11/11/2013 03:26 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

College and Career Readiness -- Part Three

Building and Sustaining Learning Organizations

College and Career Readiness for every student is an audacious goal. Those of us in education aspire to achieve this and few have thus far succeeded with each June's graduates.

This last blog of the three-part series on College and Career Readiness focuses on "Building and Sustaining Learning Organizations." Combined with Part One -- which addressed adopting and modeling a growth mindset and Part Two -- which discussed adaptive leadership -- these three themes address the system-level changes we see as key foundational elements to achieving "real" college and career readiness.

We believe college and career readiness for every student calls on educators to:

  • Adopt and model a growth mindset
  • Engage in adaptive leadership
  • Build and sustain learning organizations

Schools need to become places capable of generating knowledge -- not merely disseminating it. "They must become learning organizations," says my colleague Jim May, school development coach who leads the Leadership Development program for New Tech Network.

Effective leadership is at the heart of every successful school or district innovation effort. To become a learning organization requires collective learning in pursuit of a common purpose. "When done well, every interaction, every practice and every structure in the school is organized around learning -- not accountability," Jim continues.

When we operate as a learning organization we individually and collectively adopt a growth mindset and a willingness to engage in adaptive work, based on meaningful and frequent data analysis. Schools become places of learning that continually increase our capacity to achieve the outcomes we care about.

At New Tech, we promote an environment where we share responsibility for student outcomes. We value independent judgement by our teachers, staff and administrators and work as a team to cultivate leadership.

One characteristic of teams in learning organizations is that they operate as learning communities in which sensitively expressed dissent, conflict, and debate are encouraged as positive sources of learning. We encourage robust conversations where disagreeing and promoting various viewpoints is encouraged and no idea is too big or too small to be discussed.

In addition to foundational elements like growth mindset, adaptive leadership and learning organization, we also need to "think small and personal" and realize that our work will limit or expand the options available to the students we care about. "It is a commitment to assure our schools are not places that artificially or prematurely take options away from young people," explains Jim.

Not all students need to go to college. But that choice should not be determined by the adults responsible for providing meaningful and relevant educational learning experiences. "Our job is not to make that decision for them," says Jim. "Our job is to develop their capacity, empowering them to make the decision for themselves."