BEST PRACTICES AND IDEAS OF MATURE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES AT THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LEVEL

UNIVERSITY OF NORTHERN COLORADO

Greeley, Colorado

The Graduate School

BEST PRACTICES AND IDEAS OF MATURE PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES AT THE

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LEVEL

A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Doctor of Education

Michelle Lynn Johnstone

College of Education and Behavioral Sciences School of Educational Research, Leadership, and Technology

Program of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

August, 2010

 

 

UMI Number: 3428978

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This Dissertation by: Michelle Lynn Johnstone

Entitled: Best Practices and Ideas of Mature Professional Learning Communities at the Elementary School Level

has been approved as meeting the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Education in the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences in School of Educational Research, Leadership, Program of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Accepted by the Doctoral Committee

C^J^ ye. Linda R. Vogel, Ph.D., Chair

artha Cray, Ph.D., CqHHnittee Member

., Committee Member

acuity Representative

Date of Dissertation Defense —/—* W&_ • / (s / %*Q I 0

Accepted by the Graduate School

lobbyn R(J^acker, Ph.D. Assistant Vice President for Research

Dean of Graduate School & International Admissions

 

 

ABSTRACT

Johnstone, Michelle Lynn. Best Practices and Ideas of Mature Professional Learning Communities at the Elementary School Level. Published Doctor of Education dissertation, University of Northern Colorado, 2010.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, so as not to get burned jumping over the candle

stick! Just as Jack maneuvered over the candle stick, so does an instructional leader who

needs to make rapid changes and maneuver to meet the demands of No Child Left Behind

(NCLB; 2002). Developing and cultivating the culture of a Professional Learning

Community (PLC) allows for staff to respond to students’ academic needs in a nimble

fashion. The problem with Professional Learning Communities is the lack of research on

the best practices of a successful mature PLC. This research focused on identifying these

practices. First, successful elementary schools were identified by the Colorado State

Assessment Program. Second, mature PLC’s were identified by the principals of the

successful schools completing the School Professional Staff as Learning Community

Survey (Hord, 1996) and copy written by Southwest Educational Laboratory. Third,

qualitative interviews and observations were conducted. The five major themes

identified by Hord were observed in this study with school vision providing the focus for

all decisions. The best practices and ideas that frame a successful, mature PLC include

opportunities for shared decision making, visioning, collective learning and application of

learning, peer observation and feedback, and supportive school conditions. All

opportunities are focused on improving the teaching and learning process.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank my advisor, Dr. Linda Vogel, my doctoral cohort, and

committee members for supporting me through the doctoral program and process. I

appreciated your thoughtful questions that prompted my thinking to go to the next level!

I thank my awesome husband who encouraged me to pursue my doctorate and provided

the “pushes” along the way to keep going! I want to thank my awesome children and

grandchildren for supporting my efforts, even when “Grandma had to get her work

done.” A special dedication and appreciation goes to my oldest daughter Susie who in

this past year launched an incredible fight against breast cancer and won. You showed

me how to make the best of each moment and keep moving forward. You demonstrated

great strength, courage and laughter. I want to thank the principal and staff of Nimble

Elementary—you are an amazing example of a successful, mature PLC! I greatly

appreciate the opportunity to learn from you!

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION 1

Statement of the Problem 9 Purpose of the Study 11 Research Questions 12 Significance of the Study 13 Definition of Terms 14

CHAPTER II. LITERATURE REVIEW 17

Background 17 Impact of History 21 Increasing Student Achievement in Colorado 22 Collaboration and Professional Learning Communities 26 Professional Development 33 Change 34 Summary .-. 36

CHAPTER III. METHODOLOGY 38

Introduction 38 Research Question 39 Sampling , 39 Theoretical Framework, Method, and Trustworthiness 40 Researcher Bias 43 Participants and Procedure 44 Instrument 45 Data Analysis 46 Summary 47

CHAPTER IV. RESULTS OF THE STUDY 48

Introduction 48 Phase One: Student Data Analysis 49 Phase Two: Data Collection 56 Summary 78

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CHAPTER V. FINDINGS , 80

Introduction 80 Summary of Findings 81 Implications for School Leaders 92 Validity, Reliability, and Trustworthiness 94 Personal Reflection 96 Study Limitations 97 Recommendations for Further Research 97 Final Thoughts 98

REFERENCES 101

APPENDIX A. SCHOOL PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY

QUESTIONNAIRE DESCRIPTORS 109

APPENDIX B. PERMISSION LETTER 111

APPENDIX C. SPSLC QUESTIONNAIRE 114

APPENDIX D. INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD APPLICATION 117

APPENDIX E. FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS 133

APPENDIX F. PRINCIPAL LETTER 136

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LIST OF TABLES

1. Summary of Individual School Data 51

2. School Professional Learning Community Questionnaire Responses from Elementary Principals 52

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LIST OF FIGURES

1. Enrollment of the 34 schools “. 54

2. Mobility of the 34 schools 55

3. Free and reduced lunch for the 34 schools 55

4. School vision 92

viu

 

 

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, so as not to get burned jumping over the candle

stick! Just as Jack maneuvered over the candle stick, so does an instructional leader who

needs to make rapid changes and maneuver to meet the demands of No Child Left Behind

(NCLB; 2002). My own experiences with NCLB fueled my professional desire to go

deeper with Professional Learning Communities (PLC). According to Hord (2004),

PLC’s are also known as “communities of continuous inquiry and improvement” (p. 1). I

have had the opportunity to work in two different school districts in elementary schools;

both schools were PLCs that provided a means for school improvement to meet NCLB.

Current literature supports the PLC environment; however, the gains made through the

PLC environment do not appear to be well documented.

I begin by describing the chronicle of two elementary schools. The first

elementary school was my first principalship that lasted four years; I am currently the

principal at the second elementary school. The chronicle of the two elementary schools

begins at the same stage, both needing to make rapid changes. The first elementary

school experienced rapid changes in student demographics, staffing, Title I funding, and

new school leadership. The student demographics changed as boundaries changed to

open a new school; that impacted the established school by depleting it of all the middle

to upper socioeconomic status (SES) students and replacing the students with those

 

 

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highly impacted by poverty and language. The staffing changes occurred as half of the

staff was transferred to open a new school and half of the staff remained. Title I funding

was reduced the first year and eliminated the second year since the school was ninth on

the district’s list for number of students who received free and reduced lunch. The

district decided to fund only eight schools. As the new instructional leader, I needed to

find a way to respond to current changes and build capacity for future changes. I turned

to Professional Learning Communities at Work by Richard DuFour (1998). The staff

began working as a PLC on our mission, vision, values, and goals. The dialogue was

excellent and included staff, parents, and our business partner. Once our school

improvement goals were established, we met regularly to examine student performance

assessments that included Measure of Academic Progress and Dynamic Indicators of

Basic Early Literacy Skills, which we compared to our school improvement goals that

were based on district content standards and our achievement data to ensure academic

progress. Students were making steady progress in achieving content standards in

reading and math as evidenced by the Colorado State Assessment Program (CSAP).

A short distance away, another school highly impacted by poverty and language

began with a new instructional leader who rapidly worked to establish the school’s

mission. The pressure was on as the candle stick had turned into a burning bush because

they were on academic improvement as a result of four years of not meeting Adequate

Yearly Progress (AYP) in reading and math as mandated by NCLB. The instructional

leader also used the work of DuFour (1998) and complemented DuFour’s work with

Adaptive Schools by Garmston and Wellman (1999). Staff met weekly to review student

performance data and make instructional decisions. Goals were set monthly based on

 

 

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student needs in reading, writing, and math. Within three years, the school made

significant gains and was taken off of academic improvement by the state of Colorado.

This PLC is beginning its sixth year, my third year as principal in this school.

I am beginning my third year in the second school and the PLC is strong and very

much a part of the school culture. The chronicle of these two elementary schools is what

generated my interested in PLCs. Like the children’s fable, Jack learned how to jump

over the candle stick without getting burned. Nimble is an important word; according to

the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2009), the meaning of nimble is quick, alert,

resourceful, quick to think, understand, and devise. Nimbleness is the ability of an

organization to consistently succeed in unpredictable, contested environments by

implementing important changes more efficiently and effectively than its competitors”

(Conner, 1998, p. 39). Schools need to make changes rapidly to respond to student needs

in order to increase the probability of students achieving content standards and schools

meeting targets established under NCLB. Experiencing the development and

implementation of two elementary-based PLCs, I believe that PLCs allow educators to

respond to student need in a nimble fashion.

In order to understand the increasing pressures facing instructional leaders as a

result of continuous legislative advances, it is important to build background knowledge

of how all the changes have come to pass. The history of educational standards began

with A Nation at Risk (1983), also known as the standards-based reform movement. In

1981, the Secretary of Education created a task force identified as the National

Commission on Excellence in Education, which was charged with the job of examining

the current educational system. Over the course of 18 months, there were eight

 

 

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committee meetings and eight public meetings to gather feedback on the current

educational system. Based on the data collected, “On April 26, 1983, the National

Commission on Excellence in Education arrived at the White House with an alarming

report for President Reagan asserting that the nation was literally at risk due to the poor

quality of education in the United States” (McCabe, Cunningham, Harvey, & Koff, 2005,

p. 110). Their findings established a clear need to push for content standards across the

country.

The education system began to change as a result of this legislation; the shift

began to occur as student educational outcomes of content knowledge became the focus

of legislators and educators. An educational content outcome can be described as what

students need to know at the end of a grade level or at the end of their K-12 experience.

The commission drafted the report which focused on educational change that promised

lasting reform {Nation at Risk, 1983). According to the vision of the Nation at Risk

findings,

the recommendations are based on the beliefs that everyone can learn and that everyone is born with an urge to learn which can be nurtured, that a solid high school education is within the reach of virtually all, and that life-long learning will equip people with the skills required for new careers and for citizenship, (para. 4)

Two of the four recommendations from the report addressed student learning

expectations. “All high school students would graduate with a set of five new basic skills

in English, Math, Science, Social Studies and computer science” {Nation at Risk, 1983, p.

1). All schools also needed to adopt “rigorous and measurable standards that include

higher expectations” {Nation at Risk, 1983, p. 1). Over the course of 18 months of

investigation and public discourse, the standards set in this case “were not by fiat at the

 

 

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top but by an ongoing process of negotiation and interaction among key players”

(Bolman & Deal, 2003, p. 188). Through many public and team discussions, the end

result was a clearer national focus on student learning.

In addition to initiating a focus on content standards, Nation at Risk (1983) also

contained a recommendation for school leadership that initiated the shift from

management style leadership to instructional leadership. The focus for schools became

“how well individual students and groups of students are able to perform academically”

(Hunt, 2008, p. 7). In 1996, the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC)

developed standards for school leadership to support the changes needed in the

educational system. According to ISLLC, school leaders for the 21st century have three

important roles: instructional leadership, community leadership, and visionary leadership.

In fact, of the six standards developed by ISLLC, only one—Standard 3~addresses

management, thus placing the major focus on instructional leadership. The following are

the six standards (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2008):

Standard 1: A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by facilitating the development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a vision of learning that is shared and supported by the school community.

Standard 2: A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to student learning and staff professional growth.

Standard 3: A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by ensuring management of the organization, operations, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning environment.

Standard 4: A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by collaborating with families and community members, responding to diverse community interests and needs, and mobilizing community resources.

 

 

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Standard 5: A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by acting with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner.

Standard 6: A school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by understanding, responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context, (pp. 1-6)

Goals 2000: Educate America Act (“Goals 2000,” 1998) was a major federal

opportunity for restructuring schools that also included funding. Goals 2000

encompassed four categories: accountability for implementation of standards,

assessments, teacher preparation and professional development, and parent involvement.

This law changed the federal government structure by establishing three new federal

committees to oversee education: The National Education Standards and Improvement

Council, The National Education Goals Panel, and Leadership in Educational

Technology. The purpose of the National Education Standards and Improvement Council

was to periodically review national content standards and state standards in addition to

reviewing the teaching and learning process and assessments. The National Education

Goals Panel was charged with building consensus for the educational improvements,

specifically reporting progress toward the National Education Goals and the review of

evolving curricular standards.

The push for educational standards continued with Goals 2000 (1998). “Goals

2000 legislation called for all students to leave certain grade levels having demonstrated

competency in English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government,

economics, the arts, history and geography” (Hunt, 2008, p. 7). Demonstration of

competency drove the need for determining assessments that accurately measured how

students were achieving on a particular standard or standards.

 

 

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This emphasis on results was embodied in changes in instructional and institutional systems; curriculum and instruction, professional development, assessment and accountability, school and leadership organization, and parental and community involvement, that all were aligned to content and performance standards. (Goals 2000)

Through the work of the three federal committees, restructuring of schools to become

standards-based and focus on student achievement continued at a slow pace. According

to Fullan (2001), change is complex; in order for the needed changes to take hold, leaders

need to understand the change process.

The next legislative action came with President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act

(NCLB; 2002) that pushed the federal government further into regulation of education at

the state and local levels, predominantly through accountability systems. NCLB included

a number of core structures intended to increase student achievement: annual testing,

academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, Put Reading First, and changes in

funding related to the Title I funding formula. According to McCabe et al. (2005), annual

testing under “No Child Left Behind insists that states develop rigorous content standards

and assess the content standards with mandatory statewide examinations, ultimately from

third to tenth grade” (p. 110). Further “state examinations are to be benchmarked against

the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)” (McCabe et al., 2005,

p. 110). The NAEP assessments have been given nation-wide since 1971, in part to

provide states with nationwide trend data on student progress toward content standards.

Title I serves as an example of how the funding provisions and accountability

were focused. Under NCLB, “schools that receive Title I money under the Elementary

and Secondary Education Act of 1994 (cited in McCabe et al., 2005) are required to

demonstrate satisfactory performance also known as making Adequate Yearly Progress

 

 

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(AYP)” (p. 110). By the year 2013-2014, all students are to be proficient, both as a

whole group and in all subgroups. The current target for Reading is 88.46% of all

students scoring partially proficient, proficient, and advanced. The current math target is

89.09% of students scoring partially proficient, proficient, and advanced. The

participation rate is targeted to include 95%, i.e., a minimum of 95% of students complete

the assessment. Subgroups also need to meet the targets and include students with

disabilities, students from economically disadvantages homes, students of specific

ethnicities as compared to their Caucasian peers, and English language learners.

Penalties faced by a school or district for failing to make AYP include sanctions as to

how the Title I funding could be spent. Ultimately, if a school does not make AYP, it is

subject to a loss of funding and could be required to restructure. The targets are

increasing in an effort to achieve 100% proficiency rating in reading and mathematics by

2013-2014.

The Nation at Risk Report (1983) initiated school and district reform. Now, 26

years later, due to the complexity of the change process, NCLB (2002) continues to drive

the focus of academic achievement by both building and district level leadership to that

of instructional leadership. Academic success must happen for all students, which

includes closing the achievement gap between the following sub groups: specified ethnic

groups, economically disadvantaged, special education, and English language learners.

