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“Adaptive Capacity” in Schools

National Center for Literacy Education LogoWe do not live in a static world, which is why it’s so important for schools to exist  in a constant state of forward momentum and change. But that’s hard to achieve in most places where history, process, policy, and culture often slow advancements down.

In her blog What We Can Learn from Fire Ants about Adaptive Capacity (which was recently reposted on the Literacy in Learning Exchange), Leslie Patterson argues that change requires “adaptive capacity.”

“We think of adaptive capacity as individual and collective learning in response to changes within and outside the system—learning that shows resilience and supports sustainability.”

If that’s not how you’d describe the conditions in your school, don’t worry.  Patterson points out that building adaptive capacity doesn’t happen over night. Rather, it’s a confluence of small but coordinated efforts across a system over time that can move the whole in that direction.

“Individuals and groups are seeing patterns in their work, making sense in terms of what they’d like to see, and taking action to make their system more sustainable, more resilient, and more supportive of individual and group learning. That’s adaptive capacity in action.”

What might that look like in your school? Patterson says, “adaptive capacity in schools—where everything should focus on learning–is about a culture where we see these patterns:

  1. Engagement (among students, educators, and other stakeholders)
  2. Sustainability (of systems improvement and student learning 
gains)
  3. Focus (on what really matters—student learning)
  4. Collaboration (among all stakeholders)
  5. Coherence (across instructional and administrative approaches)
  6. Risk-taking (inherent in taking an inquiry stance)
  7. Joyful practice (among all stakeholders)

Even if that sounds pie-in-the-sky, consider what could happen if you and your colleagues began talking about shifting culture in that direction.

Curious? Check out Patterson’s full blog to learn more. Explore the Human Systems Dynamics Institute, and follow their group on the Literacy in Learning Exchange.