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Culture of Learning: Unlocking the Power of Failure

Get ready to revolutionize your approach to learning culture as we welcome educational leadership guru, Dr. Wayne Padover, to our airwaves. Promise yourself that by the end of this episode, you'll have a new perspective on how to build a thriving learning environment. Our deep conversation explores the pivotal role of relationships, the essence of psychological safety, and the sometimes-disastrous consequences of its absence - think Challenger disaster and wrong-legged surgeries.

Moving forward, we plunge into leadership principles, the power of trust, and the underrated importance of failure in educational settings. Hear from Dr. Padover as he unravels the significance of inclusive decision-making, team building, and the instrumental role of education foundations in leadership selection. This episode is a treasure trove for anyone involved in education, ready to reshape their thinking and ignite a flourishing learning culture.

Show Notes

  • 0:04:29 - Establishing a Learning Culture Through Relationships (79 Seconds)
  • 0:10:41 - Building Collaborative Relationships in Education (123 Seconds)
  • 0:16:12 - Motivating Learning Culture and Productivity (126 Seconds)
  • 0:22:18 - Effective Leadership Transitions and Building Trust (143 Seconds)
  • 0:29:22 - Team Building and Personal Sharing (85 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we're discussing why it is important to establish a learning culture in the classroom and what is a desirable learning environment, and, according to the Harvard Business Review, it is not just one size fits all anymore. Every learner is unique, with varied strengths, experiences and challenges. Every learner works at different contexts and thus requiring greater personalization to support meaningful learning and improvement. Today, we're going to hear some tips on establishing a learning culture.

On today's episode, we're discussing how to establish a learning culture in the classroom, and today we're joined by Dr Wayne Padover, a professor of educational leadership at National University in San Diego. Dr. Padover has served as a school district superintendent for approximately 20 years in urban, suburban and rural school districts in Northern California. His other positions included teaching from kindergarten through graduate school, including special education, as well as serving as an assistant principal, principal and deputy superintendent for personnel, as well as curriculum and instruction. He served on the board of directors of the National School Foundation's Association and, in addition, he was the president of the California Association of Professors of Education Administration and currently serves on that board. We welcome you to the podcast, Dr. Padover. How are you?

0:01:54 - Doctor Wayne Padover

Doing well. Nice to be here today, Kim.

0:01:57 - Kimberly King

Well, thank you for joining us, and why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work before we get to today's podcast?

0:02:05 - Doctor Wayne Padover

For sure.

The issue of teaching at the university relates to educational leadership, and working with students who are just entering the educational leadership profession is really a driving force for me.

And yet I feel as though I certainly needed to understand from on a first hand basis what they were experiencing, and that was important for me to be in each of the seats teaching full time elementary, middle school, high school, so a variety of subjects so that I understood what teachers were experiencing and what students needed to be learning and the culture in which they were working.

And so that was essentially the teaching, the leadership and administration, and working in three school districts in, as you mentioned, a variety of areas of urban and suburban and rural, to get an understanding about how communities can work with students in schools and working with teachers. Thus the idea of working with education foundations, which are there to support teachers and kids, and this idea of developing community to assist students. And that's been a major thrust of what I've done as a teacher and administrator and now teaching at the university to help administrators develop that kind of organization that's inclusive, that is able to address all students across the continuum, and that's why I want to make sure that I worked in different kinds of locales because things are different in different areas, so that's been the method to my madness and I love what I do. And in terms of working with students it's a master's students, doctoral students and it's a very exciting place to be.

0:04:22 - Kimberly King

Well, thank you for all the work you are doing and have done in the past, and you can definitely see your passion. Today, we're talking about establishing a culture for learning, and so, Dr. Padover, why is it important to establish this learning culture in the classroom, especially today?

