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Community of Learners!


Remember the first couple of weeks of school? I remember looking through a math text and thinking that all I had to do was every little bit of homework and review every night and I would be able to do really well! I remember that feeling of meeting my friends after the summer holidays and feeling like I had heaps of friends. I was happy to be back at school, hopeful that I would be successful and feeling lucky to have my friends around me.

My first vice principal called it the ‘Honeymoon’; the first few weeks when the students are positive and ready to TRY!

How can we extend the ‘Honeymoon’? What makes students keep trying? What can we do to keep students working and trying to succeed in each subject? How we maintain this positive attitude?

The same is true for teachers! Each year we start with high hopes of supporting each child’s learning needs. Building a community of learners with colleagues and student teachers becomes something that sustains our practice. We have found through the Network of Inquiry and Innovation www.noii.ca that when we develop a community of adult learners in the same way as we do with our classes, we can maintain our professional honeymoon longer also. We develop a question together that we research throughout the year and we support each other as we each problem solve in our classes. We develop professional resources and create a community in the same manner as I have explained that we plan for students.

Some physical things I do:

  • Decorate the class
  • Let students choose where to sit and make the groups bigger so no one is left out of a group (let students talk about where they will be comfortable
  • Put pens and pencils and paper on the desks
  • Put a basket of reading choices on the tables or desks
  • Start a cleaning routine (like washing hands with good smelling soap as they enter the class, or change shoes if dirty)

Things we do with our Professional Community of Learners:

  • Create a meeting place with food
  • Invite others and respect timelines and advocating for each other to participate as much or as little as they can
  • Provide choice in reading and offer summaries
  • Discuss readings
  • Brainstorm ways to work together and to share ideas
  • Plan together and even bring classes together to help each other try new strategies
  • Plan for students to mentor other classes
  • Inquire and Innovate together and share with staff and other staff
  • Celebrate!

So back to the start of the year with my class…

I explicitly teach why I have created this physical space and routines. I accentuate that we are a community and we have to make sure that everyone is feeling comfortable and safe and welcome. We are building a learning community!

The next steps are to take the time to gather tools and processes like brainstorming, partner work, small group work, reporting back to the larger group, ‘placemat’ strategy and any other process that I have on the ready as a teacher to get students to express as a Learning Community what it will look like. My experience is that most children in school can tell you what it looks like. It is clean, orderly, polite, inclusive, and respectful. Students can express what they need to succeed. They need the class to not be in chaos. They need work that makes sense. They need help when they need help – they need feedback. They need a friend to support their learning. They need to be healthy. They need to talk about their learning. They need quiet time and they need to be active sometimes. Students know and after they have described it in a process, they can create a document or a group charter that they all agree is what they will work towards.

In our work, we have called it the 4 C’s (Communication, Control, Cooperation and Commitment). Mary-Lynn Epps has a document that explains her step by step approach to this (you will have to ctrl and click)

step by step


Many have found the step by step works well for them; however, as long as your intention is to lead a process where your students create a document that outlines what this learning community this year will look like and clearly explains what each member needs to work towards so that everyone will be successful, it will be a process that teaches many skills necessary for the coming year. Students listening and expressing their needs in partners and small groups and reporting to the larger group are skills that they will use in each lesson. Students thinking together about how to be even more successful will be the goal in each lesson for the coming year. Does it sound like how we can make the honeymoon last longer in an adult relationship?

How much time do we spend on this process? Hours and days and we refer back to it many times each day. We do this because when the community is in place and we have effective communication, students have invaluable opportunities to work together, model after each other, give each other feedback, and socialize. They learn about different learners and about different ways to solve problems. Students can work in teams to make their work stronger. The days go by faster! The honeymoon lasts longer.

Next blog will be more about teaching specific skills or building a tool boxes for students. These are the tools required for a community of learners eg: A/B partner work, graphic organizers, mindmaps, Performance standards and communicating what’s working to self and others, reading to learn skills such as: inference, reading responses, reading for information (graphic organizers), quick writes, and writing skills such as: show don’t tell and strong beginnings and endings and EDITTING!! (the writing process).

I will also include some examples of tools and processes that we have found successful for our professional learning community. This is truly essential for us to be able to implement new things into our practice. The improvements happen faster if we can provide each other with feedback on how any strategy might be more effective. Teachers have to spend too much time without that professional feedback and so we plan for it in The Propeller Model. We also include student teachers as they bring lots of energy and new ideas to the table.

I will spend the next little while searching for examples of our tools and processes and many are from the books of Faye Brownlie and I will be back soon.

Kerry Armstrong MA

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