As part of the course I taught online at Queens University over the summer, we investigated PLCs (professional learning communities), and the students were required to engage with one and report back on their success. As a follow up, I received an email the other day from a former student asking about PLCs. Here is an abridged version:
Hi Paul, I hope all is well. I was in your Collaborative Inquiry course during the summer. I honestly and truly enjoyed and learned a lot from the course. So much so that at my new job we recently had our first PLC meeting. It was quite awkward (which I know is to be expected). I was talking to my breakout group about building trust and getting to know one another. They asked me to share this with the larger group and I did (reluctantly being the 'new guy') and the principal of my program said that she would like to speak further to me about PLCs.
I am of course a bit nervous both being new to the school while still wanting to share all of the good things I learned. I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to how I should share? I believe all of my apprehensions go directly to the issue of trust in a PLC, but want to know how to best overcome this and present ideas effectively. Do you have any ideas or could point me in the direction of an article that would explain this? Sorry to bother, you but I feel that you were the best person to contact in this instance. Best regards, your student
My response was as follows:
Well, you have gotten off to a good start in your new position. That is great. As for the question of PLCs, you have identified the most crucial element. As a teacher, that is the very same element that we need to secure first in the classroom – is it safe to ask questions? To be me?
I have found a great deal of inspiration through the community of inquiry model (https://coi.athabascau.ca/coi-model/), which I think applies in many collaborative situations. I wrote a paper which is in review now about using this model to manage communities. The goal I think is to make the community feel safe through the social presence – making sure they understand the purpose of the community and letting each other know their own personal goals within the larger community. This is a great activity in itself to let the participants place themselves in the community and in a context where they feel they can contribute.
Also, you as facilitator, need to manage this process.
The next step is to clarify the notion of teaching presence. This is the guiding force of the community. These are the questions that we ask each other and more importantly, the include the permission to ask questions. If we expect questions and tell each other that we are expected to ask questions, when we actually do so, it is easier. You may have noted that even in our discussion boards, people still get a bit put out when some one asks a question or challenges them. However, that is the point. And we just do it in the context of learning.
Once we have social presence and teaching presence, then we will get cognitive presence, and not before.
Have a read of the two articles and look at the website and the actual model. It may take awhile for it all to sink in, but trust me, I have been relying on this model for at least 10 years and it still works perfectly.