0:04:41 - Doctor Wayne Padover

Learning culture is really based on relationships, and I'll ask you, Kim, and members of who might be hearing these words, to think about when the most important learning that they've done is with people that they have relationships with, might even been their parents, teachers, coaches It's always about the relationship. By the same token, what I want to do, and what we've done, is to help administrators and teachers develop those kind of environments where relationships are able to be built. So you say well, naturally, how do you do this? The one thing that the research is very clear about is all wonderful successful Organizations have a single aspect to them, based on issues of relationships, and that's been what's referred to as psychological safety. Sounds like an academic term. What it's really talking about is the ability to anybody in that organization from the person who is working in any aspect, classified, certificated parents in the community, students that they feel as though they can ask anybody in the organization any question that they might have, and for them not to be made to feel foolish or that that's a question that's silly to be asked or any of that. And the classic story about this is, again, it's not only education. It runs in any organization That people need to feel as though they can ask a question and that they're a part of the team in terms of building that, that organization. So the story goes like this A person nurses is in the operating room and, being the structure that they feel in a medical profession, that nobody questions the doctor And, of course, the classic story of surgery was done on the wrong leg when in fact, another person the nurses, other people in the operating room knew that that was the wrong thing to be doing and didn't feel that they had the personal freedom, that psychological safety, to be able to ask the question Is that the right? are we sure that that's the right leg to be operating on? It's not. It's not an isolated situation The Challenger catastrophe that happened in 1986.

Same issue about there was a question about, about the famous o-ring, or infamous o-rings. People in the in that project had question about that, didn't raise the question because they did not feel that they could, that they would be dealt with in a way that would be appropriate, that they would not be castigated, that they would not be looked down upon. And so what we're talking about is in organizations when leaders, particularly leaders, are people that are approachable, that are developing inclusive kind of organizations where everybody is seen as having a part, a stake in the success of the project, or school services. That's what you want and it's modeled by the by the leader, school district superintendent, the principal, whomever that in fact, it's okay to be making mistakes as long as you learn from them and try to make sure that you're not repeating them, and that that's discussed. And so what I'm describing is a very different kind of orientation of people working with people.

In a way. That is what's been called in, in research terms, learning organizations, and it is just that notion that we understand what's working, what's not. Interestingly enough, we've talked about medical field, obviously, education, we've talked about military sports as the same kind of environment that they are trying to put together. The legendary coach, john Wooden from UCLA basketball days, which describes this in his pyramid of success, Mike Shyshevsky, recently retired legendary basketball coach at Duke, talks about the same kind of notion in his master classes that he provides these days. It's not exclusive to any particular organization. It really runs the gamut. It's about relationships, it's about being open, it's about making sure that that we're learning from our experiences here And that's the kind of environment that we want to. We want to put together.

0:10:09 - Kimberly King

Well, and we all love John Wooden and that pyramid of success really is a staple for so many education business, you know. And when we implement that, what’s a desirable learning culture in a classroom? today I know we discussed, you know, being open and having those relationships Is there, is there a certain, I don't know, I guess that learning culture that desired that people are moving through now, especially in this era, Kim.

0:10:41 - Doctor Wayne Padover

There's a historical base on this as it relates to education, particularly in America. It used to be that teachers would go into their classrooms and close the doors and that would be. They would be them by themselves working with, with students, doesn't? that's not what school cultures that we, we try to help bring about, are like these days. What we want teachers to be able to help have relationships with other teachers and administration for them to be saying I notice a teacher saying to another teacher I notice that your students are doing very well in this particular academic area. What are you doing? that is probably different than what I'm doing Now.

That sounds very simplistic in the sense that two people talking with one another At the same time if in fact there are, there are not, there is not a relationship between those teachers and a, an environment, a culture that that allows for that to occur and really encourages that kind of relationship to occur, those kind of conversations are not going to happen. But if, but when we have people working in teams of sorts and that they can talk about their specialty in one area and pairing that with a specialty in another, and that we're not talking about a jealousy here that that one, one teacher is being touted in a way that is detrimental to the reputation of another is a very different kind of an environment, and that's what we're asking principles to put together, and then teachers again put that together in their own classrooms in the same way. It's students working together, just as teachers are working together, and that's what we're trying to build.

0:12:45 - Kimberly King

Great How does the learning culture and fluent student learning and personal growth for students.

