Professional Learning Communities are becoming a necessary part of our educational environment. They are the future of professional development and growth for our teachers, and although many educators may not be familiar with PLC’s or have not taken the next action to become part of one, they soon will be experiencing this as the world of technology continues to grow. Web 2.0 has defined our future and collaborating will be a skill that will be necessary for all teachers and professionals to engage in. PLC’s are sometimes a natural part of our lives and I am sure many of you have been part of one without realizing it. In fact, your experience from this PLC was probably very positive and memorable. Putting education aside for one moment, let me give you an analogy of a Professional Learning Community outside of the classroom.
As a teenager I was passionate about martial arts. When I around 2o years old I had the opportunity to travel to China to train martial arts in the mainland. The passion of what I was learning and teaching in the states was satisfying, but traveling to China with a group of people who had similar interests, was exhilarating. I needed something different, something inspiring, to be challenged, and to be around others that I would learn from. Little did I know that this group I was traveling with would have a profound influence on my learning and practice today. Practicing in China was the groups common interest and it created a natural PLC, but the people in the group who I traveled with had the greatest impact on my future.
This group had a common goal, to deepen our understanding of martial arts, but when a group of practitioner’s get together and spend a significant amount of time talking, debating, and sharing their individual thoughts of what they are learning or teaching, you start to listen, self evaluate and open your mind to new ways of learning. It was so simple, we were just naturally sharing, listening, and picking up new ideas from each other and everyone was eager to give you their very best of what they know. What is better than this? The first step is to just take the action to get together, that is the hard part. It does not have to be with people you know, in fact, the more diverse the better.
As we boarded the plane we all began to speak about what we wanted to learn. I was convinced on what I wanted and had a very definitive plan. We all had different training experiences,different teachers and we were different ages. I was young and wanted a very physical training regime, after all, how many times will I be able to travel to China to train, I felt that I needed to take full advantage of this.
Many of the people I traveled with were starting to talk about learning Tai Chi Chuan. I knew what Tai Chi was as a physical form and I thought, “that is not for me!” It is too slow, how am I going to get anything out of that form of training at my age?
When we arrived we started training immediately. Our group became very close and a few of my new training partners kept asking me to come and learn Tai Chi. I just didn’t figure I would have time, but they finally convinced me to join a few training sessions. Tai Chi was pervasive in China, you could walk down the street anywhere, anytime and see people practicing so I was already exposed to it and it was not appealing.
As I got to know my training partners, I began to respect them more. I listened to their experiences and they explained the “Why” to me about Tai Chi. The only reason I tried it was because of the respect I had for them, and even though I resisted their insight and encouragement in the beginning, I was convinced that I needed to at least give it try.
Now, almost thirty years later, the only value of my training that I learned back then, and I still use today, was from practicing Tai Chi in China. If I had not gone with a group and I traveled on my own and did my own thing, I would have never experienced this gift. My initial reason for going to China brought about an unexpected consequence. It was my “PLC” that offered me this opportunity because I would have never have tried it on my own.
Our life and professional experience as a teacher, specialist, administrator, or leader can change by being part of a group that has the same interests and passion as you have. They will keep you fresh, innovative, and most importantly, will challenge you to try new methods, skills, and techniques.
If you want to grow you have to surround yourself with colleagues who will share their very best with you, whether it be curriculum, methodology, instruction, communication or any other skill that has been successful for them. You can not join a PLC with a definitive expectation of what you are going to get out of it, the unexpected consequences are what makes it so inspiring.