A Principal Reflects: A Successful Learning Community Inspires Students to Learn

The Key Learning Community believes in an equal focus on all eight areas of intelligence.

The Key Learning Community believes in an equal focus on all eight areas of intelligence.
the Key Learning Community

Schedules provide staff with regular planning sessions during the school day.

Credit: Key Learning Community

School reform is not initiated "out there," but internally in the minds and hearts of educators who work together in a school towards a set of shared beliefs about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Developmentally, we move from individuals seeking to enhance their professional development to colleagues who trust each other and openly delight in finding connections between their teaching and what other faculty are doing.

The Key Learning Community

The Key Learning Community, based in Indianapolis, is a K-8 school with 340 students and twenty-six teachers. Our shared belief is that the eight areas of intelligence are equally important for all students: linguistic, musical, logical/mathematical, naturalistic, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Staffing and scheduling reflect this belief. Our staffing pattern includes full-time specialists in the visual arts, instrumental music, and physical education. The schedule provides staff with adequate planning time during and after the school day. If there is little planning time, there can be little collaboration.

Theme-based, integrated curriculum is central to our program. Each spring, the staff selects three themes for the following year. Curriculum, instruction, and assessment are linked through each. One of this year's themes was mysteries. Each student, while working as part of a group, selected a different section of Indianapolis, researched it, and then unleashed the "mystery" of that area and its history via photography, art, or writing. Each project requires evidence of the student's own thinking. In the culminating activity, each student shares his or her findings with the rest of the school. Each student's presentation is documented in a video portfolio.

Teachers do professional portfolios of their theme development. Once a theme is selected, they begin planning collaboratively, searching for community resources, and developing ways to connect the theme to the world outside the classroom. Regular planning sessions enable teachers to report on their development of the theme and to connect ideas and efforts. The teacher's portfolio is a collection of collaborative efforts, lessons, reflections, examples of student work, and plans for the future. All of this work with schoolwide themes forms a causal loop for an internal system of collaboration and evaluation.

Interpersonal Intelligence

In order to be successful, educators must know their discipline and have a highly developed interpersonal intelligence. By relating well with their students and understanding even subtle forms of communication, such as a student's body language, they foster an environment of trust. In such environments, students learn more.

Interpersonal intelligence is also necessary for an educator's success with peers.

Once educators have developed a mental model of basic beliefs, they must create a shared vision of what constitutes a quality school. As principal, my role is to articulate the discrepancy between the current reality of the school and our shared vision of the future. The pull between the current reality and the shared vision generates energy and motivation for continuous improvement.

Intrinsic Motivation

Our professional development is enhanced by another factor: intrinsic motivation. Each teacher is challenged to pursue his or her greatest interest and thus gain strength through intrinsic motivation. No rewards are offered for working harder or for achieving more than another staff member. The hard work associated with constant improvement is self-rewarding. We also use what we practice as teachers to improve learning and assessment with our students. In our student progress reports, we call attention to the areas in which students actively participate and the subject areas in which they are intrinsically motivated. We consider these areas to be indicators of their strengths and future life's work.

There is no simple cause and effect in the Key Learning Community. In the interaction of all of these components, the culture of the school continues to emerge. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory of intrinsic motivation, and Peter Senge's learning organization have inspired our philosophy.

Dr. Patricia Bolaños served as principal at The Key Learning Community in Indianapolis.

This article originally published on 5/1/1999

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