0:12:53 - Doctor Wayne Padover

The part that that that, when we're talking about here, is an aspect of personal growth, and it's not only personal growth on the part of the students, it's also personal growth and the part of teachers, administrators, even parents, and in the sense that what we're talking about is people relating to one another in very clear ways and listening to one another as to what their express needs happen to be, and for them to be able to say to one another in very clear terms and to feel that that support and that that back to that notion of psychological safety, feeling that trust among other people, that in fact, they can say what they need to say, which includes I'm not able to do X right now. Let me get to that another time. There's a whole different level of Relationship and ability to hear one another, and we're asking that for teachers to model it, for them to say to students I can do this right now, I’m not able to hear you Because I'm dealing with all of these other aspects right now and for the relationship to allow for that to be understood, That there's caring and that there's trust. That's an end. On the same token, that happens in terms of relationships with teachers and parents. As long as a parent understands that, that teacher has the positive intent and is working the best way that they can. And also, they need to be respected as professionals that they have a life outside of the school and that needs to be respected as well.

But, the same token, administrators are modeling that, for their teachers and their other administrators that, in fact, they need to be recognizing. There is this thing called self-care. That needs to happen and it needs to be respected, and Folks have lives outside of their professional life, and what we and what we notice, of course, is that teachers, that we lose so many teachers within five years after they start the profession, and the and the issue about the number one reason that they talk about Why they're leaving is lack of administrative support, and That's on us as leaders, and so we hammer that very, very strongly that, in fact, that's the perception. Therefore, that's reality for those teachers. We can't afford to be losing teachers, administrators, who got into this profession Wanting to help kids, and that's all we ask for the rest of it. That is on us to be Supporting them and providing ways that that we can make this a positive experience for them as they are trying to make it a positive experience for their students and That's true, i mean it's.

0:16:01 - Kimberly King

I'm sorry, Kim, say to you, know I was just gonna say that reflects in the classroom. You know if somebody's not happy and it goes. You know across the board and families and business in Education as well. How does the learning culture in a classroom motivate and accelerate the learning and productivity emanating from the classroom?

0:16:21 - Doctor Wayne Padover

Have to remember that what we're talking about is providing students with opportunities to Grow and develop in ways that they have particular interest as well.

We're making certain that they have the basic tools that they need and, as it relates to researching, but what kids can do these days, with the internet and the research that's out there and the availability of Experts being brought to the, to the classroom just by the flick of a switch, and that Experts being brought into a classroom from throughout the world, there's no excuse for what we cannot know, what we can do.

So what we ask is having students deal with real issues, and so we've had students in elementary school talk about issues in the play on the playground and for kids to to interview other students and Talk about what is it that's missing as it relates to that environment in our on the playground, that that that would work better, and and then to bring that into a classroom situation very real terms of what kids can do, doing things that are similar to what they see on the nightly news and just making this very much Adult-oriented, real research, and you can do that in elementary school, middle school, high school, and that's what kids are there. They are much more sophisticated than they had been previously, and we need to match that, and we need to feed that, and we can do that pretty, pretty Effectively these days.

0:18:09 - Kimberly King

The world has moved a lot quicker. Now that we have internet and cell phones and everything, these kids get their hands on it a lot earlier. Age Next question Why is sound leadership critical to the success of a successful classroom or organizational experience?

0:18:28 - Doctor Wayne Padover

There's a saying of course that's age old that change begins at the top. There really is that There's a notion of what kind of leadership that we want in a school district, in a school, and we want to make sure that we involve the people who are going to be working in that organization as part of the selection process. I'm not talking about taking away any authority from school district boards of education, but we are talking about making absolutely certain that they get input from all aspects of their organization from parents, from students, from teachers, from classified and from alumni people who've been through that system so that they understand this really is an organization that is so important to the community and we know the power that leadership provides, it's model behavior. What we want to make certain is those difficult questions that may come from other aspects of the community that school board members may not be thinking about, that that's brought to the fore as well. Good example Education foundations are 501C3, IRS, 501c3, charitable organizations, non-political and fundraising.

Those are groups in communities that bring together whole varieties of people that are in the community. They may be people who do not have students in schools any longer but have had students in schools, have a relationship with the teacher's administration and feel very good about it. What we want to do is to include their input into who that next superintendent is going to be or who that next principal is going to be, because they have a stake, they have history within that organization and they have perspective that other folks don't necessarily have. We want to be able to use this, bringing people together and making certain that that leader here she would be recognizing and appreciating the history and the culture that's there and has been there.

0:20:59 - Kimberly King

That makes sense and I like that. Everybody does have a stake in that. This is great information, very interesting, Dr. Padover. We have to take a quick break, so stay with us more in just a moment, don't go away. And now back to our interview with Dr Wayne Padover. Today we're discussing how to establish a culture for learning in the classroom. Dr. Padover, it's been very interesting. We've seen so many changes in this world we live in now. Why is the establishment of culture of trust? it's critical to the productivity of a learning environment like a classroom.

