Learning Communities and Professional Development

There are many varieties of "Professional Learning Communities.
 The South Jersey Academy of Teaching and Learning is a professional learning community. The Academy uses both online and face-to-face collaboration to accomplish its goals.  Academy members share a vision of teachers as leaders in school improvement (About the Academy).

Characteristics
Every  professional learning community needs is supportive and shared leadership among its members.  Educators must work together to help eliminate the top down attitude that pervades most school systems.  entire school systems must become learning communities, where administrators teachers and students learn together. All professional learning communities must share common a vision to be used to guide the group as they work individually and collectively for these goals. Unless there is support for the community will be doomed.

 A professional learning community can only exist if the necessary supportive of conditions are in place.  There must be a well-established a time when the community can meet to discuss common ideas, problems and interests. The people within the community, must be willing to share their expertise to establish trust and respect among the members and to spend the necessary time to make the community a success.  

One question that comes up is "Why Learning Communities?" Of course people deeply involved in such communities easily understand how important these can be to their professional careers. But others who accept that learning communities can be important ask, "How do we create a learning community?"
The steps involve several important questions including, "Are the participants ready?", "Should we hire an outside coordinator?", "What barriers will discourage the creation of our community?" and more.
 

Teams within a professional learning community
Teams within any professional learning community can be developed in many ways. Here are some samples of possible learning configurations. A grade level team which consists of teachers and administrators who share the same grade level. A department team, where members share the same subject area or any of the varied departments with in a school setting. An interdisciplinary team were teachers share ideas to use throughout the curriculum. A content area team were educators share the same content, possibly through multiple grade levels. A thematic team were educators share an interest in the same topic or theme. Teams across schools and disciplines were members of the team share ideas and resources from the multiple places that they represent. An online network, where members and educators who are interested in joining share resources and ideas. A whole school learning community where the entire school functions as a learning community. Administrators teachers support staff and students. There are as many possibilities for grouping of learning communities as there are individuals involved in education. All that is required is for individuals within the community to care deeply about teaching and learning, to respect and value each other's opinions, and to have a strong desire to excel.  Here are some basic guidelines from CIRTL

Links for more information on Learning Communities and Professional Development

The New Jersey Department of Education offers information on professional development and learning communities to educators on their website. NJDOE PD the N. J. DOE also offers an interesting publication "A Common Language for Professional Learning".

The North Carolina DOE website offers a comprehensive look at  Professional Learning Communities on it's website.

The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) has developed may resources on starting and maintaining effective professional learning communities. Simply follow the contents on the left side of the page. They offer another free resource called Leading Change from the Classroom: Teachers as Leaders: Issues About Change, Volume 4, Number. They offer many resources at no charge to educators.  

Other Learning Community / Professional development Links

An idea in "9 Principles for Implementation: The Big Shift" by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach  is that change is "caught not taught". It is a really good article.  A vital part of the success of any learning community is that it doesn't became another "job" to be done and documented! 

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