It’s a professional learning COMMUNITY

I got a card in the mail today.  It’s a get-well card from the folks at the Center for Teaching Quality.  It really brightened my day.   It also made me think about how important the “community” aspect of a professional learning community (PLC) really is.

I belong to perhaps more than my fair share of fantastic PLCs.

I collaborate with a great group of teachers at Skyline High School in Oakland. We all share kids who are in the Education Academy. This cohort of students is interested in a potential career in teaching. They all share the same English, social studies, and science teacher, and the director of the academy and I teach the career-specific elective classes.

Meeting several times each week during our collaboration period, this group of teachers talks about students,  brainstorming interventions students we’re worried about. We share the load of communicating with their families. Other times, we talk about instruction. So far this year, we’ve talked about the habits that we notice our more successful students use in class and how we might overtly teach those habits to our less-successful students.  Later in the semester, we embarked on an informal research project on facilitating student collaboration and group work for even better learning results.

Additionally, I’ve got a great group of teachers that I’ve formed a “book club” with to read a series of books about assessment this year.  On the last Thursday of the month, we get together for a couple of hours after school to talk about the books and our ideas.

I also have a professional learning community online.  Through Twitter, I’ve met great people from all over the country who share the same interests.  Hashtags work great for building these communities.  I’ve met people while on tweet-ups about #assessment, #teaching2030, and #ntchat (new teachers chat).  Some of these on-line relationship have continued over time and have led to “meeting” these friends at conferences.

I’ve been a member of the Teacher Leaders Network (TLN) for about two or three years now.  TLN is a branch of the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ). The mission of both is to raise the voices of teachers in the conversations about education policy and reform.

For me, this relationship started out as a time-limited work group of about a dozen San Francisco Bay Area teachers who are reading about, talking about, and then writing about teacher tenure, teaching careers, and opportunities for teacher leadership in schools, districts, and states.  Since our first paper, I’ve gone on to talk with teachers from all over the country, talk with US Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan about high-stakes testing, and co-write several papers with colleagues at TLN and CTQ.

I am always in awe of the professionalism of the teachers with whom I share these PLC’s. Together, we really do accomplish much more than I could ever do alone.

Learning in a PLC is fun and powerful. Together, we decide on what we want to read about, talk about, and learn about.  Because we do it together, I feel like I take more away from every project.

As important as the work that we all do together in these PLCs, I’m reminded today about how important the “community” aspect of professional learning community is.

I’ve shared the joy of an upcoming wedding with a teacher I would have never met if it had not been for one of my online PLCs.

I’ve shared the grief of the loss of a family member with a teacher from another online organization.

I’ve leaned on the support of teachers who I met through our PLC’s that I can now call friends – like my friends at CTQ who sent me the “get well” card I received today.