I begin some of my presentations with a line that alludes to the classic closing lines of Sesame Street: “This presentation is brought to you by the numbers 3, 4 and 5, and by the letter, ‘Y’.”
Why Y? Because it’s the most important question to ask, and the Y has three “arms.” It’s a graphic representation to convey the concept that any successful system begins with three elements. Remember, there are three sides to every argument, the triangle is the most stable polygonal shape there is, and, as Scripture states, “A three-ply cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). For Catholic and Christian schools, the Holy Trinity reinforces this concept.
But 3, 4, and 5 are also important since they play a huge role in systems thinking. Most people can only hold three items in mind at the same time, and a few can hold four. The difficulty is that a system is fully recognized only when the fifth element can be discovered. The fourth element is usually related to the first three obvious ones, but the discovery of the fifth element makes the system complete. Today, we look at the fourth element, since the three obvious ones characterize your school as a ministry, a business and a school. This one categorizes your school as a learning organization…which is more than just a school.
Remember, too, that your teachers are the most unique characteristic about your school, and because of this, your teachers are the most remarkable quality of your school! No other school has your teaching staff. It is this unique combination of individuals that makes your school the remarkable place for education that it is!
It could seem obvious that your school can be called a learning organization since it is where learning takes place. But your school’s student body is not the only population that learns at your school. The parents of those students learn there, especially when something new is foisted upon the school by governmental or governance changes, or when the school institutes a new policy that must be adhered to by every family. Parents also learn when their kids come home from school and ask them for help with their homework.
Your community also learns from your school. You may hold computer classes for parents so that they become more computer literate, or open your computer lab to them so that they can apply for financial aid or sign up for a payment plan. The school can also be the gathering place where performances can be experienced in the auditorium, where the community gathers for Mass or Thanksgiving events and worship services, or where alumni come back to relive the basketball rivalry that has existed for decades between your school and the Knights from the school on the other side of the county.
In the case of a Catholic school, the parish or parishes that sponsor and support the school also learn that if the school closes, it may be the first step to consolidation or closure of the parish. If there’s no young life coming through the parish which is educated and nurtured in the school, then, as the population of the parish ages, there may be some shrink if families with young children are not moving into the area. Even if they are, they may not join the parish because it doesn’t have a Catholic school where their kids can attend. Sure, a parish may have a religious education program, but even in this era of consolidations and cooperation, there are parishes with several worship sites, and there’s usually one site where religious education takes place. Today’s young parents are all about convenience, and, if the site is not “convenient,” it will be a challenge to attract them to this site, while the other worship sites will be at risk for closure.
By touching all these consistencies, the organization itself learns, giving an additional meaning to the term, “learning organization.” It not only facilitates the learning of the constituent groups, but the organization itself also learns. As it fosters life-long learning, the learning organization grows. To learn is to change, and to change is to grow.
TEACH describes “who” your school is. Because it is a learning organization, however, some have suggested that LEARN be the acronym used. As every teacher knows, it is through teachable moments that learning takes place. Additionally, teaching can happen all the time. Learning only occurs when the mind is open and prepared to learn.
TEACH stands for:
Train – Athletes train so that their bodies and be ready for the matches they will participate in. Scripture says to “Train up a child in the way they will go.” Training requires discipline, which is why life-long learners are disciples. Every day, the life-long learner is exposed to new circumstances, new ideas and new people who will have a lasting impact on their current mindset.
Enrich – Whereas training introduces the new material and reinforces the learning, enrichment builds upon that foundational layer, taking it to the next level of expertise or ability.
Affirm – Excellent instructors always affirm the learning by giving praise and building esteem in the learner.
Challenge – While enrichment describes the forward movement of the learner, excellent instructors push for “stretch learning,” pushing the student beyond their comfort zone, and encouraging them to go for the next milestone. Jesus teaches His disciples this principle at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, when he tells them, “If someone presses you into service for one mile, go with him two.” It’s a challenge to their current way of thinking, leading them to, as St. Paul puts it, “a more excellent way.”
Help – In the words of those other 4 “evangelists,” John, Paul, George and Ringo, the first lines of the song “Help” are very important: “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody.” Let’s repeat that: Not just anybody. In all four of the above elements, sometimes the learner needs a bit of help from an expert. The trainer may “spot” the person doing the exercising so they don’t hurt themselves. Sometimes the golfer doesn’t realize it’s simply their grip that needs a slight adjustment. The student who’s struggling with multiplication can be shown how to learn the 9s table by using their fingers. Even those who are able to be train themselves, enrich their current base of knowledge, offer self-affirmation and push themselves every now and then will give it a try with a little help from their friends.
Next week – Part 5 – which describes the vision that must be set forth for your school, since advancement requires knowledge of where your learning institution is going.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2020