Professional Learning Communities tend to be very homogeneous. They are typically made up of members from a subject matter department or a grade level. This homogenous arrangement seems natural based on what it is that they are expected to do and organizational design of a typical school, which is based around subject matter departments or grade levels.
In the book Workplace by Design, authors Franklin Becker and Fritz Steele use the analogy of “relay-race” vs. “rugby” to describe two approaches to organizational ecology.
The relay race analogy as applied to education shows us that each grade level or department teachers their standards and then passes the students along to the next grade level or the next department for them to do their part. On and on it goes, students being passed up from one grade level to the next and from one subject matter to the next, just like runners in a relay race. A teacher does their part and passes the students to the next teacher. Communication and information is often not passed with the students as they are exchanged in each point in the “race.” Each runner, or teacher, is focused on doing their part and then making the exchange. Collaboration is not really existent from grade level to grade level or from department to department.
The rugby analogy applied to education puts all the teachers on the field at the same time. The entire team moves toward the goal of educating all the students. Sometimes different teachers take a stronger or leading role if they have the “ball.” The entire school must communicate at all times and must work together at all times. Each teacher is expected to participate in decision-making and constantly knows the status of the “game.” Collaboration is constant and flexible, changing and adjusting to the needs of the students. Each teacher is necessary and important to the team.
The challenge I wondered about is how could Professional Learning Communities adopt a “rugby” approach to their work. One possible approach is the concept of collocation. Collocation is an organizational approach that puts people from different departments and disciplines together. A PLC that used collocation would have members from other grade levels and specialists on the team. The PLC would naturally become more heterogeneous and increase cognitive diversity.
The one problem with this approach is that schools are often not set up to allow for collocation to occur easily. Issues of scheduling and geographic location will present problems. This is an example of how the Professional Networked Learning Collaborative could be leveraged. Using technology based collaboration tools; PNLCs can easily overcome issues of geography.
Teams meeting regularly with teachers from other grade levels or departments to discuss students and their learning needs would bring a ‘rugby” style approach to collaboration as opposed to the current “relay race” model most schools experience. What would be the result of PLCs or PNLCs using collocation principles to create heterogeneous multi-disciplined cognitively diverse teams?
Imagine the benefit to students when PLCs or PNLCs are on the “field” at the same time, driving toward the goal, sharing, communicating, collaborating, adjusting in real time to needs, and everyone working together regardless of grade level or department?
Leverage collocation and make your Professional Networked Learning Collaborative, PLC, CFG, or learning teams more effective for all your students.