Klea Scharberg

Building a Community of Learners

A successful learner is a child who enters school emotionally and physically healthy, feels safe and is ready to learn, is connected to the school and the community, and has access to challenging and engaging academic programs. A successful learner is prepared for further education, work, and civic life. When schools implement this whole child approach to education, they make healthy development, student learning, and academic achievement cornerstones of comprehensive, systematic, and collaborative school improvement.

So, we need to talk. The adults at the school need to talk about how students are learning and what and how teachers are teaching. Effective professional learning communities (PLCs) provide opportunities for adults to learn and think together.

While research agrees that PLCs positively affect teacher practice, school climate, teachers' perceptions of self-efficacy, and student achievement, there is no one model to starting a community—just as there is no one model for educating the whole child. Definitions most often describe professionals who focus on learning in a group that has supportive leadership and shares values, goals, personal practices, and feedback.

So, how do we do it? Begin by taking a look around your school and community, and consider building on existing teams (departmental and interdisciplinary), committees, and task groups. Use familiar structures to build trust and identify the supports you already have in place and what areas need to be reinforced.

The demands of the 21st century require a new approach to education policy and practice—a whole child approach to learning, teaching, and leading. Professional learning communities are innovative ways we can organize for better learning outcomes with a more cost-effective deployment of existing resources. We can achieve this by teaming up, sharing, evaluating, and celebrating our learning.

Join us throughout October as we take a look at collaborative learning environments where staff members take an active part in improving teaching and learning. Listen to this month's Whole Child Podcast, featuring C. Robert Maxfield, associate professor and teacher leadership coordinator in the Department of Educational Leadership at Oakland University in Michigan; Steven Weber, director of secondary instruction for Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, N.C.; and Sunndip Panesar, a grades 6–12 online/distributed learning teacher in Vancouver, Canada. Read the Whole Child Blog to hear from guest bloggers, and dive deeper into the latest research, reports, and tools on the professional learning communities topic page.

Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read this month's newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.

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