Home' Teacher : December 2010 Contents PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT 11
cept of professional learning com munities
has yielded very good results, and the ini-
tial signs from the work being done in some
Australian schools seem highly promising.
Professional learning com munities enable
educators to develop a set of core principles
to truly reculture their school and change
the way it operates. Doing that requires a
high level of critical reflection from those
embarking on the journey to ensure key con-
cepts of a professional learning com munity
become embedded in the school culture.
It's not a simple tick-the-box initiative but
a way to drive school change to re-engage
educators and students in the core business
of schooling: learning.
What is a professional learning
As Dufour, Dufour, Many and Eaker
explain, 'A professional learning commu-
nity is educators committed to working col-
laboratively in ongoing processes of collec-
tive inquiry and action research to achieve
better results for the students they serve.
Professional learning communities oper-
ate u nder the assumption that the key to
improved learning for students is continu-
ous, job-embedded learning for educators.
'Professional learning communities are
characterised by shared mission, vision, val-
ues and goals; collaborative teams focused
on learning; collective inquiry into best
practice and current reality; action orienta-
tion and experimentation; commitment to
continuous improvement; and a focus on
'A professional learning community
places its emphasis on learning for all (stu-
dents and adults), building a collaborative
culture and maintaining a constant focus on
results. These factors are critical to the sus-
tained. . . school improvement process that
characterises professional learning commu-
nities at work.'
As a school develops as a professional
learning community, every educator col-
laborates on four critical questions to ensure
a focus on learning.
What do we want each student to learn?
How will we know when each student
has learnt it?
How will we respond when a student
experiences difficulty in learning?
How will we respond when a student
already knows it?
To ensure a focus on collaboration, note
Dufour and co., 'Educators who are build-
ing a professional learning community. . .
work together to achieve their collective
purpose of learning for all. . . . The power-
ful collaboration that characterises profes-
sional learning communities is a systematic
process in which teachers work together to
analyse and improve their classroom prac-
No school can help all students achieve at
high levels if teachers are working in isola-
tion. Schools improve when teachers receive
time and support to work together to:
establish team norms
get clear on the question of 'learn what?'
develop SMART -- specific, measu rable,
attainable, results- oriented and time-
bound -- goals for student achievement
create common formative assessments
analyse results of these assessments
create systematic interventions based on
inquire into practice that makes a differ-
ence to all teachers
develop a culture of celebration centring
on learning, and
sustain this way of working.
It's the analysis and focus on results, by
reviewing those four key questions, that
makes a professional learning community.
Professional learning communities measure
effectiveness based on results rather than
intentions, and all programs, policies and
practices are continually assessed on the
basis of their impact on student learning.
One of the distinct differences between a
professional learning community and a
more traditional school is that results drive
discussion about teaching practice in teams,
with the results themselves being generated
from common assessments that teams cre -
ated, sourced or decided upon together. In
doing this, teachers are supported by leader-
ship and one another to strive for ways to
better serve students.
Professional learning communities
in Australian schools
This year, five government primary
schools from Melbourne's southern region
-- Pearcedale, Pakenham Springs, Somer-
ville, Mentone and Kingsley Park Primary
Schools -- undertook a pilot program to
I was involved in the provision of initial
professional learning for these schools, to
give them an underlying shared understand-
ing of key concepts and principles of profes-
sional learning com munities. The schools
were so keen to find out more that they
joined the pilot schools project to embark
on the professional learning community
Four forums were conducted throughout
the year, which culminated in an exhibition
of all the products and artefacts the five
schools had generated as professional learn-
ing communities, including student achieve-
ment data, SMART goals, team norms for
collaboration, meeting agendas and school-
based professional learning material.
In addition, each school had a day-long
coaching session with Dr Terri Martin, a
US-based former professional learning com-
munity principal and international senior
training associate who works closely with
Richard and Rebecca Dufour. As a con-
sequence of these support structures, the
philosophy of professional learning com-
munities began to grow within each school.
As Pearcedale's curriculum assessment
coordinator Annie Mackenzie observes,
'We're in the early stages of becoming a pro-
fessional learning community and teachers
are already saying they can see academic
improvement in a number of their students.'
As a starting point, most schools chose
an area of the curriculum on which to begin
working, ensuring they were aligned to their
broader strategic plan. Improving numeracy
and literacy were obvious areas, while one
applied working as a professional learning
community across the curriculum. Schools
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