0:21:37 - Doctor Wayne Padover

The component of trust, as it relates to learning and education, is the basis of communication. This goes back to cavemen and cavewomen communicating with just the notion of on seeing one another. There was initial distrust and then the notion of just putting up their hand and showing that they had no weapons. That was an aspect of saying I can be trusted. So relationships, communication, starts with foundation of trust and we've tend to forget that. We have changes that happen all the time in school organizations with different administration as an example, and we know that with changes of administration, on one hand it's seen as oh, isn't this wonderful that we have this new opportunity, and on the other hand there's also recognition that in fact this is going to be a disruption of the organization. So what we're trying to make sure is that our administrators understand is that the critical process of changing from one administration to another that's often done without understanding of the importance and the possibilities. As an example, it's the idea of recognizing the good things that have been done previously in the organization when a new leader comes on. That needs to happen.

Otherwise what we're talking about is just a revolving door of administrators coming and going without the respect for what has been done and building on that as opposed to ignoring it, and we understand how that happens. We have politics involved with changes, and every school board member comes on school board with a mandate. That means there needs to be change. Granted, it does need to be change, but it needs to be done in a strategic kind of way, in a thoughtful way, in a way that utilizes people and their talents that have been there and will be there in the future, and so it's investing in people and not just being caught up in change, what almost feels like for change's sake. Our kids can't afford that because it's a major disruption to their education when there is that kind of leadership change. So we need to be thoughtful about that, how that happens, and making sure that there's an assessment of what is happening, what's happening that's effective and how can we build on that.

0:24:33 - Kimberly King

I like that. That's true. Trust is so key and, Dr., how is failure an important component of a successful classroom operation?

0:24:43 - Doctor Wayne Padover

You know, failure has poor public relations is that term In the sense that we need to legitimize failure is about learning. The classic story is Thomas Edison - a thousand ways that he said prior to inventing the light bulb. He knows a thousand ways of not inventing the light bulb, with the recognition that if you wait long enough and you're working in in a prescribed strategic kind of way that you will reach the goal. And just to recognize that that's part of the process.

Interesting thing that we also notice from a biochemical perspective, with this idea of failure, you talk about the word and what that engenders for you, for me, for anybody in our audience.

There's a negative, there's a thinking about all the times that, or many of the times that we were unsuccessful.

It tends to have us think less creatively. It has us thinking in ways that we choose to risk less and being much more conservative than we ought to be when we're in research mode. And so that's just the term failure, what that connotes to us in a biochemical way. So what we want to do is to change that around to the point that students recognize that part of the learning is not being successful and they can expect it and there's an opportunity to learn and that they will learn and as they continue on and making the adjustments. We all know, whether it's learning an instrument or hitting a baseball or whatever it is, it's about constant repetition and practicing in the right ways for us to be successful, and that's what we're asking students to do and not to, not to get caught up into that I can't, I won't, I never can and all of those limiting and delimiting kinds of emotions that are brought about, and so we want to be much more sophisticated about how we look at that term failure.

0:27:07 - Kimberly King

I like it and I love your Thomas Edison quote, by the way, and just how success is failing right. We need to get there, and everybody's human. Why are team building activities an important part of the development of a learning culture in the classroom or another organization?

0:27:24 - Doctor Wayne Padover

You know, part of the issue that we're always dealing with, you know, in the world peace coming together. You know, we like to think that when people know, get to know one another, they find that they have many more commonalities than they have. That are things that are disparate about who they are as human beings. It's not very. It's not very different as it relates to students and teachers and people who work in schools. And if we can come up with ways of bringing people together and once again it starts with model behavior from leadership They've got to be able to legitimize people coming together and talking to one another. So one of the things that we like to do as it relates to and we teach leaders is, as they deal with meetings and we talk about coming up with ground rules of what we call norms, meeting norms, and we ask them to make those, put those norms into effect, and what that does is it brings people together talking about commonalities. So norms might be, you know, assume everybody's positive intention, that anticipate that anybody may be called upon at any particular time, but at the same time, if you choose to say I pass, that's what happens. We move on to somebody else. So, again, so making certain that we're not putting people in awkward positions where they will feel frightened and intimidated. But they will get to know one another and will ask questions like and these are in previous times it used it had been referred to as ice breakers.

