Professional Learning Community: Buzzword or Good Practice?

SchoolThose folks who have been involved in education for any length of time will tell you that trends, fads, and buzzwords either always appear for a short period of time or that they always come back around at some point.  Perhaps it is because we don’t wait long enough to see if they will actually have any effect, so therefore, they are “buzz words”. We try them for a short period of time hoping to remedy something that needs tending to or that the public has made an outcry over. 

The term “Professional Learning Community” has been dubbed by some as the latest buzz word in education, however, I would beg to differ on that point.  In the late 90’s, the term “communities of inquiry” was used and so was the term “communities of practice”.  Additionally, no one would dare argue that the term “collaborative workplace” has probably been used over and over again within the past 50 to 100 years.  Many organizations would say that they are a “collaborative workplace”, using the collective wisdom of those people in their organization to mobilize and use their shared wisdom for the good of their organization.  Educators, for whatever reason though, seem to be quick to term something a buzzword and then become quick to move on when they do not see the results they had hoped for-often after a very short lived period of time.

My current school district has been working towards using and implementing the concepts of “Professional Learning Community” for the past 2 to 3 years.  Our focus began with a few administrators attending an out of state conference, and slowly spread to others attending and then to teachers and support staff.  Interestingly enough, that message has been a constant message for that time as well.  The words invidually imply several things:

Professional-Teaching is a profession, and those in the profession need to be individuals who work to a high standard on behalf of students.  Ultimately, they work for the greater social good, using strong foundational practices to educate the greater populus.  Learning-All members of the organization are learning, contributing members.  Everyone is a learner and has the opportunity and obligation to learn.  The focus is truly not the teaching, but the learning.  Community-A collaborative, collectively organized group who work for a common cause (the education of children and students) and do so with high levels of communication, trust, and shared values.

While the term “Professional Learning Community” may be called the most current buzzword, individually, the words that comprise it are ones which I would consider key areas of focus for almost any organization, educational or not.  Not only that, but doctors, lawyers, and architects, just to mention a few, are professions in which many individuals get together for the greater good of those they serve, often relying on their collective wisdom to solve a case, diagnose an illness, or build a structure.  Oddly enough, there continues to be educators that are quick to identify a buzzword and return to their individual classrooms, knowing how successful other professions are that implement “Professional Learning Communities”, but are unwilling to do it in their own profession. 

What is your current reality?  Where are you in regards to developing your “Professional Learning Community”?

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