There are many resources that are available on professional learning communities (PLCs) or network learning for school improvement. But, the high volume unfortunately does not reflect high quality. Ask for those high quality resources to be freely accessible, and you risk being very disappointed. But, as we – the education community – slowly accept the concept of open learning and knowledge sharing, I am finding more resources that are relevant and useful. That is eduspeak for practical.
At the root of professional learning communities is taking advantage of how adults learn – recognizing that teachers and school leaders are adults. Sustainable learning that changes beliefs and practices occurs when educators consider how their work impacts on student learning directly and indirectly. It is when educators think reflectively and collectively about their effect on students.
For this level of reflective practice to occur, educators need evidence of student learning. Nope, I am not talking about test results. I am talking about using student work to tell us how we, as educators, are doing in helping students learn. This is about considering the work students’ produce to decide if we, as teachers, are creating the best opportunities for learning for our students? or if we can refine our approach to do better?
Sustainable relevant effective professional learning happens when educators examine student work in a systematic collective manner, and allow that examination to inform their instructional decisions. This means being open and trusting one another to challenge long-standing beliefs and practices. Imagine for a moment that you, as a teacher, had the environment where you were encouraged and felt safe to share the following with a group of supportive colleagues who are willing to think with you:
- What you wanted to achieve with your students?
- How you developed your lesson and activities?
- How you taught?
- How your students reacted?
- What kinds of student artefacts/work did the students produce?
- What can you decide about the learning of the students given that work product?
- What can you do better to increase student learning?
Now that would make your professional practice visible and allow for a deeper understanding of how students learn and what effective practice looks like in our classrooms!
This is feasible and it is being done well with a positive effect that is sustainable. There is a structured approach that facilitates this kind of work in schools and professional learning communities. Having the opportunity to see how this process works in the reality of the school day is an important guide to figuring out how this can work in your school.
The Ontario Ministry of Education has been supporting this approach for a number of years now and with a great deal of success. They have taken some illustrative examples and developed resources where you can meet teachers and school leaders who formed a learning team to improve their students’ learning about mathematics. These webcasts show how the teachers moved through to cultivate a network learning community rooted in a real mathematics classrooms.
I invite you to check out The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Webcast Professional Learning Series Viewer’s Guide “Through the Eye of the Learner: From Student Work to Teacher Practice.” It is a multi-media resource for professional learning and will be accessible for not-for-profit educational purposes printed by Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2011.
Seeing is believing…. and…… inspiring!