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Leadership lessons from little red schoolhouses

Little red schoolhouseWhen the first settlers arrived in their communities they built three things, in this order; a home, a schoolhouse and a church.  Apparently education was as important to our ancestors as worship.

Today, education continues to be a top priority.

In Little Red Schoolhouses (interestingly, they were often painted white), pupils ranging in age from 5 to 21 years would study the three R’s plus subjects like art, music, history and geography with the same teacher for their entire academic career. The state-of-the-art technology that equipped the one-room schoolhouses included a bell tower, blackboards, pot-bellied stove, desks and books.

In classrooms today, students of a certain age study under a teacher (or several teachers) for one year at which time they move to the next grade where the process is repeated. The state-of-the-art technology that equips today’s schoolrooms includes individual computing devices, extensive internet access and modern HVAC systems.

Is the quality of education improved thanks to the modern classroom?

Due to the systemization and mechanization of the industrial era, classrooms have been designed around efficiency rather than service.  Students are divvyed up, not based on their subject knowledge, aptitude, progress, or interest but by something not even remotely correlated to success—chronological age.  Students study the same subjects, from the same books, in the same way, at the same pace.  This method sounds a little like a recipe for making a McDonalds’ hamburger.  Unlike hamburgers, people possess potential, creativity and free will—all of which are inhibited in this one-size-fits-all environment.  Any parent of more than one child knows that people learn and develop differently so they must be treated differently.

Are there lessons for business leaders to be gleaned from both models?  We think so. Tero strives for a learner-focused service model of education that combines the best of both worlds. Without doubt, it’s hard work— we believe it’s worth the trouble and we encourage leaders to embrace these lessons in their own workplaces.

Lessons from the Little Red Schoolhouses of the past led us to:

  • Customize learning and ensure small facilitator to participant ratios.
  • Encourage relationship-building and diversity in its workshops.
  • Ensure learning has practical application in the real-world—now!

Lessons from leading-edge fields such as the neuro-sciences led us to:

  • Design programs that are research-based, multi-sensory and kinesthetic.
  • Build a state-of-the-art learning center.
  • Implement evaluation and measurement tools.

The average half-life of knowledge is estimated to be four years. That is the length of time that half of what we learn in a given year will need to be replaced by new knowledge.  In fast-changing industries, the half-life is arguably much shorter.  Said another way, half of the knowledge acquired in year one of a university student’s higher education experience will be irrelevant or need to be replaced by new knowledge before the time they graduate with a four-year degree and enter the workforce.

In today’s rapidly changing business landscape, education does not conclude at the end of formal schooling.  Ongoing and continuous learning for leaders and employees alike is an imperative for businesses that intend to remain competitive.  Leaders are wise to consider the championing of learning as an integral part of their job description and couple the lessons of the past with the innovations of the present when considering growth and development opportunities for people.

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