The question has become how do principals make the transition to instructional

leaders and focus teachers on student achievement? “Research has taught us that school

leaders are crucial to improving instruction and raising student achievement as their

primary responsibility is to improve teaching and learning for all children” (Council of

 

 

Chief State School Officers, 2008, p. 3). How do principals lead schools in a way that

focuses on every learner and responds to every learner’s needs? Current educational

trends focus on developing a shared vision: what the school hopes to become, sharing a

commitment by all staff members to increase student achievement based on state and

district standards, addressing job embedded professional development, developing an

understanding of student data, and understanding the teaching and learning process with

the focus shifting from teaching to learning by all. One practice that incorporates all of

the trends listed above is the PLC.

PLCs have been a focus in education for several years. Authors such as Hord

(2004), DuFour (1998), Fullan (2006), and Garmston and Wellman (1999) have focused

their writing on this exact topic. “Professional learning communities are in fact about

establishing lasting new collaborative cultures” (Fullan, 2006, p. 10). Fullan continues,

“Collaborative cultures are ones that focus on building capacity for continuous

improvement and are intended to be a new way of working and learning and are meant to

be enduring capacities, not just another program innovation” (p. 10). Studies by Graham

(2007) and LaRocco (2007) document the initial phases of developing a collaborative

culture; however, there is limited research on mature PLCs.

Statement of the Problem

The problem in understanding the PLC is that there are broad ranges of

definitions of professional learning community as validated by Fullan (2006) when he

explains, “The term travels faster and better than the concept” (p. 10). This means many

have jumped on board with the term but do not fully understand what it means. “We

have many examples of superficial PLCs—educators simply calling what they are doing

 

 

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professional learning communities without going very deep into learning and without

realizing they are not going deep” (Fullan, 2006, p. 10) Educators don’t realize what they

don’t know. Definitions of a PLC range from reading an article and discussing it to

embedding the new knowledge into a school culture with an organizational support

structure. Recently, there has been some abandonment of professional learning

communities out of frustration due to the lack of understanding of what it means to be a

PLC based on observations and discussions with instructional leaders. The

organizational structure of a PLC is as important as understanding the philosophy of the

PLC. The consistent structural component is one that seems to be often overlooked.

“Structural means time to meet and talk, physical proximity, inter-dependent teaching

roles, communication structures, and teacher empowerment” (Fullan, 2006, p. 10). An

example of organizational structure with job-embedded professional development is

having teachers gather together on a weekly basis using student content assessment data

to write SMART goals and decide on common, specific instructional strategies and

common assessments to measure student progress. SMART goals are strategic,

measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time bound. Teachers work from curriculum

maps that are based on state content standards. Job embedded professional development

uses time efficiently and allows for teachers to apply and integrate new knowledge

immediately.

Research on PLCs was limited and primarily focused on the secondary level.

There was no lack of information on the theory of PLCs; however, there was little

research that substantiated the impact of the PLC. In searching the Academic Search

Premier under the term professional learning community, 113 articles appeared.

 

 

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However, in adding the terms empirical study, this number was reduced to three: the

research review by Vescio, Ross, and Adams (2008), one study at the secondary level,

and one study that focused on the professional learning community dialogue by

Baumfield and Butterworth (2005). In conducting the same search through ERIC,

professional learning community plus elementary identified 52 articles. When the term

study was added, this reduced the number to 19 articles. In reviewing the 19 studies, only

one was conducted at the elementary level by focusing on monitoring student data and

intervention in two elementary classrooms in high poverty settings in California. Based

on the lack of existing research, the research problem for this study was to focus on the

best practices and ideas that frame a mature Professional Learning Communities (PLC) as

evidenced by student achievement in reading at the elementary level. Specifically, I used

third through fifth grade reading because there were longitudinal data to use for

comparison of student achievement. Students begin taking the Colorado state assessment

in third grade. I gathered information from mature PLC schools that showed a steady

increase in reading achievement third through fifth grades. Interviews were conducted in

schools that had a mature PLC based on principal responses to the screening instrument

authored by Hord and published by Southwest Educational Laboratory (SEDL) that

showed a steady increase in reading achievement in third through fifth grades.

Purpose of the Study

There are a few studies investigating the Professional Learning Community at the

secondary level. However, no research studies have been found that investigate the

structure and implementation of mature PLCs at the elementary level. A PLC includes a

focus on the school vision, SMART goals based on state standards, student achievement

 

 

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data and work samples, instructional strategies, collaboration, and job embedded staff

development. Essentially, an effective PLC has the potential to address the academic

needs of all students in a standards-based system required under No Child Left Behind

(2002); the focus of the mature PLC is centered on student attainment of benchmarks,

skills, and content standards. The purpose of this study was to investigate the best

practices and ideas that frame a mature PLC at the elementary level. The results of this

study would be useful to school leaders who want to start or strengthen their own PLCs

and would provide research evidence that frames the mature PLC.

Research Questions

Ql In a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place, what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC process?

The following sub-questions are based on the five characteristics of a mature PLC

from the work of Hord (2004): supportive and shared leadership, shared values and

vision, collective learning and application of learning, shared practice, and supportive

conditions. Each of these sub-questions represents one of the five characteristics.

Qla How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making with teachers in a PLC process to support achievement in reading?

Qlb What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

Qlc How does staff collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Ql d How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Qle What school structures are in place that support teachers’ work as a PLC in reading?

 

 

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Significance of the Study

Educational practices are changing. Diligent principals need to put student

achievement at the core of all educational practices. Current education trends focus on

developing a shared vision, what the school hopes to become, and a commitment by all

staff members to increase student achievement based on state and district standards. The

means toward these goals include addressing job embedded professional development,

developing an understanding of student data, and understanding the teaching and learning

process with the focus shifting from teaching to each individual learner.

Implementing PLCs has the potential to provide school leaders with sustainable

capacity within the school to meet educational challenges. “The literature is quite clear

about the characteristics of academically successful professional learning communities”

(Hord, 2004, p. 7). Teachers who feel supported are more committed (Rosenholtz, 1989).

Teachers who have opportunities for collaboration increase in wisdom about teaching

that can be shared (McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993). Shared decision making is an

important factor in a professional learning organization (Darling-Hammond, 1996).

Teacher collaboration that includes structured plan time, observation of each other, and

shared feedback was observed by researchers as having an impact on school

improvement efforts (Brandt, 1996; Lee, Smith, & Croninger, 1995; Newman &

Wehlage, 1995). Senge (1990) advocates for an environment that puts learning at the

center of all that the organization does. Hord (2004) describes five characteristics that

impact a successful PLC:

• Supportive and shared leadership: School administrators participate democratically with teachers sharing power, authority, and decision making. School leaders are viewed as learners and part of the inquiry and problem solving process.

 

 

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• Shared values and vision: The staff shares the vision for school improvement that have an undeviating focus on student learning, and these visions are consistently referenced in the staffs work. This is the mental image of what’s important to a school and what the future will be.

• Collective learning and application of learning: The staffs collective learning and application of learning (taking action) create high intellectual learning tasks and solutions to address student needs. This work is grounded in reflective dialogue or inquiry, where staff conducts conversations about students, teaching and learning, identifying related issues and problems.

• Shared Practice: Peers review and give feedback based on observing one another’s classroom behaviors in order to increase individual and organizational capacity. Teachers are given the opportunity to visit other classrooms and provide each other with feedback about their observations.

• Supportive conditions: School conditions and capacities support the staffs arrangement as a professional learning organization. There are physical and structural factors that need to be accommodated which include a schedule that provides time for staff to meet regularly and have proximity to one another. There are also human capacities that need to be supported in that teachers need to be willing to provide each other feedback and also receive the feedback. Trust plays a major role. (pp. 7-12)

“Research provides strong evidence that schools can overcome barriers and

challenges that accompany reform efforts and increase student achievement when the

staff and school is organized as a professional learning community” (Hord, 2004, p. 12).

By investigating the best practices and ideas that frame a mature PLC at the elementary

level, this research study has the potential to support elementary educational leaders as

they work to focus teachers on student achievement needs and build sustainable capacity

for the demands on public education for the 21st century.

Definition of Terms

Colorado State Assessment Program (CSAP). CSAP is required by No Child

Left Behind (2002) to measure student progress in achieving content standards in

 

 

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reading, writing, math and science. This study focused on the third, fourth and fifth

grade reading CSAP.

Mature professional learning community (PLC). Professional Learning

communities (PLC) have the following: shared leadership, shared vision, collective

learning and application of the learning, shared teaching practice, and supportive

conditions. Components of a PLC include a planned calendar with specific PLC content

date conversations identified, professional development planned that is representative of

the needs of the PLC teams, specific consistent protocol, defined norms of collaboration,

and established teams. The PLC calendar provides a timeline for identifying student

needs according to state standards at the beginning of the year, a timeline for the SMART

goals, and includes the dates for content conversations, e.g., every six weeks, reading will

be reviewed. This includes review of the SMART goal(s), student data and instructional

strategies that supported student learning, and time to reflect on each content area at the

end of the school year. Professional development is planned for the school year based on

the needs of the PLC teams, i.e., teams may need additional support in identifying and

implementing research based instructional strategies. A specific protocol is used that

includes celebration, state standards, reflection on SMART Goals, student work analysis,

setting of new SMART goals, and instructional strategies identified for all students

including the sub-groups of English language learners, low income, special education,

and gifted. There are defined “norms of collaboration” for the teacher teams, i.e., how

teacher teams have defined the way they will work together. Teacher teams are

established for the entire school; these teams can be grade level teams or vertical teams

(across the grade level). All of the above are essential to a PLC.

 

 

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Reading achievement. Reading achievement for this study was based on the

CSAP for Grades 3, 4, and 5.

Reading instructional strategies. These were research based reading strategies

the PLC team agreed to use to teach to the SMART goal. All team members used the

same teaching strategies.

S.M.A.R.T. goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, results

oriented and time bound: (a) Specific—figuring out the who, what, where, when, and

why; (b) Measurable—the concrete criteria of how much and how many?; (c) Attainable—

is the goal realistic yet challenging?; (d) Results oriented—is the goal consistent with

other school goals: the school improvement plan or district actions plan, both long range

and immediate goals, are considered; and (e) Time bound—the goal is grounded in a time

frame, is trackable, and allows for monitoring.

 

 

CHAPTER II

LITERATURE REVIEW

This chapter reviews literature that sets the stage for the standards-based

movement in the United States and the state of Colorado. This chapter includes the

background, historical chronology of the focus on student achievement that includes

understanding students’ data, the standards movement, changes in instructional practices

and continuous development, the shift to instructional leadership role of principals,

collaboration and PLCs, professional development, and change.

Background

The once booming economy of the United States experienced a recession between

1980 andl982, also known as the Reagan recession (Bauer & Shenk, 2009). This

recession generated concern from United States leaders as the Gross Domestic Product

(GPD) demonstrated instability according to the figures released from the Bureau of

Economic Analysis of the United States (Bauer & Shenk, 2009). The educational system

did not escape analysis. “The common perception of the years before the era of reform

attributed to A Nation at Risk is that most administrators were managers” (Hunt, 2008, p.

3). Principals were typically selected based on their ability to manage people and

budgets. Teachers taught in isolation and worked from curriculum rather than standards.

“Teachers were expected to be the experts and curriculum development was typically

reduced to the process of selecting textbooks” (Hunt, 2008, p. 3). The change began with

 

 

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the history of the educational standards movement. A Nation at Risk (1983), Goals 2000

(1998), and No Child Left Behind (2002) changed educational practices to increasing

student achievement and shifted the role of the principal from management style

leadership to instructional leadership.

The history of educational standards began with^4 Nation at Risk (1983), also

known as the standards-based reform movement. In 1981, the Secretary of Education

created a task forced identified as the National Commission on Excellence in Education,

charged with the job of examining the current educational system. This team of people

(13 males and 5 females) was designed to include a variety of perspectives; the majority

were employed or retired from college level administration or professors. There was also

representation from businesses, secondary school principals, school board members, and

a superintendent. Over the course of 18 months, there were eight committee meetings

and eight public meetings to gather feedback. On April 26, 1983, the National

Commission on Excellence provided President Reagan with their findings that

established a clear need to push for content standards across the country. “The

educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of

mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and people.. .we have, in effect been

committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament” {Nation at Risk,

1983, p. 5). This became the base for educational reform.

The commission drafted a report that focused on educational reform; it was

believed to “promise lasting reform” (Nation at Risk, 1983, p.3). The vision of the

Nation at Risk findings was “based on the beliefs that everyone can learn and that

everyone is born with an urge to learn which can be nurtured, that a solid high school

 

 

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education is within the reach of virtually all, and that lifelong learning will equip people

with the skills required for new careers and for citizenship” (p. 3). The recommendations

section of the report included four parts; three of the four focused on student learning.

1. All high school students graduate with a set of five new basic skills in English, Math, Science, Social Studies and computer science (p. 1).

2. All schools need to adopt rigorous and measurable standards that include higher expectations (p. 3).

3. Time needed to be addressed for learning the New Basics” (p. 4).

Content standards began to be developed at both the national and state levels.

The next legislative action was the Goals 2000: Educate America Act (1998).

This was a major opportunity for restructuring schools and included funding. Goals 2000

encompassed four categories: accountability for implementation of standards,

assessments, teacher preparation and professional development, and parent involvement.

This law changed the federal government structure with the establishment of three new

federal committees to oversee education: The National Education Standards and

Improvement Council, The National Education Goals Panel, and Leadership in

Educational Technology. The National Education and Improvement Council was

comprised of 19 members that included representation from the House of

Representatives, Senate, post secondary educators, businesses, and other educators. The

purpose of this council was to periodically review national content standards and state

standards in addition to reviewing the teaching and learning process and assessments.

The National Education Goals Panel, which consisted of 18 members, was charged with

building consensus for educational improvements, specifically reporting the progress

toward the National Education Goals and the review of evolving curricular standards.

 

 

20

“Goals 2000 legislation called for all students to leave certain grade levels in school

having demonstrated competency in English, mathematics, science, foreign languages,

civics and government, economics, the arts, history, and geography” (Hunt, 2008, p. 7).

The demonstration of competency drove the need for determining assessments that

accurately measured how students were achieving a particular standard or standards.

This emphasis on result was embodied in changes in instructional and institutional systems; curriculum and instruction, professional development, assessment and accountability, school and leadership organization, and parental and community involvement, that all were aligned to content and performance standards. (Goals 2000, 1998)

Through the work of the three federal committees, restructuring schools to become

standards-based and focus on student achievement continued.

The next legislative action came with President Bush’s No Child Left behind Act

(NCLB; 2002) that pushed the federal government further into education at the state and

local levels and included accountability. NCLB had a number of issues at the core in an

effort to increase student achievement; it included annual testing, academic progress,

report cards, teacher qualifications, Reading First, and changes in funding related to the

Title I funding formula. Annual testing under “No Child Left Behind insists that states

develop high standards and assess them with mandatory statewide examinations,

ultimately from third to tenth grade” (McCabe et al., 2005, p. 110).

