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After reading Ellen Galinksy’s recent article in NAEYC’s Young Children about Professional Learning Communities, I was inspired by the empowering and collaborative nature of these groups. Ms. Galinsky outlines ten key characteristics (listed below) of learning communities she discovered researching the communities that formed to share information and ideas from her book, Mind in the Making.

As she defines them, learning communities are groups “of people who come together to learn with and from each other and then seek to act on what they learn. Their reason for being is ongoing inquiry for the sake of improvement.” This emphasis on learning with and from each other and then taking action from that shared teaching and learning, truly speaks to the power of collaboration

By building and acting as a community, participants from all different areas of early childhood education (e.g., teachers, parents, administration, policymakers) can come together as change agents to enact new policies and design new practices in response to community needs and tied directly to children’s development.

Ellen Galinsky10 key characteristics of learning communities are that they:

  1. Bring new players together.
  2. Seek to reach the most “in need” among us.
  3. Focus on learning from and with each other and share a belief that there is expertise among us all.
  4. Focus on active learning that is experiential and engages participants in self-reflection and self-discovery.
  5. Use new media to connect in creative ways.
  6. Actively create new curricula based on sound principles of child and adult learning and development.
  7. Focus on assessment, but tie assessment to child development.
  8. Reframe teaching as teaching AND learning together.
  9. Connect policy to practice.
  10. “Play it forward.”

These characteristics indicate the importance of building a collaborative community that is inclusive and works together to think creatively and empowers one another to teach friends and colleagues, to learn from them, and then to “pay it forward” and share that newly built community knowledge with others and invite them to join or start a learning community.

One of the particularly exciting aspects of these communities is characteristic #5 and the possibility to use new media, such as digital tools and spaces, to host and share these learning communities. For example, a learning community focusing on inquiry around technology in early childhood and ways to improve its implementation in the classroom, can utilize the #ecetechchat space on Wednesday nights on Twitter to dialogue across disciplines and time zones about ways to connect policy and practice and design new curriculum for early education classrooms.

As Ms. Galinksy suggests, technology plays a very important role in 21st century professional development. From Facebook, to YouTube and LinkedIn, and all of the other fabulous social networks, we have unprecedented freedom and ability to connect with one another for professional growth, support, and inspiration. As a matter of fact, Early Childhood Investigations is an electronic learning community. The series was established to use technology  to “pay it forward” to the field and develop a community of early childhood educators who share a passion for ongoing professional development. Our sponsors and presenters contribute to the effort to connect educators and leaders whose paths might otherwise never have crossed. We’ve found that the “backchannel” conversations that participants have through the question and answer function in each webinar has been an additional element of support and inspiration for the participants and has engendered its own community that thrives well beyond the webinars. This is a powerful example of the role technology plays in learning community development in 2012.

We’re thrilled that Ellen Galinksy will join us on February 1st for another free webinar for Early Childhood Investigations. The session, Modern ECE Professional Learning Communities will bring the principles Ms. Galinsky outlines in the article in Young Children to life– right from the source. I’m excited to hear more about her knowledge of learning communities and learn from some of the examples she shares from early childhood professionals who lead some of these innovative learning community initiatives! If you haven’t registered for her webinar yet, you can sign up here.

Margaret PowersMaggie Powers is currently in the final semester of her graduate program, completing her master’s in International Training and Education at American University and working as a Graduate Assistant at the University and as an independent Education and Technology Consultant.

Maggie manages social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to connect students and alumni and increase student recruitment. She supports webinars on early childhood education and social media for Early Childhood Investigations, manages websites, conducts research and compiles data on technology services and early childhood education. Maggie is profoundly interested in using technology to connect educators around the globe.