Cultivating Change in the Knowledge Ecology

March 27, 2010

“To create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself.” Margaret Wheatley

Teaching is, at all levels, often a solitary pursuit for individual practitioners. Educators work in a largely autonomous if not atomized environment. In order to be part of the mainstream, islands of practice need bridges and knowledge navigators to connect them to the mainland.

An ecology is an open and complex adaptive system made up of elements that are dynamic, evolving and interdependent. Ecology, as a systems thinking metaphor, deals with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.

A learning ecology is an environment that is consistent with how learners learn. It involves the active (re)creation of knowledge in an environment that fosters and supports the creation of overlapping learning communities which are constantly evolving, largely self- organizing and which cross-pollinate with each other.

Each learning community must learn to respond in its own way to the challenge of adapting and evolving in the light of local and national needs and imperatives.

The appropriate metaphor for education  systems change is not engineering but cultivation, linked to better reticulated professional wellsprings which nurture the energy and creativity of education professionals and link to simple sustainable strategies for complex adaptive learning systems.

Leadership Impact on Student Outcomes 

“…the leader doesn’t stop at supporting or sponsoring their staff in their learning; they actually participate…as leader, learner or both.” *

How do education leaders positively engage the best capacities of theirr colleagues to learn and adapt? The recently published BES survey on School Leadership and Student Outcomes summarizes the relative impact of five leadership dimensions on student outcomes.*

The most significant impact, with an effect size of 0.84, is Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development.  As the authors point out, the key word is “participating”-active involvement as a leader or a learner or both. This large effect provides empirical support for calls for education leaders to be actively involved in teacher learning and development.

If we know that this works why don’t we do more of it? The answer may be that we are not sure how to best initiate high energy learning and development strategies which bring about positive changes that stick. 

Engaging People 

At a time of merging media and emerging change the status quo is not an option. Guru-inspired change management initiatives led by external consultants often do not stick: when the consultants go so does the energy.

Ensuring the active engagement of the people involved in a change process is the key to its success. The art of securing sustainable change outcomes consists of engaging, mobilising and empowering  colleagues. Human dynamics need to be foremost in the change process. Developing the learning organization means developing the individuals and teams within it.

An overly left brain planning approach is too limited. Positive change often emerges as a by-product of the change process. The key is to create ownership of the change process and encourage people to willingly implement the solutions. This approach takes time and involves connecting, engaging and participating and adopting, adapting, and improving.

Effective education leadership is distributive and the approach is decentralized, nurtured, and connected rather than centralized, managed, and isolated.   

Key organisation change principles*

 1. Be clear about the nature of change required -internally driven change based on diagnostic data

2. Secure the engagement of people. -tap into the energy available for the change agenda via the people likely to be affected by it

3. Use high-leverage change methodologies -dialogue based, whole system based, engages multiple perspectives.

 Any change methodology, such as Appreciative Inquiry, which incorporates these principles and is a positive relational approach to change will secure implementation outcomes faster than change methodologies which are expert-led or formula based. 

The fourth annual Education Leaders Forum*, to be held at the Centre of Excellence, Waiariki Institute of Technology, Rotorua on 20 and 21 October 2010,  will work on these issues.  The ELF 2010 theme is Cultivating Learning-A living systems approach to growing education professionals.

 #Lyall Lukey  27 March 2010


Education Leaders Forum 2010  Margaret J. Wheatley  School Leadership and Student Outcomes

Organisational developments in a downturn. Linda Holbeche, CPID and Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge Issue 27 Impact