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Team Up for 21st Century Teaching and Learning: What Research and Practice Reveal About Professional Learning

Studies show that many teachers want to work collaboratively and that they actually teach better when they do. But just cobbling together a group of teachers and calling it a "professional learning community" doesn't lead to results. So what are the elements of an effective professional learning community?

A book by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, Team Up for 21st Century Teaching and Learning, offers case studies and a synthesis of research about how "learning teams can positively affect school culture, teacher retention, teacher effectiveness, and student achievement."

The report puts forth six principles of successful professional learning teams:

  • Shared Values and Goals: "The team should have a shared vision of the capabilities of students and teachers. They should also clearly identify a problem around which the learning team can come together, with an ultimate goal of improving student learning."
  • Collective Responsibility: "Team members should have shared and appropriately differentiated responsibilities based on their experience and knowledge levels. There should be mutual accountability for student achievement among all members of the learning team."
  • Authentic Assessment: "Teachers in the community should hold themselves collectively accountable for improving student achievement, by using assessments that give them real-time feedback on student learning and teaching effectiveness."
  • Self-Directed Reflection: "Teams should establish a feedback loop of goal-setting, planning, standards, and evaluation, driven by the needs of both teachers and students."
  • Stable Settings: "Effective teams require dedicated time and space for their collaborative work to take place."
  • Strong Leadership and Support: "Successful teams are supported by their school leaders who build a climate of openness and trust in the school, empower teams to make decisions based on student needs, and apply appropriate pressure to perform."

The commission concludes that for the most part, when teachers are given the appropriate time, tools, resources, and support to work and learn collectively, their instructional practices improve and their students' levels of achievement increase.

Read condensed excerpts from the book. Learn more about how effective professional learning communities can help educators improve their teaching practices, develop solutions to their common challenges, and raise levels of student achievement with ASCD Express.

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