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Successful Communities are built on Continuous Improvement, Collective Responsibility, and Goal Alignment.
This lesson describes why Successful Communities are "Learning Communities." And describes why a commitment to continuous improvement, the development of collective responsibility, and focusing on goal alignment are so important in building a successful learning community.

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ASC Staff

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September 2, 2023

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Successful Communities are “Learning Communities.”

Successful Learning Communities emphasize the importance of a commitment to continuous improvement, the development of collective responsibility, and goal alignment to promote effective communication.

Continuous learning within communities requires communication standards because communication standards promote collective responsibility, and support the alignment of individual, team, school, and organization system goals.

It is through the Learning Management System Standards that Learning community members are held accountable to one another to achieve the shared goals of the community and work in transparent, authentic settings that support their improvement.

Shirley Hord, scholar laureate, talks about the Learning Communities standard.


Engage in Continuous Improvement

Learning communities apply a cycle of continuous improvement to engage in inquiry, action research, data analysis, planning, implementation, reflection, and evaluation. Characteristics of each application of the cycle of continuous improvement are:

  • The use of data to determine student and educator learning needs;
  • Identification of shared goals for student and educator learning;
  • Professional learning to extend educators’ knowledge of content, content-specific pedagogy, how students learn, and management of classroom environments;
  • Selection and implementation of appropriate evidence-based strategies to achieve student and educator learning goals;
  • Application of the learning with local support at the work site;
  • Use of evidence to monitor and refine implementation; and
  • Evaluation of results.

Develop Collective Responsibility

Learning communities share collective responsibility for learning.

Collective responsibility brings together the entire community, including members of the education workforce — teachers, support staff, school system staff, and administrators — as well as families, policymakers, and other stakeholders, to increase effective learning.

Within learning communities, peer accountability rather than formal or administrative accountability ignites commitment to professional learning.

Every learner benefits from the strengths and expertise of every teacher when communities learn together and are supported by communities whose members value education.

Collective participation advances the goals of the community as a whole as well as those of individuals.

Communities of caring, analytic, reflective, and inquiring educators collaborate to learn what is necessary to increase learning.

Within learning communities, members exchange feedback about their practice with one another, visit each other’s classrooms or work settings, and share resources.

Learning community members strive to refine their collaboration, communication, and relationship skills to work within and across both internal and external systems to support student learning.

They develop norms of collaboration and relational trust and employ processes and structures that unleash expertise and strengthen the capacity to analyze, plan, implement, support, and evaluate their practice.

While some professional learning occurs individually, particularly to address individual development goals, the more one educator’s learning is shared and supported by others, the more quickly the culture of continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and high expectations for students and educators grows.

Collective responsibility and participation foster peer-to-peer support for learning and maintain a consistent focus on shared goals within and across communities.

Technology facilitates and expands community interaction, learning, resource archiving and sharing, and knowledge construction and sharing.

Some may meet with peers virtually in local or global communities to focus on individual, team, school, or organization improvement goals.

Often supported through technology, cross-community communication reinforces shared goals, promotes knowledge construction and sharing, strengthens coherence, taps educators’ expertise, and increases access to and use of resources.

Communities of learners may be of various sizes, include members with similar or different roles or responsibilities, and meet frequently face-to-face, virtually, or through a combination.

Communities of teachers may be members of multiple learning communities.

Some communities may include members who share common students, areas of responsibility, roles, interests, or goals. Learning communities tap internal and external expertise and resources to strengthen practice and student learning.

Because the learning includes learners, their families, community members, the education workforce, and public officials who share responsibility for student achievement, some learning communities may include representatives of many groups.

Create Alignment and Accountability

To avoid fragmentation among learning communities and to strengthen their contribution to community goals, community leaders must create policies that establish formal accountability for results along with the support needed to achieve results.

To be effective, these policies and supports align with an explicit vision and goals for successful learning communities.

Learning communities align their goals with those of the larger community and hold all members collectively accountable for results.

Learning communities bridge the knowing-doing gap by transforming macro-level learning — knowledge and skill development — into micro-level learning — the practices and refinements necessary for full implementation in the classroom or workplace.

When professional learning occurs within a system driven by high expectations, shared goals, professionalism, and peer accountability, the outcome is a deep change for individuals and systems.

Related Research

  • Bolam, R., McMahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., & Wallace, M. (with Greenwood, A., et al.). (2005, May). Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities (Research Brief RB637). Nottingham, United Kingdom: Department for Education and Skills.
  • Hord, S.M. (Ed.). (2004). Learning together, leading together: Changing schools through professional learning communities. New York: Teachers College Press & NSDC.
  • Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (Eds.) (2008). Teachers in professional communities: Improving teaching and learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • McLaughlin, M.W. & Talbert, J.E. (2001). Professional communities and the work of high school teaching. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Saunders, W.M., Goldenberg, C.N., & Gallimore, R. (2009, December). Increasing achievement by focusing grade-level teams on improving classroom learning: A prospective, quasi-experimental study of Title I schools. American Educational Research Journal, 46(4), 1006-1033.