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International Indexed &Referred Research Journal, May, 2012. ISSN- 0975-3486, RNI-RAJBIL 2009/30097;VoL.


Research PaperEducation

Learning Communities" and Future Classroom Learning

May, 2012 A B S T R A C T
As researchers and practitioners examined school improvement efforts of the last decade or more, it became apparent that something important was missing. The narrow, piecemeal attempts made in the past to improve schools lacked the fundamental supportive cultures and conditions necessary for achieving significant gains in teaching and learning. Too often, teachers worked in their own isolated classrooms, struggling with the needs of challenging students and lacking productive interaction with colleagues, through which they might have gained new insights and understandings about their practice. The beginning of the twenty-first century heralds a shift in emphasis from learning with the focus on the individual to learning as part of a community. The concept of "learning communities" is currently one that is to the fore of much educational and organizational literature and discussion. In the literature, however, the term "learning communities" is being defined and used in diverse and flexible ways. Professional learning communities provides a context of collegiality, which supports teachers and administrators in improving their practice through learning new curriculum and instructional strategies and the methods for interacting meaningfully with each child. In other words, professional learning communities provide opportunities for professional staff to look deeply into the teaching and learning process and to learn how to become more effective in their work with students. The present paper provides an introduction to 'Learning Communities' and also list out the principles related to the development of a school as a learning community.

* Dr. Rajesh Kumar

* Lecturer, Saraswati College of Education, Kawi Road, Madlauda, Panipat, Haryana

1.Introduction And Theoretical Background In educational theory and practice, the twentieth century has been described as the "century of the individual" a description that builds on Piaget's developmental theories where the learner is viewed as a "lone seeker of knowledge" (Feldman, 2000). In contrast to this the growing influence of Vygotsky's (1978) theory of social constructivism points to a move away from an individualistic focus, to one that recognizes the contribution of others to every individual's learning. In short, a movement from the "Age of the Individual to the Era of Community" (Feldman, 2000). Learning communities are a manifestation of this movement and aim. Other writers propose that similar philosophies have existed, in one form or another, since at least the first century A.D. (Lenning & Ebbers, 1999), or far earlier than this, in the time of Plato (Longworth, 2002). By the end of the twentieth century, although learning communities were neither well understood, nor well defined, they were among the most often discussed concepts in higher education circles (Kezar, 1999). This discussion continues today, with the definition of learning communities continuing to evolve in response to the diverse needs of learners and the communities in which they work. Learning Communities offer rich possibilities for dealing with some of the risks and dilemmas that education faces in the twenty-first century. 2. Learning Communities in Educational Settings: The growth of interest in learning communities within schools has been accredited to the find-

ings of research in the 1970s and 1980s conducted into "effective schools" (Larrivee, 2000). The characteristics brought to light by this research contributed to an inventory of outcomes that were considered desirable in shaping the "concept of school as community" (Larrivee, 2000). Consider for eg. the following definition: A learning community is anyone of a variety of curricular structures that link together several existing courses-or actually restructure the curricular material entirely-so that students have opportunities for deeper understanding and integration of the material they are learning, and more interaction with one another and their teachers as fellow participants in the learning enterprise. (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews & Smith, 1990). Learning communities, in this way are primarily seen as benefiting individual learners, rather than the collective. There is less emphasis on sharing knowledge and skills, and the potential to create new knowledge tends not to be acknowledged. Regardless of the model investigated, there are common themes that link the definitions and uses. These include: common or shared purpose, interests or geography; collaboration, partnership and learning; respecting diversity; and enhanced potential and outcomes. 3.Basic Principles For Developing Schools Into Learning Communities Although much discussion and reporting on the subject of professional learning communities has taken place, there are few models and little clear information to guide the creation of such communities



International Indexed &Referred Research Journal, May, 2012. ISSN- 0975-3486, RNI-RAJBIL 2009/30097;VoL.III *ISSUE-32

within school organizations. Hord (1997) after reviewing the literature on learning communities listed the following five basic principles for such organizational arrangements. Such arrangement is also called as 'Professional Learning Community' where a group of peoples from a particular profession comes together for learning with in a supportive, self created community. a) Supportive and Shared Leadership The school change and educational leadership literature clearly recognizes the role and influence of the campus administrator on whether change will occur in the school. It seems clear that transforming a school organization into a learning community can be done only with the sanction of the leaders and the active nurturing of the entire staff's development as a community. Kleine-Kracht (1993) concurs and suggests that administrators, along with teachers, must be learners too, "questioning, investigating, and seeking solutions" for school improvement. The traditional pattern that "teachers teach, students learn, and administrators manage is completely altered. There is no longer a hierarchy of who knows more than someone else, but rather the need for everyone to contribute". This new relationship forged between administrators and teachers leads to shared and collegial leadership in the school, where all grow professionally and learn to view themselves as "all playing on the same team and working toward the same goal: a better school" (Hoerr, 1996).This relationship 'Supportive and shared leardership' should be maintained at all levels of hierarchy i.e. Student - Staff - Principal - Block Education Officer - District Education Officer - Director - Education Minister - Curriculum Planners. Than only we can achieve the idea of the learning community in real sense. b) Collective Creativity In schools, the learning community is demonstrated by people from multiple constituencies, at all levels, collaboratively and continually working together (Louis & Kruse, 1995). Louis and Kruse label such collaborative work as reflective dialogue, in which staff conduct conversations about students, teaching and learning and identifying related issues and problems. Sergiovanni (1994) refers to these activities as inquiry and "believes that as principals and teachers inquire together they create community. Inquiry helps them to overcome chasms caused by various specializations of grade level and subject matter. Inquiry, in other words, helps principals and teachers become a community of learners". Participants in such conversations learn to apply new ideas and information to problem solving and therefore are able to create new

