A case study in developing a professional learning community.

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I have been part of group that has been leading professional development in our school. This group consists of 7 individuals who design, facilitate and deliver the professional development program at the school. Each individual works on a reduced timetable with four hours dedicated to the professional development of our staff. The whole staff is divided into 6 learning groups, each with a senior member of staff including the Principal, led by one of these individuals.

The group came about through the dissatisfaction of staff who perceived professional development as a one size fits all approach, with no or little opportunity to collaborate or share ideas, and the perception that the focus of professional development changed every year.

A new approach was clearly needed and with the support of the principal and senior members of staff the professional learning group (PLG) format was introduced. We were not constrained by what had been done before but instead empowered with the responsibility to develop relationships amongst the staff that built trust and allowed for collaboration and sharing.

In the first year of the PLG format we focused purely on relationships and how they are developed and the process was modeled within the 6 learning groups. By the end of the year there had been major change in the attitude of staff to professional development and the enjoyment of sharing and listening to others ideas was evident. It was an amazing experience to witness the level of expertise and levels of thinking that resided in the staff. A major change in staff attitudes was the realization that the forming of learning focused relationships provides access to a wealth of knowledge and support which can enhance their own learning.

The next year the PLG 's focused on the meaning and language of learning using the SOLO taxonomy. This was done so that as a staff we had common language of learning and an understanding of concepts such as clarity, progress and effective feedback . Staff developed strategies and shared these within their PLG. The focus of the year was very much on students learning and how as teachers we could recognize the impact we were having. The noticeable difference through this process was that staff discussions moved to a focus on learning rather than the faults of students. This was evident in the staffroom, workrooms and the professional learning groups.

In the third year there was a move to a more personalized approach with little new material being delivered, rather a focus on implementing and evaluating the impact of strategies developed in the previous year. Each staff member had to carry out an inquiry into their own practice based on the SOLO taxonomy. The staff were guided on how to collect and evaluate evidence for their impact. The staff then shared their findings in and between PLG’s and also to their own departments. A new professional development blog has been established to share the findings of these inquiries as well as other experiences that may be of value to the learning community. The video below is an example of one teacher's reflection on their inquiry.

On Friday the 6th September staff presented their inquiries to their own departments. This was an amazing experience to see how the staff had engaged in the inquiry process and were willing to share their reflections with the learning community.

The following is a quote from a staff member who was reflecting on the process of inquiring into their own practice and the sharing of their evidence and reflections. “One of the positives that has come out of this process is the trust that I now feel with my colleagues. This has made me feel respected as a professional and it was nice hearing how other people have really spent a lot of thought and time in engaging in this process.”

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