The Evolution of a Book Study Group

Posted 05/13/12
Last updated 05/07/13

Companion Pieces

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In the 2010–2011 school year, as a staff member of a national foundation, I supported an inquiry group formed by seven administrators in the Rowland Unified School District (RUSD), located in southern California. These administrators sought to better understand and apply brain/mind learning principles in their work with adult learners; they believed that by understanding how learning takes place naturally, they would be able to design more powerful learning experiences for other educators, and that these experiences would, in turn, build capacity for educators to design better learning opportunities for students. 

In RUSD, participation in collaborative inquiry groups, or "communities of practice” (CoPs), is voluntary. (What Is a Community of Practice?)   Teachers and administrators form groups based on a common interest or need for the purpose of improving their practice. For teachers, this usually means improving instruction.  For administrators, or those who support instructional development, this usually means improving adult learning.  Group members meet on their own time and direct their own learning through inquiry questions and following a plan-act-reflect cycle of action learning.  New questions and action learning cycles help to develop an inquiry group as members get deeper into inquiry throughout the year. For this inquiry group, a critical turning point occurred when the focus of their learning shifted from personal meaning making to application in their practice.

“It’s liberating to know, as a principal, that I don’t always have to be responsible for everyone’s learning. I don’t know everything, I can’t know everything. The old paradigm is that you are the person in charge—you are supposed to know everything and answer all the questions.”
--John Staumont, principal

Test ArtifactInspired by the Rowland Unified School District’s strategic plan to transform teaching and learning,  the seven  administrators who formed this collaborative inquiry group embarked on a journey to deeply understand how learning takes place and to design opportunities for others to have powerful learning experiences. As administrators, they saw their role as leaders of learning, and as facilitators of a paradigm shift in which administrators, teachers, and students would shift from being givers and receivers of information to being active learners together in the joint pursuit of knowledge.

Initially, the group activities involved reading, studying, and making meaning of selections from the book 12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles in Action: Developing Executive Functions of the Human Brain (Caine, Caine, Mc Clintic, & Klimek, 2009).

The group also used process learning circles, a four-phase structure for collaborative conversation, to support their collective learning. Process Learning Circles employ the Caines’s brain/mind principles in creating conditions for learning to take place. The group agreed on a focus inquiry question: How do we create conditions for adult learners to support their innate search for meaning? and followed a plan-act-reflect cycle embedded in Process Learning Circles.