How Teachers Learn: Moving Beyond Talk

March 30, 2009

-Educational Leadership; February, 2009

*Article featured in NCTAF’s Weekly News Digest

Professional learning communities are a growing forum for teacher learning. The opportunity to share ideas and reflect on teaching practice makes learning communities attractive. But it’s easy for learning communities to become stalled at the stage of collegial discussions about improving teaching practice. What spurs communities to progress beyond talk to collective action that brings change to schools? We observed the creation of teacher learning communities that stimulated action in three urban New Jersey school districts, through a five-year project supported by the Philanthropic Initiative on behalf of the international Alcatel-Lucent Foundation. Coaches from the National School Reform Faculty trained internal facilitators in these schools, who in turn launched collaborative learning communities (CLCs) among their peers. (We use the term collaborative to stress the expectation that participants would do more than engage in discussions.) These practices of the New Jersey Collaborative Learning Communities Initiative laid a good foundation; our observations indicate that many of the collaborative and innovative practices the project inspired are still embedded in many of the schools, although 2007–08 was the last year of formal funding.

The initiative was committed to documenting how the teachers’ learning evolved over five years. As third-party external documenters, we watched the initiative unfold. We attended planning meetings, observed professional development, worked with districts to train and support local leaders, listened in as CLC groups gathered in individual schools, and interviewed and surveyed participants.  Through summer retreats, school-year seminars, and school-based meetings, we saw participants acquire the confidence and ability to nurture self-sustaining communities. These collaborative learning communities took many shapes. Some subject-area supervisors turned their monthly meetings into a functioning CLC, a superintendent organized cabinet meetings around the process, and many schools nurtured grade-level or subject-area groups. A common feature of success, as the following two snapshots make clear, was that teachers in these groups pushed one another to progress from talk to action.

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NCTAF, Pearson Partner to Launch Pioneering OnlineCommunities for New Teachers 

March 2, 2009

Joint  Venture to Expand on Successful Pilot Programs that Foster
Teacher Retention and Support

Washington, D.C. and Boston – March 2, 2009 – The National Commission on Teaching and
Amer ica’s Future (NCTAF), a nonpartisan, nonprofit, advocacy  group dedicated to improving  teaching quality, and leading education company Pearson announced t oday their  exclusive partnership to  launch a new  online learning community  designed t o support teacher  candidates and  novice teachers with a broad network  of  mentors and experienced talent, and to connect  colleges of education  with their K­12 district partners.

This important partnership is designed to build on NCTAF’s Teachers Learning  in Networked
Communities (TLINC) program through which the schools of  education at the University  of Memphis, the  University of Colorado Denver and the University of Washington implement ed a pilot version of an online  learning community.  Now, Pearson and NCTAF will expand the  scope and capacity of this program by researching with the  initial partner sites  what’s worked  and what could be improved, adding additional partner institutions, and building together a new,  research-­driven  online community to provide a broad range  of  educator solutions, both for  schools of education and  k­12 districts nationwide.

Initial research indicates that online communities  of support can help  move  novice teachers  more  quickly into truly  effective teachers, and provide the type of resources, recognition,  support and advancement opportunities that are shown to improve teacher retention overall.

Across the country, there is a steady supply of  new teachers being prepared for the classroom,  both  in traditional and alternative  certification programs.  On the  other hand, steep teacher  drop out rates are negatively impacting student learning and increasing administrative costs.  With 16 percent of teachers leaving the profession after their first year and nearly 50 percent  departing within five years, the goal  of the partnership is to improve teacher retention,  increase teacher support and  enhance student achievement.

“In every profession today, teamwork, collaboration and communication are the  keys to success,” said NCTAF President Tom Carroll.  “It’s important that new teachers have  opportunities to have access to their professors, mentors and peers for the support they need  when they  need  it.  Online communities like TLINC make t his happen, and build this ‘habit of  community’ in a way we  have found to be  extremely powerful for continuous teacher learning,”  Carroll said.

“We are excited about the opportunit y to  work closely  with NCTAF on this innovative technology
initiative, designed to turn schools into ‘learning organizations’ instead of ‘teaching organizations’  and supporting teaching quality  initiatives at this crucial time  for American schools,” said  Susan  Badger, CEO of Pearson’s teacher education and development group.

TLINC’s current  online learning communities provide coaching and mentoring support for novice teachers, opportunities for facilitated reflection and peer collaboration, as well as instant access to faculty, peers and colleagues.  With a focus on improved retention and accelerated proficiency, the  expanded project  will enhance t he resources available to teachers and help new educators avoid  feelings of isolation that can lead to attrition.

“TLINC provides a wider professional community and an opportunit y to explor e specific  issues of
interest wit h ot hers who share the same concerns. I can really see its value  for teachers who are  somehow isolated from a broad professional community,” said  one TLINC user.

Developed  with a one ­year planning grant from the  AT&T Foundation and two years of pilot  funding from the Microsoft Partners in Learning MidTier Project, TLINC was recently awarded a  grant award from the Fund for Improvement of Postsecondary Education to support the project’s  continued growth and implementation for  the next three years.
For more information about the partnership, visit
http://­linc/index.htm  or contact Pearson’s Emily Knight at 617­671­3631 or Amanda Stanley 202­464­1930.
About NCTAF: ­ The National Commission  on Teaching and  Amer ica’s Future (NCTAF) is a non­profit, non­partisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.  NCTAF is dedicated to  providing  every child with competent, caring, qualified teaching in schools organized for success.  With a net work of 25 partner states and links to professional  educational organizations across the nation, NCTAF provides leadership  on innovation and improvement  in teaching and learning  in America’s schools.  For more information, visit NCTAF’s website:

About  Pearson: ­ Pearson (NYSE:PSO), the global leader in education and  education technology,  reaches and engages today’s digital natives  with  effective and personalized learning, as well as  dedicated professional  development for their teachers.  This commitment is demonstrated  in the company’s investment in innovative print and digital  education materials for preK through  college, student information systems and learning  management systems, teacher professional  development, career certification programs, and testing and assessment products that set the  standard for the industry. The company’s respected brands include Scott Foresman, Prent ice Hall, Addison Wesley, Benjamin Cummings, PEMSolutions, Stanford 10, SuccessNet, MyLabs,  PowerSchool, SuccessMaker, and  many others.  Pearson’s comprehensive  offerings  help inform  targeted instruction and intervention so that success is within reach of  every student at every level  of education. Pearson’s commitment to  education for all is supported by the  global philanthropic  initiatives  of the Pearson Foundation.  Pearson’s other primary businesses include the Financial   Times Group and the Penguin Group. For more information, go to

For more information, press only:
Stacy Skelly, Pearson, 202­431­5302,

Amanda Stanley, National  Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, 202­464­1930,