Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Building School-Based Teacher Learning Communities

McLaughlin, M., & Talbert, J. (2006). Building school-based teacher learning communities. New York City, NY: Teachers College Press.

In this book, McLaughlin and Talbert provide evidence and examples of school-based teacher learning communities that are having success with improving student outcomes. The book uses examples from successful communities to provide a blueprint for other school leaders to follow. It includes processes to try, resources and explanations of teacher learning communities. It is argued that schools have a tremendous amount of pressure and teachers are required to be skilled in so many ways that developing a school's professional learning community will help. In these professional learning communities, teachers work collaboratively, examine their instruction, and analyze the evidence of student work to ultimately improve and change their craft. The change that needs to happen in schools need to be localized to the community that is working with the children. The authors describe this approach as both "macro-" and "micro-" in that teachers are simultaneously focused on global changes as well as the realities of their classroom and students. Professional learning communities can be across grade levels, within departments or across an entire school. They ideally operate and reinforce one another at multiple levels within a school community.

One of the important aspects of a professional learning community is the shared language that a school develops. This shared language allows schools to talk about practice, student work, and to promote coherent norms and expectations across a school. This enables a shared vision and true collaboration that is essential to a strong professional learning community. The idea of developing and using a shared language is key to collegial collaboration and teacher growth.

The book describes how professional learning communities are different from traditional ones and offers strategies for developing a professional learning community. There are several chapters in the book that focus on how to incorporate high-quality off-site professional development as a support for improving teacher effectiveness. These chapters were of less interest to me since I am more focused on how teachers support one another. I was able to glean some helpful ideas on how to develop a professional learning community.

Relevant Quotes/ Concepts:
"Shared language reflected the strength of the schools' technical culture around inquiry. While intermediate-stage schools had begun the process, advanced-stage schools had built a vocabulary around inquiry that figured prominently in teachers' conversations. As one high school teacher explained, "We have a common language at this school. At [my previous] school, there was only a small group of people who understood what an outcome was, what a standard was, what a rubric was. I could only have a conversation with three people about those things. Here, there's a possibility for these conversations anywhere in the school." This shared language and understandings created the basis for schoolwide conversations about how data and research would inform decisions and plans for the future." (p. 35)

"School-based teacher learning communities are found at grade levels, within departments, or sometimes across a whole school. Ideally, they operate at multiple levels within a school, complementing and reinforcing teachers' work. Teacher learning communities within schools serve interrelated functions that contribute uniquely to teachers' knowledge base, professionalism, and ability to act on what they learn. Three such functions stand out: they build and manage knowledge; they create shared language and standards for practice and student outcomes; and they sustain aspects of their school's culture vital to continued, consistent norms and instructional practice." (p. 5)

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