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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Opening Our Doors: Teacher Learning Communities

Opening Our Doors: Teacher Learning Communities

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Teacher Learning Communities are not a new concept. Teachers are often required to develop action plans and report to their colleagues about their progress in the classroom. Colleagues provide feedback, and then, they give suggestions (Dyer, 2014).  As an elementary school teacher, I spent forty-five minutes every week in a meeting room where my other grade level colleagues shared ideas about teacher. This can be enriching, but I believe that for schools with low performing students, teachers need to change the way we think about learning communities.

An “open door policy” in classrooms gives teachers an opportunity to assist each other more than simply giving reports in a meeting. This means that kindergarten teachers should be welcome to entering a fourth grade classroom and sharing their knowledge of teaching. I believe that classrooms increase in student and teacher performance when there are open doors to which all teachers are welcome to assist, facilitate, and provide feedback.            When we close our doors at 8 p.m. and opening them only for administration to appraise our teaching, what are we gaining? Administration can assist our teaching style. Personally, I had a principal who was a wonderful guide and mentor for my career. However, that was not the only vehicle that I used to aid my teaching. My teaching improved by observing and working with other teachers in their classrooms.

At my school, my team teacher realized that our learning community meetings were not enough. As teachers, we can “hit a brick wall” so often that we can become discouraged. Our scope of reference can be limited, because in our professions, we spend most of our day with the students. Therefore, we need opportunities to expand our thinking and find innovative ideas to instruct our students. In my school, we knew that our population of students responded favorably to certain strategies more than others. Our population included almost 99% Hispanics who were LEP and lived at or below the level of poverty.

My colleague spoke with our administrator, and the school developed a program for teachers to collaborate. In this teacher collaboration program, the teachers would first meet as a grade level. In this meeting, the teachers would discuss a specific teaching practice and how it might be implemented in a classroom. Then, the teachers would observe a classroom environment in the school. In this environment, the students were learning, and the teacher was a facilitator of the classroom. Next, the team would take notes individually and debrief about what insights they gained. This part of the process was invaluable, because teachers were able to learn from each other.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator

I so appreciate this post! We've been using the Critical Friends Group model for years (schoolreforminitiative.org) for many of the same reasons. So many good tools there- and anything that gets teachers collaborating is a good thing in my book!

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

Hi Mary,
I love this! It's so great to see teachers taking their professional learning into their own hands in such a meaningful and powerful way. What in particular are things that you or your team members have learned by moving to this model?

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