Are we naïve if we imagine schools can build professional learning communities with teacher-directed professional development? Many say “yes.“ I disagree. But it won’t happen by accident—professional learning communities must be designed and implemented strategically.
Professional learning communities have many names but share certain traits. They recognize that teachers come to the table with a wealth of knowledge and are best positioned to analyze their students’ needs. They shatter the norm of isolation by embracing the idea that “all of us know more than any one of us.“
So why isn’t everyone doing this kind of collaborative work? It isn’t easy or quick. And it demands a share of education’s scarcest resource: time.
We explored the time issue during a summer demonstration project in the Miami-Dade school district. Supported by a coach, teachers worked half-days with students, then met in teams to discuss their work and fine-tune instruction. We showed that, given enough wisely used time, professional learning communities can improve skills and accelerate learning.
Most schools are unlikely to adopt our experimental half-day schedule, but here’s where strategic planning is important.
In Miami-Dade, some high schools have adopted an eight-period schedule that includes one period for teacher collaborative team leaders given special training help groups use this time effectively. This leadership training cycle is critical to the growth of professional learning communities.
Building these communities is exhausting, messy work—but what meaningful change isn’t? The payoff is twofold: Teachers feel more in charge of their work, and students flourish because teachers are constantly reflecting on ways to teach them better.
A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2007 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook as Best Practices: Time for Reflection