[Opinion] Transforming School into a Learning Community

Shafiqur Rehman 

School as learning community means a place where every individual has an equal chance to learn by sharing, caring, discussing and reflecting on the practices and activities and making future plan for improved learning outcomes. The metaphor of the learning community assumes that schools are expected to facilitate the learning for all individuals, and educators are ideally positioned to address fundamental issues and concerns in relation to learning (Mitchell and Sackney, 2000).

Learning does not mean acquiring information, but expanding the ability to produce the outcome we truly want in life, argues Senge (1994). The expandability depends on several approaches; learners belong to different communities, where community is seen as a group of people with common ideas and goals. Traditional beliefs are that learning is for the student and the knowledge comes from teachers. However “this notion is now changing as learning is considered to be for the whole community” points out Retallick and Farah (2005). In learning community a two way learning takes place between the teachers and the students as well as from their practices. Such environment occurs in a free environment where there is reflective practice, inquiry and free communication that builds confidence in students that they can ask even their personal problems. It also effects on their academic achievement.

We have to understand how staff are creating and developing their professional learning communities.  Development is not smooth, it is a complex process. It is not easy to go through; it needs sustainable work over a number of years. To develop professional learning community in a school we have to create such social setting where members interact in a meaningful way. Interactions develop a culture of continuous learning between members. The positive interdependence encourages reflective and collaborative practices. An enabling environment is created by extending the practices to the administration, management and support staff. They become part of the integrated network in the learning process described as “all playing in the same team and working towards the same goal (better school)”  Hoerr (1996, p.381) quoted by Hord (1997). Sharing personal practice develops an environment that values and supports hard work, the acceptance of challenging tasks and the promotion of growth.

In this environment where people work together, relationship develops between teachers/ students and peers. They facilitate change and develop values. Values develop a unique practice of continuous learning by all. Respect and care develop apparently inclusive of all members. A sense of belonging and mutual trust becomes part of their daily life practice (Hord, 1999).The inclusion extends beyond the school boundaries. The community is involved in the learning process. They all become learners in a way get involved in school activities, support systems and make decision. The school extends learning activities to the community and thus learning also takes place in the community.

Another important thing which helps in transforming the school into a learning community is that all members share a common vision. A vision means a common view of the stakeholders (teachers, head teachers, students and parents). Retallick and Farah said that vision is vital as it provides focus and energy for learning, this view is supported by Senge (1990), values and vision makes learning community unique and they provide direction of focus.

The change in learning communities cannot happen overnight. Sensitization of teachers together with their administration will be crucial. Initiation should be in small steps. Constant monitoring of the change is important to facilitate support in moving to the right direction.

Now a days every one gives highest importance to academic achievement. Schools see children as learners and try to fix them according to their needs. Examination systems are based on memorization. Schools have rigid systems and prepare students for the sake of exam. There is no exercise of critical thinking and problem solving.

The change in learning communities will be very beneficial to all the members of the community. This is because the characteristics imply very well the advantages to all the members of the community. The real meaning of a school is to produce learned students who can fit well in the society and be beneficial to all. Promotion of this idea involves personal internalization. The idea should also be shared with the community and the stakeholders.

In traditional classrooms everyone learns the same thing at the same time through rote learning, with little attention to the quality of learning. In contrast in a learning community there could be opportunities for students to participate in different ways related to building their individual identity (Retallick and Farah, 2005).For example, students might peruse a deeper understanding of the topic of their choice that might be a part of a negotiated curriculum.

Creating, developing and sustaining a professional learning community is a major strategic leadership and management task. The contribution of the head and senior staff is crucial, not only in achieving positive working relationships, but it is also important to bring about respect and create culture, where staffs feel value. Educational Leaders also needed to promote to focus on learning. Successful educational leaders have a clear sense of their own values and vision, and the confidence to model good practice. Distributed leadership in various forms should be in the school. There should be mentoring and coaching support for leaders at different levels.

Educational Leaders of successful schools develop moral order that bind the people to one another. When establishing culture, principals must be able to infuse various ideas, beliefs, values, theories and decision making into their school. Collaborative discourse is a powerful tool that can be used to facilitate the process of developing school culture and climate. Leaders who look to build their school communities must recognize that educators achieve a collective purpose resulting from their collegiality, in establishing a successful school.

School leaders must be attentive to the content of professional development. The actual skills and knowledge to be acquired through the professional development initiatives. They must also consider the importance of the process of professional development. The specific strategies used to help human resources acquire the intended knowledge and skill’  (Rick Dufour, 1997, p.2). But the most important element in a professional development programme that promotes the creation of a learning community is the context of the school’s culture, the attitudes, behaviors, expectations, and beliefs that constitute the group norm.

Principals who desire to improve a school’s culture must foster an atmosphere that helps teachers, students, and parents know where they fit in and how they can work as a community to support teaching and learning. Creating a school culture requires instructional leaders to develop a shared vision that is clearly communicated to faculty and staff .In addition principals must create a climate that encourages shared authority and responsibility if they are to build a positive school culture.

It is important for leadership in the schools to establish and maintain professional learning communities. Successful PLCs will require a shift in the traditional leadership role from leader-centered (top-down) to shared leadership. The view of the principal as the instructional leader is changing to one that reflects the principal’s role within a community of learners and leaders. Through commitment and creation of a shared vision the team becomes empowered to work together and achieve goals. This process involves sharing diverse ideas and making compromises so that all stakeholders are satisfied with the direction in which the school is moving.

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