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Schools as Sustainable Organisations

Si Man LAM, Monaliza Maximo CHIAN


Amid post-pandemic, as we aim to reconcile the ideas of the "new normal," schools may require revisiting what counts as sustainable organisations. Too often, schools celebrate the accumulation of standardised knowledge over cultivating creativity and adaptability, individual achievement over community-oriented efforts, and outcomes over processes. However, the purpose of schooling is not to socialise youth in an academic competition but to prepare them for participation in a variety of communities that matter to them (Eckert et al., 1997). Furthermore, schools are encountering challenges in responding to shifting societal expectations, increasingly diversified student populations and faculty generations, changing local conditions, and entropic forces imposed by the global pandemic. To navigate these challenges, all members (school leaders, teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders) within schools must function as organisations. Therefore, it is timely that we reflect on schools as sustainable organisations.

The concept of schools as sustainable organisations builds upon the premise that schools are institutionally grounded social organisations and that they also are ecological systems embedded in a dynamic environment. On one hand, schools are organised to build capacities for social participation (Bidwell, 2006). On the other hand, schools must be self-conscious, reflective organisations to cope with social and demographic dynamics. From this perspective, we envision sustainable schools as organic organisations that foster joint learning and prepare all members for meaningful participation in local and global communities (Eckert et al., 1997).

Since communal learning is vital for collectively adapting to new situations (Stoll, 2020) and building meaningful social connections (Eckert et al., 1997), for schools to function as sustainable organisations, collaborative learning must retain a central position. In schools as communities of engaged learners, all participants have easy access to learning resources and are prepared to participate in various communities that are meaningful to them (Eckert et al., 1997). All members work together toward a shared vision and mission; everyone can make an impact within and beyond their communities (Kools et al., 2020; Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2016). To foster continual learning, a strong and supportive professional learning community is required where individual and collective efforts are cohesively intertwined (Tuli & Bekele, 2020). School leaders must convey expectations for all members, provide time, space, and resources for active and collaborative learning, and build mutual trust and open communication among various stakeholders (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2006). Concurrently, all teachers must collaborate, deeply interrogate, and actively improve their practices as they share experiences and reflect upon varied perspectives (Tuli & Bekele, 2020).

Below are some relevant and timely scholarly contributions and internet resources that raise issues, considerations, and challenges as we conceptualise schools as sustainable organisations that foster harmonious cooperation towards a shared mission and vision to educate all.


Bidwell, C. E. (2006). School as context and construction. In M. T. Hallinan (Ed.), Handbook of the Sociology of Education (pp. 15-36). Springer US.

Eckert, P., Goldman, S., & Wenger, E. (1997). The school as a community of engaged learners.

Kools, M., Stoll, L., George, B., Steijn, B., Bekkers, V., & Gouëdard, P. (2020). The school as a learning organisation: The concept and its measurement. European Journal of Education, 55(1), 24-42.

McLaughlin, M. W., & Talbert, J. E. (2006). Building school-based teacher learning communities: Professional strategies to improve student achievement. Teachers College Press.

Stoll, L. (2020). Creating capacity for learning: Are we there yet? Journal of Educational Change, 21(3), 421-430.

Tichnor-Wagner, A., Harrison, C., & Cohen-Vogel, L. (2016). Cultures of learning in effective high schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(4), 602-642.

Tuli, F., & Bekele, A. (2020). Professional learning communities: A review of literature. Journal of Science and Sustainable Development, 8(1), 54-64.

Schools as Sustainable Organisations

Highly-Cited Academic Articles

Bidwell, C. E. (2001). Analyzing schools as organizations: Long-term permanence and short-term change. Sociology of Education, 74, 100-114.

Bryk, A. S. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(7), 23-30.

Kools, M., & Stoll, L. (2016). What makes a school a learning organisation? OECD Education Working Papers, No. 137.

Lee, V. E., Bryk, A. S., & Smith, J. B. (1993). The organization of effective secondary schools. Review of Research in Education, 19, 171-267.

Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional learning communities: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change, 7(4), 221-258.


Publications in/about the Region

Dimmock, C., & Tan, C. Y. (2013). Educational leadership in Singapore: Tight coupling, sustainability, scalability, and succession. Journal of Educational Administration, 51(3), 320-340.

Huang, T. H., Ting, S. C., & Chen, B. C. (2021). The impacts of principal’s transformational leadership and environmental obstacles on teachers’ job satisfaction: The mediation of professional learning community. Education Journal, 49(2), 191-215.

Lee, D. H. L., & Ip, N. K. K. (2021). The influence of professional learning communities on informal teacher leadership in a Chinese hierarchical school context. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 0(0).

Tan, C. (2019). The school as a learning organisation in China. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(1), 15-26.

Zhang, J., Yin, H., & Wang, T. (2020). Exploring the effects of professional learning communities on teacher’s self-efficacy and job satisfaction in Shanghai, China. Educational Studies, 49(1), 17-34.


School Examples

Canossa Primary School (San Po Kong). (2022). Making learning visible: School open house. (Chinese Only)

Education Bureau of Hong Kong SAR. (n.d.). School-based curriculum development in primary schools.

The Centre for University and School Partnership, Faculty of Education, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. (2022). Support program on fostering communities of practice to enhance learning and teaching in a small class environment. (Chinese Only)


HKU Scholarship

Huang, X., & Wang, C. (2021). Factors affecting teachers’ informal workplace learning: The effects of school climate and psychological capital. Teaching and Teacher Education, 103, 103363.

Tan, C. Y., Gao, L., & Shi, M. (2022). Second-order meta-analysis synthesizing the evidence on associations between school leadership and different school outcomes. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 50(3), 469-490.

Wang, D., Wang, J., Li, H., & Li, L. (2017). School context and instructional capacity: A comparative study of professional learning communities in rural and urban schools in China. International Journal of Educational Development, 52, 1-9.

Yang, R. (2022). Chinese idea of a university: Phoenix reborn. Hong Kong University Press.


Internet Resources


Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL). (n.d.). Attributes of professional learning communities.

Welsh Government Hwb. (n.d.). Schools as learning organisations.

Wenger, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015, June). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses.

YouTube Videos

eNSPIRED. (2021, October 25). Webinar professional learning communities.

Institute of Education Sciences. (2016, September 30). Creating and sustaining professional learning communities (2016 educator effectiveness webinar).

Russell Sarder. (2015, June 9). What are the first 4 disciplines of a learning organisation? Peter Senge.

TEDx Talks. (2017, December 9). Growing through change: A how-to for leaders of learning organisations - Yves Givel - TEDxSHMS.

UC Education, Health and Human Development. (2018, August 21). Schools as learning organisations: Exploring the implications for policy and practice.

Blog Posts

Kawar, A. (2016, May 18). Integrating collaboration, learning systems, and empowerment to accelerate improvement in education – The promise of NICs. Carnegie Commons Blog.

Schleicher, A. (2016, July 7). How to transform schools into learning organisations? OECD Education and Skills Today.


Extended Readings

Bridwell-Mitchell, E. N., & Fried, S. A. (2020). Learning one’s place: Status perceptions and social capital in teacher communities. Educational Policy, 34(7), 955-991.

Kılıçoğlu, G. (2017). Consistency or discrepancy? Rethinking schools from organizational hypocrisy to integrity. Management in Education, 31(3), 118-124.

Stoll, L., & Kools, M. (2017). The school as a learning organisation: A review revisiting and extending a timely concept. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 2(1), 2-17.

Wenger, E. (2004). Knowledge management as a doughnut: Shaping your knowledge strategy through communities of practice. Ivey Business Journal, 68(3), 1-8.

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