Structural barriers: redesigning schools to create learning organizations

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  • International Journal of Educational ManagementStructural barriers: redesigning schools to create learning organizationsEbrahim Randeree

    Article information:To cite this document:Ebrahim Randeree, (2006),"Structural barriers: redesigning schools to create learning organizations",International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 20 Iss 5 pp. 397 - 404Permanent link to this document:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09513540610676458

    Downloaded on: 16 October 2014, At: 01:58 (PT)References: this document contains references to 17 other documents.To copy this document: permissions@emeraldinsight.comThe fulltext of this document has been downloaded 1073 times since 2006*

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  • Structural barriers: redesigningschools to create learning

    organizationsEbrahim Randeree

    State University of New York at Buffalo, New York, USA

    Abstract

    Purpose The purpose of this paper is to focus on schools and address the structural dimensions ofthe organization as well as the hierarchical design of information flows between stakeholders. Thepaper highlights current structural barriers to creating learning organizations.

    Design/methodology/approach This paper utilizes a conceptual model.

    Findings The analysis shows that the previous process and perception changes as they relate tolearning are moderated by structure, and that success in building the learning organization is limitedwithout redesign of the learning environment.

    Practical implications While restructuring is not the solution by itself (although someadministrators like to think so), the restructuring of the school is a moderator of all the changesoccurring in the path to creating a learning organization.

    Originality/value The paper provides a look at the barriers within schools and provides apractical agenda for action that enables the creation of learning organizations.

    Keywords Schools, Learning organizations, Organizational structures, United States of America

    Paper type General review

    Introduction

    Organizational structures are mechanisms for arranging and regulating the way peopleinteract with each other in time and space. Structures bring people together or keep themapart. Structures can shape our actions and relationships, opening up opportunities for andimposing constraints on them (Hargreaves et al., 2001).

    In the transition from modernity to post-modernity, from adaptive to generate learning,much of the emphasis on building learning organizations has focused on the changes inculture, processes and people. These are important factors driving the change form atraditional organization to a learning organization and they need to occur in anenvironment that ensures their success. Organizational learning is a process thatdemands restructuring (Fullan, 1993) and the first walls to breach are those that existin the minds of people (Mitchell and Sackney, 2000). Researchers have focused on theprocesses that need restructuring and the mental models that need to change to fosterthe creation of a new state, but they have so often failed to address the physical andorganizational structures that hinder success during the implementation stages.

    The capacity of organizations to support teaching and learning is every bit asimportant as the personal capacity of the educators and the interpersonal capacity ofthe groups; organizational capacity begins with the awareness that a learningcommunity requires a different organizational structure (Mitchell and Sackney, 2000).The five disciplines (see Figure 1) address team learning, shared visions, individual

    The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at

    www.emeraldinsight.com/0951-354X.htm

    Structuralbarriers

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    International Journal of EducationalManagement

    Vol. 20 No. 5, 2006pp. 397-404

    q Emerald Group Publishing Limited0951-354X

    DOI 10.1108/09513540610676458

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  • and group perceptions (Senge, 1990); but they fail to paint a picture of the structure ofthe organization and the appropriate structure that would change the focus from atop-down design to a student-focused or student-centered vision. Systems thinking(Senge, 1990) needs to include the physical dimensions of a learning environment.

    This paper will focus on schools and address the structural dimensions of theorganization as well as the hierarchical design of information flows betweenstakeholders. The analysis will show that the previous process and perception changesas they relate to learning are moderated by structure, and that success in building thelearning organization is limited without redesign of the learning environment. Whilerestructuring is not the solution by itself (although some administrators like to thinkso), the restructuring of the school is a moderator of all the changes occurring in thepath to creating a learning organization. The reculturing of the school will developfrom new structures and new processes that are enacted.

    Analysis of problemRestructuring has no agreeable definition; its meaning is found in the context andpurpose of its use (Hargreaves, 1994). All the changes that have occurred in schools ofthe last two decades have revolved around improved teaching, testing to standards,meeting state and federal guidelines, and creating perceptions of change andempowerment. Under the guise of educational reform, changes to curriculum andstandards have not addressed the new thinking required for a learning organization;this is analogous to taking a bicycle wheel off a bike, adding a state-of-the-art car tire,and expecting the bike to now perform better without adjusting the bike or the rider.Subsequently, the push to create learning organizations within schools hasencountered implementation issues. One thing that has not changed is the physicalenvironment within schools.

    The National Symposium on School Design in 1998 agreed that school design iscrucial to the success of students in the next decade (www.ed.gov). With Vice PresidentAl Gore in attendance, the educators discussed:

    . ways to design quality learning environments that enhance teaching andlearning;

    . ways to build schools that have multiple uses and serve every segment of thecommunity;

    . ways to involve widespread community participation in designing andmodernizing schools; and

    Figure 1.Research model

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  • . ways to construct buildings that are safe, energy efficient, high-tech, andenvironmentally sound.

