A focus of education today has been changing this engrained educational system in order to better prepare students for the 21st Century. At the start of the first chapter in Rewiring Education is the quote, “If we teach as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” (Dewey, 1944) Therefore, the challenge for today’s leadership is how to teach the teachers the most effective pedagogy in order to better educate our current students.
There is an overwhelming global concern for schools about learning outcomes and the well-being of schools that is leading entire districts to reform and change (Harris, 2011). There is pressure for students to increase performance and show growth (Daly, 2009). Many schools have tried to patch things in education but that has proven to have its limitations (Couch, 2018). Policy makers began to change directives. It came from the top-down and led to an even greater gap between the teachers and the policy makers, having the opposite of the desired effect (Olivier, D.F. & Huffman, J.B. 2016).
The top-down directives also created an environment which developed into a lack of trust. Some learning environments became toxic and student growth did not occur (Carpenter, 2014). Teachers were feeling that the professional development opportunities offered where just workshops telling them how to prepare for state testing (Macias, 2017). Despite the efforts to change and reform, educators continued with issues of motivation, struggled with student discipline, violence, and class or race inequities (Olivier, D.F. & Huffman, J.B. 2016). It was evident that a more trustworthy change needed to occur.
We needed a better method of educating the teachers so that they felt empowered and able to effectively help the students. In the 1980s, an interest developed into professional learning communities or PLCs (Olivier, D.F. & Huffman, J.B. 2016). It was an option that would prove to be more balanced and relative. PLCs could be considered the “best hope for school reform” (Hipp & Huffman, 2010, p.1) and PLCs began to replace the teacher inservice. This inservice model only allowed teachers to view ideas and it was assumed they understood.
Teachers also did not have as much say in the ideas that were to be discussed which created a lack of motivation (Avalos, 2011). Isolation occured as teachers went about their work day, not fully understanding how to share best practices. This isolation leads to slower growth in student achievement (Honawar, 2008). The PLC model does require a district to have a transformative mindset and be proactively involved in the process. Within a PLC there are five dimensions: shared and supportive leadership, shared values and vision, collaborative learning and application, shared personal practice, and supportive conditions (Olivier, D.F. & Huffman, J.B. 2016).
Having a better focus on the team as a whole allows for the learning process within a school to be catapulted from just being a good school to an exemplary school (Honawar, 2008). As more PLCs are evolving, more data is being collected about the effects. A study administered by Burdett, demonstrated: “where there is evidence of a well-established, or mature professional learning community, student achievement increases in both math and reading assessments over time” (p. 114). With anything new, there does arise several challenges.
As teachers once worked in isolation there was a safety in knowing you could do your own thing. Risks were not involved and there was not the accountability. In a PLC model, teachers are encouraged to talk with one another, share assessments, discuss better methods. It can initially be a scary thing to tackle. Building time into a very busy school day or year, can also be challenging. It becomes a cultural change inside a school, as teachers begin to feel safe and can share their ideas (Honawar,V. 2008). In order to have this type of change, it does take a transparency from all involved.
Teachers become the learners in this process, not just a teacher (Vescio, Ross, Adams, 2008). They have to now take risks in order to change their way of thinking. The PLC model is a shift in the way teachers once thought. The habits of their daily teaching are different. This resulted in a changed culture in the buildings. When there is accountability in the building it enhances student growth and achievement. Educators must demonstrate how the sharing of their ideas through a PLC is helping their students to improve (Vescio, Ross, Adams, 2008). Sense making occurs when individuals are able to understanding meaning and as a result better reproduce the practice. New knowledge is only retained if it shows to be useful in other venues.
If teachers also confirm that the practice has benefits it is yet another positive to try that strategy (Kondakci, Beycioglu, & Sincar, 2016). The focus is on helping everyone instead of just yourself.. This focus is vital especially for those in rural communities that do not have the opportunities readily available (Sandholtz & Ringstaff, 2011). The approach as a whole is a bottom up approach. Traditionally the administrator controls every major decision in the school (Macias, 2017). Distributing leadership allows teachers to make their own decisions about their practice.
