Professional Learning Communities Development Program

Introduction

Professional learning community can be conceptualised as the collaboration of various stakeholders in the education sector. These are, among others, learning institution administrators and teaching staff. These are committed to the academic welfare of their institution. It can also be viewed as the collaboration formed by these individuals in order to learn in groups so as to learn more and share knowledge. It is based on the theory of learning which involves interaction and sharing of experiences resulting into more learning (Mcrel, 2006).

The practice of professional learning can also be extended to the community. In this context, Professional Learning Community can be achieved by engaging the stakeholders identified in defined activities. Students, teachers, administrators and the community among others are engage in learning together and sharing the knowledge (DuFour, 2004). There is one chief purpose of developing professional learning that has been identified by analysts. This is to put emphasis on learning and cooperation in the teaching field. This is in addition to having an audit system that can be utilised to analyse performance and show results. This makes each of the players to be accountable to their own results (National High School Alliance, 2003). This is a way of achieving a well informed and committed teaching staff. It goes further to ensure that students get the best out of the learning system.

In this study, the author endeavoured to visit a school that had implemented the programme and needed to learn some facts that would help them compile a programme. The school that was visited was Enders Salk School in District 54. This school has effectively implemented the Professional Learning Community programme. It served as a source of information on the main issues necessary to come up with a complete programme that has been envisaged. There was important information about the prerequisites of the Professional Learning Communities.

Focus

In relation to the concepts of Professional Learning Community, the author has identified a focus to lay their development on. The author focused on effective learning process as opposed to passive learning process. The latter involves merely having the children go to school and having their heads packed with information that they can not put into practical use. The ultimate focus in this case is on school improvement and student outcomes (DuFour, 2004). Effective learning, on the other hand, is the actual process of integrating knowledge into a student’s life, which helps them to put it into practical use in their life. As such, they can identify with what they are learning; in other words, they can live what they are being taught. This notion has been buttressed by thoughts of Ayn Rand, as quoted by DuFuor (2004). This scholar is of the view that:

The only purpose (of education) is to teach a student how to live his life by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, (in other words) conceptual. He has to be taught (how) to think, to understand, to integrate, (and) to prove. (Additionally), he has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past, and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort” (DuFuor, 2004 pg. 35).

Professional Learning community, according to DuFuor (2004) is the best strategy to achieve this result.

Reasons and Justifications

It is a fact beyond contention that the mushrooming of schools has become the order of the day in the recent past. As much as this can be viewed as a sign of development and provides more opportunities for people to learn, one needs to go back and critically look at the objectives of these schools (DuFour, 2004). According to DuFuor, the central job of schools is to “maximize the capacity of each student” (DuFuor, 2004 pg. 35).

Riding on the opinions of DuFuor (2004) as indicated in this quote, one is likely to be depressed a great deal by the role that schools play in the life of a child. Schools develop objectives and mission statements that convince parents that the school is committed to educate the children entrusted on them. But there is a problem on the part of the school given the fact that they do not deliver the service so envisaged effectively (Sedl, 2010). According to the author’s personal opinion, it is inevitable to question the practice of the “schools of today.” The schools’ mission statements are not aligned to the commitment of ensuring that every student succeeds in learning (DuFour, 2004).

The schools’ performance has been dropping over the years. Unfortunately, nothing has been done by the concerned parties to change this sad state of affairs. On the contrary, they mostly blame it on the student’s behaviour and efforts. This is where most schools are lacking, given that it is their role and duty to impact the education which is classified as knowledge, skill and character to the students (DuFuor, 2004). The schools have been concentrating only in the academic agenda of the children at the expense of their character and moral aspect. Character and moral development is a role that the schools can not afford to abandon and claim at the same time that the children’s failure is as a result of their own moral and obligatory failures (DuFuor, 2004).

A look into this problem reveals the importance of creating and developing a professional learning community as one of the possible ways to address it. The professional learning community programme enables the stakeholders to deal with the weaknesses identified in the schooling system. When the topic is viewed from a professional’s pedestal, it is emerges that every teacher possess in them the desire to teach and make their students improve academically. As much as teachers have this desire in them, it is not usually addressed to their satisfaction. This is especially so if some few aspects, such as the need for cooperation to ensure excellent performance and combined effort to educate participants are not observed (Mcrel, 2006).

In an effort to find a solution to the problems encountered during learning in schools, the author has come across a lot of literature. Most of these literatures assert that the features of the teacher’s working life have a great impact on the learning and development process of the students. There is evidence that some aspects of Professional Learning Communities have a positive contribution in the teacher’s ability to significantly improve student learning and development (Vescio, Adams & Ross, 2006).

The elements that have the most significant influence are, among others, collective responsibility of teachers for the learning of all students in addition to addressing cultural norms around learning (Mcrel, 2006). In building this program, the author first analyzes the elements that are in the school selected, elements that are likely to support the improvements of the same. It is also important to initialize the theory of change. This makes them be aware of the fact that things are going to change to the better.

