Developing a Learning Organization to Enhance Teacher Professional Development

(A Case Study at Language Training Center, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta)


By: Endro Dwi Hatmanto

English Education Department, UMY




The learning capacity of the individual teachers is the cornerstone of the teacher professional development. However, due to the fluctuation of learning spirit among teachers, the individual learning cannot entirely ensure the success of developing professionalism of teachers. Hence, another option to enhance the teachers’ professionalism can be done through capitalizing on and developing a learning organization. The research is interested in finding out if the principles of learning organization have been present at Language Training Center of UMY. Using the interview to gather the qualitative data, it is revealed that all principles of LO have been present in attempts to improve the teachers professionalism at the language training center of UMY.


1. Introduction


Teacher professional development (TPD) is the essential vehicle for improvement of educational institutions. The development of English teachers’ professional is no exception in this case. With the emergence of information technology, teachers are facing more challenges as well as opportunity. The wide array or information is provided in the internet. The proliferation of information and knowledge will ease the way teachers can develop their professionalism. One strategy to realize this idealism is by becoming individual learners.


While individual learners is the prerequisite for professional teachers, the process to reach the stage of being independent learner is not easy. Hence, another optional strategy should be taken into account. One strategic view might be the enhancing TPD through the concept of a learning organization (LO).


As an organization which gives service in teaching the English, Language Training Center of Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, has been attempting to implement the principles of LO. This research is, therefore, aimed at investigating if the principles of the LO have been present in attempt to develop teachers’ professionalism.


The structure of the research is organized as follows. First, the literature review concerned with the LO and TPD concept will be illuminated. Second, the methodology of the research will be explained. Then the finding and the discussion of the finding will be presented and finally the conclusion will be taken.


2. Literature Review


2.1 The Concepts and models of the Learning Organization (LO)


Mahler (1997) defines the LO as the ability of organizations to undergo changes to respond to the environment. Pepper (1995) and Senge (1990)  maintian that the essence of LO is that there are individuals who are continually immersed in trying to figure out and understand how things operate.


Watkins and Marsick (1993, p. 8-9) define LO in operational terms as follows:


The learning organization is one that learns continuously and transform itself. Learning takes place in individuals, teams, the organization and even the communities with which the organization interacts. Learning is continuous, result in changes in knowledge, beliefs and behaviors. Learning also enhances organizational capacity for innovation and growth. The learning organization has embedded systems to capture and share learning.


Peter Senge (1990) might be the best known theorist of the LO. Senge (1990, p. 3) describes LO as:


Organization where people continually expand their capacity to create the result they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.


Although Watkins and Marsick (1993) and Senge (1990) propose different definitions, they develop similar principles that operate in the concept of LO including system thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision and team learning.


The following is the description of the LO principles which is well known as ‘the fifth discipline’ (Senge, 1990);


  1. Systems thinking—This principle is the foundation of the LO proposed by Senge (1990). System thinking can be defined as the process of understanding reciprocal connection between independent actions within organizations (ibid, 1990). System thinking is the view that one part of an organization causes effects in another part. Hence system thinking attempts to see the organization as a holistic entity.


  1. Personal mastery—‘Organizations learns only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organization learning occurs’ (ibid, 1990, p. 139). Hence personal mastery reflects the principle of continued individual development in organizations. In the same notion, ‘personal mastery is the discipline of ‘continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively’ (ibid, 1990, p. 7).


  1. Shared vision—This is the discipline that cultivate shared picture of the future (ibid, 1990) that develop commitment.


  1. Team learning—This is the attempt of a team in gaining knowledge through fostering dialogue and open communication between individuals  (ibid, 1990).


  1. Mental Models—This discipline refers to ‘deeply ingrained assumptions, generalization, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action’ (ibid, 1990, p. 8). The mental model requires an organization to challenge the old model with the new paradigm.


Comparisons can be drawn with the principles of LO proposed by Watkins and Marsick (1994) comprising; 1) creating continuous learning opportunity, 2) promote inquiry and dialogue, 3) cultivating team learning and collaboration, 3) creating system for knowledge sharing, 4) motivating employees toward shared vision,  and 5) establishing connection between organization and environment. In 1996 Watkins and Marsick added another principle namely, learning leaders referring the ones who have capabilities to encourage learning in both in the individual and organizational level (Watkins & Marsick, 1996).


