We’ve all been there—you take a day off from teaching to attend a workshop where you interact with other teachers, explore new teaching resources, and see effective strategies modeled. Returning to your school, you have high hopes of sharing what you learned with the teacher across the hall, not to mention transforming your instruction by using new methods and resources with your students. Yet, the responsibilities of teaching continue while the excitement fades, and oftentimes nothing changes as a result of your workshop experience.
This “one-shot workshop” approach often fails to produce real change to instruction. For this reason, many schools have moved away from the “one-shot workshop” model in favor of a collaborative, ongoing framework known as professional learning communities (PLCs). As an example, teachers might agree to meet every other week to improve the support strategies they use to help students. The PLC members may agree to monitor student learning needs in their classrooms, observe and give constructive feedback to their colleagues, and collaborate to develop instructional techniques.
Implementation of and participation in PLCs need not eradicate all workshop attendance. Rather, PLCs may enhance the value of workshops. Some possible examples include:
- sending multiple PLC members to attend the workshop together
- encouraging a share-out from any PLC members who attend a workshop on their own
- choosing a professional focus together that warrants a more personalized workshop experience for the entire PLC
Teachers meeting together in high-functioning professional learning communities exchange and generate knowledge, while refining and accelerating the effect of professional development through collective focus on high-level learning. Moreover, collaborative communities in school build social capital. Researcher Carrie R. Leana and her colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh have found a significant correlation between gains in student learning and school environments with strong social capital. The two-year study followed more than 1,000 fourth- and fifth- grade teachers in New York City public schools. In one finding, students showed higher gains in math scores when their teachers reported a feeling of trust or closeness among their peers.
You may already participate in a professional learning community on your campus. It may meet face-to-face or online, as well as using a blended approach. If you would like to form an online PLC, the NWEA community provides web tools teachers can use to create one. See how educators use these tools to build and maintain a PLC by visiting the Professional Development subspace. You can also get there by clicking the “Learn” button on the main community site.