Schools as Learning Organizations: It's All About the Connections

What happens when you bring five school teams, each comprised of board members, administrators and teachers, together for two days to design strategy for their schools? That’s the question we asked ourselves when we envisioned our Strategic Planning Institute. We had two big hypotheses to test. The first was that schools could design better strategy if they were in an environment that allowed them to support, inspire, question and challenge one another. The second was that if schools experienced this type of collaboration, and were offered helpful tools and structures for the process, they would be equipped to return to school and lead a strategic design process that was entirely their own.

On June 17 and 18, we launched the SPI with the first of three sessions and began to test our hypotheses with five very different schools. After two long, intense and incredibly full days, we concluded our time together each other by reflecting on the experience, in a process called “Connections” and led by one of our faculty, Rob Riordan (affectionately known as the Emperor of Rigor). Here’s what we learned:

Leading schools to ensure the best learning experiences for students is hard work, and it’s always evolving. As our school teams reflected on the early stage of strategic design, they expressed excitement, awe, gratitude, and a sense of deep purpose for the work. People expressed their appreciation for meeting other committed educators and for learning about other kinds of schools and approaches to learning. They also expressed fear, uncertainty, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Most of all, we all expressed our gratitude for the power of collaboration—for making “connections” between ideas, values, people and a vision for learning that truly makes school work for kids.

Good stuff, but how is this different from any convening where people come together to share ideas? For us, it was part two of our hypothesis. Making connections in the context of doing the work—of building, creating and designing in service of our schools—that’s where the big leap forward happens. We’ve got many months of work ahead in SPI - and we’ll keep you posted on what we learn.