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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Professional Learning Communities vs Personal Learning Networks

Gosh darn... Still curating.  This PLN vs PLC won't leave my head alone!

I have re-read our Ministry's monograph on Professional Learning Communities.  These are the necessary components to a PLC:

1. Ensuring Learning for All Students - which makes me think of the document "Learning for All", a guide for assessment and instruction for all students, supporting the need to know our students and differentiate as necessary.
2. Focus on Results - which makes me think of John Hattie's "Teacher, know thy impact".
3. Relationships - in the PLC we have to build trusting relationships where it is safe to take risks, and also safe to disagree.
4. Collaborative Inquiry - what do we want to learn about? It is after all a LEARNING community.
5. Leadership - the principal who fosters an environment of inquiry, but also teachers who take the lead on a focus of inquiry.

It all sounds good!  So why do educators complain about them so much?

I think Timothy Scholze, from our etmooc, hits the nail on the head in his post on Google+.  "I really dislike group work because I want to be in control of my learning."  Timothy also says that principals "need to make sure that they are not forcing people together ... Collaboration should be open to choice".

In his post, Hey! Over Here!! Timothy says, "In my view, connected learning and PLNs are the best things since personal computers and blogs.  My PLN looks like a major league baseball all-star team". 

I want to try to figure out why the PLN we create on our own feels so life-giving while the PLC we are asked to be a part of in our building can be filled with so much negativity.  I am not saying they always are... I've been a part of many thriving and exciting PLCs.  But I've also been a part of many dull PLCs in which people are clearly there just because they have to be, and asking them to contribute is like pulling teeth.

Comparing the etmooc to an on-line course is helping me to understand the difference between the PLN and the PLC.  In the etmooc everyone is thriving and excited.  We feel as though our heads are going to explode, and yet we come back for more - by choice!  I've taken many on-line course, and often people don't seem to be thriving in them.  We respond to the requisite three posts on each topic and scan the necessary readings... anxious to be done.

So what's the difference?  I'm thinking the common denominator is CHOICE.

Well, we clearly can't choose who is in our Professional Learning Community - if we are working toward School Improvement and Student Achievement, it has to be the people in our building with whom we work.

But as I continue to think about this, (my brain won't let me stop thinking about it!) I no longer believe the issue is simply not being able to choose the people in our PLC.  It's far more complicated than that.

When I first started teaching, I worked in the Primary Division of a small school.  At least three times per week, at the end of the day, all of the Primary teachers would gather either in the hallway or in one of our classrooms and we would reflect on our practice.  We would talk about students we were concerned about, make suggestions for one another, share new strategies we were trying; we would laugh, argue, gossip, cry and rejoice!  It was a very supportive PLC, but at that time, we hadn't ever even heard of the term before.  We weren't there because our principal told us to be there.  We were there because we wanted to be there.  We CHOSE to be there.

It seems to me the "PLC" has become synonymous with Professional Development and often, it is the principal, consultant, coach, or whomever the "Instructional Leader" is in the building, that decides what everyone needs to learn about.  How and why does this happen?  These instructional leaders are not just being arbitrary. They are looking at student results, looking at the gaps, and then they are using professional resources to determine what is the best strategy to meet the needs to close those gaps.

But the problem is this eliminates what appears to be a very necessary ingredient to learning - THE CHOICE!  I can't remember if it was Jim Knight or Stephen Covey who said, (I'm on a roll so I don't want to go looking for the quote - it was in a book!), that if you have a lousy idea but 100% commitment to that lousy idea you will get a better result than if you have a great idea but only 5% commitment.

I firmly believe that we need to consider ourselves a PLC in our building.  But somehow choice has to become a part of the equation.  It seems logical to me that the choice has to be in the Collaborative Inquiry. But as soon as you say "You have to do a Collaborative Inquiry" - even if you let people choose what they will inquire about, you've taken away the sense of choice by mandating it.

I like to discuss, question, share... I think it is human nature to do so.  But I don't necessarily like being told "You have to discuss, question, share."  Ah, there-in lies the conundrum.  It would seem that as soon as people feel as though they have no choice, or no voice, their attitude changes, they become resentful rather than embracing the learning opportunity.

Why am I even interested in exploring this issue?  Because of my students of course.   The observations I make about how teachers learn together in a PLC vs a PLN can be extrapolated to the classroom.  If I can figure out what motivates adults to learn together, I will be better able to motivate my students to do the same.

Clearly this is still in the curation stage...  I welcome your thoughts.