Why adopt and celebrate Learning Power?

Learning is a life skill. Unfortunately, until relatively recently, learning was regarded as a term associated with formal education and thereby, the subject matter that those institutions were qualified to impart to their students. However, Learning Power, or ‘how’ we learn and our use of learning begins at birth. Our understanding of it is developed, to a greater or lesser extent, during the school years and, whether we recognize it or not, instrumental in the way in which we live the rest of our lives.

  • List Learning Power as a critical success factor in scoping its vision for the future.
  • Develop Learning Power as integral to a curriculum that gives equal weight to both
    content and learning to learn.
  • Create, and use, a language of learning that will remain meaningful for life.
  • Celebrate the change in the learner, regardless of how that might have been achieved.

Learning Power can be assessed at any age from 8 years old using the research-validated Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory, known affectionately as ELLI. ELLI has just 7 easily recognizable and understandable dimensions and uses a language that can be adapted and re-titled for use in any environment. Dig deeper and there is a total of 17 underlying habits and behaviors.

 

The message is very clear. It is only by knowing how we learn best, our strengths and weaknesses among the 7 dimensions, that will fit us to cope with change. And, of course, change there will be … even at school. There comes a time when rather than being presented with content we become responsible for adding new knowledge to what we already know, self-directing our learning.

Every ‘Learning Journey’ needs a ‘Road Map’!

The Learning Quality Framework (LQF) provides a set of staged descriptions and progressive milestones leading to the development of a ‘learning’ school. It captures the spirit and substance of what a learning school does to ensure that all of its people become better learners.

The Framework uses twelve principles with which to examine different aspects of a school’s culture. It deals with such as the school’s vision for learning; how leaders lead a learningoriented school; how classroom practice works in a learning environment; how assessment and the curriculum are best designed to build learning habits; and how the school acts on its own learning.

As a diagnostic instrument it enables a school to assess where it is on its learning journey. By matching current practice against the twelve LQF principles, schools can assess progress, and so identify areas of development.

As a formative instrument the LQF provides a school with a clear set of guidelines for planning the way forward. From an audit of ‘what is’, which the framework provides, the school can develop a strategic overview of its next steps.

As a summative instrument, it gives schools an external view of their progress through an external assessment and the award of a LQF quality mark. Developing a culture in which real world learning thrives is not insignificant, so stages along the way are worth recognizing and celebrating. A school’s progress can be publicly validated and accredited), as and when it feels ready to seek accreditation.

There are 3 centers of organizational excellence recognized universally. When working in harmony they are found to create the conditions that provide competitiveness and market advantage. It is the strategic vision and the underlying plans for improved performance that will deliver, encourage and unleash both customer responsiveness and staff motivation. Together, they will manage the relationships that optimize both customer and employee lifetime values.

So, what does this mean in experiential terms?

The strategic plan to deliver the vision is, in many instances, whether in school or in business, commonly preoccupied with tactic, the urgent issues of today rather than the changing circumstances that will influence the performance of tomorrow. Strategic preparation for change in market conditions may mean the taking of unpalatable, sometimes radical, decisions but for which there will always be a natural reluctance. The problem is, however, that every organization will need to ready themselves for changes in political, economic, social and technological requirement.

In short, the early years of an organization’s life-cycle will almost inevitably celebrate creativity and innovation but as the years progress and entrepreneurship gives way to the less adventurous, riskaverse nature of professional governance, strategic endeavor tends to give way to tactic.

Successful delivery of the strategic vision relies on market research and adaptation alongside employee development, skilling and engagement. However, neither market not workforce can be regarded a constants and will always put pressure on the planners to revise their response to market conditions … whether in meeting customer changing demand or accessing the necessary skills.

Why are Lifetime Values significant?

Acquiring new customers is always much less cost-efficient than cultivating current buyers so that it stands to reason to capitalize on the changing requirements of those with whom they are already familiar and who themselves are familiar with an organization’s way of working.

The employee also has a potential lifetime value but that will only be released if there is investment in the skills and knowledge necessary to underpin the strategic plan and perpetuate customer satisfaction.

