“Ultimately, there are two kinds of schools; learning enriched schools and learning impoverished schools. I have yet to see a school where the learning curves of the adults were steep upward and those of the students were not. Teachers and students go hand and hand as learners…or they don’t go at all.”
Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, by EtienneWenger (2000), Wenger argues that the success of organizations depends on their ability to design themselves as social learning systems. We all are participants in social learning systems as we have developed our knowledge through experiences and interactions within our world (Wenger, 2000).
One facet or social learning systems are Communities of Practice. In a Community of Practice, groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 2000). Members of a community practice share information and best practices in their area of expertise or focus. In order for a Community of Practice to be effective over the long term, three elements must exist. The three elements include enterprise, mutuality, and repertoire. Without them, the Community of Practice risks the potential for stagnation and unproductivity (Wenger, 2000). When considering enterprise in this context, a Community of Practice must show leadership in pushing learning and development further along. There must also be a sense of mutuality and trust within the community. This trust should be on a personal level but also at a professional level where the members trust that their information sharing will be reciprocated with the members of the group and also trust in the members’ ability to contribute to the community in a valuable way. The last element is repertoire which is a certain level of self awareness to know where the community stands and a sense of where it is heading (Wenger, 2000).
During the last three years, Mesa Public Schools has dedicated a lot of funds in the area of training teachers in Communities of Practice. Teachers are trained by their administration staff and some teachers even got to attend a professional three day training conducted by Solution Tree to receive formal training in this area Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Some of the trainers included many researchers in educations such as, Rebecca Dufour, Richard Dufour, EdD, Robert Eaker, EdD, Robert Marzano, PhD, and Anthony Muhammad, PhD. Information regarding educational Communities of Practice and the Solution Tree program can be found at www.allthingsplc.info
Creators of the PLC Community of Practice argue that it is an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators (Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, 2012).
As a teacher in Mesa Public Schools, I participate in a Community of Practice called Professional Learning Communities (PLC). I meet with my team members (the other kindergarten teachers at my school) once a week for about an hour and a half formally but also informally as needed. Four questions guide each formal PLC. They are:
- What is it that we expect the students to learn?
- How will we know when they have learned it?
- How will we respond when they don’t learn?
- How will we respond when they already know it?
(Dufour et al., 2012)
During a PLC, our team work collaboratively to examine all teaching practices and study their impact on learning. Team members share ideas and discuss progress of their students. In a PLC, the students are not just the responsibility of their classroom teacher, but the responsibility of the whole team. Expertise from each teacher on the team is utilized in an effort to help all children be successful across the grade level.
One of the most important aspects of a PLC is that the time is protected. If the discussion does not relate to the four guiding questions listed above then it cannot be discussed at that during a PLC. There is a lot of value that comes from having a protected time to meet in a Community of Practice. It assures that knowledge and information is being shared in a regular basis and that each child is being monitored by the entire team of teachers so that they can receive the best education possible. It also provides teachers a time without other sidebars or distractions where student achievement is the only focus.
Barth, R. (2001). Learning by heart. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass
Dufour, R., Dufour, R., Eaker, R. (2012). Proceedings from Solution Tree Summit 2012: PLC at Work. New Insights for Improving Schools. AZ: Phoenix.
Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.