--David Myers, Michigan LearnPort Director, Guest Blogger
Tiger Woods, the quintessential golfer of our time, has a golf swing mentor named Hank Haney. You'd think that an athlete of Tiger's ability would outgrow the need for outside help. But he still relies on regular and ongoing coaching.
How does Tiger's need for knowledgeable instruction relate to the needs of teachers? Think about how those of us in the education profession develop professionally. Some take college classes and earn advanced degrees early in their working life. More often than not, we participate in short one-hour to one-day professional development in-services and workshops. These "one-shot" opportunities generate enthusiasm but don't make substantive changes. As in Tiger's case, significant improvement happens over time with ongoing support.
In order to adopt new practices, we all need to extend our learning and our excitement past the initial event. Whether that experience is a district back-to-school in-service or a workshop at the ISD, there is a need to prolong and support the learning experience as new strategies are applied to instruction and questions arise. How, in these times of tight budgets, are these needs met? Consider implementing learning communities in your building or district.
Learning communities are known to offer both collegial and expert support over time. By bringing together educators who are trying to adopt new techniques, a supportive environment is created where daily challenges can be discussed and advice given. Add to that the participation of a community facilitator who can guide learning communities over time, and you now have an increased probability that change will happen.
The remaining obstacles are time and distance. Those can be resolved by adopting online or web-based communication tools. Offering online learning communities is now a reality for districts--at no cost.
Michigan LearnPort has a complete communications suite that enables local building teachers to communicate regularly with teachers in other buildings and even other districts. Participation is limited only by access to the Web. Threaded discussions allow reflections, questions, advice, or just general observations that support the development of new skills and understanding.
These online communities are not just for extending learning. They can be used to facilitate school improvement teams, building or department committee work, or just be a means to collaborate with others with similar interests.