By Teachers, For Teachers
Close your eyes. Wait. Open them. I hope you’ve opened them. Maybe just squint a little and imagine a work place where everyday, every individual comes to learn something. That’s EVERYONE’s goal. People come to this place because they recognize that learning is valuable, perhaps the most valuable thing a person can do with her life.
Okay. You can stop squinting. Wait for the slight headache to fade and ask yourself if your school was the place you imagined. If you did, you’re fortunate enough to belong to a professional learning community.
The idea of schools as professional learning communities (PFCs) has developed in the past ten years but has yet to become an accepted model. The idea of teachers and staff learning with and from each other in order to improve student learning may not seem so foreign but getting an entire school team on board around the idea may be more exceptional.
In a night class last week, my professor asked how many of us work in professional learning communities. Only one woman raised her hand, and she had a question about the test.
Here are some elements of a professional learning community that you may already have, or may like to incorporate into your school:
Grade Teams / Inquiry Teams / Departmental Teams
The common word being team, any group which formally has time set aside in the school-day to share best practices, create and experiment with new initiatives, and discuss what is actually happening in classrooms by using both quantitative and qualitative data constitutes a step towards a PLC.
On a learning walk, a group of teachers gets together to discuss one element of teacher practice that they would like to take a closer look at. They then visit several classrooms in a given period, stopping in for 5-10 minutes, observing, perhaps subtly dialoguing with a student, and taking notes for later discussion.
Afterwards, members of the walk share out and discuss whatever lens they had chosen before hand and later share out their warm and cool feedback to the rest of the school. A learning walk is in no way evaluative – rather just a way to see what a school is doing well and where it can improve.
In my experience, formal observations where an administrator watches me for an entire period and then gives me thorough feedback are rare. As a way of mixing up a typical observation – I suggest teachers sitting in each other’s classrooms as students. This can be a more natural way of experiencing a lesson and can even serve as a way to model good student behavior. By sitting in a science lesson recently, I was able to motivate my group mates (who had just had me 3rd period) to complete a lab collaboratively.
Creating a professional learning community is no easy task, nor is it the task of teachers alone. Administrators must be willing to create opportunities for their teams. However, a group of teachers excited about learning and improving their practice can take an amateur learning community a long way.
How does your school create a professional learning community? Share in the comments section!