Professional Learning Communities at Work and High Reliability Schools

By Robert Marzano

First a relentless focus on student learning, skill by skill, and student by student. Second, a collaborative culture in teams working to create common goals to hold each other accountable. The third is a passionate and persistent focus on results – improved learning of each student. All of which depends on strong leadership. Leaders always connect the teams’ work back to the whywhy are we engaging om this specific task or activity. This links into best practices and action research to test the impact of selected practices. It is not enough to organize the teachers’ work in teams. Leaders need focus teams to engage in the right work and consistently connect the teams’ work back to the why. Leaders seek to create a culture in which the why – improving student learning – link to collective inquiry into best practices and action research to test the impact of selected practices. Leaders need to create a loose-tight culture. Tight about the school’s values, mission, and goals, but loos on creating a culture that encourages empowerment, ownership, and creativity.

Leaders frequently monitor the learning of students and the work of the teachers. We need to look out for the knowing-doing gap. The gap between known best practices and the degree to which organizations fail to engage in actions consistent with those research-based best practices.

PLC and Cultural Change

Most schools focus on changing the school’s structure but more importantly is to change the school’s culture. Examples of changes like this are:

The shift from a primary focus on teaching to a laser-like focus on the learning of each student – unit by unit, student by student. A professional learning community is based on the assumption that the primary purpose of a school – its core mission – is to ensure high levels of learning for all students. Educators accept the fact that they have not been successful simply because they taught the right things in the right way. They focus on what students have or have not learned.

    1. What do students want to learn?
    2. How will we know if students are learning?
    3. How will we respond when students don’t learn?
    4. How will we extend learning for students who are already proficient?

The second shift occurs when schools move from a more traditional culture to a culture of reflection. Where you have a culture of collaboration away from teacher isolation. With high-performing collaborative teams working interdependency to achieve common goals for which members hold one another accountable.

The third shift is to realize that ultimately results matter. To shift from a focus on good intentions to a sharp consistent and persistent focus on results, with the collaborative analysis of student learning data primarily measuring those results.

For more info about High-Reliability Culture see the post here,
More on competency-based education see here.


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