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Professional Learning Communities and the Holy Roman Empire

I had a history teacher who loved to say that the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, Roman, nor an Empire. Catchy. As I learned majoring in history in undergraduate school, it's also wrong. In education we never let a catchy phrase be diminished by the fact that it's inaccurate.

I wonder if it is accurate to say that professional learning communities are neither professional, places where people learn, nor communities?

I am not sure how professional it is to have to mandate that a group of people meet formally to improve their practice. Also, I am not sure how professional it is to have the purposes for those meetings determined by people outside of the group. Without entering into a debate about whether public school teaching is a profession, I am wondering if there are other professional groups that have to record the proceedings of their meetings and that are told when to meet and for how long. Finally, I am not certain about how much time is spent in professional conversation. If the profession of those involved is teaching, that should be the main topic of the meeting. Instead it feels like the meetings I attend, or am told about by clients, are about achievement data and what band-aids can be applied to get the struggling student through the statewide test. In short, it feels like the PLC meetings I am aware of produce fabulous answers--to the wrong question.

In terms of learning, I am not sure it is possible to learn something you already know. If the meetings are intended to achieve consensus around a strategy that has already been selected, I am not sure if learning can be the outcome. Talking about what I have learned since my last meeting somehow seems esoteric and inappropriate for many of the meetings of the PLCs I have attended.

Community? I am not actually certain about that one. Mostly because I am not sure what community is supposed to mean. If by community we mean a group that owes responsibility to one another, maybe I have seen that. If we mean teachers that come together and share meaningful conversation around the practice of teaching, I've seen that. Funny thing is, though, I have never seen these things in the context of a formal PLC meeting.

Lately I have been posting a bunch of things that read like a laundry list of complaints. This is not one of them. Borrowing from the "rules" of Harrison Owen's Open Space Technology, whoever comes is the right people, what ever happens is the only thing that could have happened, and when its over its over.

Bottom line, I think professional learning communities are the silver bullet of educational transformation, I hope that teachers take whatever opportunity is available to meet with colleagues and build solid relationships, with teaching at the core.

Professional? Learning? Community? Who cares, just talk to one another.

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