December 12, 2017

Professional Learning Communities… really…

The idea of Professional Learning Communities, appealing in the abstract, has suffered during the NCLB decade by its connection to tedious and frustrating review of NCLB-mandated measures of academic achievement. For many educators the term ‘PLC’ has come to mean torturous sessions in which the participants mutually expose their inability to ensure that all children will do well on state tests.

But there is another way.

In Colorado’s St. Vrain Valley School District, 35 miles north of Denver, teachers join the district’s Digital Learning Collaborative (DLC) for blended professional learning that’s truly collegial, contextual, and continuous — and, most amazingly, actually helps them learn things they really want to know in order to support the learning of their students. The “digital” part of DLC isn’t really what makes it different from PLCs as they’ve generally come to be experienced — although the use of collaborative digital tools is both substantial and effective. Holding for the moment the impact of superb guidance by St. Vrain professional development leaders Michelle Bourgeois and Bud Hunt, the big difference between this and most PLCs is its focus on authentic professional inquiry. As if teachers were still learners… Imagine that…

The theme for this professional inquiry is effective use of edtech to support students’ learning. But what edtech? What student learning? What effective use? The participants decide. In fact, each participant decides. As they pursue their various explorations, each and all participants get support from their building teammates, from other DLC members, and, of course, from Michelle and Bud.

My excellent colleague, Dixie Good, and I have had the marvelous opportunity to observe these teacher/learners closely over the past two years. We have watched them grow, not merely in their ability to use educational tools but in their ability to work and learn together. Here, for example, are what a couple of teachers have said about the DLC experience:

  • “I began to look at this work as being more integrated with my thinking about learning as a whole rather than as a way to incorporate the bright shiny objects.”
  • “Belief about technology use itself did not change, but my existing belief about the importance of collaboration and continual professional growth is stronger than ever, particularly with regard to using technology in our professional practice with students.”

I’ll have more to say about the DLC — why it works and why it matters — in my next post. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the DLC, follow the links below.

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