Shared Personal Practice

Review of a teacher's behavior by colleagues is the norm in the professional learning community (Louis & Kruse, 1995). This practice is not evaluative but is part of the "peers helping peers" process. Such review is conducted regularly by teachers, who visit each other's classrooms to observe, script notes, and discuss their observations with the visited peer. The process is based on the desire for individual and community improvement and is enabled by the mutual respect and trustworthiness of staff members.

Wignall (1992) describes a high school in which teachers share their practice and enjoy a high level of collaboration in their daily work life. Mutual respect and understanding are the fundamental requirements for this kind of workplace culture. Teachers find help, support, and trust as a result of developing warm relationships with each other. "Teachers tolerate (even encourage) debate, discussion and disagreement. They are comfortable sharing both their successes and their failures. They praise and recognize one another's triumphs, and offer empathy and support for each other's troubles" (p. 18). One of the conditions that supports such a culture is the involvement of the teachers in interviewing, selecting, and hiring new teachers. They feel a commitment to their selections and to ensuring the effectiveness of the entire staff.

One goal of reform is to provide appropriate learning environments for students. Teachers, too, need "an environment that values and supports hard work, the acceptance of challenging tasks, risk taking, and the promotion of growth" (Midgley & Wood, 1993, p. 252). Sharing their personal practice contributes to creating such a setting.

Summary of Attributes

Reports in the literature are quite clear about what successful professional learning communities look like and act like. The requirements necessary for such organizational arrangements include:

  • the collegial and facilitative participation of the principal, who shares leadership - and thus, power and authority - through inviting staff input in decision making
  • a shared vision that is developed from staff's unswerving commitment to students' learning and that is consistently articulated and referenced for the staff's work
  • collective learning among staff and application of that learning to solutions that address students' needs
  • the visitation and review of each teacher's classroom behavior by peers as a feedback and assistance activity to support individual and community improvement and
  • physical conditions and human capacities that support such an operation

Next Page: Outcomes of Professional Learning Communities for Staff and Students

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 6, Number 1, Professional Learning Communities: What Are They And Why Are They Important? (1997)