Learning community is a group of people who share common values and beliefs and actively engage in learning together from each other. This is based on an advanced kind of educational or ‘pedagogical’ design. The people who facilitate learning communities may contribute from several distinct fields of study. To create a learning community we have to focus on learning rather than teaching, work collaboratively and have to hold ourselves accountable for results and better outcomes.
Through literature review we can identify the guide lines for creating a learning community as Lovely, S. & Buffum, A.G. (2007) states that, “A major goal in the design of a learning community is facilitating a culture of collaboration within a setting that is complicated by the cross age diversity of most teams” (p.28). To facilitate this culture of collaboration we have to offer the opportunity for reforms. The major requirements to create learning communities are according to Retallick, J. Cocklin, B. & Coombe, K. (Eds.). (1999) are respect, caring, inclusiveness, trust, empowerment and commitment. These are the guide lines through which we can create learning community in schools.
For an effective learning community in educational institutions, there are many indicators to identify the existence of learning community; however, following two factors are more dominant towards fostering learning community in a school.
- Supportive and Shared Practices
- Distributed Leadership
Several kinds of factors determine when, where, and how the staff can regularly come together as a unit to do the learning, decision making, problem solving, and creative work that characterize a professional learning community. If we will not take care of these factors many consequences can occur in the institution. Stewart, D. & Prebble, T. (1993) describes this situation as, “Relationships among staff groups are a consequence of the communication patterns and networks that exist in the organization” (p.94).
Review of a teacher’s behavior by colleagues is the norm in the learning community. This practice is not evaluative but is part of the “peers helping peers” process for own understanding or to help each other. Such review is conducted regularly by teachers, who visit each other’s classrooms to observe, and discuss their observations with the visited peer. Stewart, D. & Prebble, T. (1993). “Reflecting on our professional practice tends to be more profitable when a colleague is able to help us reflect on that practice and suggest alternatives” (p.45). This process use to be based on the desire for individual and community improvement and is enabled by the mutual respect and trustworthiness of staff members.
Teachers can proudly claim the existence of learning community in their schools, if they we have the sense of non-evaluative assessments and positive feedback to each other and for the enhancement of this sense, the teaching-learning atmosphere and leadership influence on teachers is very much revolutionary, which create such an atmosphere of respect and trustworthiness among the all the teachers. It is very well said that development never ends, so exercising the supportive and shared practices may lead teachers to strengthen and reinforce further this important aspect of learning community.
Distributed-leadership means interdependency and coordinated work. This theme is presented as an alternative to focused leadership. According to Gronn (2003) it is the new trend increased after 1980, which is certainly a step up from one person leadership as we can see the work of head teacher is increasing and the responsibilities of managing the school needs to be shared. This is also articulated by Arrowsimith (2007) that “Distributed leadership (DL) is an emerging form of power distribution in school which extends authority and influence to groups or individuals in a way which is at least partly contrary to hierarchical arrangements” (p.22). In the context of Pakistan, we can partially relate this leadership theme to some of the educational institutions.
Distributed leadership starts from willingness to share authority, the capacity to facilitate the work of staff, and the ability to participate without dominating. Stewart, D. & Prebble, T. (1993) states that, “If principals wish to change what teachers do, they must first change the way teachers think about what they do” (p.189).
Members of the Learning Community work together, share expertise, and exercise leadership to ensure that student achievement is the intended result of all decisions. They retain primary responsibility, appropriate autonomy, and are accountable for making decisions affecting the important aspects of the learning community.
It seems clear that transforming a school organization into a learning community can be done only with the sanction of the leaders and the active cultivation of the entire staff’s development as a community. Thus, a look at the principal of a school whose staff is a learning community seems a good starting point for describing what these learning communities look like and how the principal accepts a collegial relationship with teachers to share leadership, power, and decision making. Stewart, D. & Prebble, T. (1993) describes this notion of leadership as, “Leaders make a difference, but their work should be seen as an integral part of the activities of the whole group” (p.199). Through this practice, all grow professionally and learn to view themselves to use an athletic metaphor as “all playing on the same team and working toward the same goal: a better school”. This idea has very accurately articulated by Sergiovanni, T.J. (1996);
Communities are collections of individuals who are bonded together by natural will and who are together bond to a set of shared ideas and ideals. This bonding and binding is tight enough to transform them from a collection of “I’s” into a collective “we” (p.48).
Arrowsmith, T. (2007). Distributed leadership in secondary schools in England: the impact on the role of the head teacher and other issue. Management in Education. 21(2), 21-27.
Gronn, P (2003). The New Work of Educational Leaders: Changing Leadership Practice in an Era of School Reform. London. Sage Publications.
Lovely, S. & Buffum, A.G. (2007). Generations at School: Building an Age-Friendly Learning Community. California: Crown Press.
Retallick, J. Cocklin, B. & Coombe, K. (Eds.). (1999). Learning Communities in Education: Issues, strategies and contexts. London: Routledge.
Sergiovanni, T.J. (1996). Leadership for the Schoolhouse: How Is It Different? Why Is It Important? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Stewart, D. & Prebble, T. (1993). The Reflective Principal: School Development Within a Learning Community. New Zealand: ERDC Press Massey University.
Disclaimer: The article has been published as received from the writer. OEC doesn’t hold responsibility for its content and any implication with its publication.
Written by: Darvesh Karim, AKU-PDCN Gilgit.