We have used the term ‘learning groups’ as an umbrella term which covers groups of teachers working together on their own professional development. Some of these groups might call themselves professional learning communities, while others might be communities of practice but in general the idea of these groups is that the members of the group learn together, usually by examining and inquiring into their own developing practice. Typically the agenda is set by the group and there is no particular leader although there may be someone or some people who take responsibility for coordinating the group.
The mascil toolkit, from which we draw some of our professional development materials, suggests that if you are coordinating professional development for a group of teachers:
- Discuss the most convenient time for teachers to meet. Is any day of the week better than others?
- Consider how much time to leave between meetings so that teachers can use the toolkit within their classroom practice.
- One possible way of ensuring a collaborative atmosphere is quickly developed is for a different school to host each of the meetings. If this is the case, decide who will organise practical aspects of each meeting such as sending reminders, organising refreshments, booking rooms and so on?
- In terms of the number of meetings to hold, decide as a group whether you want a fixed number or do you plan for the group to become self-sustaining and meet regularly throughout the school year?
- Although you are coordinator of the group, you might like to share leadership with others in the group.
- Discuss within the group whether you want to invite others to join. It could be that teachers identify colleagues along the way, whom they think would benefit from joining the group. This could change the dynamic of the group so you should consider this question carefully and as a whole group.
- Members of the group might like to communicate with each other between meetings, to share their thinking, make arrangements and so on. Consider setting up an online forum such as FaceBook page.
- Much of the professional development material includes videos of teachers, accessed via the Internet. If you are intending to use the video, make sure that you have Internet access and a way of projecting it.
The FaSMEd experience
A ‘learning groups’ approach was used by two FaSMEd partners (UNEW and UNOTT). For example, UNOTT organised groups of three teachers to follow three cycles of planning, implementing, observing, discussing and revising for each FaSMEd lesson. This included teachers observing one another’s practice in the classroom and generating feedback for their peers.
Here are two films of teachers from the North East of England working together: In the first school, four teachers work together to develop their practice. In School 2 the whole department focuses on developing one activity with a plan, do and review cycle.
Click below to read about another approach: