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Essay II Submission for Commonwealth Education Trust Course

Towards the end of the 19th century in the UK, dairies began delivering milk at the doorstep. These were delivered early in the morning and left there till people woke up to receive them. Two species of garden birds, titmice and red robins were attracted to these deliveries. These bottles didn't have caps but had a layer of cream on top. These birds both learnt how to skim off the layer and drink the milk before the owners woke up. Later, in the 1930's, the British dairies thought of solving this problem by devising an aluminum cap for the bottles. However, this did not deter the feathered thieves. They learnt how to peck through the cap and drank the milk anyway. It was observed that virtually the entire population of titmice mastered the milk bottle trick. The red robin thieves, however, remained few and far between. How did the titmice outdo red robins?
According to Alan Wilson, a professor of biology at the University of California at Berkeley, the explanation, could be found in the social propagation process- the way titmice spread their skill from one individual to members of the species as a whole. If we see the structure of interaction in red robin and titmice societies: Red Robins are territorial. They stake out their private realms and defend the boundaries. Titmice, in contrast, form small foraging flocks with changes in membership every now and then. This meant that when a robin made a milk-bottle breakthrough, other robins usually did not learn about it. When a titmouse made the same breakthrough, other titmice in the flock would see, learn, and do, and others would learn from them as flock membership rotated, until an entire population emerged as milk bottle plunderers. So, what would you like to be-the red robin or the titmice? What are Professional Learning Communities?
'International evidence suggests that educational reform's progress depends on teachers' individual and collective capacity and its link with school-wide capacity for promoting pupils' learning. Building capacity is therefore critical. Capacity is a complex blend of motivation, skill, positive learning, organisational conditions and culture, and infrastructure of support. Put together, it gives individuals, groups, whole school communities and school systems the power to get involved in and sustain learning over time.' (Stoll et al. 2006; 221)
(Stoll, L., Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Wallace, M. & Thomas, S. (2006) Professional learning communities: a review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change 7. 221-258). The main finding from the Creating and Sustaining Effective Professional Learning Communities (EPLC) project, funded by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), the General Teaching Council for England (GTCe) and the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) from January 2002 to October 2004 states that an effective professional learning community fully exhibits eight key characteristics:

  • shared values and vision
  • collective responsibility for pupils' learning
  • collaboration focused on learning
  • individual and collective professional learning
  • reflective professional enquiry
  • openness, networks and partnerships
  • inclusive membership
  • mutual trust, respect and support

Why do we need Professional Learning Communities? There is a lot of talk about the paradigm shift in education over a span of a little over two decades. But clearly what is also happening is that as a result of that a large number of teachers, around the world, are also feeling the need to develop strategies and expertise to match up. The term "Staff Professional Development" was replaced by "Continuous Professional Development" to depict the dynamic nature of education and now the phrase "Professional Learning Communities" is gathering momentum. The scene today demands the teachers to be in a learning mode constantly and to work in collaboration with each other. These are also the attributes that we want to inculcate in our young learners-to be able to reflect at their own learning, understand how they learn best and work towards what would make them better learners. So, how does this work?