Learning Power’s Role

If ‘Goodwill’ is the measure of customer satisfaction and responsiveness, then Learning Power is surely the measure of not only organizational strategic resilience and awareness but of the professional competence of the workforce and an organization’s strategic commitment to investment in the knowledge and critical skills requirement that will deliver its future.

Society is constantly changing so that in order to thrive, the school and its leaders must adapt and change to keep pace with society’s demands. As we have already found, adaptation to change is about being prepared to learn and using that learning in conjunction with what is already known to make sense not only of today but of tomorrow’s market environment. Schools with such a determination to flourish in a changing world have no choice but themselves to become learning organizations.

The Learning-Powered school is characterized by its ability to:

  • understand the environment in which it operates
  • anticipate the future
  • appreciate its current capabilities
  • learn from practice, experience and accumulated data;
  • use their learning to plan and guide change.

Schools that are learning organizations can truly claim that everyone within them is a learner. They are organized as learning systems: they are rich in data and actively evaluate their performance to inform and guide change. There is a focus on student learning, but staff collaborate and learn too. Staff learning is facilitated and harnessed to bring about development in teaching and classroom practice, with the Head Teacher as the leading learner.

The learning school goes well beyond securing extensive professional development. It is concerned to:

  • generate and apply individual and team learning
  • learn from, and through, internal systems and processes
  • interact with, and learn from, external sources
  • contribute to, and learn from, other schools and training systems
  • support the development of a lifelong learning culture.

Learning Powered schools also undertake to develop their students as:

  • emotionally intelligent learners
  • cognitively skilled
  • socially adept
  • aware of themselves as learners such that they are committed to becoming even better learners (meta-learners).

Nonetheless, this is unlikely to happen unless teachers themselves adopt these qualities; modelling and using the behaviors they wish to instill into their students. Similarly, teachers will find it difficult to meet this challenge unless, the school as a whole displays these qualities.

In adopting a focus on learning the entire school will need to act in ways that:

  • ensures its own holistic improvement
  • enables its teachers to grow as confident, interdependent, risk-taking professionals, who in turn
  • guide students to become self-regulated learners.

The 3 centers of organizational excellence and the Learning-Powered school

The school is no different from any other organization in the development and pursuit of the strategic vision ,with its market and competitive advantage also heavily dependent upon its ability to remain resilient and strategically aware in maintaining staff motivation to innovate whilst monitoring and managing student responsiveness.

A school that is emotionally engaged, cognitively skilled, socially adept and strategically responsible exhibits a range of positive learning behaviours, not dissimilar to those it seeks to develop in both its teachers and its student learners.

A school that is emotionally engaged

  • takes risks in pursuit of its long-term goals
  • is confident it can rise to the challenge of its long-term goals
  • retains its focus and commitment in adversity
  • is resilient and optimistic when faced with difficulty
  • avoids complacency and increases market research when things are going well
  • maintains focus on the important rather than the urgent
  • experiments, takes risks and learns from its mistakes.

A school that is cognitively skilled …

  • is interested in, and questions, how things might be different
  • constantly seeks to secure deeper understanding
  • looks for connectivity
  • values intuition and is prepared to play with ideas
  • adopts a methodical approach to ensure efficiency
  • creates its own understandings for itself rather than relying on ‘received wisdom’
  • is inventive and flexible in its use of people and resources.

A school that is socially adept …

  • articulates its values in ways that are understandable to all stakeholders
  • explores things from a variety of viewpoints before making decisions
  • is led by a team that listens, consults and conveys clear messages
  • values and rewards contributions from every corner of the organization
  • challenges individuals to go beyond their comfort zones
  • is outward looking and networked with other schools as well as educational professionals.
  • learns and functions as a team in pursuit of common goals.