Teachers feel empowered to change and advance their methods (Kondakci & Sincar, 2016). Distributed leadership is an indicator to successful change in schools and has been linked to affect teachers positively, increase student engagement, improve learning outcomes and overall school culture (XU, Beycioglu, & Sinar, 2016) This change however does not diminish the role that the leadership has in the organization. The roles are just spread out and not just with the few elites. Sharing in the leadership roles is a main piece of truly effective PLC communities.
It provides for the learning to be continuous throughout the organization. Here is where having a shared vision comes into play. If the organization knows the central focus, and has the vision, it is easier to work together, build a sense of trust, be transparent and foster growth. The PLC model encourages discussion and communication. The experiences of individuals are generally shared in groups. Constant interaction with one another socially can spread knowledge within a system (Kondakci, Beycioglu, & Sincar, 2016). This takes time and careful planning. It is a mindset shift.
The teachers have to be taught how to think differently. Instead of polite conversations and stories of practice, teachers learn to dive deeper into conversations that help them truly understand, learn to question, and grow in their practice. There is a process involved in learning how to avoid conflict and encourage deeper thinking. Taking the risk to share and open up takes away from the privacy and is a challenge for many teachers.
The inexperience of how to open deep conversations is another hurdle to jump as this process begins. These two factors can be overcome by practice and modeling. By showing a willingness to investigate the connections being made in the teaching-learning process. Teachers commonly expect of their students to model strategies for deep conversations, and the role is the same for the teacher leaders. The teacher leaders will help encourage and grow deep conversations by modeling how to reflect and discuss solutions and areas of growth (Nelson, Deuel, Slavit, & Kennedy, 2010).
ADD in Developing the teacher leaders is another part of the PLC model. This concept has grown with the awareness that the effectiveness of a teacher depends on leadership. Research has found that when there is teacher leadership it leads to sustained improvement which leads to student achievement. Empowering teachers and allowing them to take a part in the role of improving the school brings growth. This process of developing teacher leaders is now being used in the teacher preparation programs.
Prior to the intervention, the teacher preparation programs were discovered to be weak, when they were compared with the on the job experience. It was found that the programs placed more attention on the knowledge than on the heart of the practice. Developing these leadership skills has proved important enough to continue school and student achievement that is needs to be included in the training of those already teaching and those getting ready to teach. The teacher leadership programs in preservice teachers will help support beliefs about leadership and help them understand how the structures function better.
There are four pieces that matter in developing teacher leadership. They are beliefs, structures, trust, and rewards (XU & Patmor, 2012). It has been noted that many administrators have seen such large return on investment by having teachers train each other or lead one another due to a heightened sense of pride, professionalism, and a unification among colleagues, that they do not have a problem sharing the roles (Macias, 2017)
It has been noted that the way teachers went about engaging in this collaborative structure was due to supportive leadership, trust, and respect that teachers were professionals. School leaders are to harness the potential of teachers in their buildings by modeling honesty, trust, openness, and by providing opportunities to take on real responsibilities to help with improvement efforts. In order to build strong professional learning teams, leaders need to have the transformational mindset (Carpenter, 2016). More specifically within a PLC is teacher-led professional development where the classroom teacher is the trainer. Teachers are able to plan their own conference that they feel is most relevant and meaningful to them.
It is a positive engagement among teachers. It allows for teachers to take ownership which leads to deeper teaching and understanding. This method allows for teachers to further develop their potential (XU & Patmor, 2012). A study was done to investigate the effects of teacher-led professional development in a K-2 building on Science instruction and how it increased teacher self-efficacy in teaching science. There was a comparison of data taken before the inclusion of teacher-led professional development. A year later, the data showed that there was a positive shift in the teachers’ self-efficacy in teaching science.
