Thursday, April 12, 2012

Professional Learning Communities

What is a learning community? Is it a small group? A classroom? A team? Students? Teachers? Administrators? It is all these things and more. Some might suggest, a professional learning community is formed whenever “two or more are gathered” to talk, share, learn, and grow.

Once considered an innovation, professional learning communities in schools are commonplace today. Although their structure varies widely, their use as a powerful staff development strategy to promote school change and improvement is consistent. To be effective, professional learning communities must be part of the culture of the school – respected, supported, and nurtured.

When afforded that status, professional learning communities

· Decrease educators’ isolation
· Increase their commitment to the mission of the school
· Foster a sense of shared responsibility that leads to more effective change.

Lest the concept of professional learning communities evokes an image of teachers and administrators sitting in a circle sharing instructional strategies, think again. The configuration can be as varied as the schools in which it is used.

Professional learning communities have at their foundation, five specific factors as outlined by Peter Senge:

1. Supportive and shared leadership;
2. Collective creativity;
3. Shared values and vision;
4. Supportive culture;
5. Shared personal practice;

With these elements, schools – and individual educators – can craft their own brand of professional learning community. Administrators can empower teachers through professional learning communities, allowing them to take the lead in improving classroom instruction and, indeed, the school climate.

Last school year, due to the budget reduction of some 110 staff members, it became apparent that we needed to devise a new way of doing business in the district. The absolutes that were critical to the new plan involved raising achievement and creating more opportunities for collaboration among and between the staff. In response, The School District of Janesville developed the regional PLC model where the district was divided into three regions—West, East and South. In this model, resource staff—academic learning coaches, counselors, library-media specialists, social workers, and school psychologists are shared among and between schools based on the immediate needs identified at the building. PLC’s meet monthly to process and management the work of the PLC as well as collaborate on the various activities and events surrounding student learning and achievement. Flexibility is the key to effectiveness of the model. Later this month we will begin the process of evaluating the progress of our regional PLC experiment and consider the future evolution of our regional PLC’s.

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