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Harness The Energy Of Collaboration

By Ann Lieberman
February 2016
In 2008, we characterized professional learning communities (PLCs) as “ongoing groups of teachers who meet regularly for the purpose of increasing their own learning and that of their students” (Lieberman & Miller, 2008, p. 2). We have come to think that they are more than that. They are not just a way for teachers to collaborate, nor are they just one more promising approach to staff development. Professional learning communities have gained traction across the globe because of their potential for energizing a larger agenda: to reform schools, improve and professionalize teaching, advance learning for all students, and change the discourse about teacher accountability. Professional learning communities in education owe much to the work of two organizational theorists whose initial inquiries focused on groups outside

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Authors

Ann Lieberman and Lynne Miller

Ann Lieberman is the senior scholar and interim executive director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University. Lieberman is widely known for her work in the areas of teacher leadership and development, collaborative research, networks and school-university partnerships, and the problems and prospects for understanding educational change.

Lynne Miller is professor of educational leadership and executive director of the Southern Maine Partnership at the University of Southern Maine. Miller has written widely in the field of teacher development and school reform and is an active participant in local and national

As they write about the Learning Communities standard in Reach the Highest Standard in Professional Learning: Learning Communities, authors Ann Lieberman and Lynne Miller consider why communities have gained widespread attention and support and summarize the established research base about them. They also describe three contexts in which professional learning communities have been enacted and consider the challenges professional learning communities face, concluding with an examination of the “questions professional communities raise and the implications they pose for school reform in general and the role of teachers in the reform agenda in particular” (Lieberman, Miller, Roy, Hord, & von Frank, 2013).

This excerpt from their full chapter shares rationale and findings from research about learning communities.

Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.

Lessons Learned From Practice

If there are any implications for the future of professional learning communities, they are best derived from lessons learned from practice:

  • Develop and nurture a professional teaching culture that provides an alternative to the norms and values of the bureaucratic culture of schools.
  • Learn how to navigate between the two cultures and leverage bureaucratic mandates for authentic teacher learning.
  • Dedicate time and resources to the work.
  • Routinize structures for inquiry, reflection, and collaboration.
  • Provide vehicles and supports for making teaching public.
  • Maintain control of the agenda in the face of pressures to do otherwise.
  • Embrace expansive definitions of teacher development and student learning.
  • Practice patience and take time to navigate the fault lines that emerge.
  • Take on issues of equity and accountability and make them your own.
  • Make an effort to be inclusive rather than exclusive and to share practices and insights with a larger community of educators.

About the Book

harness-the-energy-of-collaborationLieberman, A., Miller, L., Roy, P., Hord, S.M., & von Frank, V. (2013). Reach the highest standard in professional learning: Learning Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Excerpted with permission.

Ann Lieberman is the senior scholar and interim executive director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education at Stanford University. Lieberman is widely known for her work in the areas of teacher leadership and development, collaborative research, networks and school-university partnerships, and the problems and prospects for understanding educational change.

Lynne Miller is professor of educational leadership and executive director of the Southern Maine Partnership at the University of Southern Maine. Miller has written widely in the field of teacher development and school reform and is an active participant in local and national reform efforts.

References

Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. (1993). Inside/outside: Teacher research and teacher knowledge. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research in the next generation. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Grossman, P., Wineburg, S., & Woolworth, S. (2001). Toward a theory of teacher community. Teachers College Record, 103(6), 942-1012.

Horn, I.S. (2005). Learning on the job: A situated account of teacher learning in high school mathematics departments. Cognition and Instruction, 23(2), 207-236.

Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (2008). Teachers in professional communities: Improving teaching and learning. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lieberman, A., Miller, L., Roy, P., Hord, S.M., & von Frank, V. (2013). Reach the highest standard in professional learning: Learning Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Little, J.W. & Horn, I.S. (2007). ‘Normalizing’ problems of practice: Converting routine conversation into a resource for learning in professional communities. In L. Stoll & K.S. Louis (Eds.), Professional learning communities: Divergence, depth and dilemmas (pp. 29-42). Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

McLaughlin, M.W. & Talbert, J.E. (2001). Professional communities and the work of high school teaching. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

McLaughlin, M.W. & Talbert, J.E. (2006). Building school-based teacher learning communities: Professional strategies to improve student achievement. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Schon, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Talbert, J. (2010). Professional learning communities at the crossroads: How systems hinder or engender change. In A. Hargreaves, A. Lieberman, M. Fullan, & D. Hopkins (Eds.), Second international handbook of educational change (pp. 555-572). New York, NY: Springer.

Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A. (2008, January). A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(1), pp. 80-91.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.



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