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Bringing Your Learning Community to Life

A Road Map for Sustainable School Improvement
First Edition
By: Stephen S Kaagan, Linda Headley

The do-it-yourself guide to creating and sustaining a professional learning community in your school or district!

This how-to guide walks school and district leaders step by step through the process of establishing a professional learning community (PLC) over nine to twelve months. Readers will find everything they need to get a PLC up and running, including:

  • Tasks that help educators "learn by doing" as they create a PLC
  • Exercises for conducting productive meetings, building communication skills, and shaping group identity
  • Case studies of common roadblocks to spark discussion
  • Guidelines for appropriately pacing the chapters, tasks, and exercises with your faculty

Full description

Product Details
  • Grade Level: PreK-12, Elementary, Secondary
  • ISBN: 9781412972970
  • Published By: Corwin
  • Year: 2010
  • Page Count: 160
  • Publication date: February 09, 2010

Price: $39.95



"This book is structured for the busy educator! The authors invite readers to journey toward professionalizing learning places. From the beginning of the journey (where ever you are) to the high points, low points, midpoint, and endpoints, the reader is transformed to the PLC way. A must-read for staff developers, instructional coaches, school improvement coordinators, and human relations specialists."
—Marian White-Hood, Director of Academics, SeeForever Foundation
Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Washington, DC

The do-it-yourself guide to creating and sustaining a professional learning community in your school or district!

How can you take the concept of a learning community from theory to the school building? This how-to guide walks you through the process of establishing a PLC step by step over a flexible timeline of nine to twelve months.

Leadership and organizational development specialists Stephen S. Kaagan and Linda Headley provide school and district leaders with a concrete road map and numerous tools for creating and sustaining a PLC focused on improving student learning. Readers will find everything they need to get a PLC up and running, including:

  • Specific tasks that help educators "learn by doing" as they create a PLC
  • Practice exercises for conducting productive meetings, building individual and group communication skills, and shaping the group's identity
  • Brief case studies of problems encountered by educators to spark discussion and support educators' growth as learners and leaders
  • Guidelines for appropriately pacing the chapters, tasks, and exercises with your faculty

Bringing Your Learning Community to Life is an invaluable manual for building capacity and creating an effective, sustainable PLC focused on continuous improvement.

Key features

  • Illustrates how to ensure that all staff development experiences are educationally authentic
  • Shows leaders how to engage staff in effective discussions, use a balanced approach for integrating discussion techniques with interactions that can have consequences for the school community
  • Provides a template for adapting and adopting principles of team leadership as a foundation for effecting staff collaboration—and makes these integral to all PLC efforts
  • Provides in-depth details about the small moves that principals and teachers can make as they undertake PLC work—including how to kick off meetings in ways that grab the attention of all participants, how to arrange meeting room furniture to encourage collaboration, and how to incorporate distributive leadership principles at every meeting
  • Shows how to use "Outcome Narratives" (brief cases connected to desired outcomes) as a staff development tool to spark conversation about hypothetical dilemmas, roles, and outcomes


Stephen S Kaagan photo

Stephen S Kaagan

Stephen S. Kaagan is currently professor of education at Michigan State University. His teaching interests are leadership, organizational analysis, and administrative practice. He has a doctorate from Harvard University and has been honored with several awards, including membership in the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, London, England and Honorary Doctorates from Williams College in Massachusetts and Green Mountain College in Vermont.

Before coming to Michigan State University in 1991, Kaagan served as president of Hurricane Island Outward Bound (1989-91), commissioner of education for the State of Vermont (1982-88), and provost at Pratt Institute in New York City (1977-82).

He has written extensively on leadership, organizational development, the role of the arts in schooling, and assessment and accountability. Selected publications include Developing Teacher Leaders: How Teacher Leadership Enhances School Success (with Frank Crowther et al.), Managing Successful School Reform: the Legacy of Chris Argyris (a special edition of the International Journal of Educational Management, co-edited with Frank Crowther), Leadership Games: Experiential Learning for Organizational Development, and Leadership Lessons: From a Life of Character and Purpose in Public Affairs.

Kaagan is a charter board member of ArtServe Michigan. In the late 1980s, he served as a member of a distinguished panel on "Making the System Work Better for Poor Kids," a Carnegie Foundation–sponsored project of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Kaagan's experience spans an academic career; wide-ranging service as an advisor to government agencies, corporations, and educational institutions; military experience in the USMC Reserve; extensive travel throughout the world, including mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, Andes, and Cascades; and rugby football refereeing for the US Rugby Football Union.

Linda Headley photo

Linda Headley

Linda Headley owns and operates Headley Pratt Consulting (1993–present), which provides research, communications, and strategic planning services, primarily in the areas of education and the environment. For more than 20 years, she has been contracted by a variety of clients—including private businesses, national trade associations, nonprofits, universities, and state and local governments—to provide speaking, facilitation, focus group research, project management, and leadership training services.

A graduate of Albion College with a degree in communications, she has used her exceptional research and writing skills to help clients translate difficult topics into concepts and terms that can be understood and embraced by broad and diverse audiences. She then uses her knowledge of these topics to improve business practices and positively affect public policy.

She first joined forces with bpcUSA partner Steve Kaagan in the mid- 1990s to develop quality indicator systems for the education community and advance land-use planning initiatives in Northern Michigan. Since that time, they have worked on various projects designed to move organizations forward through strong leadership and sound strategic plans. She has written extensively on a variety of topics ranging from groundwater contamination, the recovery of end-of-life plastics, and balancing economic and environmental concerns to school choice, the changing face of education, the implications of federal legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act, and using assessment results to positively affect curriculum and instruction.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


About the Authors


Section I. Laying the Foundation

1. Having Productive Discussions 101: Cultivating Individual Skills


Ten Pillars of Productive Discussion

Interpreting the Pillars

Initial Self-Assessment

Practice Exercises 1-3


2. Having Productive Discussions 102: Cultivating Group Skills


Practice Exercises 1-4

Self-Assessment Reprise

Future Use of the 10 Pillars


Section II. Putting Your New Skills to Work

3. Shaping a Group Identity


Soul Searching via a Careful, Clean, and Crisp Culture Audit

Metaphor, the Path to the Future

Professional Learning Community Attributes

Ground Rules to Accompany the Attributes

Practice Makes Perfect


4. Small Moves Make a Big Difference


Small and Different Moves Elaborated

Moving on the Small Moves

Putting It All Together


5. Sustaining Learning Community Growth


Learning Strategies

The Power of Authentic Learning

Experiential Learning, a Complement to Authentic Learning

A Little Experience, a Lot of Learning Potential

Qualifying Experiences as Authentic

Making the Most of Experience for Learning

Outcome Narratives: Authentic Learning of Choice for Professional Learning Communities

Why Outcome Narratives Work

How Outcome Narratives are Developed and Used

Learning to Walk Before You Run


Additional Exemplary Outcome Narratives


Conclusion: Taking the Leap

Reproducible Resources




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