Washington Learning Community: Where Strategic Design and a Culture of Collaboration Propel Learning

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Washington Learning Community, a school within Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California. My visit was part of Education Reimagined’s Immersive Learning Exchange (ILX).  Click here to read more about an Immersive Learning Exchange.

About Lindsay Unified School District

  • 51% of learners come to school with Spanish as their dominant language;
  • 42% of all learners are English Language Learners;
  • 100% of learners receive free and reduced lunch; and
  • 56% of learners live in poverty.

About Washington Learning Community

  • Approximately 700 learners (students);
  • 97.3% learner attendance rate; and
  • 58% English Learners (after reclassification – 49%).

What makes Lindsay Unified School District and Washington Learning Community so special?

Superintendent Tom Rooney and his team have seized the opportunity to transform the culture of a traditional school system into a learner-centered culture by comprehensively redesigning the curricula and assessment. There were guided by their community vision, clearly defined beliefs, and guiding principles. I will not begin to describe their transformational process because they have done so in their book, Beyond Reform: Systemic Shifts Toward Personalized Learning. I can share, however, their work has paid off and is dramatically benefiting their learners.

Fully Committed and Unified Leadership Team (District and School)

MORAL IMPERATIVE

Superintendent Tom Rooney discussed how empowering every student to thrive as a learner by meeting clearly articulated high standards is a moral imperative. This moral imperative carries over to everyone on their team by doing the right thing for their learners.

They do not view the variables of poverty and English Learners as challenges, but they actually leverage these as assets. In conjunction, they have a no excuses culture and thus only talk about what they and their learners can do. They see the possibilities and build on these to ensure the success of all learners.

Ten years ago, they demonstrated moral courage by thinking about what was possible and then expertly designed structures for their vision to become a reality. They strategically designed every facet to be responsive to the needs of each learner and ensure each is progressing as a learner. Ten years later, because they courageously and strategically acted on their vision, 70-75% of their vision is fulfilled. However, with all their success, they are constantly reevaluating and working together to determine their next steps.

LEADERSHIP and a CULTURE OF COLLABORATION

Over the last ten years, they have moved from a competitive culture to a culture of collaboration. This culture permeates every aspect of their work and includes having the courage to uncover the barriers, have transparent conversations about these barriers, share and learn from mistakes, and learn from each other.

The district leadership has developed their school leaders and, in turn, school leaders have developed their faculties/staff. The trust level between the school leadership and learning facilitators (teachers) is high, which causes the learning facilitators to willingly follow their school leaders. To illustrate this relationship, a member of the district leadership team described the trust level learning facilitators (teachers) have of their principals, including Principal Cinnamon Scheufele at Washington Learning Community. When leading change, he described the sentiment of the school leader exhibiting, “I got this” type of steady confidence, and in return, learning facilitators (teachers) express the sentiment, “I trust you.” So, together, they are courageous risk takers who work in harmony to fight for their learners. Because of their unity, trust, and transparent conversations, they nudge one another forward.

They show vulnerability as leaders by asking staff what they need to stop doing and what they need to start doing. This openness and sincere desire to be authentic with one another builds a culture of trust. The leadership described their culture by saying, “It is not I; it is we. We are a team.”

This culture of collaboration builds ownership at all levels. Each member of their team knows how essential it is for everyone to be on board. They also expressed that when everyone is united by a common vision and working collaboratively, they can do anything. I believe it because I have seen it first hand.

RELATIONSHIPS and a CULTURE OF LEARNING

This feeling of trust permeates every level. As a result, each learning facilitator, staff member, and learner knows their school leaders care about them and are personally invested in them. In turn, each learner knows their learning facilitator cares about them and is personally invested in them.

Learning facilitators clearly understand connection before content. In other words, once they connect with learners first and foremost, then they can focus on content. It was inspiring to witness how much the leadership, learning facilitators (teachers) and staff sincerely love and believe in their learners, which is evident through their encouraging words, smiles, and hugs.

I observed highly engaged, united, and empowered faculty/staff who, in turn, have created a culture of learning in which children take ownership of their learning and thus are thriving as learners. These learners were not just learning but were eager to share their progress, and commitment to their learning. Because these children have been empowered as learners, they see no limitation and work that much harder to drive their learning. Washington Learning Community is a happy place that values and celebrates learners.

A quote from Mat Newcomb who is the Learning Director at Washington Learning Community said it best, “We can get them to see their dream.

Thank you, Lindsay Unified School District and specifically Washington Learning Community for allowing me to experience firsthand what is possible for all children, no matter their circumstances, when a group of deeply committed and caring professionals have a common vision and unite their efforts to empower learners.

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