Teachers and Teacher Educators alike, I (Yiola) hope you have had a good start to the academic school year. By this time a productive learning environment is in the works, students are settling into routines and relationships and all wheels are in motion. Teaching and learning in classrooms is a complex enterprise. I believe we spend huge amounts of time thinking about and preparing our students for the classroom yet little time is spent on developing safe, supportive, resourceful environments for ourselves as educators.
Enter the social world of teaching for teachers. From novice classroom teachers to veteran teacher educators, research literature clearly shows that the conception that educators perform better when working together professionally is supported by organizational theory models… Such conceptions view authentic teamwork as an essential characteristic of the successful organization as its members interact regularly to share their ideas and expertise and develop common understanding of organizational goals and the means to their attainment (Shah, 2014).
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Integrated classrooms, full day kindergarten teams, division teams, departments, staff and faculty and informal professional learning communities (PLC), require teamwork, moral support, and encouragement between educators. What better way to engage in teacher preparation and teaching than feeling supported, appreciated and valued. What are the key characteristics of collegial work environments?
The research literature indicates considerable consistency in the key characteristics of teacher PLCs. Participants working together regularly over an extended timeline, shared values and vision, practical activities focused on student learning, taking an inquiry stance, being reflective and collaborating and sharing experiences, are characteristics which are consistently highlighted (Susan Owen, 2014).
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A supportive work environment, collegial atmosphere, shared vision, shared workload, appreciation and affirmation of colleague contributions, and genuine interest and commitment to the school/program make a significant difference to educators’ work. While the structure and environments are often built from the top down (i.e. principals or program leaders), much can be done within organizations to foster strong PLCs. These are messages I share with my student teachers as we consider how teachers work with early childhood educators in the kindergarten classrooms, and how the special education teacher communicates with the regular classroom teacher, and how teachers communicate with parents. Exploring how to work collaboratively and how to deal with conflict are important considerations for good teacher practice.
Teaching, service work, and research are approached with interest, enthusiasm, and care because of the collegial work environments that have been established within the PLCs. Below is a picture of wonderful colleagues and my cheering team. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful professional learning communities I am part of at OISE.
Left to right: Prof. Gisela Wajskop, me, Prof. Clare Kosnik
Front and centre: Sylvia Clare and Gallaway