Theoretical Background

DuFour (2004) says that school is about people improvement. That is the only way schools can be improved, because the other angle of approach is improving the buildings by painting and other aspects of architectural design (DuFour, 2004). This is given the fact that school is composed of administrators, teachers, students and support staff. When one refers to “improvement”, it is about the people who make up the school (Berkey & DuFour, 1995: 3).

When teachers are given the chance to collaborate with others and engage in inquisitive learning, their performance and output is greatly enhanced (McLaughlin &Talbert, 1993). They will also be able to share their newly acquired knowledge (Sedl, 2010). There has been research into the methods by which schools operate and the ways principals and staff interact to ensure the schools keep up with society’s requirement of premium education. This reveals a notch of ignorance in the trend of performance and lack of effective structures to support the students’ outcomes and overall performance in schools (Sedl, 2010).

The schools are more focused on continuous admission and successful graduation of more students. This is as opposed to focus on the outcomes from those who graduate. Currently, the stakeholders and educational consumers are indeed performance and results oriented. According to Darling-Hammond (1996), “schools are now expected not only to offer education, but to ensure learning” (5). This calls for a new approach and implementation of new strategies and learning that will be effective in promoting individual student learning and performance, leading to overall improvement of schools’ outcomes.

In the past, teachers endeavoured to improve the performance of their students through the use of the right combination of teaching materials and programs (Darling-Hammond, 1996). These old methods were full of procedures that were to be followed by the teachers. They were so inactive. The results were short-term, and they narrowed change to efforts that did not involve the school staff. The staffs were unwilling to change since they had not participated and could not share their experiences (Sedl, 2010).

A critical study and investment was put in place in order to change the learning process and ways to put programs which are more interactive and activity oriented. This is so that this activity would be an all-round phenomenon. The proposed initiatives involve absorption and adoption of effective programs and practices for all the stakeholders (Sedl, 2010). They also involve engaging teachers, students, administrators and the support staff in the school’s performance and improvement activities. They are focused on improving children’s learning and outcomes as their core objectives.

“This strategy involves investing in teacher preparation and professional development, as well as permitting greater autonomy and decision making for teachers. What might this look like in a school?”(Sedl, 2010)

The School Visit

The school is named after John Franklin Enders and Jonas Edward Enders. It is situated in 345 North Salem Drive, Schaumburg, Illinois 60194. Enders-Salk opened in September, 1976 and its mascot is the American Bald Eagle. Its spirit colours are green, yellow and white. Its mission statement is:

To prepare our students to be productive, self-confident, caring adults possessing a desire for lifetime learning, we the staff of Enders-Salk School, in partnership with the community, will strive to create an effective educational program.”

The author’s visit to Enders Salk School provided them with adequate information. The student population stands at 530 students. As a result of implementing the Professional Learning Community, there had been remarkable improvement in their grades. In grade four, there has been a steady improvement in mathematics, reading and science from school years 2005-06 and 2006-07. In grade five, there has also been remarkable improvement in mathematics and reading. In grade four, those tested were fifty two and only ten in mathematics, reading and science failed to meet the state assessment. In Grade five, only sixteen out of the fifty two tested failed to meet the state assessment in both Mathematics and Reading. This was a remarkable record.

The purpose of the visit was to give the author the information necessary to understand the process of building a Professional Learning Community. The information they got was mainly on the area of learning and included the following:

  • The prerequisite characteristics of school’s staff, parents, students and environment that operates as a community of professional learners
  • Contributing factors to the school’s decision of becoming an institution of learning.
  • The teachers’ feelings towards the programme and the necessary groundwork for the staff to participate.
  • How it was implemented.

The information thus collected was very vital in the plan for building a Professional Learning Community. An overview of the same is given below.

The Teaching Practice, Readiness and Shared Experiences

The author came to the realisation that in developing and implementing a professional learning community, it is important to first assess the readiness of the stakeholders. The school must have a common daily working plan for the teachers. This will allow teachers to work together on a regular basis (Mcrel, 2006). The welfare of the teachers should be well catered for and there should be a professional code of conduct in the school that guides staff to interact professionally with each other. They should have utmost respect for the principal. This will be seen in the working relationship (DuFour, 2004).

The principal should show willingness to share leadership and decision making. In addition, there should be communication of a common value and focus on student learning (Mcrel, 2006).

Assess the Vision Sharing and Decision Making

It was also vital that when developing the professional learning community, one should focus on making an institution that supports a school staff’s vision and goals for improvement. Some of the aims so envisaged include ongoing inquiry and enhancement of the institution’s improvement objectives. The school staff should focus on the end result of becoming a professional learning community (National High School Alliance, 2003). Therefore, the staff should share the school’s vision of improvement and articulate the goals clearly. This goes a long way in forming a learning community that is grounded on professionalism (Vescio, Adams &Ross, 2006).

The development and improvement of school is directly dependent on teacher’s ability to change, develop and improve. Contrary to this, little or no change in the quality of education so delivered will result. Professionalism among teachers and other stakeholders in the learning process is remarkable when the institution changes to the better. It is also able to offer improved educational resources to the students (Vescio, Adams &Ross, 2006).

