Workplaces as Professional Learning Communities
What characteristics and behaviours define a Professional Learning Community? Some include:
- High levels of relational trust
High levels of relational trust connect teachers. Teachers believe colleagues are benevolent and will not harm them. Admitting developmental areas within their practice will not leave the teacher vulnerable; neither will the provision of honest feedback to another teacher or leader.
- Truth and honesty
Teachers are honest with themselves and each other. Honest conversations with students’ best interests lying at the core of professional conversations are the norm, not conversations driven by teachers’ best interests (e.g. being seen by colleagues to be nice).
- Responsibility of care
Interactions are based on responsibility of care and minimising harm to others. By encouraging honest and potentially critical feedback on their practice teachers can provide guarantees and assurances they are caring for their students’ best educational interests and not harming them.
- Honouring peoples’ rights
Peoples’ rights are honoured and protected. Students have the right to be exposed to teachers who are learners; teachers who continually strive to grow and improve their practice. Families have the right to know their children’s teachers are driven by a sense of honouring the basic right to having not an education, but a first class education.
- Power is shared and not abused
Educators hold positions of power. It means teachers do not operate out of self- interest. They don’t contrive lesson observations within their appraisal, they don’t hold grudges against colleagues because they don’t like the honest critique that person provided on their practice and they can be honest with others without fearing they could be alienated. The greater good to school and others outweighs what is best for self.
When teachers think and act in these ways the following become embedded within the broader school culture:
- Responsiveness to change is positive; people adapt to change;
- Teachers are motivated to question and innovate and encourage each other to do so;
- Intelligent failure is valued; mistakes are seen as part of learning and evidence of stretching oneself;
- Preventable failure becomes minimised;
- Risk taking and demonstrating initiative usurps playing it safe and being dependent on others;
- Knowledge is shared openly and willingly;
- Teachers commit to continuous professional learning.
When teachers demonstrate these traits they communicate their preparedness to be learners; they are wired for learning. They are less likely to see themselves as experts, or knowers, and are able and willing to change. These teachers embrace teaching as inquiry; they don’t just do it but they do it exceedingly well. Their teaching practice visibly changes over time because their learning has been deep, prompting them to reframe beliefs and assumptions, and it has an impact on student outcomes.
In our experience working with teachers the reality is that there will be pockets within a school where some of these things are happening but to say it happens systemically across a school might be pushing the truth a little.
When we outline these characteristics to educators, informing them that these are the critical success indicators we are looking for in the future when we work with them, we are often met with looks of astonishment, disbelief and occasionally muted laughter. Why? One reason is because many teachers are less wired for learning. They comply with teaching as inquiry, often seeing it as an extra, and whilst they may do it, what they do may have little impact on teaching practice or student outcomes. It becomes a box ticking process for these teachers.
We believe there is a deeper, fundamental reason as to why many of these teachers occupy positions in schools. It’s not that they don’t want to learn, it’s that they don’t feel safe being a learner. That’s not just our view but it’s also the view of research from the field of organisational psychology.
The Appraisal Connector™, because it requires teachers to demonstrate specific behaviours and practices around their learning, allows leaders to quickly make inroads in their pursuit of raising levels of psychological safety so that teachers are freed to engage in the risky business of learning.