    The average school in use today is 42 years old (Cutshall, 2003). Students are stillhoused in silos based on grades, grades organized in specific order, and seatingarranged in rows; all focused around individual classrooms where the teacher is themost important individual. Schools have been created to resemble factories from thenineteenth century: students progress from grade to grade, from room to room, as in aproduction line (Hargreaves and Evans, 1997). Educational systems and knowledgehave changed in the last 40 years. Assembly lines have since evolved in the last decadefrom this antiquated model to incorporate cellular manufacturing, customization, andcustomer responsiveness: schools have not evolved! The focus in operationsmanagement is on the customer and meeting the customer needs: once again, thishas not transcended into schools.

    The classroom is the unit of analysis, the focal point of reform. The work ofteachers is often assumed to go on within the confines of a single room (Louis et al.,1996). The need to incorporate new teaching methods into the classroom requires theteacher to undergo significant training. But placing the teacher with new techniques ina situation where students expect more requires a paradigm shift in how theenvironment is structured. Educators find themselves trying to squeeze new projectsand initiatives into old, unsympathetic structures rather than transforming thestructures so that they accommodate and support the new purposes and practices(Hargreaves et al., 2001). An example of this would be the redesign of classroom andcurriculum to incorporate information technology into the class. As informationtechnology became an integral part of school lectures, both the teachers and theclassroom had to evolve to meet the new demands of the technology. In order toincorporate technology into all classrooms, school buildings have to change; teachersof various disciplines need to be re-educated on how to use IT within their educationalpractice. The shift must be from teacher-centered to learner-centered instruction.

    Building an environment for dialogue, for example, cannot occur in classroomswhere the layout of desk is arranged in rows (Figure 2). Similarly, allowing students toteach each in peer learning roles cannot occur unless the desks are arranged in circularpods. Further interaction and student-centered discussion can occur in circular orU-shaped arrangements of the room where the teacher plays a more supportive role.

    Figure 2.Classroom layout

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  • Learning is a complex process that defies the linear precepts of measurement andaccountability (Brooks and Brooks, 1999). Peer teaching enhances the socializationprocess and provides a means for promoting learning and development (Silverman andCasazza, 2000). The dynamic nature of the new paradigm under organizationallearning makes the constructivist educator less effective in the old classroom layout.Since there is no one approach to learning under constructivism, the emphasis is onsocial interaction and adaptability (Silverman and Casazza, 2000). Interactions andfluid responses require new organizational structures. Based on the layout in Figure 2,Model A is a typical classroom; Model B creates pods for peer interaction and groupactivities; Model C creates a larger group with student centered learning. A fourthoption not explored would be no classrooms in a virtual learning environment. Beyondthe classroom, the typical K-12 assembly-like organization of the building can bealtered to mix higher and lower grades. The old building designs of long corridors androws of classrooms can be redesigned to include pod-like structures for grades tomingle, semi-glass walls to increase visibility and interaction, and study-areasinterspersed between rooms to encourage group activities.

    Another issue with structure revolves around the power relationships within theorganization. Traditional structure is hierarchal in nature, centralized, and is top-downin design. The goal of empowerment under a learning organization approach requiresdistributed leadership and larger job enrichment. The changing of the power structuremay lead to decentralized leadership with sections of the school under differentleadership. Just as in the classroom layout above, creation of pods within the schoolallows for communities to develop. Linkages between the pods would be essential tofoster learning.

    Literature reviewMany researchers in the organizational learning area have made attempts to classifythe role of physical structure as a part of the total restructuring of the school, but theyhave failed to then address when and how the changes should be made. Physicaldesign has been absent from future vision and future strategic plans. Redefining thelearning space requires new thinking; a clear link exists between professional learningand structural arrangement (Mitchell and Sackney, 2000).

    Learning organizations are suited to open structures and flatter organizations.Traditionally, schools were designed to resemble business entities: they were based onorganizational divisions, functional areas, command and control, top-down emphasis,and layers of bureaucracy. The new organization in a learning environment needs toreverse the model to become bottom-up and layer-free. Teachers engage each other tocreate professional communities of practice functional silos are eliminated andinterdisciplinary or multidisciplinary programs are instituted to share knowledge.Schools should not be thought of primarily as places of learning, but rather as arenaswhere individuals engage in knowledge construction (Schlechty, 1991).

    The challenges facing school systems require community efforts to be combinedwith government to create a focus on the student. The overhaul of the school buildingsneeds to occur at all grade levels in order for effective change to succeed. Educatorshave to recognize that schools, schools structures and schooling need to be verydifferent to prepare students for the world of work (Bond and Giles, 1997). Otherresearchers have argued for fundamental changes in the practice of grouping students

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