Title I served as an example of the funding provisions and accountability. Under

NCLB (2002), schools that received Title I money under the Elementary and Secondary

Education Act were required to demonstrate satisfactory performance also known as

making Adequate Yearly Progress (McCabe et al., 2005). By the year 2013-2014, all

students were to be proficient, both as a whole group and all subgroups. Academic

 

 

21

success must happen for all students by closing the achievement gap between the

following sub groups: students of specific ethnicity, economically disadvantaged, special

education, and English language learners. Penalties that potentially could face a school

or district not making AYP initially included sanctions on how the Title I funding could

be spent. Ultimately, if a school did not make AYP, it was subject to loss of funding and

restructuring.

NCLB (2002) shifted the focus of schools to literacy and numeracy, requiring that

“effective school leaders should have a deep knowledge of teaching and learning” (Olsen,

1996, p. 1). Principals currently need to ensure that 88% of the students are partially

proficient or higher in reading and 89% in math. There needs to be a minimum of 95%

participation, a reduction in the number of student scoring unsatisfactory, and an increase

in the number of students scoring advanced. This means that principals have to know

students’ academic needs and ensure students are making gains in achieving reading and

math content standards.

Impact of History

The forces of history have shifted the focus and role of the principal in the United

States. The Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC; 1996) developed

leadership standards for school leaders to support the changes needed in education. The

ISLLC developed six leadership standards with five of the six standards focusing on

student achievement. In 1994, the state of Colorado developed nine principal standards.

As a result, principals in Colorado have also followed suit and now focus on student

achievement. In addressing student learning needs, there are several components a

principal should optimally consider tying together: increasing student achievement,

 

 

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synthesizing student data, implementing standards-based instruction that includes

continuous improvement, and job-embedded professional development. One way to tie

these all together is through establishing and cultivating a PLC.

Increasing Student Achievement in Colorado

“In Colorado with the passage of H.B. 93-1313 in 1993, all school districts are

required to adopt content standards that meet or exceed the Colorado Model Content

Standards adopted by the State Board of Education” (Benson, 2009, p. 1). The pressure

was for public schools in Colorado to increase student achievement, call for teachers to

know what students know, respond when students exceed expectations or don’t learn, and

teach accordingly. Under No Child Left Behind (2002), the goal was to have all students

proficient by the year 2014. With the requirement that all schools make adequate yearly

progress, there are current student data, specifically the CSAP, that measure student

progress in the attainment of standards. The student data demonstrate that there is an

increasing gap between sub-groups: (a) students of ethnicity compared to Caucasian

students and (b) students of economically disadvantaged families compared to those who

are not from economically disadvantaged families. The gap continues to grow between

students with disabilities when compared to those without disabilities and English

language learners as compared to native English speakers. To close the achievement gap,

school leaders need a deeper understanding of students’ learning in order to determine

what each child knows and then respond accordingly.

Understanding Student Data

“A decade ago, it was disconcertingly easy to find educational leaders who

dismissed student achievement data and systematic research as having only limited utility

 

 

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when it came to improving schools or school systems” (Hess, 2008, p. 12). Now, more

than ever, the educational environment is data rich to the point that data driven decision

making and research-based best practices are used to explain everything. Bernhardt

(2003a) identifies four types of student data necessary for teachers and principals to

develop an adequate understanding of student achievement: demographical, student

learning, perceptions, and school process data.

1. Demographical data for students and the community are important in setting

the context for the school; they tell about students and how the school is preparing to

meet the needs of students (Bernhardt, 2003b). These data can show changes in a

school’s population over a period of time.

Student demographical data include enrollment, class size, attendance, drop-out rates, ethnicity, socio-economic status, language proficiency, special needs, preschool attendance, mobility, and gender. Community demographics include the location of the school, history, economic base, community and business partnerships and support agencies. (Bernhardt, 2003b, p. 26)

2. School process data demonstrate how a school is responding to three

questions: “What do we want students to know? What will we do when they do not

learn?” (DuFour, 1998, p. 1). What will we do when student demonstrate proficiency?

School process data tell about the learning environment and are specific to the “school’s

programs, instructional strategies, assessment strategies and classroom practices”

(Bernhardt, 2003b, p. 26).

3. Student learning data provide continuous feedback in response to the following

question: “How will we know the students have learned?” (DuFour, 1998, p. 2). “They

also focus on and include standardized tests, norm/criterion-reference tests, teacher

observation of students’ abilities, and authentic assessments” (Bernhardt, 2003b, p. 26).

 

 

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4. School perception data tell what students, parents, and community feel about

the learning environment. “They include perceptions of their values, beliefs, attitudes,

and observations, and can come in the form of open-ended questions, interviews and

observations” (Bernhardt, 2003b, p. 28), and snap shot surveys.

It is the triangulation of all four of these data sets—student data, demographical

data, school process data, and perception data—that facilitates a rigorous, continuous

school improvement process (Bernhardt, 2003a). By examining the intersections of the

four data points, educators can choose actions, processes, and programs that best meet the

learning needs of all students (Bernhardt, 2003a). Furthermore, these intersections lead

to understanding current trends that then can lead to continuous school improvement.

“Data-driven decision making does not simply require good data; it also requires good

decision making” (Hess, 2008, p. 17). The role of the principal or instructional leader is

to use the four data points to make meaning and focus the school’s vision of improving

student achievement.

Implementation of Standards, Instructional Practices, and Continuous Improvement

“Standards-based education in Colorado is defined as an ongoing teaching/

learning cycle that ensures all students learn and can demonstrate proficiency in their

districts adopted content standards and associated benchmark concepts and skills”

(Benson, 2009, p. 1). The teaching and learning cycle means using multiple measures to

assess students and providing students with multiple opportunities to achieve proficiency

in all content areas. Many educators have believed that standards-based education is

about posting standards in the classroom, referring to standards during the lesson, or even

covering the district curriculum (Benson, 2009). However, true standards-based

 

 

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education “means consistently teaching standards to ensure that students actually learn

every benchmark concept and skill identified as essential by their school district and can

demonstrate that learning in a variety of ways at a proficiency level” (Benson, 2009, p.

2). Standards-based learning focuses continually on four questions (Benson, 2009):

• What do students need to know, understand and be able to do?

• How will we teach effectively to ensure students learn?

• How will we know that students have learned?

• What do we do when students don’t learn or reach proficiency before expectation? (p. 5)

Instructional leaders need a deep understanding of standards based learning. Not only do

leaders need to know the standards, they need to know instructional strategies that

promote the attainment of standards for all students—gifted, ethnically diverse,

economically disadvantaged, English language learners, and special education.

Principals need to engage every teacher in a cyclical, continuous improvement

process; it is the means, not the end result.

This ongoing cycle includes gathering evidence of current levels of student learning, developing strategies and ideas to build on strengths and address weakness in learning, implementing those strategies and ideas, analyzing the impact of the changes to discover what was effective and what was not and applying the new knowledge in the next cycle of continuous improvement. (DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006, p. 214)

This cyclical process requires collaboration and structure.

Role of Principals

There is no doubt that the role of the principal has changed because of NCLB.

“First and foremost, NCLB has made the use of data to improve student achievement

imperative and secondly, NCLB has increased the need for continuous improvement

 

 

26

processes within schools” (Bernhardt, 2004, p. 1). Improvement processes begin with a

clearly articulated vision. Vision, according to DuFour (1998), is “what we hope to

become; it presents a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, a future that

is better and more desirable in significant ways than existing conditions” (p. 62). The

vision of a staff needs to be focused on school improvement efforts that are consistent

and increase student learning.

One factor that stands out as a prime characteristic of a successful school is the

principal as the educational leader. In the 1950s and 1960s, effective educational leaders

were expected to give relational support to teachers, create school structure, and manage

school operations (Cantano & Stonge, 2006). In the 1970s, effective educational leaders

hired and rewarded good teachers and fired the poor ones (Cantano & Stonge, 2006). In

the 1980s, effective educational leaders focused on management and business techniques

(Knuth & Banks, 2006). Today, there is an emphasis on changing the definition of

effective educational leaders (Cantano & Stonge, 2006) and instructional leadership.

Both Carmichael (2007) and Sergiovanni (1994) suggest a paradigm shift from the

traditional concept of the historically effective educational leader to a collaborative

model of leadership that includes teachers (Hord, 1997).

Collaboration and Professional Learning Communities

“Developing collaborative culture is the work of leaders who realize that a

collection of superstar teachers working in isolation cannot produce the same results as

interdependent colleagues who share and develop professional practices together”

(Garmston & Wellman, 1999, p. 18). Historically, teachers were individualists, isolated

from their peers, and focused on their own personal growth while dedicated to their own

 

 

27

students. Teachers had not been part of the leadership team for school improvement;

improvement had been left to the principals and superintendents (Johnson & Donaldson,

2007). However, that is changing. Schools are beginning to recognize that teachers need

to be part of the leadership process (Johnson & Donaldson, 2007). By asking a variety of

questions and triangulating student data sources, teachers can uncover and respond to

trends in a timely manner (Bernhardt, 2004).

In order for a school community to develop effective answers to student

achievement questions, the school community has to undertake a systematic approach

aimed at systemic change. One option for accomplishing this is to become a PLC.

DuFour (1998) specifically chose three words to represent a school community that

works as a PLC. “Professional was chosen as this is someone with expertise in a

specialized field and has chosen to remain current in its evolving knowledge” (DuFour,

1998, p. xi). DuFour chose the word learning because of the Chinese meaning. “In

Chinese, the term learning is represented by two characters: the first means to study, the

second means to practice constantly” (DuFour, 1998, p. xii). The last word—community-

-was chosen because “educators create an environment that fosters mutual cooperation,

emotional support, and personal growth as they work together to achieve what they

cannot accomplish alone (DuFour, 1998, p. xii). In a structured PLC, the school year and

day are organized to give staff time and support to address students’ academic needs. All

staff members need to be committed to a teaching and learning cycle that includes team

collaboration.

According to Senge (1990), a learning organization is one that continually creates

things based on deep learning driven by the learner. He adds that teachers need time to

 

 

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work and learn together and continually reflect on what they are doing. This unified

commitment is known as collaboration.

In collaborative school environments, teachers engage in mutual decision making to resolve their problems of practice; this includes calling on one another to discuss new ideas or programs that will help advance their expertise or contribute to student achievement. (Hirsh, 2001, p. 3)

Collaboration must include all members of the faculty and staff. School leaders must structure opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful dialogue on issues of interest to the whole faculty. Time for teachers to meet and talk is necessary for teachers to engage in ongoing collaborative activity. (Hirsh, 2001, p. 5)

Implementing a cyclical school process—the vehicle that drives the work—ensures that

learning goals are met. “Diagnosing student learning at the beginning of the year in

every grade level, clarifying what students should know and be able to do by the end of

the year, aligning curriculum and instruction to district and state standards, and

measuring progress toward learning goals throughout the year results in school

improvement” (Bernhardt, 2003b, p. 4). The curriculum, instruction, and assessment

strategies form the framework of what students are expected to learn. According to

Bernhardt (2004), “The staff must commit to teaching standards and assessing student

achievement, with the educational leader’s oversight, and then using results from both to

effect improvement” (p. 4).

Teacher teams are established in a PLC. These teams can be vertical (combining

grades), content area, or grade level teams (DuFour, 1998). Once the team is established,

the group needs opportunities to develop. According to Wellman and Lipton (2004), this

development happens in three phases. In the first phase of activating and engaging, team

members bring to the table their own experiences and set norms. Norms are a collective

expectation of how members will relate to one another. In the second phase of exploring

 

 

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and discovering, teams look at student data and begin collaborative inquiry—looking for

trends and patterns. The third phase is organizing and integrating. In this last phase,

teams look for explanations, make inferences, and begin goal setting. This cyclical

process should occur on a regularly scheduled basis, requiring commitment to

collaboration and the teaching and learning process (Wellman & Lipton, 2004).

Instructional leaders have looked at establishing a PLC within the school and district as

one way to bring teachers together around mission and vision as described in two recent

studies by Graham (2007) and LaRocco (2007).

The first study~0« the Path to Becoming a Professional Learning Community:

Charting Change in the Suburban Middle School by researcher Dr. Diana LaRocca

(2007) from the University of Hartford—was a mixed method study that focused on one

middle school’s new principal whose goal was to lead the school in becoming a PLC.

This study was found through a literature review that addressed research over the last 15

years. The data for this study were collected over two years and documented the

progression of becoming a PLC. This study’s conceptual framework was based on the

Definitions of the Characteristics of a Professional Learning Community (Hord, 2004).

According to Hord, the five characteristics of a PLC are supportive and shared

leadership, shared values, collective learning and the application of that learning, shared

practice, and supporting conditions. The author described the data for each of the

characteristics based on interviews and survey results.

The findings showed that a PLC is hard work for all involved; however, it is work

worth doing and requires the principal to be continually focusing on the implementation

of the PLC process. In speaking with the researcher, one key factor learned from

 

 

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conducting this study was that teacher accountability from the principal was important.

In this study, the principal made provisions for teachers to learn from each other by

providing substitutes and giving direction; however, teachers’ learning from each other

was left to teachers. The building principal needed to not only support the learning but

also expect the learning goals to occur.

The second study—Improving Teacher Effectiveness through Structured

Collaboration: A Case Study of a Professional Learning Community by researcher Parry

Graham~”was a mixed method case study investigating the relationship between the PLC

activities and teacher improvement in a first year middle school” (Graham, 2007, p. 1).

This study addressed the issue of teaching and learning resulting from the No Child Left

Behind legislation and the national debate over improving education. The focus was on

the impact of teacher effectiveness in a structured PLC. “The goal of the present study

was both to address DuFour’s claim that PLC type activities lead to teacher improvement

and to describe the relationship between same-subject PLC activities and teacher

improvement in a middle school context in depth” (Graham, 2007, p. 4). The findings of

this study suggested that PLC activities increased teacher effectiveness as teachers had

the opportunity to learn from each other. The PLC “structure is about facilitating

substantive, collaborative, ongoing conversations about teaching and learning” (Graham,

2007, p. 16). According to this research, the principal included a structural component

when teachers would gather to discuss student data. The overall focus of teachers

learning and collaboration was to increase student achievement.

The third study was A Review of Research on the Impact of Professional Learning

Communities on Teaching Practice and Student Learning by Vescio et al. (2008). The

 

 

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authors acknowledged that their review of research was limited to only 10 empirical

studies conducted between 1990 through 2005 because the research around PLCs was not

extensive. The terms used to identify the studies included teacher communities, teachers

and learning communities, critical friends groups, and communities of practice. Situated

in the literature of the last 20 years, the authors acknowledged the paradigm shift from

teachers working in isolation to teachers working collaboratively by becoming a PLC.

“Teachers perceptions about the value of PLCs are both valid and valuable;

understanding the outcomes of these endeavors on teaching practice and student learning

is crucial, particularly in today’s era of scarce resources and accountability” (Vescio et

al., 2008, p. 3). The researchers cited the work of Newmann (1996) that identified the

essential characteristics of a PLC: shared values and norms, focus on student learning,

reflective dialog, extensive and continual dialogue focused on student learning, and the

deprivitization of teaching practice. They also cited the work of DuFour (2004a) who

expanded on the PLC to include the importance of “educators who must critically

examine the results of their efforts in terms of student achievement” (Vescio et al., 2008,

p. 5). The findings of this research review supported the work of a PLC. The PLC

correlated with an increase in student achievement in 6 of the 10 studies reviewed.

