New Thinking for a New Era
Transforming Schools and Centres from Professional Development Communities into Professional Learning Communities
The single greatest impediment to the transformation of schools and centres from Professional Development Communities to Professional Learning Communities is leadership.
Or more specifically, the beliefs, mental models and assumptions upon which leaders in schools and centres make their decisions. If Professional Development is the only means a leader knows of to enhance teaching practice within their school then that is exactly what they will offer. The capacity within a school is directly related to the thinking which sits inside the leadership group. Professional Learning differs considerably from Professional Development. Truly outstanding schools and centres will experience both – simultaneously. In other words, Professional Development and Professional Learning co-exist and support each other. Teachers require both if they are to excel. Unfortunately teachers report back to us how they experience Professional Development in abundance but with little to no Professional Learning.
Professional Learning Communities are characterised by a number of things:
- Professional Learning is organic – Professional Learning occurs all the time through rich, robust everyday informal professional conversations.
- Any informal conversations are deep, informed, robust and dynamic. Through them teachers’ mental models, assumptions and beliefs about what they are doing within their classrooms and practice change.
- Professional Learning is unstructured and unplanned and takes place whenever and wherever teachers have a deep understanding of their practice which they are able and willing to articulate and share with others.
- Professional Learning allows teachers to develop ‘deep collegiality’ as a basis for teaming. Leaders literally force teachers who do not necessarily want to work together to work together in developmental areas they may not have that much interest in developing. This can damage relationships between teachers and leaders and teachers and facilitators. Without relationships leaders and facilitators struggle to influence. Relationships lie at the heart of being able to influence outcomes in positive ways.
- No one controls, compels or decides what Professional Learning will take place. Rather everyone takes responsibility for it as collegial partners in professional learning relationships.
- Professional Learning, because it is informal and undertaken through deeply rich and personalised professional conversations, is intrinsic in nature. Teachers choose to participate in deeply enriching professional learning conversations because they make choices to do so and because they are free to decide those areas they wish to think about and articulate.
- Professional learning occurs all the time – not just after school. Teachers are immersed in a deeply rich learning culture.
- Professional Learning is a direct result of your culture. In fact it is your school’s culture when you have that culture. You can’t provide Professional Learning in this way if you have not structured your school in a way which allows teachers to become informed about their practice and the practices of others. Being deeply informed is the basis upon which teachers need to be armed to contribute to professional reflective dialogue.
- Professional Learning is deeply transformational in nature. Through rich, meaningful and relevant dialogue teachers are challenged in their thinking about their practice. They choose to let other peoples’ thinking blend with their own and through dialogues teachers shift their own assumptions and beliefs around what they are doing. The type of learning participants are exposed to is described as ‘double loop learning (Chris Argyris), ‘deep learning’, ‘transformational learning’ and ‘adaptive learning’.
- As opposed to listening to experts as with Professional Development, Professional Learning requires that everyone inquires into their practices and the practices of others as learners. Rather than learning being passive, Professional Learning is a dynamic transaction between learners who are inquiring into teaching practice – both the art of teaching and the science of teaching.
- Rather than becoming disempowered teachers build their own informal professional networks within the work place. They become resources for each others’ development.
- Teachers become increasingly more self aware of their strengths and weaknesses without others having to tell them. Through deep reflection, self analysis and self evaluation teachers shift on their own terms and more quickly than if someone was telling them how and where to change.
- Teachers because they are free contributors to professional dialogue are empowered as professionals and as adults. They do not feel like children being told what to do.
- Professional Learning contributes significantly to the development of teachers as better people. By learning to engage in dialogue teachers discover a new and very powerful way to communicate. These are the critical skills all successful people require whether working in school or outside the work place. Whether you are communicating with a partner, spouse, siblings, children, in-laws, neighbours or you are involved in coaching sports teams or community work dialogue and reflective dialogue and knowing how to ask the right questions at the right times are significant skills which those successful at developing relationships and building partnerships excel at. By investing in the development of these skills you become a better employer as you commit to making your people both better people and teachers.