Source: Teachers and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 4 August 2009, pages 459 – 470.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In this article, the authors highlight two big ideas that seem to be foundational in the development of professional learning communities - how people learn by examining their own practice; and how, in the process, they learn to contribute to teacher reform initiatives and participate in local and national positions of teacher leadership.
The authors define veteran teachers not necessarily by the number of years they have taught, but by their ability (and experience) in reflecting on their experience and becoming articulate about the complexity of their teaching. The authors call these teachers 'accomplished teachers' as they can be teachers in their third or thirtieth year in the classroom. Their distinguishing feature is that they can deconstruct their practice, explain it to others, and in the process learn how to facilitate learning for (and with) their peers. Accomplished teachers don't lead by exhorting their colleagues to 'do what I say'; they invite them into dialog around 'see how we teach'.
The authors examine five different examples, three from programs developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and two studies done on and with the National Writing Project.
In all these studies, the authors ask: how do teachers learn by uncovering their own teaching practices? What conditions support teacher learning? And lastly, how do teachers learn to lead in professional communities and contribute to educational reform?
All five of the examples that the authors have described appear to have both conceptual and practical implications for our understanding of teachers' learning in professional communities and their subsequent leadership.
Conceptually the authors learn that 'accomplished teachers' are those that open themselves up to the process of inquiry into their own practice; they accept it as a part of teaching and learning for themselves (and others).
These examples illustrate that accomplishment of these goals can come about at different stages of a teaching. It is not age that earns teachers their 'stripes' as a teacher and leader, but rather their ability to look deeply at practice. It is in experiencing the idea that inquiring into ones practice helps teachers articulate what they are doing; where it goes right and wrong; and helping them uncover how to improve it. Teachers break the isolation of their world and become a part of an intellectual community: finding out that they can learn from their peers, and in so doing become members of a collaborative group.
In all of these examples, the important thing is that the exploration of practice starts with what teachers know first. Starting with teachers' knowledge dignifies the 'wisdom of practice' and helps open teachers' classrooms to inquiry, breaks the isolation that keeps teachers from becoming colleagues and forms the basis for a professional learning community.