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Let Teachers Take Charge of Their Learning

Much has been made lately of the perceived lack of respect amongst the public and the media for those in the teaching profession. In our book, Reclaiming Our Teaching Profession: The Power of Educators Learning in Community, Ed Tobia and I set out to explore possible solutions and processes that could change this situation.

Reviewing our work on implementing professional learning communities that enhance the quality of classroom teaching, we began to notice how, when principals create opportunities and conditions for collaboration, teachers begin to take charge of their own learning. As they move out of their individual classrooms and become more trusting of one another, a new sense of professionalism becomes the norm. Teachers in authentic professional learning communities begin to share not only their best thinking but also the questions they have about their own teaching. Their reflections about how their teaching influenced students' learning go well beyond others holding them accountable for their work. They begin to hold one another accountable and they feel a responsibility for improving themselves and each other.

As one example, a principal we know supported teachers as they began to work in PLCs. He attended most PLCs, provided teachers with appropriate professional development based on needs that teachers identified from their work in PLCs, and created a culture in which deliberate, collaborative learning time was "sacred." Teachers no longer had to be told what to do by administrators or state policy mandates since, as true professionals committed to their clients (students), they made sure that they accessed the appropriate knowledge and skills they required, supported one another, and kept their focus on how to improve practice in order to address the learning needs of all students.

If all teachers in all schools had those opportunities and assumed that level of professionalism, there would be less need for laws that force teachers to improve learning outcomes defined by people outside the profession. The role of the principal would become that of someone who creates the conditions and provides the resources for teachers to be able to do the work of true professionals. If the role of management in education shifts, then the role of unions would be less focused on labor/management relations and more on expanding the current communities of practice that are beginning to emerge among teacher groups, so that PLCs within schools could begin to learn and gain increased expertise from one another, to the end that students gain -- the goal of the true professional.

Shirley M. Hord
Scholar Laureate, Learning Forward

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