Professional learning communities are forums for reflecting on the results of certain strategies and planning new ones. I will not dwell on why these are essential to any effort of elevating the teaching culture and teacher discourse in a school. I will also skip the reasons for elevating culture discourse. Instead, how can we build and maintain professional learning communities?
Professional learning communities are made up of professional learning relationships. Professional learning relationships only exist between teachers who share a vision of professional learning. Since the only person I can control is me, how will I develop a shared vision with the teachers I work with?
- I will seize opportunities to build sincere friendships with fellow teachers. (How could there possibly be collaboration without joyful decision making in a framework characterized by trust?)
- I will journal my strategies and the results with regularity. This reflection give me something to base future decisions on. Periodically, I will articulate the specific strengths of my planning, teaching, and assessment process that address my challenges effectively. Also, I will list the approaches that are not conducive to effectively meeting goals.
- I will keep apprised of the my
fellow teachers’ friends’ progress towards their chosen goals.
- When I see that a
fellow teacher friend is facing similar difficulties that I have, I will choose/create a setting where the person will be receptive to my suggestion. I will ask if and how their students might benefit if (s)he used a strategy like I have found to be effective.
- When I see that a friend is unhindered by a challenge I am struggling with, I will choose/create a setting where I can share my difficulty and ask what has helped them.
Perhaps this list could be refined to include the actions taken within professional learning communities. As we get used to this pattern, we can accompany other teachers in the same. Once a vision for changing teaching culture is shared, it may be fitting to formalize professional learning teams according what is natural considering teachers’ sociability, strengths and challenges.
EDIT: Based on the search engine use report that WordPress shows me, I see that a lot of people are reaching this page because they are attempting to answer an essay on their teacher position application as well. If you’re one of these people, please also share your thoughts on the skills or attributes of outstanding teachers in the comments. I greatly value learning collaboratively with other teachers.
One of my job applications asked me to describe skills or attributes an outstanding teacher needs. Here is my response.
There is no limit to the skills and qualities that a master teacher should have. However, a teacher will still be outstanding when he acquires certain attributes, such as humility, the skill of reflection, and patience.
The moment he thinks that he has everything figured out, his efforts to grow will cease. By maintaining humility, a teacher is willing and ready to let go of practices that prove ineffective and to try new methods regardless of who brings him the ideas.
Reflection on student learning (performance on formative and summative assessments) and on his own learning (what is or isn’t efficacious pedagogy) is essential for a teacher to systematically improve his work. Without reflecting after each class, the same mistakes can be made period after period. Without journalling daily and weekly about teacher-student relationships and classroom management, a teacher will likely just repeat familiar, ineffective practices. Without unit-based and annual reflection and readjustment, how could he possibly ensure that students’ understanding of content and their application thereof will benefit from the latest research and innovations?
My experience is that enthusiasm to improve student understanding and teacher performance should couple with patience and respect for growth processes. In our field, we aim to shape the inner workings of minds. Brain research indicates this process takes time, particular wisdom, and insight. (The Art of Changing the Brain, Zull 2002) A teacher must be patient with, yet nonetheless committed to, this change in his students. Also, the teacher will avoid burn-out and frustration with himself when he infuses reflection on his growth with patience.
In addition to an ebbing ego, a habit of reflection, and patient understanding of growth, there are many qualities that a teacher can focus on to become more outstanding: disposition to prioritize and collaborate when planning; sincere love in his heart for his students and for the community they live in; courage to attempt what others have not; and an abiding joyfulness. The more a teacher’s life is characterized by these qualities, the more adept he will become at fostering similar qualities in his students and peer teachers.