Learning Culture: We’ve been looking in the wrong place

learning cultureWe have learned plenty about school culture over the last decade – positive school climates, safe and caring schools, and learning environments. When we hear “school culture”, we immediately think about safe schools, positive behaviours, school spirit and a welcoming community. But, there is a deeper and more powerful force at work in our classrooms. It requires a safe school, a positive climate, the connectedness of a school community and a learning environment to be established, but it’s more than that. It is a culture of learning.

For me, the key difference between a learning environment and culture of learning is in the students. The learning environment can be created independently by the teacher. The walls, the layout, the routines, the lessons, the tasks and so on. All necessary.  But it is how the students feel about these things and how they respond that determine the culture of learning. It’s the students’ values and beliefs about their learning and growth that raise the classroom learning environment to a culture of learning.

Educators spend a great deal of time and effort providing students with engaging lessons, rich tasks and descriptive feedback. There are few things more frustrating than giving a student feedback during the learning process, only to see them disregard it, or worse, shut down completely. In a culture of learning, the students have a growth mindset (find out more about mindsets here and here) and see feedback as a positive and progressive experience. In a culture of learning, mistakes and failures only serve to support students to the next iteration of their learning.

This culture of learning doesn’t come easily. I have seen examples around our county of staff working hard at developing and nurturing a community of learners. They are letting students in on the secret curriculum of why we learn and how we learn. They are building resilient, creative and autonomous learners.

This blog post by George Couros sums it up. “The real game changer isn’t something external; it is internal. It is the way we think and grow. It is moving from that fixed mindset…and moving to the growth mindset. The game changer is, and always will be, being open to new learning opportunities, doing something with them, and making that human connection to our learners.”  See the full post here.

We have been looking for a game changer (or rather the next game changer) for as long as I can recall. We have been looking in the wrong place. It’s not out there. It’s inside ourselves and more importantly, inside our students.

Pat Miller is the School Effectiveness Lead in the SCDSB and a regular contributor to Sharing Simcoe. Read his bio here.

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