Author Spotlight: Colin Sloper – Professional Learning Communities – Voices from the Field
Having been an educator and school leader for over 35 years, I know how “time poor” everyone working in schools is. Often, due to time constraints and conflicting priorities, our best intentions are compromised as we switch into “survival mode” just to ensure that we, and our students, “survive”. Many opportunities to move toward achieving our underlying goal of seeing each student’s learning thrive are unfortunately missed because we just don’t have enough time!
Transforming a school into a professional learning community is increasingly being recognised as the most powerful strategy for sustained, substantive school improvement, with many countries and education systems adopting the PLC process as their improvement model. But when we are time poor, it is very hard to move from being interested in something to having the time and energy to build educators’ understanding and commitment to implementing something new.
In 2008, my school commenced its journey to becoming a professional learning community. This journey, while ultimately rewarding, included many missteps where we headed down seductive detours and short cuts. While we were certainly “learning by doing”, I know that the school’s transformation into a genuine PLC would have been assisted greatly by having Australian examples and resources to refer to, helping to guide our thinking and shape our practices.
It is from this simple premise that Professional Learning Communities – Voices from the Field was created. Knowing how busy school leaders are, I wanted to create a complete resource that they could use with staff to provide professional development around key aspects of the professional learning community process. Rather than school leaders having to find additional time to prepare the required resources, I wanted to provide a valuable tool busy school leaders could just pick up and use in their schools.
This resource contains videos of interviews with educators about their experiences in transforming a school into a professional learning community, and videos of collaborative team meetings so that viewers can get a sense of work of collaborative teams and the manner in which these meetings are conducted. It also contains one-on-one meetings with key school personnel to provide examples of how leaders in the school support team leaders, and each other, to grow their capabilities and work in the way required by a professional learning community. These videos have been designed to be watched individually, in small groups or as a whole staff as a professional learning workshop activity.
Professional Learning Communities – Voices from the Field includes 28 workshop activities and all the resources needed to conduct each activity. Workshop activities cover topics such as What is a PLC?, What Structures need to be established to be a PLC?, How to Make Meetings Effective, Developing Team Norms, How to Build a Culture of Collaboration and so on.
Each workshop activity (designed to run between 30-45 minutes at a meeting) focuses on a key component of the professional learning community process and includes a related video clip, written summary of the key points made in the video, discussion questions and workshop participant activity (including any necessary handouts, which can be photocopied). Possible further reading suggestions are also included to allow participants to continue their learning independently.
This resource does not claim to highlight exemplars of the process, but rather is an attempt to capture real-life examples of the thinking and practices of educators who are on the journey of transforming their school into a professional learning community. This resource is designed to promote the thinking of leaders and educators as they undertake this journey together, and to provide them with a complete professional learning resource they can immediately implement in their school, without having to find additional time to develop the necessary resources.
I’m sure that this resource will provide busy school leaders and educators with an invaluable way to progress their school’s journey to become a professional learning community. I hope it meets its aim of supporting time poor school leaders and educators with an easy to use professional learning resource and inspires your ongoing endeavours to provide your students with the quality education that they deserve.
Colin Sloper Colin Sloper has been a teacher, assistant principal and principal in government schools for the past 35 years. In the course of his career he has been involved in the establishment of five new state government schools, including his time as principal of Pakenham Springs Primary School in Victoria. Read more articles by Colin Sloper