In the same notion, Cullen (1999) proposes four principles of LO including; 1) shared idea, 2) collaborative learning, ongoing and strategic individual learning, 3) open climate for dialogue and 4) leaders that encourage learning.


Sense making process, sharing and acquiring new knowledge as well as applying it becomes integral parts in the LO which should be employed by all employees (Lewis, 2002).

The order of these LO principles is not based on the degree of importance. Hence, the order can be reversed. This is because the concept of LO and all elements which build the LO are integral parts of a system.


2.2 Teacher Professional Development and Learning Organization 


Concerned with teacher professional development (TPD), Gale and Densmore (2003) state


Professional regularly claim that they should be allowed to make decisions in particular situations that are related to their area of expertise, free from interference. One reason offered for this desire for autonomy is that not only do professionals know best, given their expert knowledge, but hey are also able to critique and thereby, rework their own knowledge in response to changing circumstances. Again, the argument is that the professional is one who is continuously learning. (p. 77)


Meanwhile, Gordon (2003, 5) offered more comprehensive definition as he included also the system and the students as part of professional development saying that:


Successful professional development is as ‘a combination of experiences that empower 1) individual educators, 2) educational teams, and 3) the educational organization to improve, 4) curriculum, 5) instruction, and 6) student assessment in order to 7) facilitate student growth and development (Gordon, 2003)


He says that the successful professional development comprises two elements, namely the capacity building and the core elements (Ibid, 2003). Despite its direct effect to the students’ learning, the former relates to the development of the three elements; educators, educational teams and educational organization. The latter, by contrast, affects directly to the students’ learning. This consists of improvement of the curriculum, instruction and students’ assessment. The amalgamation of these two factors is the ultimate goal of education that is to facilitate students’ growth and development.


Viewed form their elements and goals, the concept of teacher professional development and learning organization have shared principles. First, both concepts cultivate the importance of systems thinking. While system thinking is an integral principle in the LO, it is also encouraged in the TPD concept, especially in the way TPD develop educational teams as its core elements. Second,  both LO and TPD nurture personal development. Third, the importance of shared vision is paid a great deal of attention in both concepts. Fourth, both LO and TPD encourage team learning in the process of professional development for the sake of individual and organization. Finally, while TPD acknowledges attitude as the one element to be developed in the teachers’ professionalism, LO also advocate the mental models to be developed in organizations.


3. Methodology


This research is qualitative, thus naturalist and interpretative. It is called naturalist, in the sense that it studies the participant real life setting without the researcher interference or manipulation. therefore the data emerge from natural context (Bogdan and Biklen, 2003). It is interpretative since the researcher should interpret the data from the participants’ perspective and experience.


The design of the research is a case study. According to Stake in Creswell (2003) in case study, the researcher explores in depth a program, an event, activity and a process. The term case study is also related with ‘some unit or set of units, in relation to which data re collected or analyzed; it is a specific from of inquiry that investigates a few cases, often just one, in considerable depth (Hammersley and Gomn, 2000).


The  research setting takes place in Language Training Center,  Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY), Indonesia. The reason why this site was chosen primarily because the setting was accessible. It was also manageable to collect the data. The data were taken through the interview with the head of Language Training Center Unversitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta. The condition of the subject is that he had joined some training on LO conducted by UMY. The interview was transcribed and analyzed.


In reporting the finding, this research uses descriptive and narrative writing. We observe and explore human behavior in particular context and then weave a narrative that accurately and honestly reflect the lives and voices of a group of people.


4. Finding and Discussion


Based on data gathered from the interview with the head of Language Training Center of UMY, all principles of LO have been present in the organization. This section will detail how the LO principles are actualized in the context of TPD in Language Training Center, UMY.


4.1 System Thinking


To nurture the principle of system thinking, the LTC UMY uses two methods. The first method is creating  standard operating procedures dealing with teachers’ job. Responding the question “Have all working procedures been written in a book?”, the subject told that the LTC did. However, he also acknowledged that sometimes  there are some shortcomings in the procedure. He added, “We will soon complete the procedure”.