PLCs have been a focus in education for several years. Authors such as Hord

(2004), DuFour (1998), Fullan (2006), and Garmston and Wellman (1999) have focused

their writing on this topic. In recent communication with Shirley Hord on August 12,

2009, she cited her own research as foundational to the development of the PLC.

Richard Dufour in a recent communication on August 15, 2009 did not approach PLCs

from a researcher point of view but considered authors such as Judith Warren Little,

 

 

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Milbrey McLaughlin, Susan Rosenholtz and Michael Fullan as foundational authors in

the development of PLCs. According to Fullan (2006), “collaborative cultures are ones

that focus on building capacity for continuous improvement and are intended to be a new

way of working and learning and are meant to be enduring capacities, not just another

program innovation” (p. 10). Both the studies of Graham (2007) and LaRocco (2007)

document the initial phases of developing such a collaborative culture.

However, the problem, as validated by Fullan (2006), is that teams don’t have a

clear definition of what constitutes a PLC. Recently, some abandonment of professional

learning communities has occurred due to a lack of understanding of what it means to be

a PLC (Fullan, 2006). The organizational structure of a PLC is as important as

understanding the philosophy. This structure should include “time to meet and talk,

physical proximity, inter-dependent teaching roles, communication structures, and

teacher empowerment” (Fullan, 2006, p. 10). An example of one aspect of organizational

structure is job-embedded professional development—having teachers gather together on

a weekly basis using student data to write SMART goals. SMART goals are strategic,

measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time bound. In order to support student

learning, teachers also decide on common, specific instructional strategies and common

assessments to measure student progress. Teachers work from their curriculum maps that

are based on state standards. Curriculum maps are generated by teacher teams based on

the district learning standards or, in some instances, districts provide teachers with pacing

guides in specific content areas.

 

 

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Professional Development

Job embedded professional development is another vital piece of a functioning

PLC. “Professional development can be defined as a career-long process in which

educators fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs” (Diaz-Maggioli, 2004, p. 3).

Teachers learn from each other through their collaborative efforts. Teachers regularly

meet to discuss student work and assessment data. They discuss and identify common

instructional strategies that will be used to help students meet the SMART goals.

Teachers even spend time observing each other in action. “Good professional

development sheds light on how students learn in the classroom” (Schere, 2002, p. 2).

When teachers gather back together to assess their SMART goals, they begin with

celebrations. Teams share celebrations focused on what students have learned and can

demonstrate with the entire staff. “Professional development therefore becomes an

integral part of daily routines, nominally indistinguishable from regular organizational

behaviors, organizational structure becomes a primary agent directly mediating teacher

professional growth” (DuFour, 2004a, p. 63). Teacher effectiveness changes as

professional development becomes job embedded. Teachers work together and learn

together.

Vescio et al. (2008) found PLCs to have a positive impact on teaching and

learning. This research review examined 10 empirical studies. One study indicated that

instruction became more student centered as evidenced by changes in teacher instruction

and student mastery of skills. A second example was of a team that changed instructional

practices from reading sentences in isolation and writing words in isolation to interactive

reading and writer’s workshop-style writing. Last, one principal described teachers as

 

 

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essentially stuck on the things they couldn’t control or had no influence over, resulting in

negative teacher attitudes. As part of the change process, the principal worked

collaboratively to develop the school mission, vision, values, and norms. The principal in

this setting credit’s the collective commitment to the mission and vision as having a

positive impact on student achievement in both reading and writing.

Change

Developing and sustaining professional learning communities includes the ability

to make changes and respond to student needs. There are several models of change;

however, two models of change were cited with reference to school reform. The work of

Bridges (1980) focused on managing the change process by managing transitions. The

second model of change was the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) by Hord,

Rutherford, Huling-Austin, and Hall (1987).

Bridges (2007) defined change as “the transition—the psychological reorientation

that the people must go through to make the change work, it starts with people letting go

of their old situation” (p. 4). Bridges identified three stages to transitions in change: an

ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning.

1. The first transition, an ending, is identifying the cultural milestones that mark

an organization; these cultural milestones need to be recognized. “As states,

provinces, and districts adopt clear learning standards connected to

performance-based assessments systems, many veteran teachers feel the loss

of autonomy and the choice of what to teach and when to teach it” (Wellman

& Lipton, 2003, p. 7).

 

 

35

2. The second transition is the neutral zone when new routines have not yet been

established and the old routines are falling away. “Curriculum change is a

prime example of this phase as teachers are working to learn the new material

and teaching strategies, even the most experienced teacher can feel uneasy and

less than competent” (Wellman & Lipton, 2003, p.7).

3. The third transition is new beginnings. Educational leaders need to focus the

effort on the problem and get buy in or ownership of the problem, according

to Bridges, the buy in is important not the solution. Student data are used to

identify the problem and build ownership.

The second model of change was the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (Hord et

al., 1987). “This framework with implications for the practices of professional

development acknowledges that learning brings change, and supporting people in change

is critical for learning to take hold” (Loucks-Horsley, 1996, p. 1). This model focused on

the following six stages of change (Loucks-Horsley, 1996):

• Stage 0: Awareness–There is an awareness of a change but no concern.

• Stage 1: Informational–Those who are affected by the change would like to know more about it.

• Stage 2: Personal-Those affected by the change would like to know how the change will affect them.

• Stage 3: Management—Those affected by the change spend the most time managing the materials, getting the materials ready.

• Stage 4: Consequence—Those involved in the change would like to know how their use of the new knowledge or materials affecting learners.

• Stage 5: Collaboration—The focus is on coordinating the change with others who are also involved in the change.

• Stage 6: Refocusing—Ideas are generated to improve the change, (pp. 1-2)

 

 

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According to Gronn (2003), “Change comes about via carefully orchestrated

deliberation and working with the organizational structure of the school” (p. 182).

Essentially it’s not just about knowing changes processes—there’s more. Fullan (2008)

brings forward six secrets of change: loving your employees, connecting peers with

purpose, capacity buildings, learning is the work, transparency rules, and systems

learning. All six secrets overlap and focus on relationships. Knowing and understanding

the change process is important to instructional leaders; however, relationships play a

critical role in getting needed changes to occur. The work of the PLC is about building

sustainable teams that have strong relationships and the capacity to make needed changes

as they respond to students.

Summary

There is no doubt that legislative actions have impacted education, beginning with

the 1983 watershed A Nation at Risk report of the National Commission on Excellence in education that portrayed a dismal state of affairs for education in the United States, and served as a call to reform schools, which in turn has lead to standards based approaches to reform. (e-Lead, 2009)

Nation at Risk (1983), Goals 2000: Educate America (1998), and No Child Left Behind

(2002) are the historical background for standards-based education. Specific to the state

of Colorado—House Bill 93-1313 in 1993, legislators began moving Colorado toward

adopting content standards. “Research provides strong evidence that schools can

overcome barriers and challenges that accompany reform efforts and increase student

achievement when staff and school are organized as a professional learning community”

(Hord, 2004, p. 12).

Principals are mandated to make the shift from managers to instructional leaders.

One practice that holds promise for principals is establishing and cultivating PLCs.

 

 

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According to Hord and Hirsch (2009), principals need to emphasize that teachers can

succeed together and cultivate a culture that supports collaboration. Fullan (2006)

indicates that PLCs are not simply another program or fad; with clear understanding,

PLCs can promise lasting reform.

 

 

CHAPTER III

METHODOLOGY

Introduction

This qualitative research study was conducted at the elementary school level.

“Qualitative researchers are interested in understanding the meaning people have

constructed, that is, how they make sense of their world and the experiences they have in

the world (Merriam, 1998, p. 6). According to Lightfoot (1983), “Qualitative research

uses the person as a research tool, the perceiver, the selector, the interpreter; it is ones’

personal style, temperament, and modes of interaction that are central ingredients of

successful work” (p. 370). There are five characteristics of qualitative research

(Merriam, 1998):

1. The focus of qualitative research is developing understanding from the participants’ point of view.

2. The researcher is the primary instrument for data collection and analysis.

3. It usually involves field work, the researcher goes to the participants in order to make observations in their natural setting.

4. Qualitative research primarily employs an indicative research strategy. This type of research builds abstractions, concepts, hypotheses, or theories rather than test existing theory because there is inadequate information available to explain a phenomenon.

5. Qualitative research focuses on process, meaning and understanding; the product of a qualitative study is richly descriptive, (pp. 6-7)

“The inquiry begins by examining what works, identifying good schools, and asking

what is right, here, and whether it is replicable, transportable to other environments”

 

 

39

(Lightfoot, 1983, p. 10). This chapter addresses each of the following: the research

question and sub-questions, sampling, theoretical framework, method and

trustworthiness, participants and procedure, the survey, and data analysis.

Research Question

The following research question was addressed:

Ql In a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place, what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC?

The following sub-questions were based on the PLC work of Hord (1997) who

described five characteristics of a successful PLC: supportive and shared leadership,

shared values and vision, collective learning and application of learning, shared

practice, and supportive conditions. Each of the sub-questions represented one of the

five characteristics.

Qla How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making with teachers in a PLC process to support achievement in reading?

Qlb What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

Q1 c How does staff collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Q1 d How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Qle What school structures are in place to support work as a PLC in reading?

Sampling

Initial pool. Three hundred sixty-nine (369) public elementary schools across the

state of Colorado.

 

 

40

Inclusion criteria. Three to seven public schools where students demonstrated

consistent growth in CSAP reading third through fifth grade and those with a mature

Professional Learning Community based on principal scoring between 4-5 on each of the

survey characteristics based on the School Professional Staff as Learning Communities

Questionnaire (SPSLCQ) developed by Hord (1997) and published by the Southwest

Educational Laboratory.

Exclusion criteria. Private or charter elementary schools in Colorado.

Theoretical Framework, Method, and Trustworthiness

The theoretical framework provides a guide for qualitative research that aids the

reader in making logical sense of the research and understanding the connection to the

variables. “The theoretical perspective provides a context for the process involved and a

basis for its logic and its criteria” (Crotty, 1998, p. 66). The theoretical framework of this

study was Interpretivism. “Interpretivism is often linked to the thoughts of Max Weber

(1864-1920), who suggests that in the human sciences are concerned with Verstehen or

understanding” (Crotty, 1998, p. 67). Thus, this research framework was used to build

understanding of the relationship between student achievement in reading and teachers’

engagement in a mature PLC.

The method of research used was phenomenological, which comes from

philosophical roots. “The focus would be on the essence or structure of an experience”

(Merriam, 1998, p. 15). Phenomenological research was thought to have been developed

by Edmund Husserl in the 20 century, taken from the Greek phainomenon meaning that

which appears and logos meaning study. Schutz (1962, 1964, 1967, 1970) used the work

of Husserl as a starting point to further develop social phenomenology, basically

 

 

41

identifying the way in which members “approach the life work with a stock of knowledge

composed of every day constructs and categories” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 485),

which he identified as typifications. “Typifications make it possible to account rationally

for an experience, rendering various occurrences recognizable as particular events”

(Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 485). When applied to the PLC, the typifications are the

characteristics of the PLC that make meaning and give shape to the knowledge and

practice. According to Gall, Gall, and Borg (2007), “phenomenology is the study of

work as it appears to individuals” (p. 648). Interviews are the best way to gather the

research data “as the truth lies in the integration of various perspectives rather than in the

choice of one as dominant and objective (Lightfoot, 1983, p. 13). Interviews of teachers

in focus groups were conducted with third through fifth grade teachers and interviews

with the building principal. The five characteristics of PLCs developed by Hord (1998)

were addressed in the sub-questions.

According to one of the main architects of the phenomenological method of

research, Spiegelberg (1965), the phenomenological data analysis steps would include the

following:

First, the researcher must have an intuitive grasp (p. 659) of the phenomenon, and then follow up by investigating several instances or examples of the phenomenon to gain a sense of its general essence. The next steps are to apprehend relationships among several essences, and then to systematically explore the phenomenon not in the sense of what appears, whether particulars or general essences, but also of the way in which things appear (p. 684). Next to be determined is how the phenomenon has come into consciousness; next, beliefs about the phenomenon are bracketed, and finally, the meaning of the phenomenon can be interpreted. (Merriam, 1998, p. 16)

In following the above description, the researcher acknowledged her own ideas

about best practices and ideas as related to PLC work in order to build an understanding

 

 

42

from the participants’ point of view with regard to best practices and ideas that frame a

mature PLC. “Phenomenologists often refer to the inner-subjectivity required in

qualitative inquiry—the need to experience and reflect on one’s own feelings in order to

successfully identify with another’s perspective” (Lightfoot, 1983, p. 370). The next step

was to conduct interviews. Once the interviews were collected, the interview data were

divided into statements or themes for each of the five characteristics. The statements

were reorganized into clusters of meanings for each characteristic, a process identified as

horizontalization. These meanings were tied together to make a “textural description”

(Creswell, 1998, p. 54) of each of the five characteristics as it related to reading

achievement.

Trustworthiness was used to determine validity and reliability in qualitative

research. Two methods were used to establish internal validity: member check and

researcher’s biases (Merriam, 1998). Member checks are “also called member or

respondent validation; it is a sociological term for soliciting feedback from respondents

on the inquirer’s findings” (Schwandt, 2001, p. 155). Once the interviews were

transcribed, a copy of the individual transcriptions was sent electronically to each of the

participants for review and clarification. Second, internal validity was established by

“clarifying the researcher’s assumptions and theoretical orientation at the onset of the

study” (Merriam, 1998, p. 205). The researcher identified her own biases as they related

to PLCs before beginning the study.

“Reliability refers to the extent in which research findings can be replicated”

(Merriam, 1998, p. 205) or generalized to other settings. An audit trail was created as a

means of systematically documenting the interviews and analysis of data.

 

 

43

It is an organized collection of materials that includes the data generated in study; a statement of the theoretical framework that shaped the study at the onset; explanations of concepts, models and the like that were developed as part of the effort to make sense of the data. (Schwandt, 2001, p. 155)

Essentially, the audit trail explains how the results were generated. Generalizability is

“the extent to which the findings can be assumed to apply not only to the sample studied,

but also the population that the sample represents” (Gall et al., 2007, p. 641). This study

was generalizable to the sample studied as it drew from their lived experiences; however,

the sample studied drew from an initial pool of 369 elementary schools that might or

might not have functioned as a PLC, making the results of this study not generalizable to

the elementary school population.

Researcher Bias

A researcher needs an understanding or intuition of a phenomenon in order to

deeply understand (Merriam, 1998). My own experiences in two separate elementary

schools provided me with an understanding of PLCs. In the first elementary school, I

used the work of DuFour (1998) to begin the PLC but left the school before the PLC

matured. In the second elementary school, the PLC had already been functioning for

three years and would best be described as an almost mature PLC according to the School

Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire. My current school staff still

has work to do with peer review and feedback. By investigating other elementary

schools that have a mature PLC, I wanted to gain knowledge and insight that would

benefit my current school setting and my own leadership skills as I believed a PLC

culture best met the needs of all students. Both elementary school experiences

contributed to my research and allowed me to have a deeper level of understanding with

regard to best practices and ideas that frame a mature PLC.

 

 

44

Participants and Procedure

There were three steps in this process: defining the population, listing all the

elementary schools in the state of Colorado that met the inclusion criteria, and systematic

selection of three to seven elementary schools based on their CSAP data and principal

surveys. First, defining the population included researching the Colorado State

Assessment Program (CSAP) trend data that is public and released yearly by the

Colorado Department of Education. Based on the CSAP data of the 369 public

elementary schools in the state of Colorado, the researcher identified those elementary

schools whose students demonstrated growth in third through fifth grade in reading for

the last three years. Once these elementary schools were identified, the School

Professional Staff as a Learning Community Questionnaire (SPSLCQ) survey was sent to

the building principals. Surveys returned with all five categories marked as a four or five

were then placed on a list for systematic random sampling. The third step was to use the

systematic sampling technique to determine which three to seven schools would

participate in the qualitative interviews and focus groups. “Systematic random sampling

is a group of individuals obtained by taking every ‘nth’ individual from a list containing

the defined population” (Gall et al., 2007, p. 655) If there were only five schools in the

state that met the criteria, all five schools were selected.

Qualitative interviews focused on schools whose personnel functioned as a mature

PLC based on the principal’s rating and were asked to participate voluntarily in an

interview to gather their thoughts, ideas, and perceptions as specifically related to each of

the five areas of a PLC identified by the work of Hord (2004). The researcher

interviewed the principal and teachers in each of the three to seven schools who had

 

 

45

participated in the PLC for at least two years. The interviews were approximately 45-60

minutes in length and were digitally recorded in a private office setting or mutually

agreed upon location and in small grade-level focus groups. Interviews were then

transcribed. Once transcribed, all recordings were erased and transcriptions remained

confidential by assigning participants a number during the transcription as well as a

pseudonym in the final report. Participants were asked to sign the informed consent,

having already been approved through the IRB process and district policy. Participants

were only known to the researcher.

Instrument

The survey instrument—School Professional Staff as a Learning Community

Questionnaire (SPSLCQ)–was based on the work of Hord (2004). The survey was

developed as a means of demonstrating PLC progress within the school setting. There

were five characteristics—shared leadership, shared vision, collective learning and

application, shared teaching practice, and supportive conditions—that included 17

descriptors.

A pilot test and field test had both been completed by Hord (2004). The pilot test

of this survey was conducted in 1996 with 28 participants. The survey was assessed for

reliability—internally using Cronbach’s Alpha and for stability using test-retest. The

internal reliability for the 17 items was +.92. The stability over time was +.94. The field

test was conducted with a total of 690 teachers who taught kindergarten through twelfth

grade in 21 schools that included four states. Again, Cronbach’s Alpha, used for internal

reliability for the 17 items, was .94. The stability over time was conducted using a sub-

sample of 23 participants taken from 690 total participants; the instrument score was

 

 

46

.6147. Three types of validity analyses were completed: content, concurrent, and

construct. Content validity was accomplished in three steps. First, the development stage

was completed by the author, Shirley Hord. The second stage was completed by peer

review from Hord’s research team, followed by the final review from Hord. Concurrent

validity was conducted by administering the survey to 114 participants from four high

schools and comparing the results to the field test. Last, “construct validity asked the

question, does the instrument measure the psychological construct called professional

learning community?” (Hord, 1997, p. 3). Essentially, the scores of the pilot test were

compared to the scores of the field test. The SPSLCQ was valid and reliable in assessing

the level of the professional learning community within the school.

Data Analysis

The qualitative data analysis occurred in four phases. First, the researcher

acknowledged her own ideas about the PLC work in order to construct meaning from

participants’ points of view (Merriam, 1998). Second, the interview data were separated

by common themes and the statements were reorganized into clusters of meanings

(themes and categories; Creswell, 1998, 2005). Third, these meanings were then tied

together to make a textural description of the best practices and ideas based on the

perceptions of principals and teachers that framed the mature PLC process at the

elementary level. Fourth, internal validity was established by confirming the results with

interview participants. Included in the data analysis were a review of artifacts collected

and a description of the respondents that included demographical information: size and

location of the school district, the school, and student population.

 

 

47

Summary

This qualitative research study investigated the following research question:

Ql In a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place, what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC?

Phenomenology was the research method used; it was systematic, critical and

self-critical inquiry that aimed to “contribute toward the advancement of knowledge and

wisdom” (Bassey, 1999, p. 38). “Systematic implies a sense of order and structure:

which involves planning and integration of design, process and outcomes” (Bassey, 1999,

p. 38). This study included the use of interviews that were conducted based on the five

characteristics of a successful professional learning community as identified by Hord

(2004). Qualitative interviews were the “most informed way of claiming this

knowledge” (Scott & Morrison, 2006, p. 153) and were the best way to address the

research question.

 

 

CHAPTER IV

RESULTS OF THE STUDY

Introduction

The purpose of this research study was to identify the best practices and ideas that

frame a mature PLC in a successful elementary school. This chapter reports the findings

based on data collected through two research phases. Phase one included student data

analysis and principal survey. Phase two of the data collection included interviews,

observations, and artifact review. The research was guided by the following research

question and sub-questions:

Ql In a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place, what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC?

Qla How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making with teachers in a PLC process to support achievement in reading?

Qlb What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

Qlc How does staff collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Q1 d How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Q1 e What school structures are in place to support work as a PLC in reading?

This chapter describes the two phases of data collection including the

demographical data of the school districts and schools and principals’ survey data.

 

 

49

Pseudonyms were given to districts, schools, principals, and staff members to protect

their identity.

Phase One: Student Data Analysis

The first step in this research was the identification of successful elementary

schools through the analysis of the Reading CSAP scores of third through fifth grade

students in 369 elementary schools in Colorado. Student achievement data were obtained

from the Colorado Department of Education (2009). Elementary schools that were

charter, schools that had less than three years of CSAP data, schools that didn’t have third

through fifth grades in the same school, and schools where students were showing a

decline for three years or low scoring were eliminated. Schools included in the study

were those that showed improvement ideally for three years; however, some showed

improvement for two years. Seventy-six schools met the research criteria.

The School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire (Hord,

1996) was mailed to 76 principals to gather preliminary information about their schools;

34 surveys were returned—a 45% return rate, which was a satisfactory return rate for the

researcher. The following data are presented in this section: Individual School Data; the

School Professional Staff Learning Community Questionnaire from principals; and

survey population data that included enrollment, free and reduced lunch percentages, and

mobility percentages. The demographical data are provided because they demonstrate

the diversity of the elementary schools represented in this study. Schools were randomly

numbered for confidentiality. The percentage score for student results represents scores

for students who scored proficient and advanced on the Colorado State Assessment

Program (CSAP).

 

 

50

Individual School Data

Of the 34 schools, two schools had one or more grade levels at 100%. Five

schools had three grade levels over 90% and four schools had two of the three grade

levels over 90%. Fourteen of the schools showed consistent improvement in two of the

grade levels. Twelve of the schools had CSAP scores that showed slight increases or

decreases within a few percentage points from one year to the next, with those over 90%

showing a few more percentage points of movement. The highest poverty represented

was 97.4; the lowest was .3. The highest mobility represented was 10% and the lowest

was zero (see Table 1).

 

 

51

Table 1

Summary of Individual School Data

School

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34

Third (07, 08, 09)

(93,99,93) (95, 96, 98) (80, 84,83) (96, 94, 92) (76, 85, 94) (78, 68, 82) (100,93,97) (73,73,73) (94,83,91) (88,78,92)

(77, 67, 88) (77,81,88)

(81,89,88) (80, 85, 92) (90, 94, 95) (60, 66, 80) (94,92,91) (55,65,77) (96,94,100) (90,89,89) (87,76,91) (86,76,86) (81,74,85) (85,91,89) (75,88,92) (80,79,92) (69,63,73) (95,92,97) (63,58,88) (64,67,70) (67,66,76) (63,62,64) (71,62,70)

******

Fourth (07, 08, 09)

(91,88, 100) (82, 92, 98) 85, 85, 90)

(100,83,91) (66, 75, 80) (71,46,72) (99,100,93) (77,76,82) (83,82,91) (76,86,85) (71,43,60) (74,76,82)

(75, 83, 83) (73, 77, 78) (78, 90, 92) (46, 52,59) (88, 92, 90) (51,72,75) (95, 85,87) (90,87,88) (78,75,86) (76,76,78)

(63, 70, 76) (78,79,89) (89,84,86) (87,88,90) (51,63,66) (94,93,89) (48,85,81) (67,58, 70) (63,60,69) (47,56,55) (64, 57, 55)

$ $ a|e $ jfc jfe

Fifth (07, 08, 09)

(97,94,97) (97, 90, 93) (87, 88, 87) (91,90,86) (61, 70, 85) (57, 66, 72) (92,99,100) (74,71,76) (92,79,89) (87,78,88) (63,48,71) (90,58,78)

(73, 82, 86) (96,81,89) (83, 90, 87) (57, 65, 67) (92, 89, 95) (68, 78, 80) (96,91,90) (94,92,92)

(71,80,83) (80,74,85)

(65, 70, 74) (66,72,78) (80,96,88) (90,90,85) (66,43,60) (91,98,96) (76,62,89) (63,70,69) (75, 69,67) (54,47,61) (69,72,72)

$ $ $ $ $ $

Enroll-

ment

439 355 757 213 245 307 525 479 430 636 283 607 396 192 226 295 312 352 326 326 289 635 542 454 542 596 510 427 133 444 379 529 535 ***

Free/Reduced

%

2.1 3.7 6

5.2 69.8

94 3.6 34 50 9.3 88 62

15.4

97.4

22.1

49 2.6 43 .3 .3

30.1

15.6

28 20 .2 1.3 63

14.1

33 55 34

68.6

43 **

Mobility

%

2 .8 4

1.4 3.7 8 .6 2

6.5 1.7 4 2 6 15 3.5 6

2.6 6 4 4 7 10 2.8 1.5 2 1 9 4 0 6 6

1.3 2 **

*** Surveys for 34 were returned anonymously; therefore, it was not possible to identify the school data.

 

 

52

School Professional Staff Learning Community Questionnaire from Principals

The second step was to gather survey data from the elementary principals. Table

2 demonstrates that the majority of the principals identified their schools as a mature PLC

on several of the five descriptors. However, only two principals identified their school’s

staff as mature PLCs by scoring all five descriptors as a 4 or a 5. A third principal

returned the survey with a note explaining that the school staff was doing good work but

was just not a PLC. This school was recorded as no response.

Table 2

School Professional Learning Community Questionnaire Responses from Elementary Principals

Descriptors la lb 2a 2b 2c 3a 3b 3c 3d 3e 4a 4b 5a 5b 5c 5d 5e

5

4

3

2

1

18

13

1

0

0

13

15

3

0

0

12

13

3

0

0

20

7

0

0

0

22

10

1

0

0

12

18

3

0

0

15

14

4

0

0

6

25

1

1

0

9

23

1

0

0

8

21

2

2

0

1

2

21

10

0

0

11

8

12

0

26

7

0

0

0

13

16

3

1

0

19

14

0

0

0

11

16

6

0

0

15

Is

3

0

0

No Response

[Scores of 4/5 are mature PLC indicators | jGreen^ highest response | Yellow= second highest response

Thirty of the 34 principals rated their PLC as mature on four of the five

descriptors: made shared decisions, had a vision focused on high quality learning,

staff learning addressed student need, and time was allocated to regularly

collaborate. The descriptor rated lowest by principals was number 4 which focused

 

 

53

on peer observation and peer feedback; only three principals rated their school as

mature on regularly visiting each other’s classrooms and 11 principals rated their

schools as mature on providing each other with feedback on teaching and learning.

Most of the principals’ handwritten comments taken from the returned

surveys were made in general; however, some addressed the descriptors specifically.

The general comments included a principal inviting me to call her “because I think

the journey is the interesting facet as we hire new teachers with no experience with

PLC work.” Another principal wrote, “I am so proud of our staff, we have a lot to

accomplish yet the staff works so hard.” A third principal wrote, “This is our third

year as a district working on the PLC concept, as you can see peer observation and

conversations is our next step, teachers are beginning to trust, collaborate, and

share.” Descriptor two addressed the vision of the school; one principal added

parents as focusing on the common vision and student learning. Descriptor three

designated whole staff learning as a 4 or 5 while sub-group learning was designated

as a 3. Four principals circled a 4 or 5 and then wrote a note that sub-groups such as

grade level teams also regularly met. Descriptor four—peer observation and

feedback overall—was scored the lowest; however, five principals wrote comments.

The principal comments included “we are working on this,” “we are in the beginning

stages of peer observation,” “this is an area of growth for us, we will begin peer

observation in January,” and “we have visited other schools but we are not to a point

where staff feels comfortable visiting each other’s rooms.” Descriptor five

addressed time. One principal wrote “a lot of time” is arranged and committed for

whole staff interactions.

 

 

54

Survey Population

There are 178 school districts in Colorado. The 34 principals returning the

surveys were from across the state representing 26 school districts ranging in district size

from the smallest rural district with a student population of 693 to the largest urban

school district with a student population of 87,172. The following figures show the

demographics of responding schools in terms of school size, free and reduced lunch, and

mobility. The purpose of this data was to illustrate the diverse demographical nature of

the responding schools and districts.

8 i,

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

0

• 701-800

• 601-700

D 501-600

• 401-500

• 301-400

• 201-300

• 101-200

H 0-100

Enrollment

Figure 1. Enrollment of the 34 schools.

 

 

55

Mobility

E310-10.99

• 9-9.99

D 8-8.99

• 7-7.99

• 6-6.99

• 5-5.99

• 4-4.99

B 3-3.99

• 2-2.99

• 1-1.99

O0-.99

Figure 2. Mobility of the 34 schools.

Free and Reduced Lunch

• 90-99.99

• 80-89.99

D 70-79.99

D 60-69.99

• 50-59.99

• 40-49.99

• 30-39.99

m 20-29.99

• 10-19.99

• 0-9.99

Figure 3. Free and reduced lunch for the 34 schools.

 

 

56

Phase Two: Data Collection

Two principals identified their schools as mature PLCs with scores of 4s and 5s

for all five PLC descriptors. Of the two, one principal agreed to participate in this study,

giving teachers at the school the opportunity to participate as well. Nimble Elementary is

located in a school district with an enrollment of 20,167 students, 25 elementary schools,

9 middle schools, and 6 high schools. Nimble Elementary has an enrollment of 430

students with 50% of the students receiving free and reduced lunch, 6.5% mobility, and

consistent CSAP data; all three grade levels showed growth in reading for at least two of

the three years examined. The principal of Nimble Elementary was completing her 17th

year in this elementary school. Before becoming a principal, she was a special education

teacher. The teaching staff represents a broad range of experience from first year to

veteran teachers.