A school that is strategically aware …

  • as a vision and plan of action to achieve its aims and objectives
  • sets challenging targets to stretch its people, both teachers and students as well as other stakeholders;
  • initiates development and promotes creativity and risk-taking
  • monitors performance in order to modify practice proactively
  • Knows the difference between the urgent and the important
  • ensures teams and talents are managed effectively
  • understands how it learns, always keeping the quality of learning under review.

Culture change affects not just those who work in a school but all those who have a stake in it. Preeminent among them are parents.

Once schools have begun to develop their approach to becoming a Learning-Powered organization, it does not take very long before they realize that there could be major implications for the way in which the school should interact with parents and carers. An overarching issue reported by all schools adopting these approaches is the need to develop effective ways of communicating and engaging with parents to ensure that:

  • parents understand what the school is trying to do
  • what goes on at home and in the wider community can complement the approaches being adopted at school.

For some time, schools have been committed to actively involving parents but Learning- Powered schools find it necessary to look beyond ‘involvement’ to ‘engagement’. This implies a more active and personal parental participation in a child’s learning. In recent years, research has found that parental engagement with a child’s learning makes a significant contribution to a child’s achievement, and that parental engagement is a much bigger factor than the school in shaping achievement.

Carol Dweck sums up the contribution of parental intent to the development of children who are powerful learners:

‘If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort and keep on learning. That way they will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.’

Schools take the initiative by communicating their objectives to parents, not just practical arrangements, but the strategic vision: what they seek to help their students become and how they are going about achieving it. In this case it means explaining to them what ‘learning power’ is, its dimensions and underlying habits and behaviors, why it is so important as a life skill.

Information sessions …

  • The most popular way of introducing the Learning Power approach to parents has been through information sessions backed up by leaflets, newsletters, and the school website. The need to make the purpose and language of Learning Power accessible has proved challenging for some schools.
  • Simply explaining the 7 dimensions and 17 learning habits doesn’t seem to engage parents’ interest reliably. Schools have found it important, therefore, to highlight that:
  • this is about helping children to become better learners, in school as well as out
  • enabling them to understand, use, and become more skilled in adopting a wide range of learning behaviors
  • making the children more responsible and independent as learners with outstanding employability skills;
  • the approach will take some time to really embed into the culture of the school, and that it means teachers teaching rather differently and using a new language of learning
  • there will be positive effects on children’s behavior, motivation and persistence, which will feed through to their levels of achievement
  • parents have a critical part to play in helping their children to become better learners and that the school would value their assistance.

Keeping parental interest alive …

One information evening may be sufficient to raise awareness, but maintaining interest requires a range of ongoing activities. These might include: Learning Activity Days; Website Content and Newsletters; Presentation Assemblies; Information in Reception Areas; Curriculum Information Sheets.

Reporting to parents …

Learning-focused reports for parents offer insight into a child’s use of, and progression in the adoption, of learning habits. This information should be written in ways that parents can readily understand and, more importantly, provoke and promote activity. It should offer a talking point about what the child does at school and furthermore suggest how the parent might pick up on the points made and support their child to develop further. These reports support parents to become partners in building a child’s learning behaviors.

How parents are encouraged to help build better learners …

Research tells us that what parents do at home has the greatest impact on a child’s learning, so schools tend to focus on offering ideas for parents to assist in building their children’s learning power.

Just as learning-focused approaches change the way teachers teach, so they can influence the way parents parent. For example, if parents want to help their children see the value of effort and to develop self-belief in their talents, then they may choose to praise their child specifically for those efforts which show them ‘going the extra mile’ rather than simply for ‘getting a good mark’. They may also create situations in which children have to work things out by themselves and hold back from helping them too soon.

Some schools are beginning to offer snappy hour-long sessions on specific aspects of the school’s learning approach such as:

  • How to praise your child’
  • How to help your child when they are stuck’
  • Helping your child to set goals’
  • Recognizing signs of learning distress’
  • 10 things to do/say with/to your child’.

Obviously care needs to be taken when advising parents about parenting, but we know too that unguarded words from a parent after school can unwittingly undo all of the good that has been done during the day. For this reason alone, finding ways to help parents assist the school in building better learners has incalculable benefits.

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