Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Learning from Success: A Leverage for Transforming Schools into Learning Communities

Academic journal article Planning and Changing

Learning from Success: A Leverage for Transforming Schools into Learning Communities

Article excerpt

Every time I visit one of the schools under my supervision, I ask the principal and his or her staff to write down all the problems at school, so I can help them solve these problems. I never thought to ask for their successes as a mode for learning. A School District Superintendent


To survive, and certainly to thrive in turbulent and uncertain environments, teachers must learn to learn, and thereby develop their abilities to engage in ongoing learning. One way of doing so is to recognize and act upon the importance of learning as a continuous collective process. As Daft and Weick (1984) suggest, in order to overcome the complexities they face, school practitioners have to introduce and maintain continuous social processes of learning through which they can become members of collective interpretation systems. Hence, sharing and generating multiple interpretations with regard to school professional practices can help practitioners to do justice to their professional mission.

There is much promise in focusing on collective learning from past school experiences (i.e., retrospective learning). Put simply, learning from past experiences is of the utmost importance as educators strive to have a positive impact on their students. Somewhat surprisingly, retrospective learning has traditionally been focused on failures and difficulties, whereas successful events and processes have remained relatively unexamined. This primary focus on learning from failed events and processes not only skews teachers' discourse in a negative direction, it also deprives teachers of learning opportunities embedded in past successes and satisfactory events. Although learning from success has been perceived as the enemy of experimentation and innovation (Levitt & March, 1996), the deliberate choice to learn from success can serve as leverage for future integration of collective learning from both success and failure, and from all that lies in between.

Hence, this article will begin by discussing the importance of collective retrospective learning as an inbuilt vehicle in the ongoing pursuit toward learning schools. We will then proceed to explore the predisposition to learn from problems and failures, and pinpoint both the opportunities and obstacles presented by this form of learning. This will be followed by expanding on the limitation and possibilities of learning from successful events. Then, a learning continuum will be proposed in which learning from success can serve as a springboard for further productive collective learning.

Collective Retrospective Learning

Although past experiences can take many and different forms, all shapes of experiences (e.g., planned, incidental) can be associated with practitioners' learning (Cousins, 1998). Virany, Tushman, and Romanelli (1996) even argue that "learning occurs only after experience has been gained...Actions, even mistakes, provide new in formation... that forms the basis for learning" (p. 308). Therefore, examining past events (retrospective reviews) is an essential process in fostering learning.

Learning from past experiences requires a process of reconstruction. Practitioners can generate and reorganize professional knowledge through their ongoing discussion of past experiences. Through a process of reflection-on-action (Schon, 1983), practitioners deliberately reflect on specific incidents they experienced, as well as on the effects of their actions on their environments. This "reflection-conversation" process (Grimmett, 1988) creates a dialogue between the cognitive frameworks constructed by practitioners from information in the practice setting and their own existing cognitive frameworks.

The analysis of past experiences leads practitioners not only to a new understanding of practical situations but also to an exploration of preconceived tacit assumptions about teaching (Grimmett, 1988). Consequently, learning from past experiences leads to a better self-understanding, a better understanding of the teaching profession, and a better integration between the two. …

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