Developing a professional learning community
ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone shares her insights into National Quality Framework (NQF) implementation in services.
In the October ACECQA Newsletter, we discussed articulating practice to build a shared understanding of quality education and care with families, colleagues and communities. This month, we’re continuing this discussion to build the capacity of educators and teams to articulate their practice through a professional learning community. A hallmark of an effective professional learning community is when educators, educational leaders and management help, inspire and learn from each other to continually improve quality programs and practices in the service. It’s a way of building collaboration and mutual respect within a team that develops their confidence.
A professional learning community values every member
Quality Area 4 - Staffing arrangements of the National Quality Standard (NQS) defines collaboration as ‘staff being encouraged to respect and value the diverse contributions and viewpoints of their colleagues’. In a collaborative professional learning community, team members share resources, give constructive feedback, and work respectfully and professionally to solve problems. They’re guided by a code of ethics (such as the Early Childhood Australia [ECA] Code of Ethics), the service’s code of conduct and service philosophy.
Standard 4.2 – Professionalism describes relationships between service staff, educators and management based on mutual respect, equity and fairness. Professional learning conversations encourage team members to communicate effectively and respectfully to promote a positive and calm atmosphere. Each team member brings their own strengths, understandings and interests. Engaging in conversations gives them common ground to share ideas, pedagogical beliefs, knowledge, and opportunities for improvement at the service. A professional learning community allows team members to discuss how they’re delivering programs, practices and policies and research and theories informing them. Regular discussions that value everyone’s input further develops skills to improve practices and relationships. Regular formal and informal team discussions also help build educators’ skills and confidence articulating why and how they provide quality education and care. This is an important part of their ongoing communication with families, other educators and professionals, authorised officers and the wider community.
It’s a structured process in a safe space
An effective professional learning community may differ from a typical team meeting. It’s a structured process led by a nominated supervisor, an educational leader or another person who has or is developing leadership skills in this area. The leader’s role is to facilitate and create a safe space for educators and the team to discuss a wide range of topics, as well as their own feelings, beliefs and any challenges they may be facing. Reflective questions encourage deeper thinking about individual and group practices. The Guide to the National Quality Framework provides a list of questions to guide reflection on practice for each standard to promote these discussions. Active participation in professional discussions has the potential to help educators and teams to:
- gain a greater sense of purpose about the importance of their role and responsibilities working with young children and their families
- reflect on current recognised approaches and research on education and care
- share their knowledge, discuss and reflect on the needs of others as professionals, as well as particular children and families
- develop a common language that describes their shared pedagogical beliefs
- reduce any anxiety or uncertainty about articulating why and how they implement quality practices through practical examples
- demonstrate a high level of collaboration, including affirming, challenging, supporting and learning from each other.
It’s about a shared purpose
Professional learning communities encourage educators and teams to work towards common goals for the children, families and the wider education and care community. Teams who actively develop shared goals are more likely to develop a sense of ownership and responsibility, supporting effective implementation. Teams with this sense of shared purpose also develop decision making processes informed by professional standards, including the service’s code of conduct and code of ethics. Collaborating on ethical decision making processes helps educators and service leaders consider a decision’s impact on daily practice and relationships, and articulate its rationale.
It helps practice make perfect Many of us might remember being told that ‘practice makes perfect’ when we were children. Being part of a professional learning community, and being given the opportunity to share ideas and thoughts in a safe space, allows educators and team members to practice and improve their articulation skills. This helps prepare them to confidently and skillfully tackle challenging issues and questions that arise as we provide quality education and care to children attending our services. It also helps them confidently showcase their unique program and practices and the amazing learnings occurring in their services every day to families, community, authorised officers and education and care professionals.
Questions to guide reflection
- How does our approach to professional collaboration align with our service philosophy, policies and procedures?
- Do our professional conversations demonstrate self-awareness of the ethical and professional standards underpinning our practice?
- How does our community influence the way we articulate our practice, with them and for them?
I’d love to see you sharing your journeys
Many educators, educational leaders and service leaders are using professional learning circles to inform practice changes to improve children’s learning outcomes. Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study is a helpful framework. I encourage you to share your rich stories of success and challenge with us on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below. They might inspire others to start a professional learning circle, and I look forward to reading about them and continuing this conversation.
Further reading and resources
ACECQA Newsletter – Articulating practice – bigger than the sum of the words
Australian Government Department of Education and Training – Leading Learning Circles for educators engaged in study