Professional Learning Communities – Divergence,Depth and Dilemmas - Part 2 Developing a deeper understanding of how to develop PLC's.

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There is a considerable amount of writing on professional learning communities, their characteristics and development processes, and yet it is extremely difficult to develop professional learning communities. This is at least partly due to the many ‘layers’ that exist when establishing a culture of collaboration in schools; the subtle nuances of communication, relationship building, collaboration and collective learning. Judith Warren Little (2002: 944) posed a challenge a few years ago to those who offered simplistic solutions or recipes.

If we are to theorize about the significance of professional community we must be able to demonstrate how communities achieve their effects. The urgency associated with contemporary reform movements, especially those targeted at persistent achievement disparities, has intensified pressures on teachers and fuelled policy interest in the collective capacity of schools for improvement. This is a timely moment to unpack the meaning and consequences of professional community at the level of practice.

We need better understanding of the collaborative processes in schools that lead to desirable outcomes for schools and those they serve. To do this, we need to go deeper in looking at concepts such as dialogue. While the idea of members of a team being able ‘to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine “thinking together”’ (Senge 1990: 10) may be extremely appealing, what does this mean when colleagues actually get together? What is it that opens up the ‘thinking together’ and, indeed, ‘learning together’ rather than ‘this is how you could do it better’? It is the subtle nuances that we need to understand. The same kinds of questions can be asked about aspects of professional learning community such as the role of culture and distributed leadership. What is it that makes these concepts ‘tick’?

To go deeper, we will also need more sophisticated processes and tools that can be used by professional learning communities or those supporting them; not well intentioned but mechanical tools, but more sophisticated processes and tools based on research that both helps promote understanding of and engagement with the idea and practice of professional learning communities with particular reference to people’s own contexts, as well as stimulating professional learning communities by promoting self-evaluation, reflective enquiry, dialogue, collaborative learning and problem solving (Stoll et al. 2006b)

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