– A systematic approach to the learning environment

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    Øivind Jacobsen, project manager at Kristiansand municipality

The Norwegian municipality of Kristiansand are taking the learning environment seriously. Over the last three years, the municipality has been working to improve the learning environments in schools and kindergartens. They have recently completed a pilot project using Conexus Key. Now the municipality is gearing up for the next phase.
In 2013 Kristiansand municipality launched a major program which focused on the learning environment in kindergartens and schools. Project Research Learning Environments (RLD) in Kristiansand has been carried in association with researchers from the University of Aalborg, the University of Agder and the University College of Hedmark. It aims to create a positive and inclusive learning environment that enables students and kindergarten children to thrive, to learn more and to decrease negative behaviors such as bullying. The project ends in 2016.
“When Conexus presented Conexus Key we realized quickly that this fitted like a glove with our project. Conexus Key is built on the same educational ideologies as our own project. We saw that this could give us a useful tool and a practical way of implementing the ideas we’ve been working on for three years”, says Øivind Jacobsen, Project Manager, with Kristiansand municipality.

Disparities in learning quality were creating different learning outcomes
The RLD project contends that the learner´s potential is affected by the development context they are learning in. Kristiansand municipality wanted to explore the relationship between environmental and individual factors, and concluded that the quality of cooperation between the adults in a learning environment is a critical success factor in helping the learner reach their potential. The municipality acknowledged that there were large differences in learning quality and learning outcomes between schools and kindergartens in the municipality, and that there were also significant differences within each unit.
“We could not accept that a student could be disadvantaged just by living in one district compared to another. So we emphasised the collective expertise of the municipality. We have many talented individual teachers in Kristiansand, but the collective culture and the professional cooperation has not been good enough. It has also been important for us to work with the way in which language is used when talking about work being done with children, to ensure that learning professionals really can communicate with each other, and can highlight areas for development”, says Jacobsen.

Learning self-reflection skills laid the foundation for good discussions
With Conexus Key Kristiansand municipality adopted a tool that helped them to create the right attitudes for learning within the educational system. The first cohort of learning professionals were ten school principals, and these were given some training in self-reflection, and they used Conexus Key to analyse what competencies they needed to work on, and what challenges they needed to address.

“We called it reflective self-certification. The questions asked in Conexus Key were very insightful, and the mapping tool provided a clear statement of the individual´s development potential. In addition, the discussions these exercises provoked were also very fruitful. Leadership is something we need to strengthen in order to reduce the differences between units and departments. Getting principals to reflect on their own leadership and learning abilities laid the foundation for very good conversation about leadership and change processes”, says Jacobsen.
The pilot will be extended as a program for all managers in the municipality, and will eventually be offered to all teachers and educators.

An accurate tool which ensures good learning environments
Experience so far shows that the ten principals, who come from four different areas within the same municipality, have shared their experiences, insights and reflections with colleagues and staff. An initial cohort has experienced the benefits, and the positive impact of the project has resonated throughout the municipality.
“The collective expertise within the project and in the community is so important. We need professional adults who can lead and continue to develop, and who can develop an ability to see challenges in a learning context. It is very helpful to get leaders and teachers to reflect on whether they have a learning mindset, and if they themselves are making a positive influence in the learning environment”, says Jacobsen.

“If you are in school, you are in a continuous process of development. We must give our students a sustainable learning experience, which will prepare the individual for the future in the best possible way. Our experience with Conexus Key has helped us to achieve just that. In addition, we also use process and performance data from the tool Conexus Insight, which is linked to the same database. This is easy to understand and creates a solid foundation for development. The solution is addressing the core competencies that have been shown to be vital by recent educational researchers. The fact that Conexus Key has been developed in close collaboration with the same educational researchers we ourselves admire is certainly no drawback”, says Jacobsen.