Reflective and iterative inquiry
The members of an effective professional learning community engage in ongoing inquiry about serious educational issues, exploring data from a wide range of sources and examining it for its value as evidence on which to make decisions for practice. This process encourages reflective thinking and leads to deepened understandings that negate the protection of the status quo.
What the literature says
An effective professional learning community:
learns through an ongoing cyclical process of critical inquiry. Communities become ‚Äúcultures of inquiry‚ÄĚ in which investigation and evidence drive improvement
[Toole and Seashore Louis (2002)] describe a culture of inquiry as ‚Äúa school-wide culture that makes collaboration expected, inclusive, genuine, ongoing, and focused on critically examining practice to improve student outcomes‚ÄĚ (p. 247). In their view, such collaborative communities, often referred to as ‚Äúprofessional learning communities‚ÄĚ, are not comfortable collaborations through which teachers merely share ideas but are opportunities for rigorous investigations of school wide teaching and learning.
In Case 3, ¬†three ISTEs work together to deconstruct (through analysis of a problematic situation) and reconstruct (by role playing alternative scenarios) their understandings of effective communication. See video Clip 4.
develops the ability to learn by collaboratively deconstructing, reconstructing, and co-constructing knowledge
[I]f the community is to be intellectually vigorous then members need a solid base of expert knowledge and skills and there needs to be a strong emphasis on the professionalisation of teachers‚Äô work through increasing expert knowledge ‚Ä¶ Learning within PLCs involves active deconstruction of knowledge through reflection and analysis, and its reconstruction through action in a particular context, as well as co-construction through collaborative learning with peers. ¬†
meets regularly to discuss and reflect critically on practice
Immense value was placed on teachers‚Äô learning for improvement in PLCs, evidenced by a dedication to regular planning times ‚Ä¶ where teachers discussed strategies, shared ideas, planned and solved problems. Teachers responded positively to opportunities for self-analysis ‚Ä¶ to get continuously better at doing what was best for their students‚Äô learning ‚Ä¶ Teachers found solutions by learning and working together towards a common goal, realising that learning and change take time and effort.
invites an educator in role as, for example, a critical friend, coach, mentor, or external expert to provide another lens on practice and to help scaffold the learning.
The idea of critical friends is a powerful one because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a high degree of positive regard, are forgiving and are tolerant of failings. Critics are often conditional, negative, and intolerant of failure. Critical friends offer both support and critique in an open, honest appraisal (MacBeath, 1998). As Costa and Kallick (1995) describe it, a critical friend is ‚Äúa trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critique of a person‚Äôs work, as a friend‚ÄĚ (p. 154).
¬†Earl and Katz, 2002, page 1018
See pages 88‚Äď90 for more discussion of cultures of inquiry.
Implications for ISTEs
ISTEs play an important role as educational leaders who help to develop cultures of inquiry in the professional learning communities with which they work. Being an educational leader means stimulating and supporting people as they examine their practice in relationship to evidence about its impact on student learning. ISTEs need to model inquiry-based learning in their own practice, while also supporting schools to gather and make sense of their data and use it to challenge their assumptions and beliefs.