Session 14

Communities of Learning: supporting individuality and belonging
Liz Beasley, Senior Lecturer in Education (Practice), Middlesex University London
Shirley Allen, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, Middlesex University London
Phil Barter, Associate Professor (Practice) in Learning and Teaching, Middlesex University London

The NSS introduced a new question in 2017 relating to ‘’Learning Communities’ – this is a new key metric providing evidence about quality of HE provision. If developed carefully they can support and celebrate individuality (inclusion) while building a strength and sense of belonging  within a diverse group of students. 

Session summary:

Community: the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.
Individuality: uniqueness, distinctiveness, particularity
Belonging: the state of being united as a whole.

In a rapidly changing HE environment we are challenged to respond to individual student needs and form a rich tapestry of cohesive and supportive learning environments that provide the strongest support for success. Working with primary school teaching assistants studying on a BA(Hons)Learning and Teaching award, the need to provide value for money and opportunity for growth in the workplace is paramount. The students are skilled and experienced in practice and are keen to hone their professionalism as they prepare to enter the teaching profession. There is a sense of a shared understanding of workplace expectations and a strong need for collaborative academic support. 

Wilson et al. (2013) found both commonality and variation in understandings of professionalism – commonality as expressed core concepts including:

  • identifying as a member of a community based on shared practices and values, where the norms of acceptable practice and values are determined within the community rather than imposed from without.
  • having a sense of responsibility and service, based on a belief that what you and your professional community does is of genuine value.

 “An effective professional learning community (EPLC) fully exhibits eight key characteristics: shared values and vision; collective responsibility for pupils’ learning; collaboration focused on learning; individual and collective professional learning; reflective professional enquiry; openness, networks and partnerships; inclusive membership; mutual trust, respect and support” (Bolam, 2005) 

Creating and sustaining effective professional learning communities,  DfES.

We can ask ourselves and our students:

  • How could we become a stronger community of professional learners?
  • What do you think we could do better as a group of professional learners?
  • How can we ensure that the strengthening of the community actually improves learning?
Professional Group Activity:
  • What is one aspect of your work that you are intending to enhance and develop further?  This can be a current strength or something you are developing.
  • Rewrite your “intention” to be a SMART goal.
  • How can this community of professional learners  help you to achieve your goal?
  • How can you help other professionals in the community achieve their goals?
  • Are you leaving with a feeling of belonging? Would you choose to come back and meet up again?