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Shirley M. Hord.
"Professional Learning Communities: Communities of Continuous Inquiry and Improvement,"
Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, 1997.
Available in full on the SEDL web site at http://www.sedl.org/siss/plc/plc.html.

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[Editor's note: Hord's paper presents a useful "review and synthesis of the literature on learning communities [representing] the work of highly reputed educational researchers in the fields of teaching and learning, and school change processes." While the review does not consider groups of educators looking collaboratively at student work, its discussion of learning communities within schools--and schools as learning communities--is highly consistent with goals and approaches of such groups.]

Hord presents three goals for her literature review: 1) to define and describe what the literature is calling the professional learning community; 2) to describe what happens when a school staff studies, works, plans, and takes action collectively in behalf of increased learning for students; and 3) to reveal what is know about how to create such communities of professionals in schools.

Attributes
She identifies these attributes of professional learning communities:

  • the collegial and facilitative participation of the principal who shares leadership--and thus, power and authority--through inviting staff input in decision making

  • a shared vision that is developed from an unswerving commitment on the part of the staff for students' learning and that is consistently articulated and referenced for the staff's work

  • collective learning among staff and application of the learning to solutions that address students' needs

  • the visitation and review of each teacher's classroom behavior by peers as a feedback and assistance activity to support individual and community improvement

  • physical conditions [including time] and human capacities that support such an operation
Outcomes
Hord reviews studies charting outcomes for staff and students for schools improved by organizing professional learning communities.

For staff, outcomes include:

  • reduction of isolation of teachers
  • powerful learning that defines good teaching and classroom practice, that creates new knowledge and beliefs about teaching and learning
  • higher likelihood that teachers will be well informed, professionally renewed, and inspired to inspire students
  • commitment to making significant and lasting change
For students, the results include:
  • decreased dropout rate and fewer classes "cut"
  • lower rates of absenteeism
  • increased learning that is distributed more equitably in the smaller high schools
  • larger academic gains in math, science, history, and reading than in traditional schools
  • smaller achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds
Entry Points
Hord considers multiple entry points for developing professional learning communities, including study groups, action research, and staff development.

Conclusion
She concludes: “Whether schools organized in this way are labeled learning organizations, learning communities, professional learning communities, professional schools, problem-solving schools, or communities of continuous inquiry and improvement, it is important to keep in mind that what is now envisioned is a quantum leap toward the creation of a setting where inquiry is normal and the conditions of the workplace support continuous, collegial inquiry . . . that involves the total faculty, builds community, serves to increase student learning through the study of instruction and curriculum, and seeks to provide a nurturant organization through collective study of the health of the school (Joyce & Calhoun, 1995, p. 51).

An extensive list of references is provided in the review.

Resource on Professional Development
The Knowledge Loom
Note: The Knowledge Loom showcases the work of nationally-recognized technical assistance organizations, researchers, & outstanding schools & districts. It is being developed by the Northeast & Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University for the U.S. Department of Education.

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