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Professional Learning Communities Sharing Knowledge and Leadership: Collaborating and Communicating Online

Rhea Perreira-Foyle

Reflections on Practice is a women’s leadership  institute  based  on  the  concept of  professional  learning  communities (PLCs). Forty female  teachers from all over  Ontario  come  together  for  four days in the summer and two days each in  the  fall  and  spring, to  learn  more about  PLCs,  to  collaborate  with  each other, and to refine their teaching practices. Each participant is  expected  to  complete  an  action research project on a topic of her choice.

When I became a participant in the first year the course was held, I had just completed my master of arts degree at OISE. After so much academic study, I needed a space where I could truly reflect. I needed to figure out how I was going to implement all the wonderful ideas I had learned about, and to decide which best practices really resonated with me.  Reflections on Practice gave me the opportunity and the time to digest what I had been studying. To be honest, I had no idea at the time how much I would eventually learn about  online  communities,  reflective  practice, and facilitating skills as I moved from being a participant to being a facilitator.

One of the challenges of the institute is making the transition from interacting with a face-to- face community  to  interacting with an online one when the first four-day session is over. By the end of the intense summer session, I experienced a genuine feeling of community. It is difficult for teachers to maintain those positive and collaborative feelings once they return to the classroom in September. We quickly become swept away by the intensity of our classrooms, by the demands of our boards, and by the diverse needs of our students. These factors, combined with adapting to new school initiatives, can  create feelings of stress and isolation.

But traditional face-to-face interaction is only one of two kinds of learning communities that the  institute  creates. The  second is  the  online community that we are building through Internet-based networking. The participants commit to visiting the  Reflections on Practice Internet site weekly, where they can share pictures, post messages/questions, do research (there is an e-library for referencing), and connect with people through discussion boards or emails. There are also two chat  rooms,  and  the  participants are  required to meet there at least once a month, usually at a prearranged date and time, when they can discuss assignments and/or the progress of their research projects with their group in real time.

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