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Professional learning communities

To maintain a future focus teachers need to be continually learning themselves. This means engaging in professional learning communities where educationally challenging discussions and sharing of practice occur. The exposure to new ideas and ways of teaching ensures teachers are continuing to learn and improve their practice. Professional learning communities need to be more than networks; they need to stimulate and provoke teacher learning and development.

What is a learning community?

A learning community is a group of organisations or individuals that operate as a collaborative network. Some are face to face but many are connected via the Internet.

A learning community provides opportunities for educators to connect with others, share ideas and resources, reflect critically on their practice, and create new knowledge about teaching and learning.

Why create or join a learning community?

Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime. Learning and work related activities are no longer separate. In many situations, they are the same.

George Siemens, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

Strong principles of an effective learning community include connection and collaboration. Participants can:

  • get and provide advice, feedback and support
  • access a wide range of resources and perspectives
  • stay up–to–date on important changes in the field of education
  • work towards a shared goal, or on a collaborative inquiry, such as:

Participation also provides an opportunity for on–going, self–directed learning and ownership of professional development.

Schools are being talked about as “learning organisations”, and educators are encouraged to become “professional learning communities” or even “networked learning communities” within and across schools. School leaders have responsibility for supporting and sustaining a continuous culture of learning amongst staff, in a dynamic environment

Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective

Mary Ann Baxter and Kathy Paterson, teachers from Hamilton Girls' High School, describe how their staff developed as a professional learning community through incorporating the key competency – managing self, with e-learning and ICT.

Key resource

20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network
An article outlining 10 tips for using professional learning networks.

Existing professional learning communities

Get started by exploring existing communities:

Facebook groups

Twitter educational chats

Online professional learning communities

VLN groups  The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) groups is a social network for teachers, school leaders and facilitators to connect, share experiences, and learn together. The main intent is to foster the co-construction, co-development, and the sharing of best practice in blended learning environments.

edSpace  An online network for educators throughout New Zealand to connect, share knowledge and grow capabilities.

Connected educator  A collaborative calendar connects thousands of educators so they can engage in free (and freely given) online professional learning.

NZ Curriculum groups and mailing lists

English Online mailing lists  The English Online mailing list is a place to share ideas, request help and resources, and establish professional relationships.

ESOL Online mailing lists  Links to all the ESOL and literacy mailing lists. Join the relevant groups to participate in email-based discussions.

Arts Online  Arts Online promotes professional communication through community discussion groups for each discipline, for primary and early childhood teachers, and for secondary school arts coordinators.

Media Studies  Join the Media Studies mailing list on TKI. This list is setup to allow the community to send emails to the whole group.

Subject Associations

DTTA  The Digital Technologies Teachers Aotearoa is an association with the goal of advocating for our subjects. The aim of the association is to create a community of teachers where we can share resources, communicate and speak with one voice to get our subject area recognised and supported.

NZAMT  The national body representing teachers of Mathematics at all levels

NZATE  The national body representing teachers of English at all levels

NZASE   The national body representing teachers of science at all levels

ASSEN  Aotearoa Social Studies Educators' Network

NZALT  Professional association for language teachers in New Zealand.

TENZ  Technology Education New Zealand (TENZ) is a professional association supporting and promoting all levels and areas of technology education in New Zealand.

NZHEA The NZ Health education association provides a professional community of support for health educators.

EONZ  EONZ is a national professional organisation supporting education outside the classroom (EOTC) and education outdoors.

Discussion starters

Use these discussion starters in conjunction with the e-Learning Planning Framework to identify and develop professional learning communities within your school or cluster that share e-learning understandings and practices focused on improved student learning outcomes.

Teacher at laptop
  • Within and beyond your school community, what does an effective professional learning culture and community look like?
  • What is the relationship between effective professional learning, effective teacher practice, and improved student outcomes?
  • How are you actively involved in leading and mentoring others’ e-learning professional learning within your school?
  • How might you lead and mentor others to strengthen their pedagogy and practice in e-learning across the school?
  • How can you support others who are leading e-learning?

Practical steps

  • makoura009
    Make sure these activities align to the strategic plan and the needs of the whole school.
  • Establish a clear structure, led by the Principal, that shares responsibility for leading e-learning across the school and allows everyone to share new ideas and practice.
  • Plan for a range of approaches to professional learning (blended learning workshops, visits, access to mentors/experts) that respond to staff strengths and needs.
  • Make time for regular opportunities for networking, reflection, and sharing resources and experiences. Encourage formative risk-taking, pilots and innovation through ‘show and tell’ staff sessions.
  • Make sure everyone has reliable and equitable access to ICT resources.
  • Deliberately capture evidence (for example, feedback, appraisal, observation) of the impact of professional learning and evaluate progress.
  • Be proactive and committed to your own and other’s professional development in e-learning.
  • Be prepared to share your learning and your experience with your colleagues.
  • Join learning communities to extend your professional learning within and beyond the school.

Participating in the VLN

Teachers discuss using the Virtual Learning Network as part of a blended professional learning model and the benefits it has had for their cluster.

Josie Woon talks about the potential of Enabling e-Learning community groups to impact on teacher practice.

