Whether you are a principal, a teacher leader, or an external change facilitator who would like to develop a professional learning community within a school, one of the first steps to consider is an assessment of readiness.
To define the term "readiness", picture two schools. In School A, block scheduling provides most teachers some common daily planning/work time. The principal is well respected by staff, and many of the staff interact professionally with each other. Some teachers have been asked in the past to be part of decision-making committees or problem-solving groups, and the staff as a whole communicates a general philosophy of doing what is best for the students.
On the other hand, School B uses a traditional schedule that provides little time for teachers’ common planning and requires teachers to use some of that time to monitor duty stations (recess, lunch, before/after school). The principal is seen as an authoritarian who makes decisions that are accepted by staff without question or comment. Not all teachers know each other’s names, and members of the staff limit their interactions to those teachers with whom they share location or grade level. When asked about their guiding vision, staff members read the district mission statement from the front cover of their grade books.
Clearly School A is at a higher state of readiness for developing a professional learning community than School B for several reasons:
- The block scheduling already provides time for teachers to work together on a regular basis.
- The principal has shown a willingness to share leadership and decision making in the past.
- Staff are collegial, respecting each other and their administrator.
- All staff can communicate a common value and focus on student learning, even in the absence of an "official" vision.
Assessing readiness provides opportunity for one to take note of the barriers that limit previous or current improvement efforts, as well as the strengths that can nurture the development of community. The methods for determining readiness, or whether a school is a strong candidate for developing a professional learning community, will vary with the role of the change facilitator.