This section includes the interviews with the principal, interviews with all nine

third through fifth grade teachers, the resource teacher, and the lead teacher from the

professional development committee. Interviews were conducted individually and in

small focus groups. Observations were conducted over the course of two and one-half

days. Artifacts were gathered during site visits.

Teacher and Principal Interviews

Responses to the survey and interviews are examined in this section as well as

themes that emerged in responses for each descriptor. In order to bring together the

principal survey and interview themes, each section begins with how the principal scored

the school on the School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire

(SPSLCQ); common themes were taken from the interviews.

 

 

57

Qla How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making with teachers in a PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

The principal scored descriptor one of the SPSLCQ with 5s on both la~

Consistently involves staff in discussing and making decisions and \b–The entire staff is

involved. She identified the goal of building leadership capacity within the building. “I

am here to grow leaders,” she stated. She felt it was important for the principal to focus

on developing leadership capacity in order to sustain the vision of the school over time.

“Expertise needs to be shared and we all have expertise,” she explained. Teacher

interviews also reflected shared decision making, power, and authority.

Several themes were identified and are listed in order of occurrences from the

most frequently mentioned to the least: team decisions, professional learning, philosophy,

teacher and student empowerment, and community. Opportunities for shared decisions

included participation in building leadership teams, professional development committee,

vertical team, grade level teams, and individual teacher decisions. The building

leadership team (BLT) was not a regularly scheduled committee; it met as needed to

discuss and problem solve needs within the building. This committee supported the

development of the Individual School Improvement Plan (ISIP) and helped resolve

conflicts as needed.

The professional development (PD) team was facilitated by a nationally board

certified teacher who had 16 years of teaching experience; the facilitator’s strength was in

literacy instruction. The PD team met regularly to decide the focus of staff professional

learning. Nimble Elementary participated in weekly early release time that provided two

hours every Wednesday for teachers’ collective learning. The PD team included expert

 

 

58

and novice teachers and the principal. This team made recommendations to the staff

based on student data, staff need, and the Reading Continuum. Once a recommendation

for PD was made from the committee, the entire staff demonstrates approval by voting.

According to teachers, having the same reading philosophy and professional development

that was focused and guided by their Reading Continuum provided them with “a common

language to discuss kids work.” The principal engaged as an equal, not as an expert, on

the committee and during professional learning.

All staff members were divided into vertical teams that met every two weeks.

According to the resource teacher, the vertical team for Nimble Elementary began two

years before Response-to-intervention (RTI). Vertical teams are problem solving teams;

when students struggle, the team meets to examine the students’ situation and make

recommendations. Student struggles can either be academic or behavioral. The teacher

bringing the students’ situation to the problem solving team brought student data and

focused on specific needs such as work samples, reading assessments, or anecdotal

records. The vertical team set student goals and monitored the student goals for

improvement.

Grade level teams constantly talked about students. They shared ideas, planned

units, and analyzed student assessments. Grade level teams decided when to meet each

week and when to use the two half days of planning provided by the principal. Half of

the early release PLC time was dedicated to grade level planning. The other half of the

PLC time this year was dedicated to grade level teams working to learn more about the

Reading Continuum and identify artifacts that would represent student knowledge. Grade

 

 

level teams also engaged in informal dialogues within the team, again focusing on

teaching and learning.

Teachers and students are individually responsible for making decisions.

Individual teachers are empowered to make decisions; one example is when students

struggle, often teachers seek out other teachers who may have an expertise in reading

recovery or English language acquisition. They may also talk with other grade level

teachers, the previous years’ teachers, and teachers below or above the grade level to gain

instructional insights into particular student needs. Ultimately, teachers are expected to

make instructional decisions based on student need. Teachers are responsible for

instructional decisions and students are responsible for their reading learning decisions.

Students are empowered through individual learning to take ownership. Teachers

and students set learning goals. Students are expected to choose the text for reading,

“talk about their text, ask questions and voice their thinking” as reading is taught through

a workshop model. One teacher explained:

I was whole language. You know the days when we said, “Expose them to great stories and the reading will come?” I think what I have learned most is the huge value of students talking about what they are reading, what they are thinking while they are reading, and the connections they are making while reading.

Another example of teacher and student empowerment was a teacher creating a t-

chart from the professional development text, Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency

by Fountas and Pinnell (2006), and asking students to think within the text, think beyond

the text, and about the text. This teacher noticed students struggling with the author’s

purpose and implemented a new graphic organizer. Again, with reading taught through a

workshop model rather than a prescribed curriculum, teachers are expected to respond to

student need and students are expect to take responsibility for their learning.

 

 

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Community was addressed in two dimensions: classroom community and in

getting to know students “as readers and people.” Teachers have the authority to set their

classroom community in motion from the first day of school. “I feel, with the community

rules we set up at the beginning of the year, kids have to be responsible for their own

behavior,” one teacher explained. Second, teachers want to know students at a deeper

level—as people. By getting to know their students as people, if they “hit a snag they can

identify some different reasons for the snag, maybe something is going on in their life or

if it’s academic we get to know them through the assessments.” Community supports

reading achievement by establishing a culture where teachers are empowered to meet

students’ needs and students are empowered through accountability for their learning.

The principal at Nimble Elementary provided numerous opportunities to share

power, authority, and decision making. All staff members were included in decision

making: from formal committees to the entire staff voting on the professional learning

plan for the year to informal decisions made to address individual student need.

Qlb What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

The principal rated this descriptor as a 5 on all three sub-points of improvements

discussed and approved by consensus: improvements always focused on students,

teachers and learning, and improvements targeting high quality learning for all students.

Nimble Elementary had a vision statement for each content area. Four years ago, staff

worked collaboratively to develop their vision for reading, writing, math, science, and

social studies using the affinity process. The affinity process is a way to organize a large

number of ideas and categorize the ideas. “This method taps into a team’s creativity and

intuition” (Tague, 2005, p. 96). All the vision statements focused on the learner and

 

 

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included internal desire, making meaning, communication, exploration, thinking

critically, growth in using what they know, and real life application of learning. The

school improvement plan and goals were focused on the school visions. All purchases of

resources were made only if the purchases aligned with the vision. Only the reading

vision is discussed here because the reading data were used to identify successful schools

for this study. The vision for reading at Nimble Elementary is as follows:

Our vision for our learners is for them to be readers who develop into passionate, life-long readers; who read because they love to; who choose to read widely both inside and outside of the classroom. Readers who make meaning by using a variety of strategies. Readers who are part of a reading community; who discuss, disagree with, listen to, and consider other readers’ perspectives in a kind and respectful manner; who support other readers and accept support in return. Readers who know their purposes for reading and explore the world around them through reading; who have favorite authors and texts and allow words to affect them deeply. Readers who understand that reading is thinking; who interact with texts by thinking critically; who consider and critique authors’ perspectives; who grow and change because of what they have read.

The theme that emerged from interview one—second descriptor was focus.

Initially, when the vision statements were created, all the staff members were divided into

teams by content area and area of teaching expertise. The team wanted to build units of

study but first needed to have an understanding of what they believed about each of the

content areas and what they wanted their students to be able to do with a certain belief

that would guide teachers. The staff worked on each of the content areas and the process

took about two months to complete. The vision statements have been revised in the last

couple of years. Experienced fourth grade teachers passionately described the school

visions, “We worked very hard bringing in everyone’s voice, for every content area, we

built it together drawing on what we all believe.” Grade level teams then took the vision

statements and worked to decide what each vision would look like in their classrooms by

 

 

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identifying the ideal classroom. Classroom teachers now make choices that stem from

that vision. Teachers wanted the vision to be more concrete rather than abstract. A

teacher new to the school described the school vision as “focusing on the dignity of the

students, learning together, taking ideas, and working together as a community.”

According to the principal, “vision has set the parameters of where we want to go.”

Qlc How does collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

The principal scored this descriptor with 4s and 5s. The following descriptors

were scored with 4s: staff discussing the quality of their teaching and learning—3c, staff

based their learning and planning on student need~3d, and the staff assesses the impact

of their work and makes revisions-3e. Descriptors 3a and 3b were scored as 5s: the

entire staff discusses issues and shares information with each other–3a and the staff

meets frequently to discuss educational issues–3 b.

The themes that emerged in order of occurrence from the most frequently

mentioned to the least were collaboration, common focus, time, student learning, and

goals. The staff of Nimble Elementary could best be described as a team in constant

collaboration. According to the principal, “It’s an expectation that we talk about kids

here and everyone is available to do that.” A fourth grade teacher echoed the same

thinking, “We talk to each to each other. Informally we talk about kids in ways we have

never done before—it’s changed my instruction.” The focus was on the teaching and

learning process. “Teachers will bring kids reading response notebooks to team

members. I can look at what they are doing and ask how did you start this lesson? What

were the baby steps to get to this point?” “I can also bring work samples that I am not

sure are hitting the Reading Continuum and explain the process I used and my team will

 

 

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give me feedback.” Teams worked to plan instruction, discussed student work, and how

teachers were getting students to the desired achievement levels. Teams discussed

anecdotal notes, what worked, and where there were struggles. Teams were committed to

providing each other with support that focused on student learning and learning goals.

The weekly PLC time was focused on identifying evidence of student success based on

the Reading Continuum. A teacher described the PLC experience by saying, “This year,

as part of staff development, we bring things we want to help with and the things I don’t

know what to do, where to go, or what to do. This is authentic!” The Reading

Continuum provided common expectations and common vocabulary.

Qld How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

The principal scored this descriptor with 4s: staff members regularly visit each

other’s classrooms—4a and provide each other with feedback (4b). The common themes

that surfaced were time, observation, and feedback. Time immediately surfaced in terms

of not enough time. Teachers talked about last school year when they really appreciated

their learning through observation. Teacher teams observed each other and processed

their learning together. This year, teachers had not observed each other in teams; one

teacher stated, “There is not enough time to observe each other.”

This year, observation was a function of the vertical team and for new teachers.

Vertical teams provided observation of instruction and feedback as students demonstrated

the need for additional support through the problem solving process. The resource

teacher observed instructional interventions and provided feedback. New teachers were

provided with a mentor who observed and gave feedback. New teachers also had the

opportunity to visit classrooms outside of the building and process their observations with

 

 

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their mentor teacher. The new teacher support was for the first year of teaching only as it

was part of the new teacher induction program.

Descriptor four was specific to teachers observing each other and providing each

other with feedback based on the observations. Although this year teachers cited a lack

of time to get into each other’s classroom, they still provided each other with frequent

feedback as they worked and planned together. Feedback occurred on a regular basis

from grade level teams as they reflected on student work, anecdotal notes, and planning.

Informally, grade level teachers solicited the feedback and support of their team

members.

Qle What school structures are in place to support your work as a PLC in reading?

The building principal scored descriptors 5(b)—the school size, structure and

arrangement facilitates staff proximity and interaction and 5(d)–trust and openness

characterize all the staff members as 4s. The principal scored 5(a)—time is arranged and

committed for whole staff interactions, 5(c)~a variety of process and procedures are used

to encourage staff communication, and 5(e)—caring, collaborative, and productive

relationships exist among all staff as 5s. The common themes that emerged in order of

occurrence from the most frequently discussed to the least were collaboration, structure,

and culture.

The overall structure was established by setting aside PLC time; the PLC calendar

was set at the beginning of the school year. Three clear structures were in place that

supported the PLC: PLC early release weekly time, the grade level teams, and the vertical

team. First, the PLC time was every Wednesday—two of the Wednesdays per month

focused on teacher learning and the other two Wednesdays were for grade level planning.

 

 

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Every Wednesday, teams gathered in a designated location to work in close proximity.

Grade level teams had three to four members and sat in teams during the PLC time. The

second structure was grade level team time planning. Each grade level decided on the

planning day and time that fit with the team members. Additionally, grade level teams

worked together every Wednesday during the PLC. In addition to the PLC, all grade

level teams decided when to use the two half days of planning. These half days were

used to review and plan based on the Individual School Improvement Plan goals. Third,

the vertical team was the problem solving team. These were the teachers who provided

ideas and support for students not making adequate academic progress or for students

who had behavior concerns. Goals were established and monitored on a bi-weekly basis.

School structures such as staff arrangement, structures, time and processes were in place

to support learning.

The school culture was characterized by openness to share and maintain

productive relationships. One teacher described the “culture of the building is one where

every works hard and everyone is focused on kids and learning.” Another teacher new to

the building described the culture as having high expectations for each other. A veteran

teacher who had only been a Nimble Elementary for three years said, “We aren’t afraid to

ask each other questions, there’s a willingness to share.” This was a community of

learners.

Observations

Two days were spent observing in classrooms and one afternoon was spent

observing the PLC. Each observation is described in this section in order to show this

successful, mature PLC in action. Observation was important to this study as a mature

 

 

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PLC is focused on student achievement. Four of the five descriptors were observed:

shared power and authority, staff vision, collective learning, and school conditions.

Day 1. The day began with a brief introduction to the school by the principal and

to discuss this research study. This was her 17th year as the principal at this school.

There was a mix of experience among teachers, both new to teaching and veteran. We

spent about two hours walking through classrooms and observing instruction. The halls

and classrooms were rich with student work samples that included writing and graphing.

There were both primary and intermediate student graphs representing a variety data.

The first stop was to observe a first grade classroom that was in the library. The

class had been temporarily relocated to the library due the collapse of the ceiling in their

classroom from the heavy snow. When we entered, students were gathered on the floor

in front of their teacher. The lesson was on acrostic poems. When asked what they were

learning, the first grade class could explain what they were learning. The tables were full

of books that were used as mentor texts and around the room hung Six Trait Writing

Rubrics. Mentor texts were used to provide an example of a particular characteristic or

trait in writing. As we exited the library, posted on the door was a PLC rubric written for

students that had five levels of learning engagement—zero through four. Level four was

the highest with the learner engaged in learning, responsible for their own learning, and

being a role model for others. This rubric was primarily used in physical education

classes, art, music, and library. As students exited, they evaluated their learning for the

day.

As we walked down the hall, I learned that there was no specific reading program.

All reading was handled through reader’s workshop; teachers used a developmental

 

 

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Reading Continuum that was aligned to Colorado State Reading Standards. Teachers

recorded their observations through careful anecdotal notes on all their students and

responded to student needs accordingly. In addition to the anecdotal notes, the common

reading assessments were CSAP, Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), Running

Records (RR), Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA), and student work samples. All

students—kindergarten through fifth grade—participated in reader’s workshop that was

inclusive of both whole group and small group instruction. Students were required to

participate as active readers in sustained silent reading with the amount of time based on

their developmental level. As we proceeded down the hall, student work was featured all

along the way. Student work in this hallway included graphing and non-fiction writing.

We entered a second grade classroom where all students were engaged in reading.

Posters were hanging everywhere. This classroom began the year with empty walls. As

students progressed through the year, posters were hung representing the learning, what

kids knew, and should be able to do. These were referred to as anchor posters. I soon

found that all classrooms used anchor posters as a strategy to remind students of their

learning and expected students to know what they had learned. There was also a “no

excuse” word wall. Once a word went up on the word wall, students were expected to

know it. I pulled up a stool and listened to the teacher discuss a story with students in her

guided reading group. I listened for the vocabulary she used. Students also knew and

used the common vocabulary such as inference and using context clues to make meaning.

