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Running head: TRANSFORMING SCHOOLS INTO LEARNING COMMUNITIES

Transforming schools into learning communities

Benjamin Stewart

October 12, 2008


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Abstract

This paper looks at how transforming schools to a learning community involves all stakeholders.

Administrators must establish good school-community relations in order to establish a learning

community between systems. Additionally, administrators also must collaborate with teachers in

establishing a vision and collective commitments that state the action-oriented responsibilities of

the group that end up driving the transformation process overall. It was determined that common

learning community principals apply to all stakeholders, regardless of their level of involvement

within the network: a) everyone has a voice; b) decisions for the group are reached by consensus;

and c) individual stakeholder goals are respected as well as the goals and objectives of the group.
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Transforming schools into learning communities

Transforming schools into learning communities requires a shift from an individualistic

to a collectivist perspective. Establishing desired results means attending to the goals and

objectives of both the participants and the community as a whole. Changing from the “I” to the

“We” involves designing, implementing, and managing a shared vision throughout the

community in such a way that empowers teachers to share and reflect on best practices, thus

driving to increase student achievement. Specifically, teachers, students, and administrators each

have a particular role in how they interact in the learning community. To the degree that schools

can transform into a learning community depends on the level of involvement of all stakeholders.

Administrators

Administrators have a key role in the transformation process due to their direct

communication they have with all stakeholders (e.g., community, school board, teachers,

students, and parents). The superintendent, for example, creates a bond between the school and

community through a variety of forms of communication: mass, direct, small group, and person-

to-person. In order to promote beneficial school attributes to the public – like a professional

learning community – Bagin, Gallagher, and Moore recommend a more direct form of

communication that includes “case statements, letters, direct mail, prospectuses” etc. (2008, p.

79). School-community relations inform taxpayers on how their tax dollars are being spent.

Policy committees that involve administrators, teachers, and civil leaders bridge school and

community by having both groups work towards a common goal. The way in which a policy

committee interacts is similar to how a learning community interacts: collaborative, collegial,

compromising, empowering, etc.


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Principals seeking to establish a shared school vision must reach out to teachers in a

similar fashion as superintendents do to reach out to the community. Instead of principals and

other administrators establishing a vision that is then imposed on the rest of the stakeholders, a

bottom-up approach involves teachers and students in the decision-making process. For

example, a questionnaire might be used to ask the following questions to students:

1. What are your plans after graduation?

2. What are three things you like and dislike about school?

3. How important is your role in your own high school education?

4. Describe your favorite teacher and explain why.

5. How involved are your parents in your educational development?

6. When you need additional academic or personal advice, who do you turn to? Why?

The following questions might be presented to teachers:

1. What are your professional goals as a teacher?

2. Describe the ideal student after spending three years at our school.

3. What knowledge, skills, and dispositions would this student have?

The point is to hear everyone´s comments, not leaving anyone out. Each person has a voice and

the opportunity to express an opinion, and once everyone has been heard, then a collective

commitment is developed that is based on a group consensus.

A collective commitment is how schools will reach their vision. DuFour, DuFour, and

Eaker (2008) use if/then statements to present action-oriented solutions to address particular

visions in the following way: If + school vision, then + collective commitment. Just as teachers

and students were included in the developing the vision, they too should be included in

developing the collective commitments. Failure to do so results in a power struggle between


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administrators and teachers whereby principals, for example, impose their own particular vision

onto to teachers and students.

Teachers and students

The classroom as a learning community has been greatly influenced by technology. Dron

and Anderson (n.d.) make a distinction between “groups”, “networks”, and “collectives”, which

is aligned with Siemens´s notion of “connectivism” (Connectivism…, 2005) . Groups are

defined as typical classrooms that maintain the traditional roles of teacher and student whereby

content delivery is dictated solely by the teacher with little choice given to the student. In

contrast, a network is a series of links between its participants and information-providing

appliances and affords the learner various options in information delivery (i.e., books, blogs,

wikis, learning management systems, etc.). A collective is similar to networks except the

participants are peripherally involved in an aggregate set of networks. This meta-network

participation provides the means of selecting pertinent information from a wide variety of

network communities depending on interests of the student. The classroom as a learning

community takes the strengths of each of these entities so that students collaborate on group and

individual goals, have a degree of choice as to how they would like to receive information, and

are given the opportunities to self-correct and self-reflect on their own participation in a non-

threatening way. As administrators do with their teachers, so too much teachers do with their

students. Negotiated, meaningful, and purposeful dialog between teachers and students take the

learning process through a series of give-and-take exchanges that lead to a more communal

environment.

