Students can participate deeply throughout professional development activities beyond teacher training. In one professional learning community, students contributed greatly to teacher learning while discovering more about learning than they’d known before. PS 205 is a K-5 school in the Bronx, New York, that sought to develop new approaches to school improvement. SoundOut worked with them to facilitate Meaningful Student Involvement as the framework they sought.
Working with Communities for Learning, a nonprofit organization based in Floral Park, New York, SoundOut facilitated students as they became meaningfully involved in the development and ongoing operation of a learning community that included multiple students, teachers, parents and administrators.
With an existing history of staff-identified professional development, school/community partnerships and a strong principal/leader, the building seemed to be an ideal community, and the development of a learning community focused on school improvement seemed suspicious to many participants.
Teachers saw the learning community as another example of temporary professional development, and students appeared confused by the opportunity to work and interact with adults.
However, through a series of guided critical reflection and development sessions for all team members facilitated by SoundOut, including students as partners, the team transformed their own expectations and those of the school-at-large. Student-inclusive data collection and analysis led the learning community to identify differentiation a focus for the 2007-09 school years.
Members of the Community That Leads project participated in collegial inquiry, developing an understanding of how this process may be used to promote learning while also deepening their own learning around differentiation and language development.
According to Martin-Kniep, research projects can be a core of learning communities, ultimately influencing practice throughout the learning environment. She writes,
“Students possess tremendous experience and expertise in the areas of teaching and learning. Their experiences as learners in schools are far more grounded in reality than are those of most adults… They live teaching and learning every day.” (Martin-Kniep, 2008)