32 SES 11 A, Schools as Learning Organizations
Purpose of the Study
Change is inevitable. Organizations must learn and adapt changes surrounding them to survive in a ever-changing and competitive environment. Schools are no exceptions. They also must learn and lead change processes to adapt to the ever-changing environment (Fullan, 2001). A learning organization is one that continuously learns and transforms itself given new knowledge (Tsang, 1997; Yang, Watkins, & Marsick, 2004).
Policymakers are in constant search for reform initiatives to address persisting educational issues. Waves of reform initiatives have become permanent fixtures of educational policy and practice. Increasingly, uncertainty is named as an inevitable byproduct of school reform (Frykholm, 2004; Villaume, 2000). The sheer number and range of changes, which schools are now confronting is staggering. Contemporary patterns of educational change present educators with changes that are multiple, complex and sometimes contradictory. The change demands seem to follow one another at an increasingly frenetic speed.
The overwhelming magnitude of added tasks and, at times, the contradicting nature of new initiatives have led teachers and principals to perceive the reform initiatives as "job creeps" or "policy fats." (Baer, & Freese, 2003). Furthermore, the inherent accountability measures for effective implementation for reform initiatives further increased the tensions among field level practitioners by threatening their livelihoods, thus, making them feel unsafe in schools (Baer & Frese, 2003). Despite these pressing issues in both the policy and practice fronts, literature in educational reform and change includes very few studies on the determinants of learning organization.
To address to this gap in the relevant literature, the purpose of this study was to examine the influence of teachers’ psychological safety, principals’ transformational leadership, and organizational uncertainty on schools becoming a learning organization. In addition, study examined whether there was a relationship between the level of learning organization of schools and their students’ achievement levels in successful and failing schools in the United States of America. By adopting the Watkins and Marsick (1997) learning organization model, the study examined whether achieving schools possessed and excelled the dimensions of a learning organization as prescribed by Watkins and Marsick (1997).
Theoretical Foundations and Conceptual Framework
Three theoretical frameworks of organizational learning guided this study. Senge’s (1990) Five Disciplines; Pedler, Burgoyne, and Boydell’s (1991) Learning Organization; and Watkins and Marsick’s (1990) Learning Organization. These frameworks help to define a learning organization as one that learns continuously and transforms itself. They place adopt an inclusive systems perspective and pay close attention to organizational structures, dynamics of organizational behaviors, and relationships with the external environment. A special emphasis was given to Watkins and Marsick’s model in the design of the study.
The figure 1 demonstrates the study variables and hypothesized relationships between and among study variables.
The study attempted to answer the following research questions:
- Does the DLOQ, which was designed for business, have (a) convergent validity, (b) discriminant validity, and (c) construct validity in a school context?
- Will the factor structure of the DLOQ differ between achieving schools (grades A, B) and those schools needing improvement (grades C, D, F)?
- Do the levels of seven dimensions of a learning organization, as measured by the DLOQ, predict if schools are high-achieving schools (grades A, B) or needing improvement (grades C, D, F)?
- Holding the control variable of school achievement level constant, do the organizational culture components of organizational uncertainty, psychological safety, and transformational leadership have any influence on (a) dimensions of a learning organization and (b) overall learning organization for the (i) overall sample, (ii) low-achieving schools, and (iii) high-achieving schools?
A causal-comparative design was utilized to examine the dimensions of the DLOQ of high-achieving schools versus low-achieving schools. Each of the dimensions of the DLOQ model were compared for low-achieving and high-achieving schools to determine if there is a significant difference in the results. The school was the unit of analysis in the study as the student achievement was examined at the school level. At least 10 teachers in each high achieving and failing schools were included in the study. Achievement level, school configuration, and socioeconomic status were three main sampling criteria. The 240 schools in this study were partitioned to include 120 high-achieving schools and 120 low-achieving schools with each achievement level having the same proportion of elementary and secondary schools. Teachers in these two types of schools were the participants of the study. After eliminating for missing cases and outliers, respectively 168 and 227 teachers participated in failing and succeeding schools. Structural equation modeling was employed for identifying relationship patterns between the study variable.
The first research question examined whether the DLOQ, which was designed for business, would have convergent, discriminant, and construct validity within a school context. A confirmatory factor analysis was run. Discriminant analysis test showed that of the seven dimensions, only providing leadership exhibited discriminate validity. The reliability of the six dimensions collapsed into two constructs and they are relabeled as Individual Learning and Organizational Learning. These reconfigured constructs had both convergent and discriminant validity, which inturn creates construct validity. The second research question measured whether there were different influence patterns of organizational learning attributes on student achievement levels of failing and succeeding schools. The learning organization model fit the low achieving schools better than the high achieving schools. The two areas that showed signs of difference of any significance were in the low achieving schools for one item measuring organizational learning and one item measuring leadership. This finding is contrary to what the researcher expected but can be rationalized as those schools where are low achieving are more susceptible to change and accepting new ideas because of the nature of the work they are doing to improve their schools. Analysis for the third question showed that Dialogue and Inquiry was the only dimension that would positively predict the likelihood of a school being in the high achieving category. For every unit of increase in the Dialogue and Inquiry score, the likelihood of a school would be categorized as a high achieving school increased by 1.91. The analyses for the fourth question showed that psychological safety and transformational leadership had a significant positive effect on the learning organization. Organizational uncertainty was not found to have a significant effect on a school becoming a successful school. The full paper will discuss the implications of these findings on practice, policy, and further research.
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