Communities that Learn, Lead, and Last: Building and Sustaining Educational Expertise (2008) by Giselle O. Martin-Kniep. Reviewed by: Amy Albanese and Tim Patterson

This book takes a look at organizational change through the use of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). The author shares her thoughts about the need for a permanent role of PLCs in school improvement efforts and equates them to the research and development divisions used in businesses. She defines PLCs as, “forums in which participants embrace the privilege and responsibility of learning individually and collectively”. The basic premise within the book is that schools are learning organizations; they need to be strengthened from the core in order to build capacity and resilience. Schools will improve if and when teachers work together, bringing their expertise and thoughtful insight outside of individual classrooms to help all students within the entire school learn. According to the information in this book, the best way to make this happen is through the use of PLCs.

Martin-Kniep takes time to break down exactly what PLCs are and why they should be promoted (benefits to students, teachers and schools). She moves on to further discuss the key characteristics of PLCs. Discussion occurs around the different types of communities that might exist (learning, leading, lasting) as well as a developmental continuum of behaviors, beliefs and practices (beginning, developing, established, systemic) that exist as PLCs evolve. One section is devoted to the discussion of six dispositions of practice that her research has shown to be present in organizations that are attracted to and committed to PLCs (commitment to understanding, intellectual perseverance, courage and initiative, commitment to reflection, commitment to expertise, collegiality). She suggests that these dispositions can be measured utilizing self-assessment and developed through the use of targeted intervention. A few chapters are dedicated to considering how to develop individual and organizational capacity for PLCs. She includes a series of usable rubrics for individuals and organizations regarding the dispositions and readiness for PLCs. Next the book provides the steps necessary in the creation of the PLC including: defining its purpose, criteria for membership and establishing the values/ norms it upholds. It provides a guide for start-up, operation processes, and assessment when a community is up and running. There are a series of questions for consideration within each step.

Martin-Kniep provides a thorough, in-depth approach on the whys of PLCs as well as a comprehensive approach to how a school can assess its readiness and build capacity for the use of PLCs. Further, she provides information on how to sustain PLCs within the school community. This book will serve as an excellent resource for any leaders wanting to start or further develop the capacity of PLCs within their schools.

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One response to “Communities that Learn, Lead, and Last: Building and Sustaining Educational Expertise (2008) by Giselle O. Martin-Kniep. Reviewed by: Amy Albanese and Tim Patterson

  1. I believe the Professional Learning Community can be very helpful when it comes to leading a school and it gives an opportunity to contribute and learn from the other coworkers, which according to F. Coffield an eminent expert on the matter and author of various articles about lifelong learning and education in general. In his article ,,Breaking the Consensus. Lifelong learning as social control” he provides some ideas with which he believes we can improve the faulty system we live in by establishing a new Social Contract between the State and the Education.
    First of all, he stressed that teachers should be consulted and involved in the decision making process ( forming the policy and influencing the final decisions). Therefore not only is PLC beneficial within the individual schools, but also, this type of collaboration should become more popular between schools and the policy makers/ Governments that are planning to reform as well as encourage teachers’ ideas for reshaping the system.
    Secondly, and here I must say that what Coffield says is very similar to the opinion of the author of this book, is that schools should function like businesses. The model for educational institutions to follow is that of the British business. Moreover, in his article, he highlights that education must be modernised and become more responsive to the needs of employers.
    I firmly believe that this mutual dialogue and creating a learning community on various levels can do a lot of good, as there is so much individuals as well as institutions can learn from each other.

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