Professional Learning Communities and disciplines
I’m just on my way back from the Scottish Economic Society conference in Perth, and having enjoyed the convivial and supportive atmosphere for both the study and the teaching of economics, I’ve been reflecting on how discipline communities can help nurture a culture of teaching within University departments.
Part of my thinking has involved looking at what others have been saying about developing teachers and cultures of teaching. For example, Knight (2006) extols the importance of non-formal learning for teachers, including that which I and others have experienced at the conference and as part of the SES community. He also argues (Knight, 2002) that professionally developing University teachers through the usual centrally provided workshops, focuses soley on the development of individuals and as such does nothing to enhance collective capacity in teaching. Knight is focused here on the collective capacity of a University department, but what I’m also concerned about is the collective capacity of a discipline community and how this might affect and develop a department’s capacity and culture of teaching.
Knight, as many others, talks about Communities of Practice in the context of how departments may create and share learning about teaching. I’ve been thinking about how it may be helpful to go slightly beyond the CoP model and have been looking at the literature around Professional Learning Communities, which has focused on school communities to date. Stoll et al (2006) describe PLCs as having the following characteristics:
- Shared values and vision
- Collective responsibility for student learning
- Reﬂective professional inquiry (including dialogue about educational issues and how to address them)
- Mutual trust, respect and support
- Inclusive membership
- Group, as well as individual, learning is promoted
Certainly these attributes seem to fit with some professional associations’ values, so how does and how should discipline capacity building help departments build capacity?
Knight, P. (2002). A systematic approach to professional development: learning as practice, Teaching and Teacher Education, 18, 3, pp. 229-241.
Knight, P., Tait, J. and Yorke, M. (2006). The professional learning of teachers in Higher Education, Studies in Higher Education, 31, 3, pp. 319-339.
Stoll, L., Bolam, R., Mahon, A., Wallace, M. and Thomas, S. (2006). Professional Learning Communities: A review of the literature, Journal of Educational Change, 7, 4, pp. 221-258.