Monday, October 22, 2012

Building a Learning Community

What is a learning community, and how is a learning community the same as a class, collegial group or school community?  Current research in books such as Making Learning Visible for Teachers by John Hattie point to the power of collegial collaboration, life-long learning, and adaptability when it comes to teaching children well.

At times, teaching and learning has been managed more through directives than collegial collaboration. In most schools, time for collaboration did not exist in the past, and one or two individuals were responsible for the curriculum efforts of many. Now with greater movement towards professional learning communities (PLCs) and response to intervention (RTI), the movement from managed curriculum to learning communities has gained momentum.

While I believe that collegial groups profit from strong leadership, I also believe that collegial groups do a better job when they see themselves as a vital part of the learning community with a responsibility to work together to learn, create, teach and assess with best practices aimed at student learning. I also believe that educators who work within a learning community model are better able to foster that model in their own classrooms.

How does a collegial learning community act; what do they do?  Collegial learning communities do the following:
  • Establish learning goals.
  • Define, integrate and adapt optimal strategies for learning.
  • Troubleshoot together to help all students learn.
  • Combine efforts to reach goals.
  • Assess, reflect and determine next steps.
  • Meet regularly.
  • Engage in collegial and independent learning regularly. 
How can leaders support and invigorate learning communities, and why is this important? Curriculum leaders set the path for educators' work and endeavor. How a leader spends his/her time; what they notice and support, and the tone and content of communication lead a collegial group in specific directions. If leaders embrace the notion that strong learning communities lead to optimal student learning and success, then there are many actions they can put into place to foster vibrant learning communities including the follow:
  • Establish and interact with two-way communication systems such as in-house social media platforms like NING, Google docs "discussions" or Twitter-like talks.
  • Support professional learning communities (PLCs) with time and attendance.
  • Share one's own reflection and learning.
  • Welcome and share the learning of colleagues.
  • Set goals with the learning community.
  • Frankly discuss the problems, barriers, and challenges facing the learning community.
  • Survey the learning community often to learn of and understand their needs with regard to teaching children well.
  • Provide and support frequent learning opportunities.
Moving schools forward to the establishment of dynamic learning communities that welcome the involvement, voice, and action of parents, students, educators, administrators and community members will strengthen student learning.  This post is an initial look at the way collegial groups and leaders can work together to move towards a learning community model rather than the manager-worker factory model that still exists in many schools. 

Students look to us for leadership, and if we model vibrant, collaborative collegial learning groups, they'll do the same.