Professional Learning Communities and Social Learning

Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) continue to get a lot of attention as new models of Professional Development for learning.  I’ve been part of formal PLC’s for about 6 years. In the new school district I work for, many of our teachers and schools are new to PLC’s and are discovering their power.  Some of these teachers come from small, rural schools where they teach mulitple grades and classes and only at the end of the day can they come up to breathe. Some have had very little support and have learned to operate in isolation.

What they have experienced in their PLC’s is a feeling of support and access to resources and ideas that have lightened the load and made teaching manageable and more fun. Initially, groups needed time simply to get comfortable with the idea of social learning and sharing. Initially it might be described as “collaboration lite”;sharing units and tips but avoiding the real tough questions.  The goal is to get teachers to work together to examine the hard questions of teaching and learning and begin to work to improve student learning. Working together with people of like mind. This seems pretty straightforward and natural but classrooms and teachers have been designed to be isolated. Most of our classrooms still do not have a phone and sharing has not been a part of the culture of education.  Many teachers welcome collaboration and sharing but haven’t experienced it all that much and are having to learn what that really means. Transparency and candidness take trust and time.  Fortunately, this is developing among our staff.

We all know many teachers who prefer isolation. These have not seen PLC’s as very effective and truthfully, many are not functioning as effectively as they could. It’s easier just to do it themselves. Collaboration is just too hard and messy. I usually challenge this group by stating, “if you’re working on something that’s easier to do by yourself, you need to change your focus”. The power of collaboration comes in wrestling with ideas and issues you can’t handle all on your own. I can’t think of many who haven’t had the need for support.

My friend Ewan, loves PLC’s. He loves to go to local pubs and socialize and learn. His teach/meet sessions take place in local pubs, coffee shops and maybe even in schools. Learning is social and fun.  For some classrooms the words “social” and “fun” are rarely used or actualized.

I believe that in the not too distant future, students will be able to complete their entire education online and never attend a traditional school. It probably could be done today. In the light of this I’ve asked principals, “What will your school offer that would cause a student to choose to attend when they have access to better courses, experts and learning online?”  The answer to me, lies in social learning. Learning can be fun. I’m sorry if that offends some but it’s true. Social learning is what I experience everyday. While I’d love for all teachers and students to experience the type of learning and fun I’ve had both online and in person, I understand that their is some work to do before they get it. But they can begin with building social networks within their classrooms first. Once that happens, the inclusion of online social networks will only add value to learning.

Clarence Fisher is going to be doing a very cool experiment this year with Lucy Martin. Their classrooms will be a true and living version of face to face and online learning. You can read about it here. These teachers understand how important it is for kids to have access to other kids at anytime from anywhere. PLC’s begin to get at this notion and if teachers get that, maybe, just maybe they realize how critical it is for kids to experience this as well.


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