Three Critical Beliefs of a Professional in a Learning Community

Planting and nurturing a healthy professional learning community requires that every teacher (and employee) in a building arrive at three conclusions:

  1. I am a professional. My mission is to ensure learning at high levels for every student, measurable by objective evidence.
  2. I learn and I help others learn. My students learn more when I collaborate and learn with other teachers, sharing strategies and comparing evidence.
  3. My school is a community, greater than the sum of its parts. It is built out of collaborative teams and disciplined professionals that share and learn from their failures and successes.

It’s not enough to adopt two out of the three conclusions. It’s all or nothing.

Because these conclusions aren’t just benign, buzzword statements, adoption can be pretty arduous. Teachers need time and patience to hash through the implications of these terms with other teachers.

Teachers need time to air their concerns, fears, and insecurities before they really assimilate these beliefs.

Teachers need time to struggle and even fight through the process of letting go of longer-standing beliefs that conflict with these conclusions, without feeling like they’re forfeiting their souls and their individuality.

For leaders, the whole process is less like building a tract house, and more like planting and growing a forest. It takes strategy and experience, nurturing and pruning, and time.

5 thoughts on “Three Critical Beliefs of a Professional in a Learning Community

  1. Hey Joel,

    For me, one of the real barriers to adoption of your three key statements is that the work ISN’T necessarily arduous for school decision-makers.

    Most of the tangible, concrete change that people think of when they think PLCs is work that is done by classroom teachers, so while school leaders talk about putting the “we” in community, there tends to be an inadvertent overemphasis on “you.”

    For school leaders and those working beyond the classroom, focused effort needs to be placed on finding ways to make the work of PLCs less arduous for classroom teachers.

    Any of this make sense? I feel like I’m babbling!
    Bill

    • Bill,

      You’ve described my previous experience very accurately. Often, teachers are the primary PLC agents, and specialists, support staff, and classified workers are either left out or tacked on to teams ad-hoc. Rather than participating in the community work, admins become overseers and meter maids to make sure the teams stay on task.

      I think a big barrier is our understanding of community. Certainly, collaborative teams can contribute to community, but they do not encompass all that a school community is. Community includes some very hard-to-manage factors like relationships, emotions, history, personal baggage, conflicts, and culture. It’s certainly less complicated to manage a mechanical organization than a living, breathing, organic community.

      As a result, many leaders shoehorn the PLC model to improve test scores and ensure that their schools don’t earn unfavorable labels. The PLC model, which is really a framework for redefining the idea of school, becomes little more than a program for keeping teachers busy.

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