Faculty/Professional Learning Communities (FPLC)
Note: quotes are from Building Faculty Learning Communities, eds. Milton D. Cox and Laurie Richlin (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004).
Introduction to FPLCs
According to Milton Cox of Miami University, Ohio, an FLC is a cross-disciplinary faculty group of six to fifteen members “who engaged in active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning and with frequent seminars and activities that provide learning, development the scholarship of teaching, and community building.” In many ways, an FLC is different from a committee, a teaching circle, a brownbag group, or a research team in that its focus on building a sense of connection and community among its members is just as important as the inquiry-based learning experience of its members. At HCC, we have faculty and professional learning communities (FPLCs) which include members of staff as well as faculty. The fundamentals of FLCs that Cox describes are applicable to FPLCs.
In short, FPLCs is:
- a diverse group of colleagues from various divisions/departments (faculty and/or staff)
- organized by regular meetings throughout the academic year
- grounded on shared learning goals
- facilitated by one or two people but group-owned and democratic
- collegial and social (as well as intellectual)
- based on inquiry
There are two types of FPLCs: cohort-based and topic-based. An example of a cohort-based FPLC is HCC’s FPLC on First Year Experience, which extends priority invitation to second-year probationary faculty. FPLC on FYE has two goals: to build a sense of community among the new faculty members and to explore FYE philosophies and practices, which includes a wide range of teaching techniques and approaches. However, most FPLCs at HCC are topic-based and very diverse in membership. As Cox explains in Building Faculty Learning Communities, “Each topic-based FLC has a curriculum designed to address a special campus teaching and learning need, issue, or opportunity. […] These FLCs offer membership and provide opportunities for learning across all faculty ranks and cohorts and make appropriate professional staff members available to focus on a specific theme.” Since its inception, the FPLC program at HCC has offered learning communities on various topics, such as Active Learning Strategies (2007-2008); Implementing College Initiatives in the Classroom (2008-2009); and Technology in the Classroom (2009-2010).
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Goals of FPLCs
First, FPLCs provide a unique opportunity for connection and camaraderie among faculty and staff members of each community. As HCC grows, it becomes more challenging to connect with faculty and staff of other divisions and departments. As Cox describes, “Multidisciplinarity and community are the elements that allow FLCs to excel in teaching and learning pursuits.” By emphasizing community and the role that it can play in successful learning experiences, FPLCs aim to alleviate a sense of disconnection and isolation which can be found on many college and university campuses today. Furthermore, FPLC’s approach to community also encourages collaborative work in and out of the FPLC experience, which will yield a more cohesive and united campus climate.
Second, FPLCs contribute to student learning and success by providing a community in which faculty and staff members can continue to study, explore, and investigate important and relevant topics that can help us better serve our students. That is, the fundamental goal of all FPLCs and PLCs is to continuously improve student experience here at HCC. In most FPLCs, faculty participants choose a class in which they would anchor what they learn in the FPLC. For instance, participants in FPLC on the First Year Experience often design their Learning Improvement Projects in their MAPs around the FYE philosophies and approaches learned in the FPLC. According to Cox’s research, participants of FLCs at Miami University reported increase in interest in the teaching process, perspective of teaching, learning, and higher education beyond the department, interest in scholarship of teaching, total effectiveness, and comfort as a member of the college/university. At Miami University, where FLCs have flourished since 1979 and continues to grow, “evidence that student and faculty learning is improved through FLCs is found in the analysis of student learning.” Such analysis showed increase in students’ “ability to apply principles and generalizations already learned to new problems and solutions,” “ability to ask good questions,” and “ability to develop an openness to new ideas.” By providing communal learning experiences for faculty and staff at HCC, FPLCs aim to provide growth and improvement in our students’ experience at HCC.
As such, Faculty and Professional Learning Communities at HCC aim to:
- Promote scholarly teaching (teaching informed by a researched-based and learner-centered model)
- Provide a sustained and structured professional development opportunity for members
- Allow faculty and staff to be engaged as “a community of teacher-learners”
- Support individual and collaborative projects related to the learning community’s theme
- Enhance student learning through the application of insights gained from participation in the learning community
- Foster collegiality across disciplines and departments
- Engender a sense of community within and beyond individual groups
- Increase faculty and staff interest in teaching and learning
- Increase collaborative efforts across the disciplines
- Encourage reflection about teaching and learning
[The wording of these goals is adapted from Faculty Learning Community Program Director’s Handbook and Facilitator’s Handbook, fourth edition.]
