Learning Communities – What works and Why

“I think a summary of what worked in BC schools along with what didn’t and why would help others build from these experiences” was a partial comment to my last blog entry, and here is a brief response to the first part of that…..

What works in BC and Why does it work….

On a side note, I prefer to use the term Learning Community rather than Professional Learning Community, as the latter gives the impression that the community is meant for the professionals in the community only.

My response comes in part from the stories told to me by practicing BC educators (mostly teachers) while researching  (see dissertation here for a more fulsome story if desired http://summit.sfu.ca/item/11268) and in part from my own personal experiences.

The first thing to consider is whether or not there is enough capacity to move forward (amongst staff  and within the system in which the community is to be embedded as well).

Getting the structure right is also important.  In other jurisdictions, a top down, mandated structure might work well.  Knowledge and experience tells me that top down will most likely not work well in BC.  This does not mean that developing an LC should be a free for all.  It means that the principal provides the structure and is available to drop in or to help if desired/needed.  The initiative/meat of the meeting comes from the staff.  In a nutshell, LC meeting time is staff driven and principal facilitated (by the way, facilitation is multifaceted).  In a fortunate district, there will be senior level staff who are supportive of the messiness that must happen in order to work through the process.

  • In much of the learning communities literature, the schedule for teacher meetings and the meetings themselves are highly structured and quite compliance driven.  Some teachers I interviewed found this to be highly stressful and not necessarily very helpful.  I think that in some schools/districts, this has caused “PLCs” to become highly politicized, which is not unexpected given the tensions around education in BC generally.  I have found that providing teachers time to work on areas of passion, that tie directly to improving learning for students, is more helpful.  This is more “inquiry” in style and allows for the messiness required for true adult learning to take place.
  • Meeting time is given to those in the community who want to work on something that will help students.  Time is not meant to be equally divided (although as educators see the benefit to students and to fellow staff members, it is more likely to become more evenly distributed).  Some teams may meet only once, others may meet weekly for a month, some may meet periodically over a year or two or …
  • There is an overall school vision that the staff has played a large part in developing.  This is the lens to use in order to determine what the LC meeting time should be used for.
  • The principal is the “facilitator” of the LC meeting time schedule so that they can be effective in their role as “leader of leaders”.

I hope the above is helpful.  Hopefully it makes sense or resonates with you.  It is not meant to be a fulsome description, but rather a taste of some of the highlights.  Perhaps it has generated more questions for you…If so….please let me know if there is something else you would like to explore…

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One Response to Learning Communities – What works and Why

  1. Pingback: The Secret Garden – Keys to Success | jmlauman

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