The second method used to actualize the principle of system thinking is by fostering the ‘family’ and personal relationship to the staff. When the researcher asked why, the subject stated that the ‘superior and inferior’ approach is not appropriate way of building relationship in the organization. He said that such relationship will discourage the healthy communication in the organization.


4.2 Personal Mastery


The personal mastery principle of LO is fostered in LTC UMY by two strategies. The first strategy is the regular training for teachers especially for improving teaching techniques. Due to the workload, as the subject said, the training was conducted once in a semester. According to the subject, “the training is very strategic for teachers so that they are going to produce outputs of high quality”. Asked if the LTC invited experts to give training, the subject told that it sometimes invited experts to broaden the teachers’ horizon in certain areas.


In addition to training for improving teaching expertise, the subject also mentioned that LTC also conducted training on customer service. Asked whether this kind of training is urgent, the subject pointed out the urgency of such training. “We are service organization, so customer service is not only for front office staff but also for all teachers”.


In the TPD discourse, the personal mastery is nurtured by means of individualized professional development (Gordon, 2003). In this concept teachers are expected to be self-directed independent learner. When they reach this stage, they can direct their own learning to improve their skills and abilities to be professional teachers.


4.3 Shared Vision


When inquired on what is the meaning of shared vision, the subject answered that shared vision is the vision which is used by the leader of organization for guideline in working. The subject added “I keep attempting to have all my teaching staff understand about the LTC’s visions so that the will know were they are going to go”.


For sharing the vision, the LTC employs two method, namely the regular meeting for coordination and ‘reflection forum’. “In this meeting I always remind my staff of the vision and mission the LTC has so that they will use them as their guidelines in their job”. In the reflection forum. The subject explained that in this forum all staff were gathered to give criticism each others. When inquired about the effectiveness of this strategy, the subject said, “This strategy is very effective. When one staff gives criticism to others they must not answer the criticism. Finally, they are going to improve their behavior soon”. The subject added that this forum proved to improve the working environment in the LTC of UMY.


In the context of LO concept, the activities done by LTC is an effective way to share the vision. According to Senge (1990) in order to be effective, the organizational vision must be a shared vision. According to Nanus (1992) organizations’ vision is important to provide map for organizations. It also prevent the organization members from having confusion (ibid, 1992). The


4.4 Team Learning


Cultivating togetherness is the first strategy mentioned by the subject in order to develop the team learning in LTC. The subject explained that “In the cultivated togetherness, every staff will feel easy to give feedback to other staff even to me as their leader”.


The second strategy to foster the team learning is to cultivate the climate of collaboration among staff. The subject stated that “We cultivate learning collaboration. It is very usual for us to discuss about the teaching method or techniques when we meet in the office”. The subject also said that the collaboration among divisions was also fostered. By this effort, he said, one division will learn from others.


Viewed from the LO concept, the practices done to realize the team learning principle in LTC UMY reflects  the social construction of learning in the organization (Brown & Duguid, cited in Senge, 1990). For Brown and Duguit (cited in Senge 1990) formal procedures in doing the jobs in organizations are not sufficient to nurture learning. Hence, informal social interaction in organization will encourage the exchange of idea, thus improving learning process. Inherent with LO concept, Gordon (2003) maintains that enablement for life long learning is the keyword for successful TPD. Thus both LO and TPD share the same vision of the importance of learning.


4.5 Mental Model


The mental model focused in LTC are honesty and good habits. When asked why honesty is given priority, the subject stated that “With honesty, we can create trust among staff. If honesty is absent among staff, then it will be difficult for us to improve our team work”. The subject also said, “Together with honesty we also encourage the teachers to cultivate habits of effective people”. He said that by developing good habits teachers can develop their professionalism.


In the spectrum of TPD, the mental model developed by LTC echoes the message put forward by Bailey (cited in Gordon, 2003) when he explains about awareness in TPD. For Bailey, self-awareness and self-observation is the cornerstone of all professional development. Bailey added that awareness will lead to teachers’ good attitude reflecting a stance toward self, activity and others that link intrapersonal dynamic with external performance and behaviors (ibid, 2003).






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