Margaret Leininger, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership & Change
There is a sense of urgency in the world of education to find the optimum route to take in order to assure successful learning experiences for our students. Professional Learning Communities are such a process. This study concerns a group of collaborative and dedicated educators who found success by establishing a Professional Learning Community focusing on student achievement, and how it can be maintained and sustained even in the most difficult of experiences such as changes in leadership, curriculum, vision, teachers, culture, and policies.
Data were collected from 11 interviews with teachers, a teacher’s assistant, and principals from three elementary schools in a successful Professional Learning Community district, which has managed to flourish for more than 12 years. Questions were focused on five areas: (a) trust, interdependency and collaboration; (b) leadership and vision; (c) continuous inquiry and student achievement; (d) resources; and (e) sustainability. The results revealed a positive, interdependent, synergistic culture where everyone believed in and lived the vision of doing what’s best for students, not what’s best for teachers.
While other researchers suggest shared leadership, celebrations, action oriented, building capacity, curriculum, risk taking, experimentation, results oriented, shared vision, mission and values were essential, this study found that these factors may be secondary or outgrowths needed to develop, but not necessarily sustain, a Professional Learning Community.
The three factors that were key to sustaining the Professional Learning Community were interdependence, which sanctioned teachers the freedom and trust to make decisions and take on leadership opportunities; a positive, open social capital; and insistence to continually focus on student learning. With these factors in place, the Professional Learning Community was resilient to changes in administration, curriculum, teachers, staff, and policies.
The results of this study contribute knowledge about sustaining Professional Learning Communities to assist policymakers, teacher preparation programs, administrators, and teachers who genuinely desire to enhance the profession. Once educators see the results of their hard work, it strengthens their support for the community and towards their profession. When a school district values and invests in Professional Learning Communities, the result is a higher level of success for all learners.