Teacher Learning Communities: The Benefits of School-Embedded Professional Development

Teacher Learning Communities:  The Benefits of School-Embedded Professional DevelopmentIt is not enough to devise a program of teacher professional development built around formative assessment that works effectively when it is delivered by its original developers and their hand-picked expert trainers. Where would we find the army of experts needed in the 100,000-plus U.S. schools that could benefit from assessment for learning? There simply are not enough qualified coaches and workshop leaders to be found, and the mechanisms for disseminating learning through such top-down models are dauntingly complex and expensive.

We’ve blogged at length on Teacher Learning Communities as a model for teacher professional development, and here are three more reasons why we feel they seem to be particularly functional vehicles to support teacher learning about formative assessment for learning.

1. The practice of formative assessment for learning depends upon a high level of professional judgment on the part of teachers, so it is consistent to build professional development around a teacher-as-local-expert model.

2. School-embedded Teacher Learning Communities are sustained over time, allowing change to occur developmentally, which in turn increases the likelihood of the change “sticking” at both the individual and school level.

3. Teacher Learning Communities are a non-threatening venue allowing teachers to notice weaknesses in their content knowledge and get help with these deficiencies from peers.  For example, in discussing an assessment for learning practice that revolves around specific content (e.g., by examining student work that reveals student misconceptions), teachers often confront gaps in their own subject-matter knowledge, which can be remedied in conversations with their colleagues.

Teacher Learning Communities are embedded in the day-to-day realities of teachers’ classrooms and schools, and as such provide a time and place where teachers can hear real-life stories from colleagues that show the benefits of adopting these techniques in situations similar to their own. These stories provide “existence proofs” that these kinds of changes are feasible with the exact kinds of students that a teacher has in his or her classroom.

What kind of teacher professional development does your school or district practice? We’d love to hear from you so drop a comment below.