Professional Learning Networks: Facilitating Transformation in Diverse Contexts with Equity-seeking Communities

Cover of Professional Learning Networks: Facilitating Transformation in Diverse Contexts with Equity-seeking Communities

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(9 chapters)


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In a time of rapid policy and curriculum change, teachers must be knowledge workers who continue to develop professionally. Professional learning networks (PLNs) offer teachers the opportunity to develop professionally by positioning them as inquirers into their own practice and authors and agents of situated innovation. Six examples of PLNs are introduced in this book to illustrate key attributes of PLNs that build educators’ ownership, practice, and expertise. Also highlighted is the potential of PLNs to address questions of equity, both for educators working in remote and rural communities who have limited access to professional development and other resources, and diverse learners and equity-seeking communities (e.g., Indigenous communities, non-dominant cultural groups). Scholar, practitioner, and policy audiences can benefit greatly from the PLNs described here and draw from these case studies to inform equity-oriented PLNs centering the importance of teachers, students, engagement, collaboration, and rural place in educational transformation efforts.


Educational inequities that are often systemic and the result of structural oppression persist in schools under/serving minoritized youth and communities. This chapter illustrates how professional learning networks (PLNs) and the practice of collaborative professionalism within them have served to support educators, positioned at multiple levels, in their effort to serve all children well, and especially those who are most marginalized. Collaborative professionalism emphasizes collective responsibility and student and teacher empowerment through PLNs. Further, the collaborative professionalism model incorporates elements of culture and context to ensure that collaborative efforts are responsive to the students and communities educators are purposed to partner with and serve. In this chapter, the authors highlight two such cases of collaborative professionalism through PLNs in Colombia and Ontario, Canada. These cases provide a model for how collaborative professionalism within PLNs can be utilized to enhance teaching and learning for all teachers and students across cultures and contexts, while attending explicitly to educational inequities.


Professional inquiry networks are becoming essential features of effective, innovative, and responsive school systems. In this chapter, the authors draw from their work with a team of British Columbia district leaders who use inquiry as a primary means for shifting practice and supporting innovation and change that benefit all learners. The authors argue that networking enables ways for districts to share emerging practices, engage in collective dialogue, draw from exemplary research, and deeply reflect on impacts. In doing so, leaders build strong relational ties and professional capital that accelerates innovation between and among district leaders. Two specific cases develop a deeper understanding of how change is taken up and accelerated at the local level, providing examples of how inquiry networks operate across multiple sites and simultaneously seed and nurture innovative thinking.


Research is starting to suggest the value of professional learning networks (PLN) in terms of supporting educators in their practice. But further research is needed into how teachers’ on-going learning and practice development can be supported by features unique to a PLN. To fill that gap, the research described in this chapter examined the ways in which opportunities and supports for educators embedded within a unique multi-layered PLN enhanced and strengthened their knowledge and practice. Across one-year of a longitudinal project, we gathered multiple forms of evidence to trace 18 teachers’ experiences. Findings reported in this chapter identified conditions in the PLN overall that were combining to support teachers’ inquiry-oriented learning and practice. In addition, the authors conducted an in-depth analysis of one teacher’s experiences. The detailed analyses of this embedded case further uncovered how supports at different “grain sizes” (i.e., across the year; out-of-class activities; reflections in/on practice) were combining to foster shifts in her practice and transformative learning over time. The authors conclude with implications for conceptualizing how a multi-layered PLN can be structured to support teachers’ professional learning and practice development.


Rural schools have typically been strong on community but weak on professional learning. Their small size and geographical isolation have meant that much of the recent reform movement focused on professional learning communities has passed them by. But there is no reason why rural educators cannot participate in professional learning networks (PLNs) and benefit from heightened levels of collegiality that can be experienced across schools. However, intentional design for deeper collaborative work and face-to-face connection is necessary for PLN members to reap the benefits from increased professional capital and teacher leadership opportunities. This chapter describes the work of the Northwest Rural Innovation and Student Engagement (NW RISE) network in the United States. NW RISE brings together rural educators in gatherings that take place every six months, helps them to form “job-alike” groups focused on academic subject matter or cross-contextual themes, and provides support for shared curriculum design. This chapter describes how rural educators have seized upon the resources in NW RISE to promote student engagement and to develop their professional capacity across the network’s schools.


International educational research has shown that high quality coaching, mentoring, and induction for beginning teachers can enhance development and retention of highly effective teachers and, ultimately, increase student success. In Canada, like many jurisdictions, teacher induction programs have grown in popularity as a means to support beginning teachers, yet programs vary greatly in terms of delivery and effectiveness. This chapter presents the findings from a qualitative case study that examined one bespoke teacher induction program in the Western Québec School Board (WQSB). Specifically, it reports on the experience of mentor–coaches (MC) who are part of the school district’s Mentoring and Coaching Fellowship (MCF). In the district, mentoring and coaching are viewed as distinct, yet interconnected components of an effective induction program. In the WQSB, teaching fellows and MCs learn together in a social and situated context (Lave & Wenger, 1991) as they focus on four key elements: the practice of teaching, navigating school and district culture, what it means to be a teacher, and the formation of a teaching identity. Research has shown effective coaching and mentoring programs not only enhance teaching and learning, but also they offer powerful benefits to veteran teachers. With mentoring and coaching practice highly diverse and inconsistent depending on the quality of the relationship and the context, it is clear that effective selection, support and professional learning and development for MCs is essential. This chapter examines the strengths and challenges of the school district’s Mentor–Coach Professional Learning Network (MC PLN) from the perspective of network members. Data collected from questionnaires, focus groups and semi-structured interviews were abductively analyzed with and against Brown and Poortman’s (2018) five supporting conditions for effective PLNs. Study findings indicated that the MC PLN offers valuable professional learning and development for participants and is a critical feature in a powerful induction program that also focuses on “growing the top.” However, challenges also emerged that highlight the need for the district to ensure ongoing attention to the PLN’s structure and processes in order to sustain MC motivation, engagement, and commitment.


Reflecting on professional learning networks (PLN) in rural and equity-seeking spaces, the authors foreground the importance of “relational space” in studying PLNs in this commentary. The authors argue that while the complexity of taking a relational approach is challenging, it offers an important and necessary perspective, one which is often implicit in the studies featured in this book but not explicitly considered. The chapter is organized around three broad concepts from social network theory – boundedness, connectedness, and mutuality – which serve as starting points for shifting our gaze from formal system structures to more deeply interrogating the informal relational spaces within PLNs. The authors conclude with a call to make use of network theory and methods on their own, and in complement to other literatures, to do so.


Pages 193-199
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Cover of Professional Learning Networks: Facilitating Transformation in Diverse Contexts with Equity-seeking Communities
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Emerald Professional Learning Networks Series
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