Professional Development and the “Intentional Learning Community”

May 31,2018

Source: Avi Chai Foundation 


As a foundation supporting Jewish day schools and overnight camps, AVI CHAI has always been eager to see the maximum number of participants enroll in our various professional development programs. “Filling the cohort” would obviously benefit a large number of institutions, thus increasing the impact of our philanthropy among Jewish youth. But cohort-based learning is not merely a matter of numbers. Early on, we learned that fashioning a group of professionals into an “intentional learning community” profoundly deepens the learning and enhances its durability.

Obviously, not every ‘intentional community’ is identical, but from our perspective, they do share several characteristics:

  • participants taking the time to establish their own norms related to confidentiality; being present, engaged and prepared; and what sorts of responses will be acceptable;
  • implementing those norms and determining consequences of failure to uphold them;
  • developing a distinctive learning culture, which typically includes not only attitudes but ‘rituals’ and practices as well, that are rehearsed and respected;
  • actively respecting, caring for and supporting one another’s learning and growth; and
  • designing methods of inducting new members into the culture, thus ensuring its continuation.

Aside from the benefits with respect to increased teacher effectiveness and improved children’s learning, these tightknit learning communities also help retain teachers who find great personal and professional satisfaction being in such an environment. And the virtuous cycle continues, as the intentional learning community attracts talented teachers to join the team and stay for many years. Over the years, I’ve visited several day schools that fostered such vibrant communities. When speaking with teachers, it doesn’t take long to discern this unique culture. It’s literally palpable.

Leadership development programs have figured something out that can and should trickle down to our schools. If schools are all about learning, it’s an activity we should want everyone in the building doing, not just the children. Of course, developing such intentional learning communities among staff demands the most precious commodity we have – time – but it will ultimately accrue to everyone’s great benefit. Leaders who’ve successfully fostered such communities among themselves are in the unique position to spread the wealth, implementing the methods they’ve learned and raising the tide for every staff member in their schools.

Read the entire post at the AVI CHAI Blog

Updated: Jun. 06, 2018