Professional Learning Community

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By Dr. Kendall Zoller
A commentary on Michael Grinder’s model.


Professional Learning Community

This slide is from a keynote I delivered at the California Mathematics and Science Partnership Fall Conference in Sacramento. The keynote, Forging Partnerships: Tools for building collaborative groups, proposed to link the works of DuFour, Garmston and Wellman, Grinder, and Zoller & Landry to show the macro and micro models of school improvement.

Specifically, the talk illustrated how the Professional Learning Community is a structure, Adaptive Schools is the ecology of community, and 7 Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters is the behavioral foundation grounded in the Pentimento model by Grinder.

Pentimento: The presence or emergence of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over.

The Professional Learning Community model proposed by Richard Dufour offers a “what” and “why” explanation for schools to become learning communities. His powerful model explains what a Professional Learning Community is and why you need it. However, the

PLC macro-model does little to define or explain “how” to behaviorally establish and maintain a Professional Learning Community. It is a “macro” model because it provides the structural elements of a Professional Learning Community; it does not include the specific and essential behavioral elements—the “micro” components–of a highly functional Professional Learning Community.

Enacting a PLC is where the Adaptive Schools macro-model proposed by Garmston and Wellman comes in. On a macro-scale, Adaptive Schools (“AS”) is a large component of “how” to support and maintain a Professional Learning Community. In their book The Adaptive Schools (2008), they provide the “what,” “why,” and “how” of the behavioral and structural elements embedded in its framework. The structural elements include Ways of Talking, Norms of Collaboration, Group Member Capabilities, effective meeting structures, and facilitation moves. The behavioral elements of AS include voice, pause, and gesture, however these elements are not as fully developed as the Grinder Pentimento micro-model or the 7 Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters micro-model proposed by Zoller and Landry.

Engage in true dialogues and ensure that all voices are heard.

For a Professional Learning Community to be successful, it is essential for the Community to be proficient in the tools and strategies of the Adaptive Schools. By embracing the elements of the Adaptive School model, the PLC will engage in true dialogues and ensure that all voices are heard.

Taking this one step further, to be fully adept at Adaptive Schools it is essential to be proficient in the Pentimento or the 7 Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters.

The nonverbal patterns of communication provide structures that support congruence, establish and maintain credibility and rapport, and provide ways of recognizing and influencing group dynamics and group permission. The Grinder model is a ”micro” model that provides the how on a discrete behavioral level. Within the Grinder micro model there are descriptions and explanations of “what” and “why.”

The following explanation illustrates the importance and essential requirement of knowing the Grinder model. Assume a group member intellectually understands Inquiry, Probing, Paraphrasing, Naïve Questions Pausing, and Advocacy. In addition, assume that the group member does not have conscious awareness of non-verbal patterns: when they speak, they speak independent of knowing the “permission level” (degree of receptivity) of the group.

The nonverbal patterns of communication provide structures that support congruence, establish and maintain credibility and rapport, and provide ways of recognizing and influencing group dynamics and group permission.

If the permission level is high, then the group is receptive and the speaker is okay. If permission is low, then the group is not receptive and the speaker may get into trouble. Knowing the Grinder micro-level offers an advantage to implementing the Garmston/Wellman model.

Linking these three models together generates at least two assumptions and one implication:

1. Assumption: Implementing Dufour’s Professional Learning Community independent of Garmston and Wellman’s Adaptive Schools will produce a less effective Professional Learning Community

2. Assumption: Implementing Garmston and Wellman independent of Grinder’s Pentimento or Zoller and Landry’s 7 Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters may be functional; however, they will have a limited proactive and reactive capability.

3. Implication: By being conscious of the nonverbal models, any member, including the person-in-charge, can be proactive within each of the other two models and thus more effective.

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