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THE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY – PRESCHOOL TEACHERS' QUALITY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AS A PREREQUISITE FOR IMPROVING EDUCATIONAL PRACTICE AND THE CURRICULUM

E. Slunjski

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (CROATIA)
In this presentation, the fundamental tenets of preschool teachers’ quality professional development as a prerequisite for improving the quality of educational practice and the curriculum will be considered.

The former relates to a deep-rooted cultural norm that preschool teachers' professional knowledge can be equated with a static set of insights acquired during their initial education. On the contrary, it represents a set of professional competencies acquired throughout their professional career.

Furthermore, the improvement of educational practice and the curriculum most often requires a change in the institution’s culture, for which an individual or several of them is not enough. This requires the entire group, which should be kept in mind when organizing preschool teachers’ professional development, which should have group characteristics and train preschool teachers for joint research, reflection, and action on the path to change.

Relevant domestic and world literature and the results of the undertaken research indicate that learning and practicing partnerships among preschool teachers generate productive innovations in practice. It is especially important that systematic support for implementing new reform documents, such as the National Curriculum for Early and Preschool Education, be realized through adequate forms of professional development. This includes providing support to preschool teachers to understand the expected changes and perceive them as meaningful and purposeful and give them the tools to put such changes into practice. From the perspective of some modern training models, this support for the implementation includes the development of structures that intensify the practitioners’ intrinsic motivation.

Professional development should have implications for preschool teachers' beliefs, experiences, and habits and help them become aware and better understand their beliefs, which are directly reflected in their educational work.

The potential of practitioners’ learning is much greater when it occurs based on direct observations in practice, i.e., insight into the mistakes they make in their practice than when they result from abstract descriptions of the practice they should “achieve.”

Preschool teachers’ professional competencies achieved in institutions with high-quality practice can gradually become the norm of good practice.

Also, the formation of professional learning communities has the potential to develop educational practice. It is based on the development and application of new knowledge, investing a lot of work in the process of change, and transforming the educational institution's culture.

In order for professional learning communities to be possible, action needs to be taken to remove various barriers. The primary barriers are the lack of clear values, intentions, and beliefs, the belief that someone from the outside can solve the educational institution’s problems, and the sense of resignation that weakens practitioners’ energy necessary for continuous improvement of learning and relationships within the institution.

The paper presents the path of formation and characteristics of the Ennea professional learning community in the Republic of Croatia.