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Comparing Learning Community Practices

The concept of learning communities is at the core of effective professional learning. Learning communities provide the structure for ongoing collaboration, set the stage for deep inquiry and problem solving, and promote collective responsibility and goal alignment among educators. Learning Forward promotes the Learning Communities standard as one of the essential conditions for increasing educator effectiveness and results for all students.

As I reflected on the importance of learning communities in supporting continuous improvement and system change, I thought about how these same principles and beliefs are embedded in the work of other professions and in other sectors.

Lee Shulman -- best known for research and insights on pedagogical content knowledge -- has written about "signature pedagogies" and how they have developed across different professions. Students in medicine, law, engineering, and business experience learning in distinct and recognizable models: engaging in clinical rounds in medical school, experimenting and iterating in engineering design studios, responding to Socratic questioning in law school, and delving into a variety of case studies in business school. But beyond this professional preparation, these professionals engage in practices and learning that reflect core elements of learning communities.

The medical rounds process includes attending physicians, residents, interns, and medical students. Laura Snydman, a physician at Tufts Medical Center, describes a daily work rounds process that models communication and exam skills for medical students and enables all participants to engage in clinical reasoning, problem solve together, and discuss how and why certain decisions were made based on available patient data.

In the design world, teams work together to brainstorm and generate new ideas for products, but also use a process to make sure that new ideas are aligned with the project's overall goals. Producer Julie Kim describes a collaborative planning process where goals and principles are prioritized at the beginning of a project and used as benchmarks throughout the often-ambiguous design process. By creating ample time to discuss and propose new ideas, team members are less likely to succumb to groupthink and are held accountable to the project's overall goals and principles.

What is the significance of having shared principles and practices for professional learning across sectors? The strategies employed in other sectors might have lessons for educators and vice versa. For example, knowledge management strategies used in the private sector could inform how information about student learning could be shared among teachers, specialists, and administrators. These shared beliefs about teams and learning present an opportunity to garner support for effective professional learning from the broader public. If we expect educators to improve their practice, we must provide the same time, resources, and opportunities for deep learning that we have come to expect in other professions. Only then can we expect to improve performance and produce results for all students.

Kenneth Salim
President, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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