Building a Professional Learning Community

“The best teams have talented people and the requisite skills, but they also possess a powerful third ingredient–community. It’s what separates the great teams from the good ones.” Chick-fil-A.

The term professional or staff development has been used for years and meant educators were receiving opportunities for growth and enhancement. Recently, education has begun changing the term to professional learning and professional learning communities with the assumption that educators are life-long learners within a community. Embedded within the concept of professional learning communities is both internal within the school, or external such as the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA), or Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS).

Truett Cathy founder of the Chick-fil-A corporation believed in the importance of community. The desire to serve one another in the organization as well as members outside of the Chick-fil-A organization has long been a part of the this corporation’s philosophy. Those of us that live in the Atlanta area are well aware of the Chick-fil-A corporation. Besides its black and white cows, Chick-fil-A’s dedication to community takes place through the sponsorship of major events and organizations such as the “Peach Bowl”, Winshape Camp, and Eagle Ranch. Chick-fil-A donates millions of dollars to community centers, schools, churches, clubs, and organizations further emphasizing its efforts to help and support the community. Sad to report, that recently Mr. Cathy passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Chick-fil-A’s long held belief of community is also easily observed in its efforts to bring the best team members into the organization. Purposeful efforts to develop the gifts and talents of staff are also available through workshops volunteer work and membership in organizations such as Toastmasters. Employees’ birthdays, and milestones, are celebrated. Employees are also provided support when sad or serious situations occur. Employees are valued members of the Chick-fil-A community.

Chick-fil-A’s definition of community is: “A place where people serve, celebrate, know, mourn, love and share together.” At our educational institutions our most important role is student learning, but can we also apply the Chick-fil-A’s definition of community at our schools? A high-performance, professional learning community that is focused on a common purpose-student learning. It is a team that is purposeful in its activities not only for student learning but in service to one another.

What would a successful professional learning community look like at a school?
>A noticeable focus on student learning
>Sharing ideas to enhance learning
>Collaborating across departments
>Giving and receiving feedback from peers
>Teachers openly encourage observations
>Involving new faculty and staff
>Providing mentors and coaches for enhanced success
>Staff seeking opportunities for professional learning both inside and outside of the school
>Priority for time purposely set aside for professional learning
>Opportunities for self-reflection and processing
>All members of the faculty are valued and affirmed
>Supporting staff through sad or serious situations
>Celebrating small and significant student and staff accomplishments

Perhaps you aren’t sure if you have a professional learning community, or that you are in the initial steps of developing a professional learning community. Begin with Chick-fil-A’s definition of community, put the name of your school for example: “Happy School is a “place where (student learning is our focus) people serve, celebrate, mourn, love, and share together.” Will student learning take place if your school modeled this definition of community?

Spend time at a leadership team or staff meeting and ask questions about the presence of community at your school.
Are we a community of professional learners?
How do we exemplify community through professional learning?
How do we exemplify this definition of community?
How do we communicate our professional learning community with stakeholders?

These types of questions bring about discussion, so sending them out to your staff prior to the meeting would be helpful. Plan on a longer staff meeting, at a time when the staff isn’t focused on other major events such as homecoming, grades, or parent teacher conferences.

Chick-fil-A gives seven steps how to build community that can easily be applied to professional learning communities at school.
1. Be intentional-community rarely forms spontaneously
2. Be vulnerable
3. Be willing to share from your life experience
4. Celebrate the little things as well as the big wins
5. Express gratitude and appreciation freely
6. Find ways to serve others on the team
7. Never stop looking for ways to experience life together

Best wishes to you and your professional learning community!