Building A Collaborative Learning Community: One Day At a Time

Moving into this school year, as a staff we were committed to the work of the Professional Learning Communities.  We had worked in PLC’s for several years now and were convinced that this was one of the key reasons for the successes we celebrate at our school.  However, the work we were doing with PLC’s needed to grow and change, it needed to come to life.

With the idea of bringing the work of our PLC’s to life, we began batting around the idea of teachers observing teachers.  How could we schedule this, what would the purpose be, and what would they be observing for?

With some creative staffing, we were able to provide one teacher to partner with everyone else.  As a partner teacher, this person would allow every other teacher to be out of their classrooms to observe other teachers.  We had figured out the easy part!  In no time at all, we had defined the purpose of the observations.  The first six weeks of observations began with the Walk About  and soon transformed into teachers supportings teachers by providing insight and feedback most primarily around Engaging Tasks and Well Designed Lessons.  We knew that through these practices teacher effectiveness was improving which directly affected student learning.  What we didn’t know was the additional benefit a full year of teachers observing teachers everyday would provide.

Classroom with students and teachers - NARA - ...

Classroom with students and teachers - NARA - 285702 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The best way I can summarize the additional benefits is to talk about the Collaborative Learning Community that has emerged and strengthened.  New ways of understanding, and working together have emerged:

  • Teachers have developed an understanding and interest in other grade levels.  In past years, it was very difficult to find teachers who were willing to change grade levels.  This year I have had a number of teachers come and talk to me about the possibility of teaching another grade.  I have also had teachers say, “Whatever grade you need to put me in is fine with me.”
  • Teachers have developed teaming partnerships outside of their next door neighbor class or grade team members.  Teachers who never knew the methods and practices of their colleagues are now working in teams with those people.  They are asking if they can Partner or Team with colleagues they never thought of doing that with before.
  • Teachers have gotten to know and develop relationships with a wide array of students in the school.  One day last week a grade 1 classroom had a substitute teacher.  When one of the grade 4/5 teachers became aware of this she said, “If you want <a special needs child> to work in my class today I know her really well.”
  • Teachers have developed methods of working together to meet student needs.  Students are often seen working in a classroom other than their own for short periods in the day because that learning lesson or learning environment is more suitable to their needs.

These are simply of few of the examples I have noticed.  When I started putting all of the examples together, I attributed this shift to teachers observing teachers everyday.  With this collaborative learning community, we have implemented yet another highly effective method of meeting student needs.

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5 Comments

  1. Mary Anne Hipp

     /  May 23, 2012

    Lori, your article was very supportive of the extensive value of PLCs. I do accreditation visits across the US and have noted the varied ways that PLCs are developing to meet student and professional needs. The important thing is to determine a focus which you all did, establish the methods to be initiated, and then very importantly, note the vast findings to see what the efforts are doing to increase student learning, professional collaboration, and alignment with system goals. It sounds like your group is certainly on a great journey. The other component that you are hopefully doing is communicating the great efforts and findings to the internal and external stakeholders to build understanding and support.

    Reply
  2. Elisa Waingort

     /  May 24, 2012

    Hi Lori,
    I like the idea of a partner teacher who would then allow the rest of the staff time to observe each other. I am wondering how these observations were set up? What was being observed? Who decided what was to be observed?
    Best regards,
    Elisa

    Reply
  3. Elisa Waingort

     /  May 27, 2012

    Hi Lori,
    Thanks for this description. It sounds like you did a lot of work with the staff around this issue. I like that you talk about “engaging tasks”. Sometimes we get so busy coming up with lessons and units that we think are authentic or “rich” that we forget how important it is for learners to engage in the learning events. Feedback is so important and can be best received if there is trust among teachers. It sounds like this is the case at your school. Thanks for the links. I will go back and read these posts.

    Reply
    • Lori Cullen

       /  May 27, 2012

      Thanks Elisa, I really appreciate your comments!

      Reply

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