Cultivating a Learning Environment: Six Suggestions

A learning culture requires a learning community

The education world, as defined in 2011, is driven by core standards. In my opinion, this is an unfortunate result of a newly-realized awareness of our precarious position within a global economy — and a healthy decline in our sense of entitlement. It is not that I object to standards. To be collaborative, creative and all of the other ‘ives of “21st century skills,” we must have a common core of context through which we can connect with our world and with each other.

It seems unfortunate to me because increased pressures to assure the highest student achievement of rigorous standards have made teaching a far more technical endeavor than it use to be. It has become more scientific and less philosophical.  Because of this, what we like to call the “learning culture” of our schools has become a teaching culture, where conversations involve best practices and measured student achievement instead of empowered learning.

This concerns me for several reasons that become more obvious almost every day. We live in a time of rapid change owing to accelerated technological advancement, increased globalization, power shifts on almost every societal level, and the changing nature of information. We are preparing our children for a future of frightening uncertainty, but astounding opportunity, and to prosper within that future, our children must become skilled, resourceful, and habitual learners — not just lifelong learners but adopting a learning lifestyle.

Here are several suggestions for promoting a learning culture in your school(s). It’s a list that I have adapted and republished a number of times and I hope that you find them helpful as you continue to craft your learning environment(s).

  1. Fill your school(s) with learners. When interviewing prospective teachers, ask “Tell me about something that you have learned lately.” “How did you learn it?” “What are you seeking to learn more about right now that is not related to your teaching – and how?”  Find out how proficient they are at network learning.
  2. Be a public learner. Open your faculty meetings with something that you’ve just learned – and how you learned it.  Include in the daily announcements some piece of interesting knowledge that is obviously new. “Did you know that a California power utility has just gotten permission to sell electricity from outer space? Make frequent mention of what you’ve learned from your Twitter stream, RSS reader, specific bloggers you read.  This should not be limited to job specific topics.
  3. Introduce new ideas that are not necessarily related to school.  Share links to thought-provoking TED talks or other mini-lectures presented by interesting and smart people.  Ask for reactions during faculty meetings, in the halls, or during casual conversations with employees and parents.
  4. Make students’ outside-school-learning part of the conversation.  Find out what their passions are and ask them what they’ve just learned about it.  Suggest that they write something up about it for the school web site or annual research publication. ((Using on-demand publishing services like Lulu, you can easily compile, format, and publish quite professional anthologies of student essays and research that you can add to the school library and the community can purchase online.))
  5. Make your school a curiosity lab.  Plant around the school (especially in the library) intriguing questions that might provoke curiosity in learners (How many steps does a centipede have to take to travel a foot?  Who was the youngest person to sail around the world?).  Reward students who answer them and video their explanations of how they found the answers for the school’s web site.  With the help of creative teachers, invent a mystery for your school and plant clues around the school.  Require student-participants to research the clues they have discovered in order to find their way to the next clue.
  6. Make all school stakeholders public learners.  Ask members of your staff to write essays about their latest vacations or hobbies and publish them on the school web site or annual research publication.  Ask teachers to devote one of their classroom bulletin boards to information about a personal passion of theirs, sharing their latest gained knowledge and achievements.  Suggest that they produce TED style multimedia presentations about a topic they are especially interested in and post them on the school’s web site or perform them at PTA meetings. Learn about the hobbies and travels of the parents of your students and ask them to share what they are learning and how they are learning it through essays, videos, Skyped-in conversations, etc.

Other versions of this list can be found here and here.


Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.