Teacher Commitment in Sustainable Learning Communities: A New "Ancient" Story of Educational Leadership

By Cherkowski, Sabre | Canadian Journal of Education, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Teacher Commitment in Sustainable Learning Communities: A New "Ancient" Story of Educational Leadership


Cherkowski, Sabre, Canadian Journal of Education


As leaders, as neighbors, as colleagues, it is time to turn to one another, to engage in the intentional search for human goodness. (Wheatley, 2005, p. 57)

Compassion, joy, love--these deep human capacities are essential components of educational leadership that evoke and sustain teacher commitment in learning communities. Leadership that can nourish and sustain passion and commitment is needed as educators are, more and more, challenged to adapt and shift their practices and mindsets in the rapidly changing educational landscape. As will be described in this article, the participants in a small case study on teacher commitment (Cherkowski, 2004) revealed that the principal's commitment to the teachers' well-being and his demonstration of compassion and deep care for them through his work were important influences on how they were beginning to feel a renewed desire to focus on their commitment to their work and improve their craft.

Sustainability, both ecological and social, has become the desired state for our over-extended society. Similarly, finding ways to establish and maintain sustainable leadership within learning communities is an important component of school improvement research (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Mitchell & Sackney, 2009). Building on their learning community model, Mitchell and Sackney's (2009) sustainable learning community theory is underpinned by a living systems model of organization in which sustainable learning communities are identified by high capacity school cultures characterized by notions of wholeness, connectedness, meaning, commitment, and depth. Moreover, in sustainable learning communities, continuous learning and reflection infuse a school culture of collaboration developed through shared values and beliefs.

Teacher commitment has traditionally been understood as the desire to remain with an organization (Bedeian, Kemery, & Pizzolatto, 1991; Blau, 1988, 1989). However, if teacher commitment is conceptualized more broadly as the desire to continue to grow and learn within a professional community of colleagues, the connection between teacher commitment and sustainable learning communities becomes quite clear. Sustaining vibrant learning communities requires more than teachers' commitment to remain with the organization--it requires a commitment to continued growth and learning that is shared with colleagues.

Darling-Hammond (1997) wrote, "When all is said and done, what matters most for students' learning are the commitments and capacities of their teachers" (p. 293). Over a decade later, understanding how to engage the deep commitment and capacity of teachers remains essential to achieving sustainable learning communities for our children. I argue that one of the important, and underexplored, avenues to tapping into a heightened sense of commitment to professional growth and learning for teachers may be through a more fully human experience in the school. By this, I mean that educators be encouraged--through the actions, words, and attitudes of the school leader and others in the professional community--to bring deep human emotions of, for example, love, joy, and compassion into their work in the school, instead of leaving it at the door at the beginning of the day, to be picked up at the end of the day on their way home. Rather, teachers would infuse their work with all of the rich aspects of their emotional lives; school leaders might encourage and support this wholeness though modeling, infusing their own work with authentic emotional expressions, as well as personal and meaningful connections with learning community members.

Framing Leadership for Teacher Commitment: The New Ancient Story

Exploring the importance of emotions, recognizing the impact of ignoring the full human experience in organizations, researching from a strengths-based perspective, mining organizations for virtuous behaviors--these are new ways of researching and understanding how to develop and design organizations that "not only elevate and connect human strengths (internally) but serve to refract and magnify our highest human strengths into society" (Cooperride, n. …

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