Another approach to creating a learning community within the classroom is through the

notion of mobilization. Price´s push for more parental and community involvement stresses the
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importance of having all stakeholders involved in increasing student achievement, especially

among minority groups. He encourages the importance of student motivation, the celebration of

achievement, and the promotion of academic success (2008). Recognizing publically (i.e., in

schools, in communities, and with parents) student accomplishments help students feel valued.

In many cases, students do not get the support they need at home (Price, 2008), so schools offer

an opportunity to do just that. This supports Sergiovanni´s “motivational „rules‟” where he put

forth that extrinsic, intrinsic, and moral aspects of motivation drive behavior (1999, 55). The

moral aspect of motivation in particular is often culturally driven and should be accounted for

when implementing classroom activities and performance tasks that give students exposure to an

authentic audience in the target culture.

Classrooms of today are often reflective of the global society that it is. Teachers are

often dealing with a diverse set of cultures, each having a different perspective on what the role

should be for the teacher and student. Adapting to culturalization for the student can be more

complicated when parents are slow to adapt to the target culture as well. Rothstein-Fisch and

Trumbell (2008) address this situation by explaining the importance of acceptance and

appreciation of the diversified classroom by bridging individualism (i.e., US or target cultural

norms) and collectivism (i.e., a variety of immigrant cultures) together. Having students and

teacher understand each of the cultures being represented in the classroom allows students to

better understand the outside world as well. Communication with parents and supporting them

as they adapt to cultural norms is an additional role teachers should embrace. Again, in a

cultural sense, a learning community relies greatly on how stakeholders collaborate in dealing

with the process of culturalization.


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Conclusion

Transforming schools into learning communities requires the active participation of all its

stakeholders working towards a common goal. Administrators establish school-community

relations that bridge the community to the school by providing ample information about how the

school is being run. Moreover, administrators must maintain a collaborative and collegial work

environment that permits teachers to have a voice in the change process. Similarly, teachers

must establish the classroom as a learning environment so that students have a voice as well.

Goals and objectives of the group are discussed in a way that respects individual goals and

differences, and cultural differences must be appreciated through instruction and assessment

practices that bring out the strengths of each of the learner. The entire transformation to a

learning community requires the participation of the entire learning network: civic leaders,

administrators, teachers, students, and parents. Regardless if it is establishing a learning

community between a school and its community or at the classroom level, the principal elements

are the same. A democratic approach enables all stakeholders to feel they have the right to

participate in the transformation process - a process that is ongoing and promotes continuity

when the members of the learning community change over time. As Blase and Blase mention as

attributes of professional learning communities (or learning communities in general): a)

“supportive and shared leadership”; b) “shared values and vision”; c) “collective learning and

application of learning”; d) “supportive conditions”; and e) “sharing personal practices [or

experiences]” (2004, pp. 178-181). A learning community establishes kinship and a space for

people to work together towards a common objective. Schools that continue the process of

transforming themselves into a learning community will be in a better position to offer a better

learning experience for all its students.


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References

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NY: Pearson.

Blase, J. and Blase, J. (2004). Handbook of instructional leadership: How successful principals

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DuFour, R., DuFour, R., and Eaker, R. (2008). Revisiting professional learning communities at

work: new insights for improving schools. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree (formally

National Educational Service).

Price, H. (2008). Mobilizing the community to help students succeed. Alexandria, VA:

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Rothstein-Fisch, C. and Trumbell, E. (2008). Managing diverse classrooms: how to build on

students´ cultural strengths. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and

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Sergiovanni, T. (1999). Building Community in Schools. New York, NY: Jossey-Bass.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. eLearnspace:

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http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm