Building a learning organisation

EducationWorld November 2022 | Spotlight Feature
Sunanda Menon– Sunanda Menon, Principal, SVKM School, Dhule

Educational institutions do not organically develop into learning organisations; there are several factors prompting the change. To transform a school into a learning organisation for its continuous growth and improvement, we need to restructure, create a competitive advantage and develop a stakeholder responsive culture. 

A learning organisation is an organisation that facilitates its members to learn and continuously transforms itself. This concept was coined through the work and research of Peter Senge and his colleagues. 

The five characteristics of a learning organisation:

Personal Mastery

Personal mastery is the ability of self-awareness and self-transformation. It means turning the mirror inwards on ourselves. It starts by clarifying the things that really matter to us. Having a clear focus on “How can I make a difference?” Being guided by and acting out from a clear set of values. Seeing ourselves more accurately. This also extends to how you see other people, events and situations too. Personal Awareness is how much you know (or are willing to know) about yourself – what makes you the way you are, your wants, drives, needs, desires and preferences. It is being able to step back and become an observer of what you are really like: your patterns of thinking, feelings and behaviours; seeing how these patterns impact others and affect the quality of your interactions; strengthening those that get you good results and changing those that do not. we all have to re-shape, re-new or re-invent ourselves to be more in harmony with our personal vision, values and purpose.

Mental Models

During your lifetime, you may come across many instances where what you say and what you think do not match. 

Mental models are the pictures or images, assumptions or stories of how we perceive the world works and how people are. It would be like wearing a green glass and seeing the entire world as green. Psychologists call this “Selective observation”.

The discipline of ‘mental modelling’ means questioning our attitudes and beliefs and:

  • Making our assumptions and inferences more transparent to us and to others.
  • Surfacing our own personal pictures of the world and rigorously scrutinising them.
  • Increasing awareness of our own and others’ attitudes, beliefs and perceptions that influence thinking, behaviour and interactions.
  • Continually re-evaluating our mental models to increase our capability to better govern our own actions and to continuously grow.

Shared Vision

Shared vision is when everyone involved in the school carries a similar image of a collective idea on how the school must transform. The intent of building a shared vision is to continuously help members expand their thoughts and personal visions. If people do not have their own vision, all they can do is comply to the existing but not commit to it.  

Team Learning

Team learning is a collective process of examining beliefs, solving problems and reflecting on practices to improve the school’s processes. While team learning sounds a bit like team building, it actually focuses on the learning activity of the group rather than the development of team processes. Individual learning, no matter how wonderful it is or how great it makes us feel, is fundamentally irrelevant to an organisation because virtually all important decisions occurs in teams. The learning units of organisations are teams who need one another to act. Team learning means an organisational commitment to work together synergistically.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking equips a leader to look at issues and problems from a macro perspective, while at the same time looking at the inter-relationships between different aspects of the same problem. It also helps the leader to resolve problems at their root cause rather than at a superficial level. 

“The fifth discipline i.e. Systems Thinking is the cornerstone of how learning organisations think about their world …. the essence lies in a shift of mind: seeing interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains, and seeing processes of change rather than snapshots.”

Applying systems thinking to school situation requires taking a helicopter view and keeping the bigger picture in mind. Systems thinking lays emphasis on continuously asking the question ‘WHY’ rather than ‘WHO’. 

Also read: Why education should nurture moral citizens

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