infrastructure (roads, corridors, bridges, walkways, and energy links) in a community or building, there is also an established set of organizational practices that have just as much impact on determining behavior. These include the marked-out channels of information and communication, including the decision rights and reporting arrangements through which authority and accountability are established. They also include schedules, tax policies, salaries, and many other ingrained relationships and practices. All of these can be redesigned through innovation to lead to better learning; for example, a better design for in-service days, a greater level of autonomy granted to teachers, or a professional learning community where teachers benefit from each other’s guidance are all innovations in infrastructure.

Theories, tools, and methods

In his writing about adaptive leadership, Ronald Heifetz uses the metaphor of a balcony overlooking a dance floor. Most of us spend the bulk of our work time enmeshed in the “dance” of day to-day urgencies and tasks. But the most gifted leaders, according to Heifetz, can (seemingly without difficulty) step away from the dance and observe the patterns and dynamics as if from above.

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