Building a Professional Learning Community at Work

My first book—co-authored with my friend and colleague Parry Graham and titled Building a Professional Learning Community at Work—has finally hit the shelves!  My copies landed on my doorstep about two weeks ago, and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.

What you’ll see if you decide to pick up a copy is that we’ve started each chapter with the story of Steve—the fictional principal of Central Middle school—and his colleagues who are working to restructure their traditional school as a professional learning community.

The stories that we include detail common PLC challenges—setting vision, overcoming conflict, wrestling with data—in an approachable narrative that will resonate with readers simply because they are drawn from real experiences that Parry and I have had in our work as both members and leaders of learning communities.  Through Steve and his peers, we’re able to share first-hand accounts of what life really looks like inside a developing PLC.

Our stories are followed by research on organizational theory that explain the hows and whys of change in human organizations and sets of practical recommendations on action steps that teams in different stages of collective growth can take to move forward together.  We draw explanations from noted thinkers like Philip Ball, Clay Shirky, Roland Barth, James Surowiecki and Kerry Patterson.

Readers learn about the ways that technology can decrease transaction costs, how phase transitions in physics—think water moving from room temperature to boiling—can can offer insight into change in school communities, and why the collective intelligence of multiple thinkers always produces better results than individuals working alone.

Each chapter ends with sets of handouts—which are all posted online at Solution Tree’s website—that can be used to structure the work of learning teams.  You’ll find everything from surveys designed to collect information on team development and trust between colleagues to tools for helping teachers to make good decisions and to resolve conflict with peers.

So far, our book has been well-received!  Rick and Becky DuFour were impressed enough to allow Parry and I to publish our title under their “PLC at Work” brand.  They also shared their excitement for the potential of our text in the introduction to our book, where they wrote:

One of the most common questions we hear from educators who become willing to implement the PLC concept in their own schools is, “But where do we start?”

Graham and Ferriter have answered that question, very specifically, in this powerful book. It is a wonderful contribution to the literature on Professional Learning Communities at Work, and we highly recommend it to educators at all levels who recognize that the practices of the past are inadequate to meet the challenges of the present.

(page xii)

Building a Professional Learning Community at Work has also caught the attention of one of my PLC heroes, Anne Jolly—author of Team to Teach:  A Facilitator’s  Guide to Professional Learning Communities, the newly-revised version of a text that saved my learning team from self-destruction almost five years ago.  In reviewing our text on Amazon, Anne wrote:

“What a terrific resource! The authors have done a great job of organizing this book – starting each chapter with a real-life story and ending with a set of practical tools that have been well thought-out. The “Tools for 21st Century Learning Teams” is a tremendously useful addition.

This book is well-designed, well-written, and packed with useful information. I can see myself using it in my own work with professional learning teams. Kudos to the authors! You’ve given educators a practical and engaging resource!”

I was also honored when Larry Ferlazzo, one of the most respected members of my personal learning network, found Building a PLC at Work valuable.  Larry writes:

“Through his book, I’ve learned that [PLCs are] basically about strategically and intentionally developing a “community of learners” among school staff.

Bill and his co-author Parry Graham have put together a very accessible step-by-step guide on how to go about creating this kind of culture, including ways to trouble-shoot potential challenges. The questions that it encourages readers to ask themselves and their colleagues might be the most important parts of the book.”

In the end, I’m proud of what Parry and I have produced and I sincerely hope that it helps other teachers and school leaders who are struggling to make professional learning communities work in their own buildings.

As a guy who has had his own professional career completely changed by the opportunity to work closely with motivated colleagues, I know how important—and empowering—PLCs can be when they are done right.  Our goal as authors has always been to show others what “right” looks like in action.

If you happen to read BPLC at Work, I’d love to hear what you think of it!  Be sure to leave me a comment with your feedback.  As a long-time blogger, I recognize the collective power that rests in the minds of my audience.

Rock right on,

Bill

5 thoughts on “Building a Professional Learning Community at Work

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Interesting, Kevin….I guess what you’re being picky about is my use of the word “I” instead of the word “me” in that sentence, huh?
    That’s the math teacher in you again!
    Always following rules and thinking analytically may create technically perfect pieces, but technically perfect pieces aren’t all that much fun to read!
    And for me, that’s a trade-off I’m not willing to make…especially on a blog designed as a forum for informal reflection. My voice is casual here. Always has been…always will be.
    Does this make sense to you?
    Bill

  2. Kevin

    How many English teachers will read a book promoted with “… impressed enough to allow Parry and I to publish …”?

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