Leadership in education has evolved since the 1900s. It started off with managing where there was “one Great Leader” (Kowch, 2013) and progressed to the model it is today, with a focus on distributed leadership. In the distributed leadership model, the idea of a communities of practice was introduced (DuFour & Eaker, 2005; Kowch, 2013). The purpose of a communities of practice is to engage a group of people who share the same ideals in a “process of collective learning” (Wenger, 2006). In the case of education, the purpose of a communities of practice is to work towards improving student learning. In Alberta, our communities of practice are called professional learning communities (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, 2006).
In order for a professional learning community to move practice forward, its members need to collaboratively work towards a common goal (i.e. student learning) and members should be able to self-select into these communities (Kowch, 2013). Opportunities to meet and discuss student learning should be at the forefront of the discussion and should be on-going. This should not be a “meet 4 times a year” commitment. It should be sustainable, where teachers receive the administrative support and resources they need to improve student learning (Pols, 2013). Communities must be based on mutual trust and respect where members feel open to share opinions and get along.
A leader who is able to effectively ensure these conditions are met throughout the use of a communities of practice, would be able to move practice forward. Those who neglect the ability for self-choice have already created a disservice for the communities of practice as they will not have the buy-in engagement necessary in these forms of communities. They may experience more resistance or less desirable outcomes due to teachers not putting their best efforts forward.
Does your professional learning community have these necessary qualities?
DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (2006). Professional learning communities at Work™ plan book. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Solution Tree. (n.d.). The power of professional learning communities at work: Bringing the big ideas to life. Retrieved from http://go.solution-tree.com/plcbooks/Reproducibles_PPLC.html
Wenger, E. (2006). Communities of practice: A brief introduction [Web post]. Retrieved from http://www.ewenger.com/theory/