As educators, we talk all the time about creating a culture of learning in our classrooms. We want to inspire our students to be intrinsically motivated to learn, but we often fail to model those expectations for them nor do we provide the classroom climate to provide space for it. Creating a culture of learning requires that we put intentional thought behind the environments we create for learners of all kinds.
It’s clear from the absence of blog posts in the last two years on this page that my mind has been occupied elsewhere. I took a chance in the summer of 2019 for a new job at a new school in a new district and ended up exactly where I was meant to be. If you know anything about my journey up to that point, you know that it was not easy. I’d always had a knack for dreaming big and stepping outside of my comfort zone in the classroom. Being innovative and thinking outside the box are kind of my jam. And I am and always have been a champion for students. I believe that they can, and will, make our world a better place.
More than anything, I love to learn about how to be a better teacher, how to better serve our students, and how to collaborate better with my fellow teachers by listening to a good podcast or reading a book that challenged my practices. In the past when I went to share my learning with others, I was usually on an island. Every once in a while I’d find a willing colleague who’d say, “Why not? Let’s do it.” In my last year as a classroom teacher (2018-2019), that support was non-existent. I struggled with burnout, frustration, workplace bullies, anxiety, depression, and more.
YOUR PLACE IS WAITING
When I took the leap and stepped into my new role in the summer of 2019, I had no idea what to expect other than I’d get to work with students and teachers, which is something that I’d been looking to do for a while. What I found were my place and my people.
In my current role, I have the perfect blend of a classroom teacher and instructional coach. While I spend two hours of my day teaching community-centered courses (where I implement a project-based learning approach aimed at transforming community), I spend the rest of my day supporting teachers and staff in pursuit of a true student-centered vision for learning. I work in a community that values the power of people and the gifts they bring to the table and is actively working to elevate those gifts for the good of others. However, I think my absolute favorite part of my “new’ position and the team that I work with is that we embody a true culture of learning.
A CULTURE OF LEARNING
As educators, we talk all the time about creating a culture of learning in our classrooms. We want to inspire our students to be intrinsically motivated to learn, but we often fail to model those expectations for them nor do we provide the classroom climate to provide space for it. The same is true for those in teaching roles and those in support roles, such as instructional coaches, as well as school and district leadership. If we want students to develop a lifelong passion for learning, we have to show them what happens when we have one. A learning culture hinges on two main dispositions: reflection and inquiry.
REFLECTION IS KEY TO A CULTURE OF LEARNING
First, we must be constantly reflecting upon our priorities, practices, and progress. In schools, it’s easy to roll out an initiative at the beginning of the year and not touch it again until May. Learning requires that we continuously reflect upon what is and what is not working. As a first-year teacher, I kept a journal to reflect. These days, most of my reflection happens in collaborative teams where I can share my ideas with others and get feedback.
Reflective Questions for Small Groups:
- What’s going well right now?
- What tensions do we feel?
- What’s one thing we can do tomorrow/next week/over the next month that will move us forward faster?
- What has been most helpful? Least helpful?
DEVELOPING SUSTAINED INQUIRY
Secondly, we have to acquire a sense of curiosity and inquiry. If we are not asking questions, we’re not growing. At the beginning of the year, I developed a driving question that has guided my work throughout the year. This question, which is “What does it mean to be a community?” is on my classroom website so it can be viewed by students and colleagues alike. I am not going to lie to you and say that everything I’ve read or listened to this year has directly tied back to that driving question. However, it has helped me develop a lens through which I’m consuming content. The professional books and podcasts I’ve dug into this year have helped to contribute positively to the work my team and I are doing.
Ways to Develop Sustained Inquiry:
- Develop a driving question that guides your work.
- Get good at asking questions. Ask them for yourself and those around you.
- Gather others to learn together.
A missing piece between learning and reflecting is often creating. We have to do something with what we learn so that we can reflect upon its impact in our classrooms and/or our lives. Whether you are reading this as a fellow educator, an entrepreneur, or you just stumbled upon this post after a random sequence of events, you know of stagnant people. There are those who, it seems no matter how hard they’re working, fail to make progress. That’s because in between inquiry and reflection, there has to be a change or, what I call, creation. When one of these three pieces is missing, it’s hard to make or see progression toward a goal. This constant cycle of inquiry – creation – reflection – inquiry will ensure that we are committed to learning and growing as individuals, as organizations, and as a community as a whole.
I am so fortunate to be working in a place that really embraces a culture of learning from as small as the classroom environment to the broader community as a whole. My colleagues and I are actively working to create change and see an impact. I’d love to hear more about your personal journey in being part of a culture of learning. What made that environment powerful to you? What are some other ways to build a culture of learning in our schools and organizations?