Collective or Organizational Learning
Recent school improvement research identifies a need for change that is not as focused on curriculum fidelity or the use of high stakes data to improve performance. Instead, the emphasis is that "schools must strengthen their internal capacity to manage change processes in order to reach high levels of performance"
(Higgins, Ishimaru, Holcombe, & Fowler, 2012, p. 3).
Rather than a focus on accountability and compliance, or support for program change, the focus is on organizational learning and collaborative practice within the school.
Organizational theory helps us understand the workplace conditions that support good data use. One theory is that "organizational learning refers to a higher order of collective learning that extends beyond a single individual; individuals within an organization thus learn from one another" or groups
(Higgins et al., 2012, p. 6).
In order for collective learning to take place, there are some key critical components. Absorptive capacity, for example, is an individual’s or organization’s ability to recognize the value of new kinds of information and absorb it into their existing ways of organizing.
Socio-cultural organizational learning research, such as Vygotsky’s early work, has focused on individuals’ social interactions within organizations.
So instead of understanding how people cognitively do or do not process information effectively, studies focus specifically on how social practices shape individuals’ learning. For example, research "has studied how people or organizations assist others in learning and how communities of practice or learning communities emerge and evolve"
(Higgins et al., 2012, p. 7).
Garvin, Edmondson, and Gino (2008) wrote that in order to understand organizational learning, we need to consider several
. These building blocks were developed based on organizational research and described as important for successful organizational learning and adaptability.
Supportive Learning Environment:
In this environment, individuals feel psychologically safe. They value each other’s differences, are open to new ideas, and have time for reflection. This psychological safety ensures it is okay to speak up, ask for help, critique their own practices, and most importantly, admit mistakes. This requires high levels of trust and a sense of safety for teachers to expose their vulnerabilities to each other.
Open dialogue about what went wrong and what is not working, provides far better and more honest conversations towards improvement, than simply celebrating successes.
Concrete Learning Processes and Practices:
These include the creation, collection, and transfer of information, experimentation, and analyses.
If teachers are encouraged to ask questions or treat mistakes as an opportunity for learning, then they are far more likely to take risks and challenge current practices.
With safety and trust in place, teachers are willing to collectively look at progress monitoring data, examine the low points, and plan more effective and intentional lessons that better target skill development.
Leadership that Reinforces Learning:
These behaviors include listening attentively and encouraging multiple points of view. This means that leaders take the role of
facilitating opportunities for learning with their teachers
Principals can move beyond just organizing to ensure alignment with standards, to focusing on organizing around collective learning, as a means to deliberate continuous improvement.
Garvin, D. A., Edmondson, A. C., & Gino, F. (2008). Is yours a learning organization?
Harvard Business Review, 86