PLC: Pretty Long Committee meetings?

I spend, thankfully, countless hours in schools. As part of my job I travel around the country to support teachers in the effective use of digital teaching and learning.

Something caught my eye in the many staff and conferences rooms as I sat in. All over the walls teachers and school leaders hung posters describing local professional learning communities. This got me thinking can Communities be created from the top down?

Then on Twitter I had a wonderful discussion with Jenn Oramous about PLN. She was looking for a book to set up my PLN’s

I could have recommended Du Four’s classic work on the issue. But I think again this reinforces the idea of a top down model of learning community.

If any book supports the ideas of learning communities I would suggest Lave and Wegner’s work (1998) Or Rebecca Black’s work with FanFiction. These book detail real communities of practice. Communities that did not develop because your boss made you. These are communites that grew out of a shared passion. They had varying levels of expertise and low barriers of membership.

When I see PLC’s built in school I see Pretty Long Committee meetings NOT Professional Learning Communities.

DuFour outlines three big goals for Professional Learning Communities (2004):

  1. Ensuring that students learn
  2. A culture of collaboration
  3. A focus on results

I just do not think these goals are enough to sustain and build a community of learners. I really do not believe that community can be dicated or required.

I would add (or even substitute) four additional requirements:

  1. Self choice
  2. Hybrid pedagogy
  3. Network Agnostic
  4. Committed Learners

Self Choice

I think the problem with most “PLCs” in school sis they are outcome driven and the need created by external forces. I could see the conversation going like this, “Our scores are down on standard three! Let’s start a PLC to address this issue.”

That will never create a community. Instead teachers and school leaders should self organize around student learning goals or improvement plans of their own design.

Hybrid Pedagogy

While face to face meetings remain powerful I think effective PLC’s require an online component. In fact I do not really see the point of dividing PLC, professional learning communities, from PLN, professional learning network.

I think effective self choice and self directed PD must utilize hybrid approaches such as blogging, video conferencing, and creating digital artifacts.

Network Agnostic

Given that I believe effective PLCs require a hybrid approach I support an agnostic approach to the digital texts and tools being used. Instead of saying we will all meet on Skype, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, etc members of PLCs should be encouraged to reach out across networks. Sure there will be a digital hub where the PLC meets but there is no one approach.

Committed Learners

In order to avoid  pretty long committee meetings members of a community need a desire to belong. Communities require active citizens. Commitment cannot be forced from the top down. This of course requires us to rethink professional development. I think here in Connecticut we are moving in the right direction. we will no longer issue CEUs for sitting in a seat. teachers are now empowered to take charge of much of their development. Hopefully they will become active members in a learning community.

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