In this EDtalk, Outside the four walls of learning , Trevor Storr director of e-learning for a cluster of schools in South Canterbury and North Otago, describes the opportunity for collaboration and personalised learning provided by the Virtual Learning Network.

The Learning Communities Online (LCO) handbook

LCO Handbook

This handbook is for school leaders and anyone with an interest in, or responsibility for, the development of a learning community online. Based on the advice of experienced clusters, it provides a structured approach to establishing an online community.

You can access the handbook online or download it from the VLN.

  • The online version of the handbook is a living document with space for members to contribute items into the resource areas.
  • A printable copy of the handbook is available to download. This is intended as a reference for school leaders, BOTs, and other parties. It has been designed to be incorporated into a folder into which supplementary resources and notes can be added.

The Virtual Learning Network (VLN), He kōtuinga ako ā-ipurangi, is an interactive resource provided by the Ministry of Education for all New Zealand educators.

The purpose of the VLN

"VLN Groups is a social network for teachers, school leaders and facilitators to connect, share experiences, and learn together. The main intent is to foster the co-construction, co-development, and the sharing of, best practice in blended learning environments."

The VLN

What are the benefits of the VLN?

Benefits of connecting, sharing, and collaborating in the VLN include:

  • information and advice relevant to the New Zealand Curriculum
  • quick responses to your questions
  • the ability to collaborate with other teachers anytime, anywhere.

Josie Woon, Assistant Principal at Takaro School, talks about how and why she uses the Virtual Learning Network. The community has helped her integrate technology into her class in a purposeful way by enabling her to connect with other "expert" teachers.

Who is in the VLN?

Inside the VLN are:

The Learning Exchange – a brokerage site enabling connections between teachers and learners. It joins clusters, schools, groups, and individuals who are learning through online and blended programmes.

VLN Groups – an online community for teachers, school leaders, and facilitators to connect, share experiences, and learn together.

The Enabling e-Learning community in the VLN

Enabling e-Learning logo

The Enabling e-Learning Community provides an online community for all school leaders and teachers to explore innovative ways of using digital technologies to support and enhance learning and teaching. The discussions are driven by the needs of the community.

The power of online professional learning communities

The power of online professional learning communities

Josie Woon, Assistant Principal at Takaro School, talks about how and why she uses the Virtual Learning Network. The community has helped her integrate technology into her class in a purposeful way by enabling her to connect with other "expert" teachers.

Potential of Enabling e-Learning community groups to impact on teacher practice

Enabling e-Learning groups impact on teacher practice

Josie Woon talks about the potential of Enabling e-Learning community groups to impact on teacher practice.

The benefits of Enabling e-Learning community groups on priority learners

The benefits of Enabling e-Learning community groups on priority learners

Josie Woon talks about the benefits that being involved in Enabling e-Learning community groups brings to teachers of priority learners, and the learners themselves.

Tailoring professional learning to enhance literacy e-learning needs: A blended model

Tailoring professional learning to enhance literacy e-learning needs: A blended model

Teachers discuss tailored professional learning to enhance literacy e-learning needs using a blended model. 

Using the Virtual Learning Network as part of a blended professional learning model

Using the Virtual Learning Network as part of a blended professional learning model

Teachers discuss using the Virtual Learning Network as part of a blended professional learning model and the benefits it has had for their cluster.

The impact of using the Virtual Learning Network on professional development

The impact of using the Virtual Learning Network on professional development

Teachers discuss the impact of using the Virtual Learning Network on their professional development.

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Developing a professional learning programme

Mary Ann Baxter and Kathy Paterson,  teachers from Hamilton Girls' High School, describe how their staff developed as a professional learning community through incorporating the key competency – managing self, with e-learning and ICT.

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Key resources

Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako help students to achieve their full potential. Here, education providers can learn about Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako and how to join.

Teacher standards and e-learning: Professional relationships  Look at how technologies can help you maintain professional relationships.

Professional learning groups to support school wide e-learning at Epsom Girls Grammar  In this video clip from the NZC Online secondary middle leaders site on TKI, Claire Amos, Director of e-learning at Epsom Girls Grammar School, discusses how learning area professional learning groups support teachers with e-learning.

Network learning community case studies  Network Learning Communities are one of the professional learning and development opportunities offered in 2011 by the Ministry and delivered by School Support Services. Ten case studies, from NZ Curriculum Online, outline how school leaders have made connections and learned together to shape their school curricula.

Formative coaching  In this EDtalks video, Tineka Tuala-Fata, DP at Peterhead School, describes the "Formative Coaching" model used at her school. This combines the power of structured peer observation, the sharing of good practice, learning conversations in teams, and reflective journals.

Building communities of practice  In this EDtalks video, Cheryl Doing talks about the importance of establishing norms and protocols when setting up communities of practice.

SEDL  This website provides some useful research information on developing professional learning communities. It contains resources to support the successful integration of ICT in learning.

Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education  This international association is made up of teachers, educators, and affiliated organisations of teacher educators. Their focus is on the use of information technology in teacher education and staff development.

A literature review focused on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and e-learning in the context of Te Reo Māori and Kaupapa Māori education The Ministry of Education has identified the need to further explore the use of Virtual Learning Environments, particularly in the context of te reo Māori and kaupapa Māori education. This literature review was sought to provide further understanding for the Ministry of Education in this area.

More readings »


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