Prior to the call for applications, the coordinator and the co-facilitators of a particular learning community should agree on a set of objectives particular to its matter of inquiry. The facilitator, along with the coordinator, should always keep in mind these overall goals as well as individual learning community’s objectives. Accomplishments of these goals and objects should be the focus of the year-end report of each community.
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Making FPLCs Work
First and foremost, the success of any given learning community depends on the commitment of its participants. According to Cox, the following are essential to building a meaningful and successful learning community:
- Clear structures for meetings
- Regularity of meetings
- Mutual support among community members
- Equal commitment to learning and community-building
- Cultivation of atmosphere conducive for learning and community-building
- Member commitment to the Ten Necessary Qualities for Building Community
- Safety and Trust
- Espirit de corps
Secondly, it is a good idea for each community to share ideas about the rules, goals, and expectations. For instance, the facilitators should encourage the group to do an exercise that will help the group reflect upon individual goals and group goals and establish “ground rules” for meetings. For instance, the group should consider how to format and organize the meetings and discuss acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Setting a schedule:
Each learning community will set its own meeting schedule. Because FLCs encourage building community, meeting two times a month is highly recommended. The frequency of the meetings provides continuity in the learning experience and offers participants opportunities to get to know one another. Typically the co-facilitators will set the meeting day and time at the time the FPLC is proposed. However, some communities may discuss and decide together their meeting day and time for the year. It is important that all members agree to and attend all meetings as consistent participation by all members is critical to the success of a learning community. It is important to keep in mind that the meeting days and time be consistent throughout the entire academic year (not just the fall semester) and each member can plan their spring semester accordingly.
Learning and Community-Building Activities
While each learning community will decide on its own how to format its meetings and what kinds of activities to commit to and participate in, learning communities typically share a common reading. The learning experience is usually centered on the group’s chosen texts (usually one book per each semester, not to exceed more than two books for the academic year), and the group can decide which parts of the books will be ready and studied. In some cases the co-facilitators will already have chosen the texts; in others the group can decide together which books to read. Facilitators are advised to offer suggestions for texts so that the book selection process can be efficient. Once the books have been selected, the co-facilitators can order the books and seek reimbursement or ask the coordinator to order the books on behalf of the group.
In addition, participants are encouraged to attend conferences, lectures, and workshops that pertain to the learning community’s topic and to organize a workshop or give a presentation during professional development at HCC and/or at regional and national conferences. Each learning community will explore these extra-curricular opportunities. All learning communities are encouraged to organize social gatherings (in addition to the meetings), such as potlucks, allowing the community for opportunities for non-working community time.
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Participating in an FPLC
Most learning communities are formed during the spring semester before each academic year. During the spring semester, a call-for-proposals is sent out to all faculty and staff members. Then, once a list of communities for the following academic year is compiled, a call for application to join these FPLCs is sent to faculty and staff. During each May professional development week, the coordinators and the facilitators will organize a workshop and/or a social event for graduating and incoming FPLCs.
Each year the FPLC program will observe the following tentative schedule:
February 15 – a call for new FPLC proposals sent to faculty and staff
March 15 – proposals due to the coordinator
April 1 – a call for application for participation sent to faculty and staff
April 15 – applications for participation due to the coordinator
April 30 – memberships for the following academic year announced
May Professional Development – a learning community gathering for current and new members
Each FPLC must have a minimum of 7 members to run. As participation in a learning community requires a high level of time commitment, we recommend that each participant join only one learning community for each academic year. Also, each facilitator should commit to only one learning community.
Participants of FPLCs are expected to complete reading and research assignments agreed to by the community, to attend biweekly meetings, and to participate in social events organized by the community. Also, there will be large group events for all FPLC participants during professional development weeks throughout the academic year.
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Coordinator: Laura Yoo (English / World Languages) - firstname.lastname@example.org
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