Professional learning communities
Continuing professional development, through professional learning communities (PLCs)
Every profession has its own professional association for learning and sharing – like doctors, lawyers, accountants, IAS officers and so on. These associations are a method of continuous interactions with fellow practitioners (peers) and allow methods of learning beyond the college or university. You have also learnt earlier about social constructivism and how we learn from each other and how conceptual learning and contextual understanding are equally important.
Teachers, as professionals too need to connect regularly to their peers, for sharing their experiences, practices as well as insights and learnings. They also need to be able to contact peers as well as mentors for seeking support. However, in the large school system in India, we find that teachers are often isolated in their practice and they have no way of sharing their experiences, reflecting and sharing understanding or seeking solutions for their specific challenges. In the traditional in-service teacher training programmes, the learning is usually at a point in time; teachers learn in workshops, and there is limited opportunity for interactions after that. They largely do not have any formal, organized methods of being in touch with their trainers or with each other to extend the learning after the workshop. Hence, field-level problems are difficult to solve and also teachers are not able to share their experiences, ideas and resources with one another. After the training workshops, teacher interactions is very limited and physical meetings at the cluster, block or district levels are often not enough to meet these needs.
See a talk on professional learning communities
While professional communities and associations have been there for a long time, ICTs have made possible ways of connecting and communicating with each other simpler and more accessible. Online communities are often a good way of continuing interactions beyond the restrictions of meetings of physical time and space. Online communities can be mailing forums or discussion groups and can be accessed either through your phone or the computer. The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCF-TE, 2010) talks about a pioneering model of teacher education with the following key components - (i) integrating technology tools for teaching learning, (ii) collaborative networks for learning and sharing, (iii) continuous learning models that allow for different paths and spaces for learning. Peer learning is regarded as a key component of Teacher Professional Development.
In Karnataka, DSERT has implemented an in-service teacher training programme called the “Subject Teacher Forum” where the training programme has incorporated technology for classroom teaching methods as well as for creating networks for collaborative and peer learning. Mailing forums are a good way to keep the teacher community in contact with one another and serve as a complement for the physical communities and interactions and provide for learning beyond the workshops. Teacher use the mailing forum to share their experiences, share resources, ask for clarifications, share question papers, share activities and ideas for CCE, issues in school administration and for general information sharing as well.
Over 5,000 teachers are members of these mailing forums in Karnataka. In Karnataka, there are mailing forums for DIET faculty (email@example.com), Head Teachers (firstname.lastname@example.org), mathematics and science teachers (email@example.com), social science teachers (firstname.lastname@example.org), Kannada teachers (email@example.com) and English teachers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Professional Learning Communities is a recent method for continuing professional development and by providing teachers with peer support, it can be a sustainable method of development. You should also try to form such a community in the school that you would teach in. The steps to form such a PLC are explained in http://www.centerforcsri.org/plc/index.html