Professional Learning Communities have been around for a while. At this time, the needs of the 21st Century Education for Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking make it no longer an option.
It is still challenging to set up the collaborative groups and create the atmosphere of trust needed for the success of Professional Learning Communities. Teachers are not accustomed to having the door open and sharing. There is a long-standing mystique about “what happens in the classroom stays in the classroom.”
Of course that old idea is changing. Many teachers are not used to having an open door and get offended by the idea. It is as if they feel judged or insecure. The attitude needed is, “Yes, come in and see what we are learning! It is so exciting.” So, it becomes about trust.
There have been lots of books about establishing Professional Learning Communities and I will include some of them at then end of this post. At this time, many schools use this collaborative method for the academics. Through that method, teachers of the same subject offer the same curriculum, share ideas even if implemented differently. High quality instruction and like content becomes standard and a well-aligned curriculum involves all. This idea is no longer a new one.
I do think this concept is relatively new in the arts. The reason being that established and aligned curriculum is not commonplace and demonstration of knowledge in the non-core subjects are the exception and not the rule. Schools may pay lip service to arts PLC’s. There are, in reality, few models. I hate to say it, but I have seen the various specials teachers gather for their supposed PLC time. It seems to me it was like everyone was in the pool but there were different drops of colored oil that just wouldn’t mix!
TIME FOR CHANGE!
THE ARTS ARE CORE SUBJECTS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
I think the hesitation to join forces stems initially from a lack of trust and that the specials (music, choir, band,art, drama, PE (even dance), Computer Graphics, and other related subjects, possibly foreign language) tend to stay independent entities. Perhaps they are performance oriented like music or PE. And we know those two will not acknowledge having anything in common. Jocks can’t sing, right? Again, I say there is some vested interest in keeping it all mysterious so that no one knows what you are doing. Perhaps the teacher feels threatened and doesn’t want anyone else to think they can do it too. Sometimes there is only one teacher per arts subject in a building, so managing a PLC becomes more of a challenge. All of the arts subjects can form one PLC and there needs to be like subjects connected through a PLC in all the buildings.
The beauty of the PLC comes in the collaboration and communication. To share creates benefit. It is a combination of trying things and sharing the outcomes and brainstorming interdisciplinary learning possibilities. It is not just brainstorming. You have to go off and do what you do yourself and then share the process and outcomes with colleagues. Research shows that brainstorming in a group does not produce as much change as individual work. The combination of the two, I believe, is a benefit. You can’t carry out an integrated curriculum that is 21st century ready without talking to your colleagues. I don’t know why teachers are reluctant to collaborate — is it a personality trait of teachers, the way teachers are taught, or even in part, human nature? Some people are more collaborative by nature and some have must be in charge. The PLC has room for all.
How do you interest teachers who are not interested?Give them a role or a task to complete and share with others. Reinforce and compliment to give confidence and build trust. Create a wikispace for colleagues to share information. Use an outside facilitator for meetings such as a professional development consultant who becomes a ‘regular” part of the team. This can create “buy-in,” change attitudes and stimulate new ideas.
How do you show them how it benefits their own instruction?Give examples of other collaborative learning possibilities with a positive outcome and how their subject relates to the learning and instruction in other subjects. Build bridges. Share ideas and teaching strategies. Use data to demonstrate value.
How do you change the attitude from defensive to trusting?This takes some time and work. Meetings must be frequent, consistent and well-planned. Leaders must model by example and show the benefits. Professional development that is hands on and continuous can help. Possibly add presentations by community partners and possible mentors for students. Administration must give the necessary time for teachers to make PLC work. A professional development specialist should coordinate the meetings and follow through. Frequency is the only way to success.
What are the Benefits?The benefits are well documented. Student achievement and instruction improve. Teach through action and experience. Don’t be defensive – encourage healthy discussion and “argument.” Involve team members with other schools in the district and teachers teaching like subjects. This communication is especially important in the arts since there is often one or few per discipline in a building.
For the arts to come to the forefront as important core subjects, the idea of PLC and aligned curriculum with appropriate evaluation must be implemented. School leadership must exemplify the model. They must create an environment of trust and collaboration. This process takes TIME, and TIME must be dedicated to it. Teachers tend to be an “in the club” group. Use this to an advantage and create a team.