Wednesday / June 19

Creating Schools That Learn

In my work helping school leaders lead change, one of the biggest challenges a leader and their team often faces is the behavioral shift required to build and nurture the human ability to change. Many schools and districts are working on implementing strategic plans that seek to transform the industrial ‘one size does not fit all’ model of education. If these plans stand a chance of being implemented, it’s vital that the adult behavioral shifts are discussed, understood, and nurtured – all in service of the vision laid out in the plan.

These are the most common behavioral shifts I have noticed in my work with leaders and teams:

From To
Mitigate risk Embrace risk
Exert control Distribute autonomy
Knowing Learning
Have answers Ask questions
Stay within departmental lines Work across departmental lines
Clear roles Ambiguous roles
Value and prioritize what we assess Prioritize what we value and figure out a way to assess it
“Don’t rock the boat” Push back when and where it is necessary in service of the vision

Does this resonate with your own experience? Are there shifts you would amend or add? I often think of the above as a continuum. Some situations might require us to lean more towards the left-hand column, and some to the right; but for the most part, the cultural norms of the industrial model of education lean heavily towards the left of the above figure, and we need to build our collective capacity to live more in the right-hand column.

At the core of this work of education transformation is adult transformation. The majority of us were raised in the old industrial system of education and we find ourselves in the dual role of hospice worker to the old way and midwife to the new (Leicester 2013). It involves a shift away from the mental model of “How do I manage change resistance” to “How do I build change resilience?” – and when we do that? Well, then we have a real learning organization on our hands – schools that learn.

Written by

Julie Wilson is the Founder and Executive Director of Institute for the Future of Learning, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping transform the factory model of education. Julie has over fifteen years’ experience in organization development and change leadership; as a learning and development consultant at Harvard University, Julie managed the University’s career and professional development program, provided organization development consulting to University leaders and was the recipient of the ‘Harvard Hero’ award for outstanding contributions to the University.


In addition to helping schools and communities lead sustainable change, Julie highlights great practice and shares reflections on curriculum, pedagogy, and change at Julie graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education with a Master’s degree in Technology, Innovation, and Education.  Look for Julie’s new book with Corwin, The Human Side of Changing Education, coming in Spring 2018.  Connect with Julie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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