One student used her schema or background knowledge to make meaning of the current

reading, and the teacher immediately followed up with positive reinforcement. The

teacher took careful anecdotal records for the small group lesson. There was also

 

 

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evidence around the room that students did a large amount of writing in a variety of

subjects.

As we passed through several more classes, I observed several consistencies. All

teachers were focused on the Reading Continuum and were carefully listening to

students. Consistent reading vocabulary was used by students and teachers to describe

their thinking and learning. Anchor posters demonstrated student learning. Students

wrote as part of their processing of information; student journals were required for all the

subjects. In the classrooms and in the halls, student work was everywhere! I also learned

that two teachers were currently featured on Just ASK Publications and Professional

Development (2009a, 2009b): Teaching and Learning in the 21s’ Century: 4th and 5th Grade

Writer’s Workshop and Teaching and Learning in the 21s’ Century: Third Grade Science.

A third teacher was currently recording through Just ASK Publications for guided

reading.

Day 2. The day began with a brief meeting with the principal to decide which

classrooms to visit. As I reflected on the first visit at this school, I wanted to confirm my

initial impressions and expand those to include a greater variety of classrooms. The

common themes I wanted to look and listen for were higher level processing with

students, consistent vocabulary, journal usage by students to process their thinking, small

group reading instruction, anecdotal notes, and the use of anchor posters. The first

classroom I visited was during the opening morning time. Students entered the room and

went to work in center type activities. After a few minutes, students sat down and the

teacher processed each learning activity. The teacher asked, “Based on the lunch count,

what suggestions could we offer the cafeteria?” Students had to look at the visual display

 

 

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and draw conclusions to offer a suggestion. The teacher continued to ask questions that

included, “How did you figure that out?” and “What patterns are you noticing?” Students

were able to explain their thinking using appropriate academic vocabulary.

In the next classroom I entered, students were engaged in reading a story during

reader’s workshop. The teacher had a notebook that was clearly labeled with all the

student’s names. She was quickly taking anecdotal notes and completing a Running

Record (RR). An RR is a quick individual assessment that provides the teacher with the

developmental level of the reader. This information is then used to determine growth and

appropriate reading level of the student. Students were asked to make connections; in this

instance, a student made a text-to-text connection. In other words, the student could

relate the current story to a story they had already read and processed. Students were

asked to predict and think logically about the kinds of animals one would find in the city.

Students had to explain their thinking, provide examples, and respond to the question,

“What would your schema tell you cities have a lot of?” The teacher then prompted

students to use their reading strategies to figure out the text if they got stuck. She sat and

watched. If students couldn’t figure out a word, they had to tell the teacher which

reading strategies they tried; then the teacher and student would problem solve together.

This teacher asked students questions to prompt their thinking rather than telling them

what strategy to try next. After all the students had finished reading, she asked them

what strategies they had used during their reading. In speaking with the teacher after the

reading group, she showed me her anecdotal notes and explained how the notes she took

guided her next instructional steps.

 

 

The next group I observed was second grade. The students were taking two

column notes as they read a non-fiction text. The instruction was focused on pulling out

the facts. This is a skill the teacher noted would be needed when the students get to fifth

grade, so they are in the beginning stages now. Students were expected to read the text

and take notes in preparation for their discussion the next day. I got a chance to speak

with this teacher briefly after she finished the small group lesson. She cited Mosaic of

Thought: Teaching Comprehension in Reader’s Workshop by Keene and Zimmerman

(1997, as a book that really was pivotal for her as a reading teacher, specifically “to

understand is to figure out” (p. 97). I also asked her about the consistent use of reading

vocabulary that I was hearing across the building. She identified the Reading Continuum

as the source of the vocabulary. The Reading Continuum is an instrument used to guide

instruction K-8. The principal also explained that teachers focused on what real readers

do—real readers use a variety of strategies; they don’t just use one strategy at a time.

Teachers needed to consistently point out what good readers do and teachers were doing

that in the classroom.

The next classrooms we entered were third grade classes. The first class was

engaged in writer’s workshop based on their reading. Two anchor charts displayed the

background knowledge constructed through reading and student observations of two

book reviews. This particular anchor chart modeled comparison and contrast as well as

identified what was the most useful information in the books. The other anchor chart was

a comparison of “how to articles.” Their current assignment was to write a “how to” on

the topic of their choosing. One student was working on how to do a ski jump, while

 

 

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another was working on a how to for painting. Students used a graphic organizer to write

each step and they were highly engaged in writing.

The second third grade class we entered was focused on math instruction.

Although this was in the content area of math, the questions the teacher asked and levels

of dialogue were higher level. Students had to explain their thinking and they processed

through their explanation with their classmates. Students asked and responded to each

other’s questions. Then one student asked the teacher if they could “split the class.”

Before they were allowed to split the classroom, students had to turn and talk to someone

to individually process their thinking and state where they stood on the current question.

The “split the room strategy” was one that kids used in this classroom to build consensus

for an answer through verbal processing. The teacher took more of a facilitator role and

actually removed herself from the front of the room to position herself at the back of the

room as students moved front and center to analyze and discuss. Essentially, students

gathered on one side or the other based on what they believed was the correct answer to

the problem. Students on each side then took turns explaining their thinking. Students

not only explained their thinking, but they also asked each other clarifying questions.

The Day 2 observation session concluded by observing the problem solving

leadership team in action. The team was checking on student progress for those students

who had already been referred. Essentially, the problem solving team took the place of

the child study process that was used to formally refer students for special education

testing. Four lead teachers each had a specific group of students they were monitoring.

The discussion included academic goals, behavior goals, interventions they were trying,

and background information for each child. Additionally, this team was working to

 

 

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strengthen their RTI skills. They were doing a book study on RTIfrom All Sides: What

Every Teacher Needs to Know by Howard (2009).

PLC. Every Wednesday, the staff gathered for their PLC work during their early

release time. Students v/ere dismissed at 1:50. Teachers gathered together in one

identified classroom at 2:00. Two Wednesdays per month were focused on grade level

planning and two were focused on the Reading Continuum. The two Wednesdays that

focused on the Reading Continuum professional development were facilitated by a

veteran teacher who was nationally board certified. This lead teacher was also on the

district level team that wrote the staff development module that all schools were focusing

on for the first time this year. The module was developed to fully train teachers on the

Reading Continuum.

The day I observed, I rotated between the intermediate grade level teams;

however, all certified teaching staff members were present in their grade level teams.

Their work was to use what they are reading in Teaching Comprehending and Fluency

Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8 by Fountas and Pinnell (2006) and

focus on descriptor three of the Reading Continuum for their specific grade level.

Descriptor three focuses on Colorado Reading Standards one, four, five, and six to apply

strategies to comprehend a variety of texts (literature and content areas). The descriptor

identifiers were based on the work of Campbell Hill (2001). The directions given to

teams were to share artifacts for descriptor three, identify what the descriptor would look

like in the classroom, and then identify what artifacts could be created or used to show a

child’s understanding of the concept. Each team had a laptop in the center of the table

that was used to fill in the graphic organizer for each grade level. Conversations within

 

 

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the teams focused on higher level questioning and evidence of student success. Some of

the evidence identified included visual representations such as drawing a picture for

every chapter, a Venn diagram to compare and contrast reading journals, and think

marks. Think marks were used for a variety of purposes for reading throughout the

building, e.g., comprehension, accountability for reading, and making connections were

all observed during the classroom observations. Essentially, think marks are book

markers that include specific reading questions students respond to as they read

independently. At the end of these two hour work sessions, teachers shared-out their

observations and thinking across grade levels. Their share-out included identifying non-

negotiables: focus questions for the artifact selection, student work samples, modeling,

read alouds, and artifacts that demonstrated a level of sophistication. Their homework

for the next session was to decide, as a grade level team, the artifacts they wanted to

bring and share with staff that illustrated specific descriptors on the continuum.

Four of the PLC descriptors from the SPSLCQ survey were evident in the

observations.

• With regard to descriptor one, the administrator shared power and authority

with teachers in two ways. The first was that the PD committee had planned

and was facilitating the PLC. The second way was evidenced by the grade

level teacher teams making decisions of how students would demonstrate

learning in reading.

• Descriptor two focused on vision—both the staff vision and reading vision

were observed as teachers worked as a community of learners working to

implement research-based best practices (Staff Vision Statement). Teachers

 

 

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specifically worked on the reading vision as they identified student

proficiency artifacts for readers who make meaning by using a variety of

strategies (Reading Vision Statement).

• Descriptor three focused on collective learning. This professional

development focused on Teaching Comprehending and Fluency Thinking,

Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8 by Fountas and Pinnell (2006) in

addition to the district Professional Development Module based on the

Reading Continuum.

• Lastly, descriptor five was observed as all certified staff members were

present in one room, seated in grade level teams, during their calendared PLC

time. Teacher communications were focused and open as they shared ideas

around student proficiency and the artifacts that would be used to demonstrate

learning.

Artifact Review

Several artifacts were collected in this study: the mission statement, vision

statements for each content area, group norms, expectations for collaboration, vertical

team protocol, notes and plan for differentiation, the Reading Continuum, copies of

anecdotal notes, Individual School Improvement Plan, the school schedule, and the

District Reading Instructional Framework. Essentially, the artifacts were divided into the

themes of existence, hope for the future, how staff would work together, and what

specifically would be accomplished.

Mission statement. Why does Nimble Elementary exist? According to

DuFour and Eaker (1998), “The mission question challenges members of a group

 

 

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to reflect on the fundamental purpose for the organization, the very reason for its

existence” (p. 58). The mission statement for Nimble Elementary is as follows:

To provide quality educational opportunities for all students by offering programs and an environment, which enables each child to grow in responsibility, confidence, attitude, skills, and knowledge. We also believe that each child, each day, should learn and grow and feel like a valued human being.

Vision statements. The vision of an organization, according to DuFour

and Eaker (1998), focuses on the question, “what do we hope to become?” (p. 62).

Nimble Elementary had vision statements for the staff and for each content area.

The vision statements identified staff and students as learners and then went on to

describe the characteristics of the learner in each content area. The staff vision

and reading vision statements are as follows:

• Staff Vision Statement. The staff vision statement is; we are a community of collaborative learners working to implement research based best practices in our building. Meeting people in small groups to share work and critique student/teacher work samples in a safe and supportive environment. We observe and visit colleagues with the goal of facilitating now learning through-out the building. We value the reflective process while implementing new learning. We reflect as individual learners in small groups and as a community. (The vision statements for reading, writing, math, science and social studies were written in December of 2007. For the purposes of this research, only the vision for reading was recorded here).

• Reading Vision Statement. Our vision for our learners is for them to be readers who develop into passionate, life-long readers; who read because they love to; who choose to read widely both inside and outside of the classroom. Readers who make meaning by using a variety of strategies. Readers who are part of a reading community; who discuss, disagree with, listen to, and consider other readers’ perspectives in a kind and respectful manner. Readers who support other readers and accept support in return. Readers who know their purposes for reading and explore the world around them through reading. Readers who have favorite authors and texts and allow words to affect them deeply. Readers who understand that reading is thinking, who interact with texts by thinking critically and readers who

 

 

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consider and critique authors’ perspectives. Ultimately, readers who grow and change because of what they have read.

“An effective vision statement articulates a vivid picture of the

organization’s future that is so compelling that a school’s members will be

motivated to work together to make it a reality” (DuFour & Eaker, 1998, p. 62).

Staff members at Nimble Elementary were expected to learn and grow, as

evidenced by the principal interviews and the PLC work during their early release

times. There were numerous book studies and application of learning as

evidenced by the building site visits and teacher interviews. Students were

expected to grow; the reading vision was observable through the reader’s

workshop model and focus on the Reading Continuum.

The way staff worked together to accomplish the mission and vision of the

school was observable during the interviews, the vertical leadership team work,

and during the PLC learning on Wednesday afternoons. Garmston and Wellman

(1999) stressed the importance of group norms as means of establishing how the

group would function. The norms for collaboration and group norms are as

follows:

• Nimble Elementary Expectations for Collaboration. Responsibility to help each other grow and understand new things. There is a mutual understanding of the group’s intents-a professionalism (vs. personalism) which keeps us on task. When confusion is present, we ask one another clarifying and probing questions. There is an understanding of and a willingness to try various roles in our group (i.e., talkers, listeners, organizers, “computer people,” etc.). We work efficiently toward the intended outcomes while keeping our purpose (s) in mind. We take personal responsibility to always be actively engaged.

• Nimble Elementary Group Norms. Be open and honest. Say what you think and feel during the meeting, not after. Be respectful to others

 

 

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and willing to compromise. Be a change agent and willing to contribute to solutions. Be an active listener. One person speaks at a time. Come to consensus on issues. If no consensus is met, revisit the issue in a timely manner. Commit to coming to meetings on time and stay the length of the meeting. Work collaboratively- see reverse side of our expectations for collaboration.

Lastly, the work that needed to be done was focused on student learning,

which was observable in the classroom visits, during the teachers interviews, and

during the PLC early release time. The school improvement plan was based on

one goal: to improve student achievement in the areas of reading and math.

Grade level teams analyzed student achievement data and determined a grade

level S.M.A.R.T. goal that would support the overall school goal. Teachers

focused on the Reading Continuum as the guide to meet reading goals.

The Reading Continuum covered pre-school through eighth grade. It was

developed by a team of teachers in the district in conjunction with referencing the

book, Developmental Continuums: A Framework for Literacy Instruction and

Assessment K-8, by Campbell Hill (2001). Across the top of the document were

the developmental stages; down the left side of the document were the Colorado

State Standards. At a glance, teachers knew where students were

developmentally in relation to the Colorado State Standards. Teachers also knew

where students needed to be by the end of eighth grade. Currently there is a team

of teachers working to revise the continuum based on the release of the revised

standards from the Colorado Department of Education. Using this continuum,

teachers have created notebooks for anecdotal records.

Anecdotal records varied based on individual teacher’s styles. One

teacher used a single grade-level, specific developmental level that was listed at

 

 

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the top, followed by the reading level or DRA levels; each of the boxes that

followed represented the state standard. On the right side of the page, there was a

place to record the text, the focus, and comprehension. At the bottom of the page

was a place to record the reading records. Another teacher’s style for anecdotal

records was to use a blank page to keep track of teacher observations and Running

Records. Although anecdotal records varied based on teacher preference, there

was one commonality—the Running Record.

The artifacts collected were representative of the reason Nimble

Elementary existed. Through the shared mission and vision, teachers and students

were focused on learning. A set of norms specified how teachers would work

collaboratively. The school improvement plan set the focus on learning. The

Reading Continuum served as a guide of what needed to be accomplished in

reading.

Summary

This research was completed in two phases. The first step in phase one was to

identify successful elementary schools based on the Colorado Student Assessment

Program. Reading achievement data were gathered for grades three through five for

2007, 2008, and 2009. Data were accessed from the Colorado Department of Education

website (2009). The two reports used were Individual School Accountability Reports for

2007 and the 2009 CSAP School and District Summary Results that contained both 2008

and 2009 scores. The reading scores reflected the combined score of students who scored

proficient and advanced. From a pool of 369 schools, 76 schools were identified that met

the criteria of two to three years of continued improvement.