Before the program, 42% of the teachers felt that they did not teach science fluidly. After the teacher-led professional development only 18% felt they did not teach science fluidly. They felt they understood the content better instead of faking it. Teachers started implementing different instructional strategies with more confidence. They felt they could use the hands on strategies better and engage the students. Interviews had confirmed that the teachers felt more confident and ready to try new things (Sandholtz & Ringstaff, 2011).
Reflective practice is another piece that PLC develop. Being able to internally and openly reflect develops a deeper sense of understanding. Through activities such as peer teaching observations, interviews, videotaping, role playing, or the use of personal inventories teachers are able to view their teaching practice and evaluate themselves. If teachers are continually reflecting on their beliefs, regardless of the strategy used, growth will occur and improve the overall effectiveness of the teacher. Dewey (1933) observed, that people to not learn solely from the experience, but the true learning comes from reflecting on the experience.
Literature states that reflective thinking views the reflection as a mostly social exercise. It claims that an educators’ professional growth would not grow without the setting in a social group collaborating together. The reflection process leads to educators who observe, evaluate, and improve their own practice. This type of thinking should help the educator deepen the understanding and develop a more refined practice. Educators who continually ask questions about their own practice are focused. By practicing this skill educators are always thinking about or trying to improve their practice (Rossouw, 2009).
Using inquiry as an educator works through the PLC. The inquiry mindset allows for questioning and analyzing to occur. Action research projects provide an open door for teachers to use inquiry within their own practice. Action research is used as a form of investigation where the educator is able to critically analyze issues that they personally decide are interesting or valuable. It gives ownership to the teacher and allows for one to improve on their own practice. At the basic level of action research, it includes planning out your topic, acting, observing and reflecting, and as a result going through the process again to further the understanding.
Teachers that practice this and are able to develop a habit of inquiry can gain a more thoughtful method of teaching. They are more likely to self-monitor, be adaptive, take risks, become problem solvers, and clinical inquirers. The goal for action research is to bring about change in the classroom and improve the educators abilities as an instructor. When data is associated with a particular method it becomes more valuable to the educator and they practice the strategy more effectively. When these methods are applied by educators they in turn systematically gather data, analyze it and form a hypothesis to complete a report on to share with their colleagues (Rossouw, 2009).
In this ever changing world where technology is advancing, the teacher-led professional development sector has taken to social media. Another factor is the government cuts to the funding of professional development and social media is a means that does not cost. Social media allows for new opportunities for professional discussion and debate which are important when dealing with policy developments that have been put in place by those outside of the profession (Wood, 2014). Teachers are working beyond the standard structures that the State has set in place.
Twitter has developed into a social media tool that allows for meaningful and engaging conversations to take place among educators. It is a replacement of the more formal learning professional development. Over 4.2 million daily tweets are posted by educators (Hill, 2014). Teachers share their work, ideas and thoughts all through Twitter. Blogs are another means of teacher-led professional development. It is a way for some participants to to differentiate ideas so they could develop wider ways in creating practical educational strategies beyond their workplace.
Blogs have developed in numerous ways to help educators. There is a growing community of teachers that have a wide range of thoughts on education. They use these spaces in order to engage and reflect with others on their professional development. These teachers are explorers, that are finding new ways to reassert their professionalism. There are challenges the develop with a space such as social media. The definition is informal and the space is public. For these new opportunities of professional dialogue to continue to be creative and informative, it is essential for teachers to take responsibility for the pieces they create.
It requires respectful and professional dialogue. While social media is a space for teacher-led professional development and professional growth, the debates are always present. These are alternative professional creative spaces that teachers use. They are working beyond the standard structures of the state, teachers have this alternative space to share their professionalism, question and create new ways to gain an understanding of practices.
Researched has provided the importance of incorporating teachers in the process of professional development in order to instill a culture of true lifelong learners. When we consider the ever changing world, we know that real teacher work must have a direct impact on the students’ achievement. Based off of the data gathered we can conclude that teachers are wanting to improve their practice. It is evident that we need to continue in our efforts to refine the professional development practice.