Growing a professional learning community in your school: ONE thing that you need first.

Effective and lasting change in schools, or any organisation for that matter, is a result of a strategic process, designed to meet the needs of the school, rather than ‘sending a couple of teachers off to a workshop’. When I first started at SCIL we decided to run workshops on a variety of educational topics, such as ‘Learning Matrix ’ or ‘Web 2.0 Tools for the Classroom’. These were often presented to a disparate group of educators sent along to learn some skills for their own classroom and tick a few accreditation boxes along the way. Something started to feel not quite right with this ‘lone ranger’ methodology.

We instinctively knew that for effective pedagogical change, we needed to encourage teams to come, to participate in a facilitated process. This was a catalyst for Design/Engage. We believed that effective professional learning, leading to change in mindset and practice, could really only happen through a learning community.

“The most promising strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement is the developing ability of school personnel to function as a professional learning community.” (DuFour & Eaker, 1998)img_8242.jpg

Professional: expertise, knowledge and experience in a particular field

Learning: ongoing and fed by curiosity

Community : characterised by mutual cooperation, emotional support and personal growth, working together toward shared goal

For effective professional learning in community, there is one key characteristic that needs to be in place,

“It is evident that among faculty members looking to improve their schools as professional learning communities, a commitment to trust is frequently regarded as an important pre-condition.” (Cranston, 2011,p. 61).  

What type of trust?

Bryk and Schneider (2002) described trust as the basis for developing social capital, and identify three types:

Organic Trust is based on the moral character and designated authority of leadership and is given unconditionally. This kind of trust has often been seen in faith-based environments, clergy and lay-leaders, had almost unquestioned trust. Yet, this basis has been somewhat eroded today, as we frequently see tragic cases of abuse of such trust. 

Contractual Trust is transactional. Basic actions and outcomes are agreed upon, in accordance with stated terms. In this era of high-stakes testing and parent expectations and government agendas, it is a fear that education could be translated to these terms.

Relational Trust, John Dewey observed that a good school is more like a [functional]  family than a factory (Bryk and Schneider, 2002). Relational trust forms the basis of the ‘family’ interactions. Despite personality differences and clashes, there is a bedrock of connection that enables relationships to be maintained. 

Relational trust is the foundation of the effective professional learning community, and essential for effective and lasting change.

On a personal note, I firmly believe that in the 21stC faith-based schools and communities need to be built on the notion of ‘relational trust’. One that is evident in a leader’s ongoing trustworthiness, rather than on the basis of moral authority alone.

@anneknock

Refs
Bryk & Schneider (2002) Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement
Ch2: Relational Trust
DuFour & Eaker (1998) Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement: Best practice for enhancing student achievement

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