Evolution of learning culture: Why are we here?

“The evolution of learning culture is the most critical work educators need to do inside schools today”

Timeless Learning – How Imagination, Observation and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools by Ira Socol, Pam Moran and Chad Ratliff (p.24)

My work is around ‘culture’ and every school, organisation, business and family, has its own culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast, as Peter Ducker famously wrote. Culture lives in people, is seen in behaviour, and is shaped by space, as my friend Steve Collis less famously said. 

How do we know what is the acceptable behaviour when we walk into a particular space – a museum, a pub,  a cathedral or a training room (head to the back of the room)? We have inbuilt conventions that instinctively directs our behaviour. That’s why an adult shouting in a cathedral just seems wrong to those of us familiar with the applicable convention. Culture is often instinctive.

The learning culture, then, has its own conventions, and I’m suggesting that it is different from a content-driven culture. The former, sees the learner and the particular needs of the individual as the focus, while the latter puts the requirements of the curriculum, standards and collective achievement ahead of the individual. One is an empathic approach, the other puts organisational considerations first. That is why, in my consulting workshops I begin with unpacking the human factors, particularly students and then the staff.

“The only way to change culture is to constantly create situations in which people respond to the question, ‘Why are we here?’”  

(p. 24).

The first chapter of Timeless Learning, is ‘All Means All: Cherishing Children”. When my friends outside education look at me with suspicion regarding the ‘hippy’ views about school, they ask ‘why change?’. To them, the prevailing educational culture seems sacrosanct. As a nation, our standing is declining on international benchmarks, so they ask don’t we just need more drills, more practice, more tests? 

I explain, that this common school experience may help a segment of students, gain success, those who are suited to that way of learning. But if all means all, can’t  all have the opportunity to succeed?

One of the case studies I present in workshops undertook at seven year transformation of the learning culture, and their starting point was people. They asked the staff, 

‘Why do you come to work everyday?’

They sought a genuine response, ‘for the kids’. In Timeless Learning, Socal, Moran and Ratliff believe that finding empathy for the learners, through ‘reaching deep’ within is essential.

“Educators must work to ensure every child knows their voice matters, they have agency in making choices and decisions and they can be responsible for their own learning” (p.26)


This is how the learning culture is transformed. Seeing the individual learner and giving them voice. 

But where do we begin? 

Observe: Pick a couple of learners you know who are struggling in your school. Observe them in class, hallways and the cafeteria or on the playground. Record what you notice about the learners.

Ask: Reach out to talk with each of them. What questions might get a sense of their struggle? How might you invite them to ask their own questions of you? How can you use this information to inform your own understanding of what it means for all learners to be cherished? (p.36)

This is empathy in action, it’s not assuming we know, but being curious.. It is where change and innovation, the evolution of a learning culture must begin. 

All means all.

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