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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Learning Organizations and Shared Leadership


Acknowledging the transformations that are occurring in understanding leadership and how organizations are structured is a continuing dilemma within the field of education. Schools have found themselves in an environment experiencing discontinuous change and the expectation that they re-evaluate their core business in order to achieve the most beneficial outcomes for their students. The business of education is undergoing a shift in leadership paradigms as learning organizations and multiple leadership roles evolve as prominent models to structure public education in the 21st century.

The reality of establishing a learning organization and shared leadership may be daunting for educators for some believe that the operation of a school is very different from running or managing a corporation or private business. However, the devolution of education from large district control to the individual school system has required leaders to re-evaluate their purpose within the school. The ability of the school to sustain itself over the long term is paramount to the survival of the system. Therefore, leaders within education must find ways to not only sustain their futures but also provide the necessary cultivation of knowledge for all the members within their school community to be able to compete within a global market and cope with the discontinuous change that the 21st century is experiencing (Sabah & Orthner, 2007).

The analysis of business management models is essential for helping schools transform their traditional hierarchical system to a system that understands that organizations can benefit from the creation of a learning organization that shares leadership among its participants. Senge (1997) explains that an organization creates a vision that empowers all participants within an organization to strive to embody new capabilities and learn new skills through practice and performance. He also notes that leadership is collective and leaders serve because they choose to serve, the notion that the way people think, act and view the world are inseparable, and that learning can be dangerous, as learning must become “transformational” in order to meet the needs of a changing society (Senge, 1997; pg.18).

As all the participants become accountable and responsible for achieving the vision of the organization, a learning community forms and is sustainable only by the continued involvement of the people in the organization. Bowen, Ware, Rose, & Powers (2007) cite Hiatt-Michael (2001) who states that a learning community has members who accept responsibility for acquiring new ideas that develop and maintain the environment. The learning community requires working together to harness member’s existing knowledge and experiences and focus on understanding and respecting other member’s diversity within the organization (Bowen, Ware, Rose, & Powers, 2007). Utilizing this definition of learning organizations the willingness of members to embrace innovations becomes paramount to the change that schools need to undergo to face new challenges and improve student outcomes (Bowen, Ware, Rose, & Powers, 2007).

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