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Learning Communities

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 6 months ago

Learning Communities Research

 under construction


What are the characteristics of successful learning communities?






Educational development networks that employ organizational structures that are loose, responsive, and accountable are well suited to this era of new technologies and potentially rapid change (Lieberman, 2000, p. 221).


Teacher professional development networks provide an organizational means to serve school-based educators within the context of their own work. This network is composed of school- and university-based educators and is organized “to work together to better serve students” (Lieberman, 2000, p. 226) by providing a context of support for each educator.


Accordingly, teacher professional development networks can emerge spontaneously or intentionally based on the need for people to work together “on an agreed-upon purpose” (Lieberman, 2000, p. 226). These agreed-upon purposes develop and shift over time, thus the need for organizational structures to be relatively loose and flexible. Being loose and flexible does not mean the organizational structure does not promote or provide accountability measures. Instead, accountability criteria become part of the networks structure wherein requisite measures and milestones are factored in to the networks underlying structures themselves.


One major benefit of teacher professional development networks is that they support bureaucratic reforms by tying professional development and growth to the interests and needs of practitioners.





Historical contributions


Parker (1977)

Sixty school improvement networks were explored in the late 1970s by Allen Parker. Parker’s research (1977) identified five key operational characteristics within these networks:



* commitment to an idea

* shared purpose

* a mix of information sharing and psychological support

* a facilitator who insures participation and equal treatmcontributionent

* an egalitarian ethos


Other educational researchers picked up and expanded Parker’s analysis by examining the theoretical implications from both the inside of the network and outside (Miles, 1978; Rosenbaum, 1977, Schon, 1977; McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995).


Mc_Laughlin and Talbert (1993)

Mc_Laughlin and Talbert (1993) examined secondary schools over a 5-year period and discovered that teachers who took risks and looked for new ways of working with their students developed organic learning networks with their peers thusly creating norms for an open, supportive professional development environment. These networks provided a structure for practitioners to share lesson plans, to learn from one another, and support each other in their practice, what we might call a critical friends groups.


Newmann and Wehlage (1995)

In 1995 Newmann and Wehlage conducted a national 5-year study examining the common characteristics of elementary schools that were intentionally retooling organizational structures to better meet the needs of their students. They discovered that successful schools featured a professional network of practitioners who took collective responsibility in working together to develop a shared, clear purpose towards improving student learning.


It is clear from both Mc_Laughlin and Talbert’s (1993) and Newmann and Wehlage’s (1995) research that school-based professional learning communities provided educators with the kinds of organizational structures that made professional learning both continuous and sustainable.


Lieberman and Grolnick (1996)

In 1996, Lieberman and Grolnick conducted research on 16 educational reform networks operating for a minimum of 5 years. They examined common themes and tensions associated with these networks and discovered that, regardless of the network’s genesis, the networks themselves served as training grounds for practitioners to collaboratively work together, work toward building consensus, and commit to continuous learning and professional development (Lieberman & Grolnick, 1996). Collaboration and collaborative relationships provided opportunities for practitioners to build trusting among network members which is critical to the nurturing and development of new ideas. According to Lieberman and Grolnick (1996) these new ideas aided in the building of network “buzz,” i.e., interest and participation, as participants ideas and practices further developed and transformed.


In terms of tensions that were noted by Lieberman and Grolnick’s (1996) study, many practitioner participants in these networks were continuously trying to balance long-term goals and short-term needs within their network and their daily, professional (school-based) practice. In this regard, Lieberman (2000) notes:


“Sustaining educators’ commitment and interest hinges on keeping work focused on practice. However, focusing on practice involves taking a position as to where the knowledge comes from that informs the work of the network. This is of great importance because networks are trying to bring people together who have different ways of acquiring, developing, and using knowledge (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1993; Sirotnik and Goodlad, 1998). Keeping a balance between inside knowledge (the experiential knowledge of teachers) and outside knowledge (knowledge created by research and conceptualization) is a hallmark of successful collaboratives” (p. 223).




In order for professional teacher networks to survive, the energy, participation, and commitment of network participants is vital. Organizational structures must be able to work with the bureaucratic needs of federal, state, and local authorities, as well as the needs of the school-based practitioner. Teacher professional development networks can provide a bridge that supports administrative directives and the growth and development needs of practitioners.




Outside Resources

  • Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1993). Inside/outside: Teacher research and teacher knowledge. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999a). Teacher learning in professional communities: Three knowledge-practice relationships. In P.D. Pearson & A. Iran-Nejad (Eds.), Review of research in education (Vol. 24, pp. 251-307). Washington, DC: American educational Research Association.
  • Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999b). The teacher research movement: A decade later. Educational Researcher, 28(7), 15-25.
  • Darling-Hammond, L. (1993). Reframing the school reform agenda: developing capacity for school transformation. Phi Delta Kappan, 74(10), 753-761.
  • Lieberman, A. (1992, September). The meaning of scholarly activity and the building of community. Educational Researcher.
  • Lieberman, A. (2000). Networks as learning communities: Shaping the future of teacher development. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 221-227.
  • Lieberman, A., & Mc_Laughlin, M. W. (1992). Networks for educational change: Powerful and problematic. Phi Delta Kappan, 73(9), 673-677.
  • Lieberman, A., & Grolnick, M. (1996). Networks and reform in in American education. Teachers College Record, 98(1), 7-45.
  • Mc_Laughlin, M. W., & Talbert, J. W. (1993). Contexts that matter for teaching and learning. Palo Alto, CA: Context Center on Secondary School Teaching.
  • Miles, M. B. (1978). On networking. Unpublished manuscript, Center for Policy Research, National Institute of Education, Washington, DC.
  • Newmann, F., & Wehlage, G. (1995). Successful school restructuring. Madison: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Parker, A. (1977). Networks for innovation and problem solving and their use for improving education: A comparative overview. Unpublished manuscript, School Capacity for Problem Solving Group, National Institute for Education, Washington, DC.
  • Rosenbaum, A. (1977). Social networks as a policy resource: Some insights drawn from the community organizational and community action experiences. Unpublished manuscript, Network Development Staff, School Capacity for Problem Solving Group, National Institute of Education, Washington, DC.
  • Schon, D. A. (1977). Network related intervention. Unpublished manuscript, Center for Policy Research, national Institute of Education, Washington, DC.
  • Sirotnik, K., & Goodlad, J. I. (1988). School university partnerships: Concepts and cases. New York: Teachers College Press.



Analyzing Social Networks

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