Steps for Improving a School

The fist step in improving a school by building a Professional Learning Community is to ensure that it has elements that are vital for education matters. This include supportive and shared leadership, collective learning and effective dissemination of the knowledge learnt, and values and vision the teaching community share in collaboration with their students. The prevailing environmental conditions should support the personal practice and enhance the experience shared (Mcrel, 2006).

These are elements that are used in schools and utilized in various ways to enable learning.

Professional Learning Communities

After many efforts to change and improve process of learning to a more engaging one, a significant finding was made. It is more involving and practical in changing the professional culture of a school and it demonstrates a fundamental shift in the process of learning and teaching. It is based on the collaboration of teachers and other staff in teams to enhance learning and sharing knowledge about the means of improving the school and students’ outcomes (Sedl, 2010).

The collaboration of teachers and other staff members to learn and share knowledge and implement what they have learnt to improve their performance as professionals for the students benefit is called a professional learning community. Teachers need to work together with other staff members to achieve improved student performance (Mcrel, 2006).

This is achieved through collaboration and collective focus, together with providing an opportunity for sustaining the improvements and the values attributed to the improvement (DuFour, 2004). Different institutions may have different needs in order to sustain improvement. But there are general elements that are important for the overall improvement of the school. These involves making of teams within the school and also with neighbouring schools (Sedl, 2010). These teams have particular focus and they are committed to the attainment of the envisaged goals. The teams are for example teachers’ teams, administrators’ teams and support staff teams.

Each of these teams will have different focus goals geared towards the improvement of the school’s performance and overall student outcomes. From these teams, the participants are also able to keep communicating across the team boundaries. This is the way to bond the teams together and have a sense of owning the process. This makes it possible for active participation and gives ground of analyzing the progress of the improvement process (Sedl, 2010).

The Plan to Build the Professional Learning Community Individual goal

Revisit the class performance and school performance if it reflects the school vision.

Criteria: students have to be taught using new strategies:

Goals: improve teaching methods:

  • Invest in collaboration
  • Standards assessment
  • Team/groups leadership, administration

Indicator: more assessments and revisions:

  • Collective efforts to ensure good performance

Measurement: improvement in results:

  • Response of improvement

Achievement: results improved:

  • Continuous collective work to improve grades
  • Enders-Salk elementary school strategic improvement plan

Focus: improve students learning and performance:

  • Improve school performance

Resulting framework

Educational plan: encompassing missions, beliefs, learning, environment:

  • Standards, character goals and assessment.
  • Inclusive leadership structure- ensuring participation in decision making
  • Technology platform focused on learning.

To provide necessary tools to customize instruction and help creating student Database which analyzes performance and guides planning The educational plan is comprised of the mission and vision of the Enders- Salk Elementary school, the values and goals of Ender Salk community of learners.

To improve learning environment and prepare students for future challenges. Student must show they meet the expectations.

Inclusive leadership structure

  • All stakeholders in the school to be involved in the decision making process of the school.
  • All the people feel part and parcel of school community.
  • Bonding as a team.

Technology platform

  • This is to be used in communication with other teachers from other schools.
  • Learning is to be intensified on this platform. It will help save time as teams work can be communicated on this platform.

Culture of collaboration and shared responsibility

  • To find out the extent of benefit of the programme in teams and sharing more knowledge of how to continue improving.
  • Assessing individual performance and team performance.
  • Merit to be assessed by structures, systems, styles, skills and symbols.

Conclusion

The process of developing a Professional Learning Community is an important activity, which is also very demanding. It requires what one can call persistence, and frustrations are inevitable. The benefits are more important. This plan is very simple in its making. It can be implemented by any educator who is willing to take the long walk to achieve improved school performance and students’ outcomes. It has been carefully combined with author’s own ideas, borrowed from various literature materials and their practical visit to Enders Salk Elementary school. It has also assimilated the practical needs from the field work. It is suitable for a small school.

References

Berkey, T. & DuFour, R. (1995). The principal as staff developer. Journal of Staff Development, 16(4), 2-6.Web.

Darling-Hammond, D. (1996). Preparing teachers for a changing world: what teachers should learn and be able to do. New York, NY: Free Press.

DuFour, R. (2004). Educational Leadership: Schools as learning communities. Journal of Higher Education, 6(8), 35.

McLaughlin, M. W, & Talbert, J. E. (1993). Professional communities and the work of high school teaching. Journal of Higher Education, 7(7), 40 -93.

Mcrel, R. (2006). Sustaining school improvement: Professional Learning Community. Web.

National High School Alliance, (2003). Site visit protocol on Professional Learning Communities. Journal of Higher Education, 2(3), 4-5.

NSDC, (2010). Rational. Web.

Pruitt, E.Z. & Roberts, S.M. (2003). Schools as Professional Learning Communities. Collaborative Activities and Strategies for Professional Development, 28(3), pp 23- 30 &137 -156

Sedl. (2010). Professional Learning Communities: Communities of continuous inquiry and improvement attributes of Professional Learning Communities. Web.

Vescio, V., Adams, A., & Ross, D. (2006). A review of research on professional learning communities: What do we know? Journal of Higher Learning, 7(9), 4 -21.