What a terrific visit I had at one of our schools during an after school staff meeting. What we used to call staff meetings are now so much more than the image that mundane name conjures up. Long gone are extended discussions of who is going on field trips and complaints about student behaviour. Discussions of fundraising and information items “from the office” have long since been relegated to online posts and emails to  and from staff. Now teachers talk about how they are going to improve their practice and support students to be more successful.

The principal had organized the meeting (as she does all of her meetings) by developing with her staff a mix of discussions that were focused on student learning. The resource teacher guided the teachers through data analysis specifically related to the school improvement goals. The literacy coach discussed the ongoing triad model in which teachers work as a team to deliver program to students with the focus being on excellence in research based instruction and demonstrated student improvement. This is the highest form of professional development directly related to the work of teaching kids.  All staff participated actively in the discussions and brought out reflections of teaching strategies that had gone very well, and those that had not gone so well, in moving students forward. Teachers felt comfortable sharing their thoughts, their successes and their failures and were anxious to probe each other for their thoughts about where they may have improved and will in the future.

Equally clear during the discussions is that this seventy-five minute staff meeting was not over and never would be. The teachers left the room still chatting about the discussions that had taken place. It was evident that teachers in this school visit each other constantly from the earliest arrival in the morning until the last light is shut off at the end of the day. They discuss individual students whom they are trying to move forward in their learning. they chat with the student’s previous teacher to try to discover “what worked” for her. They discuss how to keep the class positively engaged in meaningful learning activities while working with smaller groups in Guided Reading or math problem-solving activities. They discuss with their resource teacher how to support the most needy of students in their classroom. They chat with the principal about her thoughts regarding classroom management, student learning, and determine ambitious goals for their students. The leaning never stops for this staff; it is the natural flow of the life of the school.

There is a place for formal Professional Learning Community meetings, carefully constructed, planned and timed. They must be solidly based on comprehensive school improvement planning and based on accurate, regular individualized student assessment. The agenda needs to reflect the needs of all teachers to have an impact on all students. All teachers need to be offered an opportunity to participate and lead portions of the meeting and a dynamic interaction needs to be structured into the meeting. The regular reconnecting through a formal Professional Learning Community meeting is very important to continuing to energize the dialogue on student learning and to flex to the changing needs of the learners’ academic needs.

Someone I was speaking to this week referred to the ideal school, a school where any one of us would be thrilled to be a teacher, a principal or, most importantly, a student,  as an ongoing Professional Learning Community.  Having seen it, I couldn’t agree more.

For a very clear summary of the rationale and elements of an effective Professional Learning Community. please see http://www.edugains.ca and search for “plc”