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Creating a Culture of Learning: Re-imagining the Classroom

I want you to take a minute to remember what school was like. Remember the classrooms, with the chairs in rows all facing the front of the room? Can you recollect multiple choice tests, where we had to color in the circles just right with a number two pencil? Do you recall covering your text books with old paper grocery bags, one for English, one for Science, one for Math, etc. Are you getting a good picture of what school was like?


Good! Hold onto that picture.  Because, we’re going to paint over it!  We need to collectively reframe our perceptions of what a classroom is in order to create a culture of learning in our organizations today! This image of what I call the traditional classroom is directly connected to our understanding of what it means to learn.

Learning, School, Classroom, these are all words that we have deeply rooted mental models for which run contrary to what it takes to create a culture of learning. To tackle this misconception, I would like to propose that we re-imagine the classroom.

September 2012, Downtown Library Fort Collins, CO

At the heart of the re-imagined classroom is a culture of learning.  In my TEDx FoCo talk, The Experienced Learner, I shared the story of a local Middle School class, taught by Sarah Bayer, to illustrate what the culture of the re-imagined classroom looks like:

1) Intrinsic Motivation

Sarah Bayer’s Class Experimenting in the River

It is our tendency at school and at work to assume that external things – grades, money, prestige, are what motivates people. That’s a myth. Real motivation comes from within. And there are three ways to motivate someone intrinsically:

  1. Challenge – Look at your team’s capacity. Give people work that challenges them. Encourage people to reach beyond their comfort zone, to experiment with new ideas and develop new skills. Challenge them to improve, continuously, in their work and life in general.

  2. Purpose – This is all about Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. The Why is the purpose. There’s some greater vision you seek to create. You’re doing it because you’re a part of something that feels bigger and is important to you. Everyone has their own personal why, learn the why for your team members to create alignment with your organization’s mission.

  3. Autonomy – There’s other problems going on if you feel the need to micro-manage people’s work. Autonomy is key. Either you believe people are capable of handling what you ask of them or you don’t. If you believe in them, you’re giving them leeway to make some decisions on their. You also always know if someone believes you’re capable or not, no matter what they say, deep down you know and often, we behave accordingly.

2) Creativity

Conducting an Energy Audit of the School

I’m not talking about adding an arts and crafts station in your office, although I wouldn’t say not to either. Creativity is about encouraging people to envision the future, no matter how off-the-wall their vision may be. Then evaluating the present moment. And working to release the tension between what you envision and where you’re at. It is iterating, experimenting, evolving, failing, learning what doesn’t work, repeating what does work, re-adjusting, improving, connecting, and ongoing.

3) Relationships

Experimenting On a Ranch

There is always a give and take in the re-imagined classroom, we are all students and teachers simultaneously. There is no commanding respect without giving respect. The traditional model of an organization with hierarchies that have a command and control structure do not fit in the re-imagined classroom. Instead we need to encourage meaningful relationships founded on mutual respect where we recognize and celebrate the unique talents of individuals.  Teachers (or facilitators if you like) harness the collective wisdom of the room, creating a synergy where 1+1 = 46 (or some other obscure number that is more than 2).

Incorporate the Three Elements in Your Business

These are the elements I proposed for the re-imagined classroom in my TEDxFoCo Talk and they are applicable for creating a culture of learning in our organizations as well.  You can create a culture of learning once you realize that your organization is the re-imagined classroom. The experiences, the interactions, the structure, everything in your organization composes the classroom because work is-and-of-itself a learning opportunity.

I will to demonstrate how to incorporate each of the three elements into your business in future blog posts.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your own experiences.

Do you have any stories of organizations that embodied the elements of the re-imagined classroom?  Please share them with me.

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