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An organization's ability to learn may make the difference between its thriving or perishing in the years ahead, says author Peter Senge.
The Fifth Discipline explains the characteristics of "learning organizations." Schools are considered to be institutions of learning, but are most of them learning organizations?
Definitely not. A learning organization is an organization in which people at all levels are, collectively, continually enhancing their capacity to create things they really want to create. And most of the educators I talk with don't feel like they're doing this. Most teachers feel oppressed trying to conform to all kinds of rules, goals and objectives, many of which they don't believe in. Teachers don't work together; there's very little sense of collective learning going on in most schools.
By the way, I also disagree with your assumption that schools are institutions of learning for students.
Why is that?
We say school is about learning, but by and large schooling has traditionally been about people memorizing a lot of stuff that they don't really care too much about, and the whole approach is quite fragmented. Really deep learning is a process that inevitably is driven by the learner, not by someone else. And it always involves moving back and forth between a domain of thinking and a domain of action. So having a student sit passively taking in information is hardly a very good model for learning; it's just what we're used to.
Let's look at adult learning first. We do have staff development programs to help educators improve their skills, to become more knowledgeable. Are these kinds of efforts misguided?
No, but they're far from supporting the kind of learning organization I'm talking about. The traditional approach to helping educators learn has been to develop the skills of individuals to do their work better. I'm talking about enhancing the collective capacity of people to create and pursue overall visions.
Obviously, the educational enterprise is ultimately about kids learning. But we must also give systematic attention to how teachers learn. And by learning, I don't mean sending them away to off-site conferences. I'm not saying they shouldn't ever do that, but learning is always an on-the-job phenomenon. Learning always occurs in a context where you are taking action. So we need to find ways to get teachers really working together; we need to create an environment where they can continually reflect on what they are doing and learn more and more what it takes to work as teams.
Can you say more about the difference between the individual learning that a teacher might do and this notion of a team or an …