Building a Learning Community: A Tale of Two Schools

Transforming Schooling and Teaching: Teacher Professional Development Series
Building a Learning Community: A Tale of Two Schools cover
June 14, 2012
Dan Mindich
Ann Lieberman

In the fourth part of SCOPE-Learning Forward's Status of Professional Development series, Dan Mindich and Ann Lieberman examine ways to implement effective PLCs.Education research has found that collegial work is connected to teachers’ professional growth and positive student outcomes, but for various social and psychological as well as organizational reasons, teachers often face challenges to working together. As a result, efforts to bring teachers together have had uneven success. There is a good deal of research about what effective professional learning communities (PLCs) look like, but as McLaughlin and Talbert (2006) write: “We know much less about the process—how teacher learning communities get started, how they develop, and how requirements for their development and markers of maturity change” (129).

This study combines survey data of 33 New Jersey public schools involved in a state-sponsored PLC training program with case studies of two of those schools in order to trace the factors associated with the implementation of PLCs.

Interviews and observations at the two case-study schools showed that a set of predicted variables—vision, community, resources (including time to meet and teacher expertise), and processes—seemed to be connected to the development of collegial professional practice, and that all of these factors were influenced by principal leadership and the wider distributed leadership structures at the schools. These findings were corroborated by the survey data from the two case-study schools and the larger pool of schools in the program. Other factors, such as the state and local contexts of the two case study schools, and the leaders’ judicious use of their means of control while also supporting teacher autonomy, proved to be important for these schools as well. Although the staffs at both schools were already close socially and professionally, in both schools even reluctant teachers noticed greater depth to their collegial work. Challenges remained in terms of scheduling among teachers and the use of data to support high-quality teaching, but the move from congeniality to collegiality could be documented.