June 1, 2014
Online Journal - Professional Learning Communities
Lisa Clarke, Principal, Grandview Adventist Academy, Mount Hope, ON

Effective teachers are constantly looking for better ways to implement new strategies, techniques and curriculum. Professional learning communities are one way to help teachers enhance student learning. Through professional learning communities, new ideas and instructional ideals can be embraced and evaluated in non-threatening ways. Groups of individuals collaborating together are essential to making changes within the school to improve student learning. This collaboration goes beyond the traditional staff meeting where the principal imparts knowledge to the staff. It requires likeminded individuals with similar situations to come together and take an active role in initiating and implementing new ideas and strategies to enhance student learning.
Within our classrooms, we are aware of the benefits of collaboration between students. Most teachers will assign group work as an opportunity to work together and teach students the essential skills needed to work in the workplace. It is expected in today’s job market for individuals to be team players and able to work together on different projects.
There are tremendous benefits to working in a collaborative learning environment. One of the benefits is the inherent encouragement that takes place when teachers take part in the same life-long learning process that they ask of their students (Chappuis, Chappuis, & Stiggins, 2009). There is personal satisfaction in accomplishing goals. Teachers who do not develop professionally do not experience the same feelings of accomplishment.
One way to grow professionally is through sharing personal practice. This could be accomplished by allowing another teacher to observe your class or simply by communicating successes and difficulties with other teachers. The communication strengthens the trust and relationship between the teachers involved. Huffman and Hip (2003) reveal that in order to open up to another individual there needs to be a measure of trust and respect. By seeking out advice, providing feedback, and coaching another teacher, a bond is formed that only strengthens the learning process at the school.
Collaboration can only have a positive effect on Adventist education. When one teacher is struggling to address a learning concern in one class, he or she can approach the professional learning community to help devise and implement strategies to help the student. DuFour (2004) shared that teachers should be encouraged to share personal goals, strategies and results to help build relationships and hold each other accountable.
In addition, educational policy, curriculum, and strategies are constantly changing. The introduction of technology in the schoolroom has meant that many teachers have to adjust and learn how to effectively teach using the new technologies. For some teachers, this adjustment is easy. Others have a more difficult time incorporating technology into their classrooms. The benefit of collaboration is that it allows for those who are on board with change and knowledgeable about a subject or strategy, in this case technology, to help those who are not as adept. This is a win-win situation.
Unfortunately, not every school is able to form effective professional learning communities. Some schools are multi-grade and separated by great distances. Technology is a great benefit in these situations. Within the Adventist system, many schools are one or two teacher schools. Collaboration between the primary grade teacher and other primary grade teachers is essential.  Online programs such as Facetime, Google + and Skype, enable teachers across great distances to meet online to discuss and debrief with each other. These programs also enable participants to view each other for greater engagement.
Professional learning communities allow teachers, with common issues, to rely on each other when they need help. As a team, they are able to focus on what needs to be accomplished and collaboratively work to get it done. This atmosphere of cooperation facilitates both teacher growth and student learning. Within the school, professional learning communities allow for those with leadership abilities in different areas to shine. The teachers are more focused on shared goals and have built the relationship and trust needed to effectively manage any educational changes. Collaboration and shared responsibility allow each individual to strive for excellence. The empowerment that is experienced spreads from the teachers to everyone around, including the students, emphasizing that when everyone is working together for one purpose, great things can happen.
• DuFour, R. (2004). What is a professional learning community? Educational Leadership, 61(8), 6-11.

• Chappuis, S., Chappuis, J., & Stiggins, R. (2009). Supporting teacher learning teams. Educational Leadership, 66, 56–60.

• Huffman, J.B., & Hipp, K.K. (2003). Reculturing schools as professional learning communities. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.