conditions for students. c) Shared Values and Vision "Vision is a trite term these days, and at various times it refers to mission, purpose, goals, objectives, or a sheet of paper posted near the principal's office" (Isaacson & Bamburg, 1992). Sharing vision is not just agreeing with a good idea; it is a particular mental image of what is important to an individual and to an organization. Staff are encouraged not only to be involved in the process of developing a shared vision but to use that vision as a guidepost in making decisions about teaching and learning in the school. In such a community, the individual staff member is responsible for his/her actions, but the common good is placed on a par with personal ambition. The relationships between individuals are described as caring. Such caring is supported by open communication, made possible by trust (Fawcett, 1996). d) Supportive Conditions Several kinds of factors determine when, where and how the staff can regularly come together as a unit to do the learning, decision making, problem solving and creative work that characterize a professional learning community. Boyd (1992) presents a list of factors that result in an environment conducive to school change and improvement. * availability of resources* schedules and structures that reduce isolation* policies that encourage greater autonomy, foster collaboration, enhance effective communication and provide for teacher empowerment * positive teacher attitude toward schooling, students and change* students' heightened interest and engagement with learning* respect and trust among colleagues at the school and district level * supportive leadership from administrators* a sense of community in the school* norms of continuous critical inquiry and continu ous improvement * a widely shared vision or sense of purpose* a norm of involvement in decision-making e) Shared Personal Practice Review of a teacher's behavior by colleagues is the norm in the professional learning community (Louis & Kruse, 1995). This practice is not evaluative but is part of the "peers helping peers" process. Such review is conducted regularly by teachers, who visit each other's classrooms to observe, script notes, and discuss their observations with the visited peer. The process is based on the desire for Individual and community improvement and is enabled by the mutual respect and trustworthiness of staff members. Mutual respect and understanding are the fundamental requirements for this kind of workplace culture. Teachers should feel comfortable in sharing both their suc-



International Indexed &Referred Research Journal, May, 2012. ISSN- 0975-3486, RNI-RAJBIL 2009/30097;VoL.III *ISSUE-32

cesses and their failures. One of the conditions that supports such a culture is the involvement of the teachers in interviewing, selecting, and hiring new teachers. They feel a commitment to their selections and to ensuring the effectiveness of the entire staff. One goal of reform is to provide appropriate learning environments for students. Teachers, too, need "an environment that values and supports hard work, the acceptance of challenging tasks, risk taking, and the promotion of growth" (Midgley & Wood, 1993). Sharing their personal practice contributes to creating such a setting. 4)Advantages of Schools As Learning Communities The concept of the growth of professional learning communities has gained speed in last few years. Several studies has been conducted in 1990's particularly in Europe. Hord (1997a) reviewed the literature on 'Learning Communities' and listed some of the benefits of an educational organization developed into a learning community. a)Benefits for staff: * reduction of isolation of teachers * increased commitment to the mission and goals of the school and increased vigor in working to strengthen the mission * shared responsibility for the total development of students and collective responsibility for students' success * powerful learning that defines good teaching and classroom practice and that creates new knowledge and beliefs about teaching and learning * increased meaning and understanding of the content that teachers teach and the roles they play in helping all students achieve expectations * higher likelihood that teachers will be well informed, professionally renewed, and inspired to inspire students * more satisfaction, higher morale, and lower rates of absenteeism * significant advances in adapting teaching to the students, accomplished more quickly than in traditional schools * commitment towards making signifi-

cant and lasting changes * higher likelihood of undertaking fundamental systemic change. b) Benefits for students * decreased dropout rate and fewer classes "skipped" * lower rates of absenteeism * increased learning that is distributed more equitably in the smaller high schools * greater academic gains in math, science, history, and reading than in traditional schools * smaller achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds. 5. Conclusion The concept of learning communities draws on a wide body of theory related to learning and sociology. Learning communities have much to recommend them in an increasingly complex world where we cannot expect anyone person to have sufficient knowledge and skills to confront the complexities of institutions, our society and individuals, and the tasks these face. They are consistent with a constructivist approach to learning that recognizes the key importance of interactions with others. A paradigm shift is needed both by the public and by teachers themselves, about what the role of teacher entails. Many in the public and in the profession believe that the only legitimate use of teachers' time is standing in front of the class, working directly with students. In studies comparing how teachers around the globe spend their time, it is clear that in countries such as Japan, teachers teach fewer classes and use a greater portion of their time to plan, confer with colleagues, work with students individually, visit other classrooms, and engage in other professional development activities (Sato, 2008). Bringing about changes that will enable the public to understand and value teachers' professional development will require focused and concerted effort. As Carmichael (1992) has said, "Teachers are the first learners". Through their participation in a professional learning community, teachers become more effective, and student outcomes increase - a goal upon which we can all agree.

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