Learning Forward – Part 2: Learning Communities

Photo credit: http://www.learningforward.org/

Photo credit: http://www.learningforward.org/

Professional learning programs provide the opportunity to improve educator practices in the classroom and positively impact student learning.  As discussed in my previous post, Learning Forward has revised the Standards for Professional Learning by introducing seven standards that help to ensure that learning opportunities offered to teachers and support staff positively impact student achievement. The revised standards introduce a different paradigm, most notably, the change from a focus on instructor performance to a focus on student achievement – and results.

The Learning Forward Standards act as a guide and set clear expectations for professional learning.  The Standards are a framework that provides evidence of the effectiveness of a Professional Learning program when they are consistently practiced in the classroom.  The Standards are intended to stimulate dialog, discussion, and analysis of our Professional Learning programs.   The goal is to increase teacher effectiveness and student results.

The Standards are intended to be utilized in a holistic way.  They are not intended to be used as a “check list” of items to include in your professional learning program, nor are they prescriptive in their intent.

The assumption in the Standards is that “effective” professional learning improves student learning for “all students.” This assumption is reiterated throughout the stem for each Standard.  A common “stem” statement introduces and precedes each standard and confirms the link between educator practice and student results. The Standard Stem reads: “Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students…”  The stem is a significant and integral part of the overall concept of the Standards.

Learning Forward promotes the belief that policy influences practice. Have you begun studying, discussing, and analyzing the standards?

We will begin to unpack the Standards by looking at each Standard with an overview of the core elements and a variety of informational material. Let’s start with Learning Communities.  It is the first of the seven Learning Forward Standards.

The three core elements to Learning Communities include: continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and accountability. Learning Forward has shared a video about Learning Communities that is definitely worth watching and features Dr. Shirley Hord.


Learning Communities – Professional learning that increases educato effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvements, collective responsibility and goal alignment.”

The first element of the Learning Community Standard addresses continuous improvement. Continuous improvement occurs when we utilize student data to identify student learning needs and teacher learning needs. Additionally, continuous improvement (when properly executed) ensures that strategies learned are applied in the classroom.

The second element, collective responsibility, includes the involvement of entire education communities – including student families.  Schools must listen to the voice of the parents and include parents as part of the learning community.  Collective responsibility means all educators are responsible for the learning of all the students in the school.  Collective responsibility ensures that dedicated teachers are not without support, resources, and have the policies that support their efforts.  This level of responsibility transcends the building and classrooms and reaches out to the communities, including local, state, and national governmental entities. Proper alignment ensures that learning team goals are aligned with school goals, state goals, and national goals.  Learning communities must share experiences across other learning communities. The challenge is balancing individual community learning goals with whole community work. Every educator supports each other and the learning of all students.  The peer-to-peer sharing and learning supports collective responsibility.

Finally, the third element – accountability and goal alignment – is integral to successful learning communities. Alignment promotes professionalism and peer accountability.  Learning Communities are an opportunity to experience growth together through a “shared learning experience.”

Do you have professional learning communities in your district or school?  If so, what have you found successful?  What have you found challenging?


Mary MitchellMary Mitchell is an instructor who has held several positions at FLVS over the years. A National Board Certified Teacher, she has been recognized as a Teacher of the Year for FLVS, the United States Distance Learning Association, and Discovery Middle School in Orange County, FL. She has written articles on topics ranging from computer image processing to teacher training for the online classroom.

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