Contemporary Literature and Professional Development Communities

A review of Literature and how technology contributes to school improvement

Professional learning communities are rapidly taking hold throughout this country as an effective strategy for raising student achievement. Many school administrators that have transformed their schools have done so by embracing learning rather than teaching as their school’s mission. They have shared how their teachers work collaboratively to help all students learn and how the formative assessment process focuses on results to foster continuous improvement.

Educational Service centers have endorsed this strategy and has facilitated workshops to present the primary components of professional learning communities. Smart Solutions participated in a Book Talk featuring “On Common Ground” by Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker and Rebecca DuFour. In this book talk, there were 32 school and business leaders who read the text, reported out their findings and interpretations in small groups, and discussed the merits and challenges in establishing the practical strategies for moving forward with school improvement efforts.

What ensued were dynamic discussions followed up by a second presentation by Mr. Douglas DeLong, superintendent of Berkshire Schools in Northeast Ohio. Mr. DeLong was part of a “Distinguished Administrators Series” and he presented how his school adopted the DuFour and Eaker Professional Learning Community model three years ago. What is unique about the Distinguished Administrators Series is that it was videoconferenced to school locations throughout the State of Ohio. Seven site locations participated and 52 school leaders attended. In addition, the session was web-casted (video streamed) and hosted on Lake County ESC’s web page.

There are several dynamics going on here. First, is the topic of professional learning communities as a contemporary model. Second, is the sharing of this with educators throughout the State of Ohio. Third, is the incorporation of interactive technologies. Fourth, is the hosting of the presentation with all of the power point attachments for the world to view. Fifth, is the follow-up presentation featuring Dr. Paul Kapostasy focusing on the development and use of Data Teams. Sixth is the accompanying literature that provides the glue for implementation such as: “Asking the Right Questions” and Getting Excited about Data” by Edie L Holcomb, “Evaluating Professional Development” by Thomas R. Guskey, “Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace” by Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt and “Videoconferencing for K-12 Classrooms by Camille Cole, Kecia Ray and Jan Zanetis.

Smart Solutions supports ongoing professional development but to make it great there must be a continuum of training. There must be a strong connection to the utilization of technology and how we adhere to the principles stated in Michael Fullan’s book “The Moral Imperative of School Leadership” whereby we share our knowledge and expertise for the greater good of education everywhere and can be accessed by anybody, any time, and at any location.

Now, throw in another book by Thomas L. Friedman “The World is Flat”. It reinforces how important professional learning communities are, not only in education but also in business. Education needs to acknowledge that globalization with out-sourcing and out-shoring is moving faster than a speeding bullet and that collaboration with other countries and cultures isn’t just desirable but essential. Isolationism no longer works and the utilization of technology is vital to a country’s survival as a leader in economic and educational innovation.

As we examine some of the contemporary literature such as “Good to Great” by John Collins or noteworthy literature such as “In Search of Excellence” by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. we can learn the key concepts that move organizations forward. Today, we need a blending of best practices from both private and education sectors. Education leaders need to pay attention to what is going on throughout the world and we must learn to adapt.

We need to incorporate emerging technologies so that we can compete through work-flow software, open-sourcing, and supply-chaining. We need to understand what is going on in China, India, the Soviet Union and other countries. As stated by Thomas Friedman, “What the flattening of the world means is that we are now connecting all the knowledge centers on the planet together into a single global network which – if politics and terrorism do not get in the way – could usher in an amazing era of prosperity and innovation.”

Building Learning Communities goes far beyond common assessments and common planning time. It now becomes part of cyberspace where members depend on each other to achieve the learning outcomes. Learning becomes active in a distance learning environment. Teachers and students are not only responsible for logging on but they must contribute to the learning process by posting their thoughts and ideas to the online discussions. A network of interaction is established in which instructors and other participants become part of the process of knowledge acquisition. Outcomes are evidenced by deeper understanding of concepts, collaborative learning , and critical thinking skills.

Professional Learning Communities and the use of technology brings in traditional teaching and learning models with the electronic tools that are available at our fingertips. Teachers begin to understand asynchronous communication which can occur at any time and at irregular intervals, meaning that people can communicate online without a pattern of interaction. We see this today in e mail, user groups, bulletin boards, websites, and streaming video.

We also see videoconferencing that occurs between two or people at two or more distinct site locations by using large monitor systems or desktop computers to receive audio and video in real time. Educational content providers throughout the world offer rich content that supplements grade level content standards or classes can meet regularly to enrich educational content and to structure meaningful group interaction. This type of collaborative learning is synchronous which is happening in real time. Another example of this is instant messaging or chat rooms where people are typing at the same time.

Now that we know that professional learning communities are working and that technology further enhances enriched learning, we must move our teaching methods to the transformation stage. As learners begin to feel and acknowledge an increasing sense of empowerment, they will understand the learner-centered process and develop a foundation for future learning experiences. They will be better prepared for the globalization that is occurring and will maintain the competitiveness that is necessary in the on line economic, educational and political world.