Teacher professional learning communities are often launched with great excitement and initiative only to lose steam due to time constraints and lack of direction. Anne Jolly, author of A Facilitator’s Guide to Professional Learning Teams, offers these tips to help teachers reinvigorate and sustain learning teams:
• GET A FIRM HANDLE ON YOUR TEAM’S PURPOSE and revisit it frequently. Your team needs a clear roadmap and destination if you plan to arrive somewhere.
• BUILD IN OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUCCESS. Set short term, doable benchmarks that your team can achieve. Frequently ask yourselves, “What have we accomplished as a result of this collaborative venture?” Look for ways teachers have changed and students have changed.
• KEEP NEGATIVE ENERGY AT BAY. Gain consensus on meeting rules and be sure one of them reads, “We will be positive during our meeting!” Call attention to that rule at the beginning of each meeting to suppress negativity that can drag the team down.
• RELAX AND EXPERIMENT. Give yourselves permission to try new teaching strategies and be unsuccessful. (Oddly, we often learn much more from our failures than from our successes.) Make “It’s OK!” cards for all team members to signify that it’s alright not to succeed at first, as long as you keep working.
• DEVELOP A CONCRETE PRODUCT that demonstrates what your team is accomplishing. Create a rubric, matrix, lesson plan, or a video of team members using a particular strategy the team is working on. Share it school-wide.
• TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND REFLECT. At the end of each meeting, ask yourselves, “What did we accomplish with today’s meeting?” If team members can’t answer that, then rethink what’s happening at the meetings. Then decide, “What do we want to accomplish at the next meeting?”
• ALWAYS MAKE A DECISION AS A TEAM before leaving the meeting. Even if the decision is to not use a particular strategy you’re considering, you’ve at least made a decision. If team members leave without making a decision of some sort, the meeting will not seem as valuable.
• ROTATE RESPONSIBILITIES TO AVOID MEMBER BURNOUT. Give team members a chance to experience a variety of roles and perspectives.
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 2008 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook as Avoid Learning Community Burnout