Blended Learning Communities

I have investigated Professional Learning Communities since becoming an elementary principal in the fall of 2011. I read the original resource, Professional Learning Communities at Work by Rick DuFour and Robert Eaker (Solution Tree, 1998). This was followed up with attending the Literacy and Leadership Institute by Regie Routman and colleagues in June 2012. I dug more deeply into this framework for collaboration by reading Common Formative Assessment: A Toolkit for Professional Learning Communities at Work by Kim Bailey and Chris Jakicic (Solution Tree, 2012) and Building a Professional Learning Community at Work: A Guide to the First Year by Parry Graham and Bill Ferriter (Solution Tree, 2010). In addition, I investigated the possibilities of online collaboration in The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall (Solution Tree, 2012). Not to be forgotten are all of the informal conversations I have had on Twitter via the #atplc hashtag, plus the excellent resources I have found at the All Things PLC website.

The one thing I can say for sure at this point is: Facilitating highly effective and efficient learning communities is difficult work. There is much to balance.

  • purpose
  • goals
  • focus
  • expertise
  • data
  • action steps
  • results
  • reflection

Of all of these elements, I find time to be the most challenging to address. I am willing to bet that many of the authors listed previously might agree. Time is so limited for educators, especially at the elementary level. Whenever we set up a regular time to meet, that means teachers have less time to get everything else done for their classroom of students.

Where I am finding lots of possibilities is blending our online and in person conversations surrounding instruction and learning. Ferriter and Graham suggest many digital tools to try. Nussbaum-Beach and Hall provide a model for what connected learning communities could look like at the school, department, and classroom levels. What I am aiming for is somewhere in the middle. My school is familiar with powerful tools such as Google, Evernote, Twitter, and Skype. However, we want to keep the majority of our conversations face-to-face. 

Ben Wilkoff co-facilitated a webinar with me for Education Week, titled Using Technology to Personalize Learning in Elementary Schools. His part was titled “What is Your Blend?”. The point I remember him making was that learning is best supported when the technologies are infused within instruction, curriculum, and assessment. They are used purposefully, have meaning, and provide real time feedback from an authentic audience. This concept, of blending the right digital tools within the learning environment we are already engaged in, rings loudly with me. I see a direct application to how collaborative teams can operate.

So what is your blend? What digital tools have you leveraged in your community of learners? What efficiencies have your discovered?


Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

5 thoughts on “Blended Learning Communities”

  1. Matt, I love this post. Too often, we as educators, don’t see the relationship between technology and instruction. When we infuse technology with our curriculum and instruction, we get the best of both worlds. We should not think of technology as its own separate entity – rather technology is used to enhance quality teaching and learning opportunities. As educators, we need to embrace this concept and allow technology to enhance our collaborative conversations and interaction. Technology should be a tool which we use to collaborate and discuss at new levels.


  2. Matt,
    As always such a thoughtful post — and deep questions–

    With your kind reference to our work, you’re familiar with our thoughts around leveraging technology to transform professional learning and how diversity can lead to greater innovation that will generalize to improved student learning.

    I’ll be interested in others’ comments here on their favorite blend and hope that you might be a bit more explicit in the blend you see working best for you and your faculty–


    1. I appreciate the comment, Lani. Your and Sheryl’s book The Connected Educator is an essential resource for any school or educator looking to harness the potential of online relationships. Thank you for setting the bar for what’s possible.

      I tried replying, and realized once finished that I had written an entirely new post. Stay tuned!


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