Group studying learning teams : Session 1
Focus : A key aspect of a school’s capacity to respond to emerging challenges and needs to its ability to engage in professional learning. This learning leads to enhanced professional knowledge outcomes in the challenge areas.
Professional learning teams (PLTs) provide one means of facilitating professional learning and enhancing professional knowledge. A challenge that faces school leadership teams is how they can use PLTs most effectively to achieve professional knowledge outcomes and so to support enhanced professional practice.
Recommended reading :
A chapter that describes one view of the role of the PLT in enhancing professional practice is attached. It is taken from Hopkins, D., Munro, J. and Craig, W. (Eds.) Powerful Learning: A Strategy for Systemic Educational Improvement. Camberwell, Aus: Australian Council for Educational Research, pp 49-64. It is based on the notion that, in order to contribute to successful school improvement, PLTs needs to generate enhanced professional knowledge about an issue or challenge and identifies some of the key factors that are necessary for this to happen.
A paper I wrote for the National College for School Leadership entitled Professional learning teams: building the capacity for improving teaching and learning in 2006. It unpacks issues that influence professional learning in teams.
Links to make : you can make between PLTs learning and related concepts include collaborative learning, co-operative learning, learning in groups and reciprocal teaching.
Questions to interrogate PLT activity in your school: A number of questions about how factors that affect the effectiveness of how PLTs learn follow. At this point you can use these questions to alert you to examine the PLTs in your school. In future sessions we can examine some of these questions in greater depth. The questions are:
It is recommended that you
- collate what you know about the response to each question,
- decide the relevance of the question and its response to PLT activity in your school
- identify how the question and the response could contribute to enhanced professional practice in your school.
- How well does each PLT in your school explicate what it has learnt and, in the past, how well has the new knowledge enhanced practice in your school ? A PLT, by its nature, can generate group or negotiated knowledge about issues that confront the school. How well does your school currently use the new knowledge that has been generated ?
- How well do the PLTs in your school elicit and show a valuing of teachers’ existing knowledge (this includes teachers’ past experiences, attitudes, motivation and ways of thinking) about issues that are the focus of the PLT activity. We know the importance of the learner’s existing (prior, entry level) knowledge in its multiple forms in the learning process. We also know that the extent to which staff engage in PLT learning is determined by the extent to which they perceive their existing knowledge in recognized and valued. What processes do your PLTs have in place for identifying, collating and valuing relevant existing knowledge ?
- How does each PLT set goals for professional learning ? A PLT can set a range of explicit goals for a challenge or topic, for example, to enhance the quality of teaching for particular purposes, to know more about how to learn professionally, to enhance student outcomes and attitudes. What does each PLT know about how to set mastery goals and performance goals and the values of each ?
- What are the different types of learning styles and roles that make up successful learning teams ? Belbin identifies nine different team roles for optimal PLT learning. You can read about the various team roles at http://www.belbin.com/content/page/49/BELBIN(uk)-2011-TeamRoleSummaryDescriptions.pdf and a comprehensive review of Belbin’s team roles athttp://www.belbin.com/content/page/5596/A%20Comprehensive%20Review.pdf. To what extent is it appropriate to ensure that each PLT has members who are able to perform each role ? To what extent would it be useful to teach team members to perform each role ?
- How do you monitor and assess the knowledge generated by PLTs ? We assess knowledge for various reasons: to identify what a PLT knows at any time (summative assessment), to identify what to teach/learn next and how this can best be implemented (formative assessment) and to identify what the PLT knows by engaging in assessment. What steps does your school take to assess what each PLT has learnt at any time and what and how the PLT will learn next ?
- How is the learning in each PLT guided and directed ? We know that strategic learning by individuals is guided by metacognition. How important is it that each PLT has 1 or more individuals who can guide the learning and operate as the ‘metacognition’ for group professional learning ? What are the characteristics of a PLT that lacks metacognition ? What can a school leadership team do to optimize the likelihood of metacognitve activity in each PLT ?
- How does each PLT learn about new ideas ? After a PLT has framed up a challenge and identified what it knows, it often needs to learn new ideas and to broaden its knowledge base, so that it has additional and more appropriate teaching options. What processes exist in your school to allow new knowledge to be brought into each PLT? A school can achieve this in a range of ways, for example, members of a PLT attend external PDs or research a topic on the internet. The Jigsaw model for professional learning is a useful option.
- What are the optimal conditions and climate for learning in a PLT ? What are the characteristics of a performance and development culture that is most likely to facilitate PLT learning ? How can a school leadership team optimize the culture for successful professional learning in a school ? What are the factors the leadership team can modify to enhance the professional learning culture for a PLT ?
- How does the role of the PLTs fit with the work of the school ? An assumption here is that PLTs are ‘solution focused’; they exist to solve challenges facing a school. What steps does the school leadership take to validate the work of the PLTs and to communicate a valuing of the learning outcomes they generate ? How do their outcomes influence decision making in the school.
- How can the school leadership team take steps to ensure the sustainability of the effective teaching practices learnt by each PLT ? An issue that confronts many schools is the longer term sustainability of effective teaching practice, particularly across changes in personnel. Teaching practice is more sustainable when its capacity to solve problems and to enhance student outcomes are recognized, when the practice is in embedded in the context of the school and when it is acknowledged as an aspect of the ‘code of teaching practice’ that characterizes teaching in the school. How can the leadership build sustainability into the work of its PLTs ?
It is hoped that the members of this team will collate their thinking and findings on these and related questions and develop a professional knowledge base that can inform both school practice and further learning activity in this group.