Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Why 'Community of Learning'?

Our team of in-school leaders met in preparation for a staff meeting they were running around the community of learning and professional learning groups. We wanted to ensure the meeting was purposeful so we asked staff members to share any questions or wonderings they had. As we sat to look at some of these questions, we noticed the majority centred around organisational aspects and potential outcomes but one, in particular, prompted us to delve deeper into the conversation: is it worth the money? Why?

Though our answer was a simple yes, we knew it was important to explain how we drew this conclusion. Before we explore this, I think it is important to explain some of the histories behind the Community of Learning model. It arose from a successful bid for additional funds from our government’s budget. With only a few weeks to put together a proposal, several of our nation’s governmental departments attempted to secure these funds. In order to be successful in this, each department was asked to suggest an initiative which was innovative, different and had the potential to make a large impact.

Based off of similar models from around the globe, including Finland and Hong Kong, ‘Communities of Learning’ took the best aspects from these models which centred around developing collective teacher efficacy (the collective belief of staff in their ability to positively affect students) in order improve outcomes for students. The idea of developing efficacy in teachers is proven to be the most significant thing an educational organisation can do in impacting students (Visible Learning, 2018).

In New Zealand, the focus of this model is ‘leading from the middle’; an idea which suggests leaders will “develop the organisation rather than sustain and manage compliance”, “focus(ing) more on the building of capacity across the schools more intentionally”, while empowering others in a more consistent manner (Dale, 2016). In order for this to happen effectively, it relies on the collaborative nature of teachers to explore both best and next practice. While the development of knowledge and practices is common among teachers, this model ensures that adequate time is provided for them to inquire into various possibilities and ideas.

Though this explains what and how the community of learning endeavours to achieve its goals, we’re still left to answer whether this is worth the investment and why. As our team continued to converse, we started to explore our own ‘why’, namely, what drew us to this profession. For me, becoming a teacher was less about the knowledge students gather and more about the beliefs they develop; primarily the belief they have in themselves as learners and as people. My goal is to help these young people discover both who they are and the worth they hold; I just happen to teach. Though my ‘why’ may not be universally held, I am sure there are a plethora of grand ambitions that motivates each of us to educate the next generation.

For those in the profession, we understand the complexities and challenges that exist in a classroom as well as the wider contexts in which we work. Leaning on the adage of leading horses to water, educators consistently attempt to lead ‘students’ to ‘learning’ without forcing them to ‘drink’ (if we could, our jobs would be significantly easier). Instead, we explore different approaches and different tools, with the same goal in mind. Transforming practise is nothing new. However, a model in which space is given to inquire; “to make new knowledge, make mistakes, take risks and enjoy what (we) are learning”, is.

This community of learning model is not designed to impose upon the agency and autonomy of teachers. It is designed to offer a collaborative tool shed in which each educational craftsmen can deepen their toolbox and talk shop. It is designed for teachers to continue achieving their own ‘why’ in a way which simultaneously helps to sharpen those around them for the sole purpose of improving outcomes of each student in our nation; starting with our community.

Given this history and motivation behind ACCoS, the question “is it worth the money?” becomes “are they worth the money?” For our community of learning team, it’s a resounding yes.

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