The Art of Administration: Creating a Powerful Learning Philosophy

by | Jan 2, 2017

School administrators are the driving force of the success of their teachers and their students. Underlying that great responsibility is the need for a solid, trustworthy, and effective personal learning philosophy.

While a staff has a myriad of personalities and backgrounds, the administration needs to firmly and consistently set policies that do service to their well-thought-out learning philosophy. This being the case, it’s practically impossible to highlight every one of them. We will give you tools to help you come up with your own and just a few examples of some well known philosophies.

Learning Philosophy: Building a Foundation

The Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences, an online school with the tag line “Touch the Future,” has a great piece on a philosophical basis for teaching and learning.

We do know that a sound personalized education philosophy is based on philosophical, historical, social, and psychological foundations.


Philosophical foundation

This refers to how educators have interpreted the prevailing historical, social, and psychological foundations of their time to craft philosophies that have been embraced, rejected, rediscovered, adapted, and adopted by educators at large time and again. The philosophical foundation determines the purpose of education, and examines the roles of participants in the educational endeavour.

One’s philosophy drives whether education should develop the individual or enforce group norms (Ornstein & Hunkins, pp. 34-36). If it tends to focus on group norms, it then must decide to sustain those norms or change them. Philosophies may be born from varying degrees of “truth,” from absolute to relative, and from moralistic to scientific (34-37).

Throughout recent history, we have seen the role of teacher swing from “my-way-or-the-highway disseminator of information” to “guiding mentor.” Students roles have evolved from “sitting in desks waiting patiently for enlightenment”  to “inherently intelligent whole beings capable of owning their learning.”

Obviously, where you fall in this spectrum will have a deep impact on your school.

Historical foundation

What has been done before? Where do we stand in this great storehouse of experience and time and place?

As we develop our learning philosophy we realize that the giants’ shoulders we stand upon have been through this process of shaping young minds and setting social norms. We start with what they’ve done and we seek to implement those ideas and improve upon them.

This may also mean coming to a rejection of such policies that don’t work and rethinking from the bottom up. Ee gain better insight into where we are going if we know where we’ve been already.

Social foundation

Who are we as a people? What are our most important needs as a society?

The school year schedule of beginning in August and ending in July had its roots in agricultural societies with harvesting needs, and that may not be applicable these days. Hence, year-round school with “health breaks” periodically built-in is a more favourable schedule in some communities.

These kinds of decisions on education are readily seen in contrasting societies on opposite sides of the world. Societies that see education as a means to boost their economy might favour a curriculum with the focus of churning out workers. Others who see education as a means to creating lifelong learners and higher order thinkers might craft their curriculum differently.

Psychological foundation

With the current breakthroughs in neuroscience and technological advances in the psychology of learning, we have more information than ever before about how the brain works. Psychology strives to figure out how students learn and are motivated to learn.

Focusing on the most effective means of getting results and thinking differently about current trends can bring about some surprising conclusions. A few that are featured at Open Colleges suggest that taking walks and reminiscing helps boost brain function, and that hard work is more important than talent.

With that said, as research continues to unfold one’s personal learning philosophy should be grounded in research-based information and be flexible enough to accommodate changes with unfolding discoveries. With this also comes determining the soundness of such a breakthrough.


Putting It Together

So what does all this mean and how do we put our philosophy into motion? Perhaps a template can be gathered from these simple questions:

  • Who do we teach? Perhaps the scope of your teaching does not simply fall within the realm of the students. Perhaps you seek to educate and develop your teachers as well. How about the administration growing alongside the staff? The community at large? Your scope can be as large as you want.
  • What do we teach? Are we teaching subject mastery? Are we teaching critical thinking? Lifelong learning? What is our goal and how do we gauge our success?
  • Where do we teach? Is our space for teaching limited? Do we consider field trips and community outings as learning spaces? How about digital spaces, or virtual field trips?
  • Why do we teach? Are we teaching students to be workers within a society? To further societies goals? To rethink social norms and make changes for the better?
  • How do we teach? Textbook choices? Classroom setups? Digital access? Or ‘digital restrictions/nature only’ methods?

Some Examples

  1. The Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences has put their personalized learning philosophy on the Web for all to see. 
  2. Here also are some examples of philosophies that sprang up from the “natural learning” point of view. It is well worth your study to examine each philosophy from all angles. Perhaps your own philosophy will take the greatness from each and make it yours.
  3. Here are some modern philosophers and their contributions to education.

Finally, we continue counting down renowned principal Mike McCarthy’s 10 Big Ideas for School Administrators.

7. Take Responsibility for the Good and the Bad

If the problems in your school or organization lie below you and the solutions lie above you, then you have rendered yourself irrelevant. The genius of school lies within the school. The solutions to problems are almost always right in front of you.

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