31 March 2015

Collaborative learning in early childhood communities can include:

  • engaging in reflective conversations

  • providing mutual support to each other

  • focusing on learning and inquiry

  • having a collaborative culture that enhances professional practice

  • sharing ideas and working towards common goals

Building these communities in early childhood services requires planning, leadership, shared values, goals and practice, and a supportive environment. This process does not just happen―it is intentional.

Several factors can influence the level of engagement in professional learning communities. These include:

  • the time and commitment that individuals and teams are willing, or able, to invest

  • the extent that individuals and teams  value collaboration and teamwork

  • the priority individuals, or the team, assign to the learning process, or topic

Evidence also suggests that the actions of professional leaders and the degree of trust between team members, impacts the effectiveness of professional learning communities.

9 essentials for successfully leading a collaborative learning community

When leaders convey positive expectations about the collaborative learning processes, educators are more likely to value the process and to participate in a meaningful way.

To create an environment and culture that establishes and sustains collaborative learning with in your setting …

  1. Make a space and time for learning opportunities and collaboration

  2. Demonstrate a commitment to learning and the collaborative process

  3. Emphasize the value of collaboration between colleagues

  4. Acknowledge individual and team strengths

  5. Convey positive expectations about the team’s ability to contribute to professional conversations and reflective practice

  6. Facilitate and model reflective practice and inquiry-led conversations

  7. Foster trust, openness and forgiveness within the team

  8. Support the development of shared understandings, vision and goals

  9. Acknowledge conflict and tension can occur and manage these as part of the group process

About time

Time is a common constraint for manyearly childhood settings. Scheduling regular opportunities for learning is essential for a collaborative learning community’s success.

Dedicating 20 minutes of your staff meeting for educators to participate in a learning circle and not focusing solely on “housekeeping” is one way.

There is a difference between cooperating and collaborating, as part of this process. Collaboration entails the whole process of learning, for example, educators and leaders teaching and learning from each other. Members of a team are responsible for one another’s learning, as well as their own.

Trusting each other

Each person’s voice needs to be encouraged, heard and understood and there needs to be both group goals and individual accountability.

A sense of inclusion and belonging is critical to developing a supportive learning environment too.  Valuing and including everyone and supporting educators to be open and honest, can help move the conversations in a group from basic sharing to deeper conversations about ways to enhance practice.

All in agreement … or agree to disagree?

Articulating personal views takes courage and confidence in a group learning situation.  Having a culture that respects and welcomes diverse viewpoints and opinions can avoid stress that might occur when there is an expectation that that everyone must reach a consensus all the time.

To assist educators express the expectations they have of themselves and others within their collaborative learning community, generating guidelines for discussions is important.

A KidsMatter Early Childhood Learning Community

Both KidsMatter and the National Quality Standard promote the value of building collaborative learning communities in ECEC services.

The KidsMatter Framework and professional learning topics, provide services with a structure and tools to engage and shape ongoing conversations about mental health and wellbeing and reflect on their practice in this area.

They can assist educators to develop a shared vision for positive mental health in their services. As a team,  explore what it means to be a community of learners.

Educators can also be part of a broader KidsMatter collaborative learning community, via Facebook, the Shared Thinking Blog, Webinars and network meetings.

Questions for starting and sustaining your collaborative learning community

  • What does a collaborative learning community look/feel/sound like in our service?

  • What is our vision or hopes for this service?

  • What values are most important in our service?

  • What do we already do well?

  • How could we strengthen or build our collaborative learning community?

  • What are the main areas about  mental health and wellbeing  that our learning community would we like to focus on?

  • How can we include everyone in the process?

Additional Resources:

Shared Thinking blog―Collaborative learning communities, Part 1: Shaping whole-service learning

Shared Thinking blog― Collaborative Learning Communities, Part 2: Building on a strong foundation

Hord, S. (1997). Professional learning communities: Communities of continuous inquiry and improvement. Austin, TX. Southwest Ed. Developers Laboratory. 

K.Thornton and S.Cherrington,  Leadership in professional learning communities, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood —Volume 39 No 3 September 2014, ECA