Now we talk about as team building terminology. So it would be something as open as tell us something about you, share with us briefly something about you that most people don't know about you. So, again, people can pick the level of openness that they would choose to decide, but somebody will pick something to say And what that does is it breaks down the barriers and it builds the teams in ways that would not normally happen. So every time that we get together and I'm with few exceptions there's something that people who come up with and they've brought they've come up with their own ideas at this point with just on a one to 10 scale, what's your energy level today? And then do that at the being of the meeting and at the end of the meeting and just let's note the difference, that kind of thing. But what it does is it gives people an opportunity to talk with one another, to share in meaningful kinds of ways that are real and as personal as they want it to be.

0:30:34 - Kimberly King

And I think that's a really good point. I think that's the culture of storytelling too, in a way, and people tend to remember those personal little tidbits or, as you say, the icebreakers team building part of that, so I love that. What role do social activities play to enhance the learning culture in classrooms and other organizations?

0:30:54 - Doctor Wayne Padover

This notion of the social activities. What we wanted to do is to have the group experience one another in a variety of settings. So breaking bread, bringing food into a situation it may seem like kind of an innocuous situation. Not true, and we talked with our administrators. Find those times as you're working with a board, to bring the board together so that they are breaking bread. And it has such terrific symbolism for just people. It's food, it’s nourishment, it's doing that together, it's talking about whatever they choose to talk about.

You know this concept of saying let's not talk shop. We don't do that kind of thing in the sense that because it makes it seem as though the work part of what they are about is divorced from the personal part. And, as we know, if we're into what is that we're doing in our profession, there's an amalgamation, there's a joining, and then we teach other ways of making sure that, in that self-care kind of theme, that they are doing things that provide them opportunities to replenish their energy, both personally and professionally, but who they are and we want them to be excited about the good work that they're doing with schools and kids And I mean this is a major contribution to this world And why would we want to kind of put that off in any kind of negative connotation? It's not what should happen.

0:32:42 - Kimberly King

Very good. Last question How does appropriate management leadership ensure the likelihood that students and employees will experience a high degree of job satisfaction, self-renewal and physical health, and that they're permitted to experience a standard of amount of hours dedicated to the successful fulfillment of the intended local government?

0:33:06 - Doctor Wayne Padover

For sure. And so when we think about this, when we're hiring for a school or school district, the message that we want to be giving to those employees is the people in this community are entrusting us to help raise their kids, who are? that's their legacy, that's their love, that's their passion, that's the highest caring levels that they have as human beings in this world. And they're saying to us that we want to, and we trust you to, share in helping develop those people.

I don't know that there's a better compliment that one person could give to another than to say I want you involved in the raising of my children.

And so that's the message that we try to make sure that our employees have. And not only with that privilege goes responsibility and the responsibility of making that work and being dedicated and recognizing that as professionals, they are going to continue to grow and develop, and so that they have more to give these children, these students, this organization and this country. And so what we're saying to them is that we also want to be involved in your lives as employees, such that we care about you, we care about your families, we're here for you. We recognize that part of who you are is who you're developing. And we are and we're committed with resources, with caring, both financial and interpersonal relationships. We care about those people and we want to be held accountable for what we provide you, that we know you're providing our children. So it's a larger picture than just an idea of we're hiring you. We're hiring you with a mission, we're hiring you with purpose and to fulfill your purpose, and we want you to be here for as long as you want to be here.

0:35:33 - Kimberly King

I love that It's such a higher thought process there. These are future leaders and a future legacy, so I see the full picture here and when you, it's more than just hiring them for a temporary, it's for the future. This has been such a great conversation today. Doctor, thank you so much for your time. And if you want more information, you can visit National University's website,, and we look forward to your next visit. Thank you so much.

0:36:02 - Doctor Wayne Padover

My pleasure. Thank you all.

0:36:06 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"Trust, as it relates to learning and education, is the basis of communication." - Wayne Padover Click to Tweet
"I don't know that there's a better compliment that one person could give to another than to say, 'I want you involved in the raising of my children.'" - Wayne Padover Click to Tweet