2.3.4 Deeper forms of networked learning for teachers
Some educators and scholar practitioners—particularly the principals of the AESN and NOII in BC (Halbert and Kaser), have sought to document the ways in which some networks enable deeper forms of learning for their participants. In a recent publication they have written about these differences from the ubiquitous references to ‘networks’ and ‘networked learning’ that dominate the scholarly literature on teacher learning and suggest that the deeper forms of networked learning are characterized by:
- Clarity of purpose through shared focus
- Collaborative inquiry that stimulates challenging, evidence-informed learning conversations
- Trusting relationships that build social capital for learning
- Leadership for learning through formal and informal roles, including skilled facilitation of networking links
- Evidence seeking about intermediate and end processes and outcomes linked to theories of action
- Attention to the connection between the network and the individual professional learning community of each participating school (Stoll, Halbert & Kaser, 2012, p. 3).
Finally, what becomes clear in the literature is that successful and sustainable PLCs operate like an ecosystem or living systems (Mitchell & Sackney, 2011). Such systems are fluid, flexible, diverse and self-regulated, rather than uniform, controllable or predictable. In a similar vein, educational change and school improvement are “organic processes” that emerge naturally from the interactions among and deep learning of the partners in a PLC and, like any human process, “educational change is paradoxical, ambiguous, multi-layered, and evolutionary” (p. 150). The messiness of such work is echoed in the findings of Halbert and Kaser (2013) who argued that inquiry processes are essentially recursive spirals that “pay attention to emergent knowledge and new practices by encouraging widespread micro innovations… so we can solve the tough problems involved in creating both high quality and equity [learning environments] for all learners” (p. 13). The emphasis on the application of new learning to emerging contexts also makes evident that inquiry is as much a stance (mindset) as it is an action cycle and a process of investigation.
This brief review has illustrated that effective PLCs and networks are forms of professional development that can enhance both teacher learning and student outcomes; yet building such structures is not easy. There are tensions and dilemmas concerning the question of what constitutes learning, where the inquiry cycle should start, and to what extent the educational structure may have to change or be modified so as to facilitate developing a nurturing culture through which professional learning can be supported and enabled. The current theoretical and empirical literature also holds implications for proliferating local practices with PLCs, networks and teacher inquiry, which can adopt and adapt successful practices from elsewhere to suit their particular contexts. It is also likely that creative local practices with teacher learning will contribute significantly to the body of literature and collective knowledge on professional development and PLCs and ultimately benefit all students in our education system.