Laying the Groundwork: Respect, Trust, and Learning (Part 1)

by Chris Sturgis

Baby elephant learning to take a bath in the river. Laos

I get asked all the time by school leaders, “Where should we start?” It’s hard to give any one answer, as context matters. It all really depends on your own path of improvement, the strengths of your school, and why you want to modernize your school. However, there are three places that are certainly worth making sure you have laid the groundwork. With these three in place or even starting to be in place, everything will go more smoothly.

  1. Respect: You won’t get very far creating a learning-centered organization if you don’t respect your teachers and other staff as learners. Make sure they have time for planning, collaborating, and learning. If you haven’t put into place professional learning communities or other types of formal, protected time using clear protocols so that teachers can engage with one another as professionals and pursue their own inquiries, do so now before going any further toward modernizing your school.
  2. Trust: Honestly assess your organization or classroom about the levels of trust that exist within and between students, teachers, leaders, and parents. Find support to coach you in building a culture of inclusivity and belonging. Safety is important for both students and adults to learn. You’ll need to create a sense of safety if you want to build a learning organization that can respond to students and improve performance.
  3. Shared Understanding of How Children (and Adults) Learn: Take the time to create a shared set of pedagogical principles to guide your school design, learning experiences, instruction and assessment, and professional learning. It’s fine to start with more general statements about learning, but you’ll want to build your capacity regarding research going forward. There isn’t one way to optimize learning, and certainly different students will need different things at different times. A common set of beliefs about how students learn will help make things discussable.

The second part of this article provides an exercise for you and your team to develop a shared understanding of how children and adults learn.

(Why did I pick the picture with a baby elephant? In Laos a few years backed I spent a morning watching the momma teach the babe how to go into the river and clean off ones back. The flipping, flopping and eventually leaning against momma in exhaustion was a beautiful example of the trust it takes to learn something hard and to keep going until we learn.)

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