Learn Deep: HSD Tools to Grow a Professional Learning Ecology

When we work in schools, we work to explain how complex systems work, and we engage in dialogue with people in the system to identify the patterns coherent with their shared identity, tasks, priorities, and practices. As a result of this deep dive into exploring their patterns, educators then identify options for action to generate and sustain the patterns they want to see.

Hear the voices of educators as they describe their challenges. These educators live and work in communities like yours. Their challenges are everyone’s business.

An elementary teacher says, “This year, in my third-grade class of 26 students, two families are going through divorces, one child’s mother just finished breast cancer treatment, three children have parents who are job hunting, and two families are new immigrants. Many of my children’s families are in transition, and mostly for unhappy reasons. There is no way I can meet all their needs!”

A high school teacher says, “Every year I have more students who have just moved to this country and have to take the state tests in English within a year. They are working hard, and their English is improving quickly, but the test is looming! It’s not fair to them—or to me.”

An elementary school principal says, “Half of my faculty are early career teachers. They are concerned and committed, but inexperienced. Each year, it seems that we have new initiatives. They need intensive support for these new initiatives, but also for basic issues like classroom management. Our resources for professional learning are stretched to the breaking point, and it’s still not enough.”

A school superintendent says, “My school is in a village on the Yukon River, and the people in the community want to preserve and revitalize their language, but they also know that, for their children, English is the language of success and power outside the village. I feel frustrated about these opposing goals and am at a loss about what I can do—especially with the need to raise test scores on the English-only test.”

These school leaders, like other 21st century leaders, face almost impossible challenges. Many of them are on call 24-7, answering e-mails, texts, and tweets far beyond the end of the workday. They work in systems constantly battered by competing economic, social, and political forces. They attend meetings, call parents, complete paperwork, align curriculum, review lesson plans, take graduate courses, go to community events, and reach out to policy makers. And then they go home to soccer games, family dinners, and laundry. In their communities, they are seen as the “face of the school,” so what they say and do carries particular influence and responsibility. 

At school, they work to solve problems emerging from increasing language and cultural diversity among their students, instability among the families, high-stakes accountability schemes, and scarce resources. Clearly, this work is fraught with challenges that threaten widespread disengagement, alienation, and cynicism—among students and the public alike.  Those are the challenges facing educators today, and, unfortunately, these challenges are widely viewed as intractable problems. It is easy to see how educators (and the public) begin to feel helpless—and hopeless.

In HSD, we choose to see patterns, not problems. When we look for patterns and when we have tools to analyze those patterns, we can take action that makes a difference in our local situation. This work has much in common with the work of ecologists facing overwhelming challenges related to global warming. These scientists do not simply throw up their hands in frustration. They study the data. They look for patterns. They hypothesize about the underlying dynamics and the patterns that may emerge, and they make recommendations for policy and practice most likely to support and sustain life in these ecosystems. Most important, ecologists assume that these ecosystems have the capacity to adapt, and they work to set conditions to support that self-organizing adaptation process:

The concept of ecological complexity stresses the richness of ecological systems and their capacity for adaptation and self-organization.                       

                                                                                           --Li, 2007

HSD practitioners in schools also assume that social systems are ecologies—complex networks of individuals, communities, and cultures that are open to influence; they are diverse; and they are interconnected in nonlinear ways. From these ever-changing, interdependent interactions, patterns emerge over time. HSD practitioners work to notice, name and explain these patterns. We also work with others in our local ecologies to name the patterns we want to create and to identify options for action that are most likely to generate those patterns we want. We believe that learning, like growth in any living organism, emerges moment by moment, in sometimes surprising ways. Just as a healthy ecology in nature supports growth, a healthy learning ecology supports individual and collective learning.

When we work in schools, we work to explain how complex systems work, and we engage in dialogue with people in the system to identify the patterns coherent with their shared identity, tasks, priorities, and practices. As a result of this deep dive into exploring their patterns, educators then identify options for action to generate and sustain the patterns they want to see.

In working with individual educators, campus faculties, district systems, and school boards across the past decade, Royce Holladay and I have adapted and refined a few HSD models and methods as thinking tools that are useful in this collaborative work. We believe what we have learned can be used in schools, and in any other organization or community where adults want to learn together in collaborative, practical ways.

In September, she and I are offering an online Adaptive Action Lab called Learning Deep: Tools to Grow a Professional Learning Ecology. In that lab, you will use HSD models and methods to look at your own situation, exploring conditions that can support shared professional learning. Please join us to explore how you can set conditions for deep learning in your own ecologies.

For more information follow the link above or contact Royce Holladay to find out more about this online Adaptive Action Lab.

Join a global network of learning about HSD!

As a member of the network, you will receive weekly notices of events, opportunities, and links to blogs and other learning opportunities. Additionally, you will have the option to unsubscribe at any point, should you decide to do so.