Professional Learning Communities

Schools as professional learning communities: Collaborative activities and strategies for professional development by Sylvia M. Roberts and Eunice Z. Pruitt

Professional Learning Communities have the potential to touch the stars. Image found via Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at 21st Century Learning. Click to view source.
Professional Learning Communities have the potential to touch the stars. Image found via Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach at 21st Century Learning. Click to view source.

The notion of professional learning communities excites me. I am jazzed about how people learn, especially with how we learn in relationship and collaboration with others who share our passions. The idea of a small group of people meeting to have genuine conversations around their concerns, triumphs, and successes about their passion – in this case teaching and learning – is very powerful and holds the potential expressed in Margaret Mead’s famous quotation,

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.

I have been involved with a few different professional learning communities over the past few years. Some were wonderful communities of learning that I continue to learn from and others, unfortunately, fell flat after the first few meetings.

The communities that thrived and, in some cases, are still thriving all had a similar strong foundation: they began in a participatory manner. The community members were active in the formation of the community.

The professional learning communities that didn’t work were communities in which members were expected to participate but really didn’t have any personal investment in. We were told that we had to meet every week, or 2 weeks, or month, in order to discuss ‘x’ without being consulted with about what we felt we needed to talk about.

In one particular case, the principal of the school firmly believed that teachers needed to be talking about inclusion. He was probably right, however the way in which he created the professional learning community was through imposition rather than invitation and instead of talking about real concerns at the community meetings, there was complaining about difficult students – almost akin to a sharing of war stories!

I recently found another online blog with a posting on this very subject called, Why do professional learning communities fail to develop? This is what one of the commentators wrote:

That’s the key. It has to belong to the teachers who are part of the community. If the community belongs to “the administration” and teachers are merely invited to attend, things fall apart.

I firmly believe that in order for a professional learning community to work it needs to spring out of the real needs, concerns, and triumphs of its members. In order for this to work, our job is to create the conditions, the climate for educators to spend time together talking about what they really care about in education.

Here are some beliefs that others hold about successful professional learning communities:

What do you believe are the conditions for successful professional learning communities?

Tracy

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