Knowledge Management for School Leaders: An Ecological Framework for Thinking Schools
This paper illustrates how knowledge management, from a practical and policy perspective, can be used to support teaching and learning. Although there has been a great deal of recognition in the business world that information and knowledge management can be vital tools in organizations, it is only recently that educational administrators and teachers have begun to look at how they might use information systems to assist in creating effective learning environments. In the business research environment, the evolution from data to information and from information to knowledge plays a leading role in shaping how organizations develop strategies and plans for the future. Using examples from schools, this paper describes how knowledge management can enable schools to examine the plethora of data they collect and how an ecological framework can be used to transform these data into meaningful information. Historically, most school districts do not employ the necessary and qualified personnel in order to plan, design, and implement even the most basic information systems. Nor do they provide adequate training necessary to ensure the information system’s survival—often due to fiscal constraints. Data sources are often not compatible or linked in a manner that allows staff to retrieve data with ease. In addition, most departments and offices in schools maintain independent sources of data with these sources rarely related to each other.
In the past, knowledge management practices focused primarily on the management of existing data-based resources within an organization. Today, the focus of knowledge management identifies additional information needs throughout the organization, and then uses innovative information technology tools to create, capture, and use that information to meet organizational goals. The shift from data to information to knowledge is at the core of knowledge management. It starts with a basic assumption that the accumulation of data is influenced by the core values of the school organization (or a department, grade, or team within the school) and that these data through some process of human interaction and information technology then take on significance and importance as information. Next, through the process of context, accumulation of data, sense making, synthesis, and reflection, this information is transformed and converted to knowledge that is relevant to educational decision-making within the school. This may or may not produce an action step, but it does influence the next round of data accumulation in terms of deciding if the current data collected meets the needs of school administrators and teachers.
Our paper outlines four steps schools can take to apply an ecological framework for knowledge management. The purpose of this is to help illustrate, ultimately, how schools may benefit through knowledge management and how an ecological perspective further adds to the cross-fertilization of ideas. This process allows the school organization to simultaneously grow as a learning community, thereby maximizing the efficiency and the effectiveness of the school and its district, while meeting the goal of creating knowledge-based information that evolves into intelligence and thoughtful decision making. The steps include:
1. Evaluating the current availability of information
2. Determining information needed to support decision making
3. Operating within the context and perspective of the school’s organizational processes
4. Assessing the school’s information culture and politics.
In the process, these steps are addressed by asking questions, such as the following: How is information shared and by whom? Who provides and interprets information? How is information used to resolve conflict? Are people rewarded for sharing information?
Through a systemic approach that is open, complex, and adaptive, educational leaders can maintain and develop an ecological framework for knowledge management that will positively affect each member of the school community and impact the school's mission. If a school operates as a knowledge ecology, students, teachers, and principals are individually and collectively increasing the school's capacity and development to sustain or expand its operations and accomplishments. The benchmarks of such a system might be to strengthen leadership, minimize turnover of faculty and principals, and create higher expectations for students. Ultimately, value is imposed through the individual perspectives and experiences of members of the organization, thereby transforming information into knowledge that supports teaching and learning.
Published Monday, Oct. 20, 2003