 

 

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The School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire (Hord,

1996) was mailed to the 76 elementary principals. Thirty-four principals returned the

surveys, which is a 45% return rate. The 34 schools represented 26 of the 176 school

districts in Colorado. The school districts represented ranged in size and demographics.

Of the 34, only two elementary school principals identified their schools as mature PLCs

by marking all five descriptors as a 4 or 5, indicating a mature PLC was in place. Several

principals indicated they had mature PLC’s on four of the five descriptors. Descriptor 4~

Peers review and give feedback based on observing one another’s classroom behaviors

in order to increase individual and organizational capacity (Hord, 1996) was rated the

lowest. Several principals noted on their surveys that descriptor four was one they were

either not ready for as a staff or one they were just beginning to work on.

Phase two was to visit a successful elementary school that was a mature PLC.

This phase included visiting classrooms, teacher and principal interviews, and gathering

artifacts. The interviews were conducted in small focus group settings and individually

with third through fifth grade teachers, the resource teacher, the PLC lead teacher, and

the building principal. Observations were made as classrooms were visited and artifacts

were collected throughout the visit.

 

 

CHAPTER V

FINDINGS

Introduction

In 1992, the staff of Southwest Educational Laboratory (SEDL; Hord, 1996) was

told about a school with a unique learning environment, which inspired the researchers to

look deeply at what this particular school was doing.

In that school, we found an organization that was vibrant with learning—among both students and teachers. The school staff saw themselves as a community of learners where the entire school learned together—teachers, parents, and students. They all shared a common vision of what the school should accomplish and what type of environment it should have. Teachers were innovative and encouraged to reflect on their practice. They were involved in shared decision making. If a conflict occurred it was shared openly and resolved. (Hord, 2004, p. 1)

Hord’s (2004) research produced five major themes essential for professional

learning communities: supportive and shared leadership, shared values and vision,

collective learning and application of that learning, supportive conditions, and shared

personal practice. These five themes were substantiated in this study and were used to

look deeper at the practices that frame a mature professional learning community to

explore the following research question:

Ql In a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place, what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC?

This chapter presents a summary of the findings, implications for school leaders,

personal reflection, study limitations, and recommendation for further research. The

 

 

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summary of findings is based on the analysis and triangulation of the interviews, site

visits, and artifact review.

Summary of Findings

Hord’s research (2004) identified five major themes of a PLC: supportive and

shared leadership, shared values and vision, collective learning and application of

learning, supportive conditions, and shared personal practice. The five major themes

were explored through the following sub-questions. Each sub-question was crafted to

gather information from a successful, mature PLC on best practices that support their

work. This section includes the research sub-questions based on the five themes and a

summary of findings for each theme.

Support and Shared Leadership

The following sub-question corresponds to the theme of supportive and shared

leadership:

Qla How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making with teachers in a PLC process to support achievement in

reading?

The principal of Nimble Elementary was focused on developing teacher leaders

and teacher leader expertise. “I expect every staff member to develop leadership skills;

so besides serving on leadership committees such as Building Leadership Team or the

Professional Learning Team, I expect everyone to take on an initiative for change at our

school.” Common themes that emerged during the interviews were team decisions,

professional learning, philosophy, teacher and student empowerment, and community.

These themes were represented in the numerous opportunities for involvement in shared

power, authority, and decision making within the classroom and outside of the classroom.

 

 

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Within the classroom, teachers are responsible for meeting student’s needs.

Teachers set the expectations for learning and for behaviors. Students are expected to be

responsible for their own learning and their professional behavior. “Community rules are

set up at the beginning of the year; kids have to be responsible for their own learning and

behavior,” according to one teacher. There is no adopted reading curriculum; instruction

is delivered through a reader’s workshop model that focuses on the Reading Continuum.

“Continuums are based on current research about literacy acquisition and reflect a child-

centered, constructivist, developmental philosophy of teaching and learning” (Hill, 2001,

p. 3). The Reading Continuum provides a guide for teachers—kindergarten through

eighth grade—that addresses the Colorado State Reading Content Standards combined

with the development reading levels of children. After teaching students how to select

the appropriate reading level, students make their reading selections. According to one

teacher, “We set reading goals with our learners. Students are part of the goal setting.”

Teachers then monitor progress of an individual student’s reading using running records

and anecdotal notes. “The running record is a tool teachers use to observe closely the

reading behavior of beginners” (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006, p. 31). The running record

allows teachers to observe how the “reader accesses both visible and invisible

information in a highly coordinated way” (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006, p. 25). Phonics and

fluency are two examples of how students process visible information. Activating

schema is an example of how students process invisible information. Anecdotal notes are

short written observational notes that teachers record in their teaching journals for the

purpose of identifying instructional gaps. In the workshop model, teachers use their

anecdotal notes to guide their instruction. Teachers are constantly monitoring student

 

 

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growth through anecdotal notes that are used to monitor progress along with common

assessments. Essentially, teachers have to be attuned to listening, diagnosing the next

learning steps for all students individually, and making instructional decisions within the

classroom.

Outside of the classroom, teachers have numerous opportunities to participate in

shared decision making through the Building Leadership Team (BLT), the Professional

Development team (PD), Response-to-intervention team (RTI), in grade level teams, and

through change initiatives. The focus of the BLT is to provide leadership through the

focus on the Individual School Improvement Plan (ISIP) and problem solve building

issues as they occur. The PD committee focuses on teacher growth while the RTI team

focuses on student growth. Grade level teams focus on all of the above—the ISIP, teacher

growth, and student growth. According to the principal, recent change initiatives include

addressing family engagement and technology. There is a team of teachers planning

family learning nights. Family learning nights to this point have focused on reading and

math.

Another example of a change initiative was in the area of technology. One

principal stated:

We had a group of teachers ask me to make change with our technology and library schedule. Teachers formed a study group, examined the research and finalized a change that involved hiring a technology person that would implement a specific curriculum connected to classroom learning and the district technology standards.

Teachers shared power, authority, and decision-making through opportunities

inside the classroom and outside of the classroom. According to Mintzberg (2004),

Leadership is about energizing other people to make good decisions. In other words, it is about helping release the positive energy that exists naturally within

 

 

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people. Effective leadership inspires more than empowers; it connects more than controls; it demonstrates more than it decides. It does all of this by engaging- itself above all and consequently others, (p. 143)

The principal of Nimble Elementary not only recognized the importance of shared

decision making, sharing power, and authority in this mature PLC, but she believed

“change is really empowering at our school.”

Shared Values and Vision

The following sub-question corresponds to theme of shared values and vision:

Qlb What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

Nimble Elementary staff had a vision that provided focus for their actions to

improve learning for students and for teachers, but it didn’t happen overnight. The vision

was developed thoughtfully and inclusive of all the staff. Fullan (2008) described “peer

interaction as needing to be purposeful and must be characterized by high capacity

knowledge and skills” (p. 49). He also described a key role for the “leaders as needing to

provide direction, and create the conditions for effective peer interaction” (p. 49). The

principal of Nimble Elementary did both. She provided a clear direction and the staff

worked based on their areas of expertise.

Following the ideas of Garmston and Wellman (1999) in establishing a PLC,

group norms and values needed to be established: “communities come into existence and

thrive because of common values and ways of working together” (p. 17). Group norms

focused on the staff being open, honest, change agents and working collaboratively. Staff

expectations for collaboration included being responsible for growth, assuming positive

intent, asking questions, and focus. After establishing the group norms and expectations

for collaboration, the teams developed the school vision. Vision “is a realistic, credible,

 

 

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attractive future for an organization that answers the question, “What do we hope to

become at some point in the future?” (DuFour & Eaker, 1998, p. 472). The staff vision

included being a collaborative community, implementing best practices, focusing on

student and teacher work samples, observing and visiting each other’s classrooms for

new learning, and reflecting as individual learners. The next step was to create a vision

for each content area. According to the principal, “we really needed to have an

understanding about what we believe about each of these content areas and what we want

our kids to know and be able to do.” The reading vision included building students’

internal desire to read and developing students who are able to use a variety of strategies,

communicate, think critically, and grow because of reading.

In summary, the vision of Nimble Elementary ensured that teachers were

collectively on the same page. “In the PLC vision, students are pictured as academically

capable and staff envision learning environments to support and realize each student’s

potential achievement” (Hord, 2004, p. 9). According to one of the teachers, “During the

visioning process, teacher teams—kindergarten through fifth grades—had to figure out

what the visions would look like in each classroom so that the vision wasn’t something

that was abstract.” The staff norms and expectations were visible as teams worked.

During the site visits, the PLC collaborations and RTI team collaborations were

both observed. Staff members attended the PLC ready to discuss and were prepared to

share ideas that focused on student learning in reading. Grade level teams discussed

evidence of learning and artifacts that would be representative of student learning to meet

the descriptors on the Reading Continuum. Research-based best practices that supported

 

 

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student learning of the Reading Continuum descriptors were identified based on Teaching

for Comprehending and Fluency by Fountas and Pinnell (2006).

In observing the RTI team in action, conversations among staff members followed

the group norms, expectations for collaboration, and the staff vision. Each child was

discussed. Discussions focused on the whole child. Interventions, goals, and strategies

were all discussed and tightly monitored by the team.

The classroom observations echoed the reading vision. Students were engaged in

high quality reading and reading discussions. Students were able to effectively

communicate their learning by expressing their own ideas using the common vocabulary

terms taken from the Reading Continuum. Teachers encouraged students to use a variety

of reading strategies and closely recorded anecdotal notes. The principal of Nimble

Elementary summarized the role of the school vision as follows: “Our vision has set the

parameters of where we want to go. It helps us reflect on student work and makes us

look deeply at where we want to go.”

Collective Learning and Application of Learning

The following sub-question corresponds to theme of collective learning and

application of that learning:

Qlc How does staff collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

At Nimble Elementary, it was an expectation that teachers work collaboratively

and talk about learning. Teacher collaboration was focused on the teaching and learning

process. In focusing on the Reading Continuum, the principal explained, “We talk about

reading and teachers are expected to bring student work samples that correlate to the

 

 

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continuum but also reflect the deeper understanding of what they are reading.” During the

site visits, consistency in reading instruction was observed. These observations are not

uncommon. The principal shared an example: “When I am sitting or roaming, I hear

everyone refer to the reading text so that connection to new learning really makes an

impression on teachers. Teachers really want that growth for themselves.” Learning this

year was focused on a district module based on the implementation of the Reading

Continuum. The team at Nimble Elementary was also focused on Teaching for

Comprehending Fluency by Fountas and Pinnell (2006). “Participants in these reflection

and learning conversations apply new ideas and information to problem solving and are

therefore able to create new conditions for students, whether through establishing a new

curriculum, revision of instruction practices, or stepping up instruction and expectations”

(Hord, 2004, p. 9)

Teachers worked as teams to plan and discuss student work, anecdotal records,

and new learning. Planning occurred formally during a scheduled time, typically once a

week or every other week during the PLC time. Teachers identified the team

collaboration as being based on specific needs—reviewing student progress in attainment

of the Individual School Improvement Plan goals, examining student work samples, or

planning units and assessments. Informally, one teacher described her “team as always

talking.. .we talk about kids in ways we have never done before. It’s changed my

teaching.” Another teacher described collaboration as dependent on the purpose. She

saw grade level collaboration and vertical team collaboration as having two different

functions. Grade level teams were focused on curriculum and instruction while the

 

 

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vertical team, also known as the RTI team, had more of a focus on classroom

management and behavior interventions.

Common themes that surfaced during the interview process were collaboration,

common focus, time, student learning, and goals. Artifacts collected specifically related

to teacher collaboration were the expectations for collaboration, the vision statements,

and the vertical team protocol. In reviewing the artifacts collected, all were focused on

learning. “The key to the importance of inquiry is that it is a continuous, on going

process that focuses on students and their benefits” (Hord, 2004, p. 9).

Shared Personal Practice

The following sub-question corresponded to the theme of shared personal

practice:

Qld How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

Common themes that emerged from the interviews were time, observation, and feedback.

Time was a common theme during the interviews. Observing and providing sufficient

process time was a problem noted by teachers. Often teachers have gone to observe each

other as part of their learning but have not had time to provide each other with feedback

specific to the observation.

Peer review and feedback occurred during the RTI process for new first year

teachers in grade level teams and during PLC learning times. The school resource

teacher took the lead on the RTI team, also called the vertical team. As students were

identified, learning goals or behavior goals were determined. Peer observation had been

used to support teachers. When requested by the classroom teacher, the resource teacher

observed instructional interventions and provided the classroom teacher with feedback.

 

 

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One of the first year teachers explained that she had the opportunity to observe another

teacher in the building as part of her induction program. The induction program allowed

for two half days to observe and process the observations with a mentor. Peer

observation had occurred in grade level teams in previous years. Teachers were given

release time by providing substitute coverage. Grade level teams observed each other

and other grade levels. One teacher described a past opportunity as helpful when

teachers were paired and observed each other.

Although there was no extensive peer observation and feedback, the theme

identified through Hord’s (2004) research was shared personal practice. Through the

PLC, shared personal practice emerged as collaboration. In previous years, teachers

wrote student learning goals and brought the summative assessment to the PLC time to

discuss. Student work samples were discussed and how the results were achieved was

shared. This year, teachers brought student work samples and discussed the student work

in progress. Teachers shared anecdotal records and provided each other with feedback.

During the interviews, one teacher described this process as being more “authentic” and

helpful for improving instruction.

Supportive Conditions

The following sub-question corresponded to the theme of supportive conditions:

Qle What school structures are in place to support work as a PLC in reading?

Common themes that emerged during the interviews were collaboration, goals, time, and

structure. Collaboration was strong at Nimble Elementary based on the group norms,

expectations for collaboration, vision statements, and observed practices. Staff focused

on student learning. Structures that supported their PLC were working in close

 

 

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proximity, common plan time, weekly PLC time, PLC calendar, and common resources.

Teacher teams had classrooms that were in close proximity with the exception of a couple

of the rooms. Teachers could easily talk and work together. During the PLC time, all-

teachers were in close proximity, gathered in one classroom. Grade level teams worked

together at the same table. Grade level teams had common plan time and teams were

allotted two discretionary half days for planning for the school year. The PLC met

weekly to learn new material and work collaboratively. This school had early release

time that allowed the teams to meet weekly for about two and half hours. The PLC

calendar was determined before the school year began. Only resources aligned with the

school content vision were purchased.

Practices of This PLC

This research used the major themes identified by Hord (2004) to look deeper at

the practices that frame a mature professional learning community and addressed the

following research question:

Ql In a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place, what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC?

Based on the data collected, the best practices were as follows:

• Shared Decision Making—Staff shared in decisions that were focused and had

a direct impact on teaching and learning. Teachers were responsible for

instructional decisions within the classroom and identified changes that

supported the school vision. Opportunities for shared decision making outside

the classroom included Professional Development Committee, Problem

Solving Team, and grade level teams.

 

 

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• Vision—The school vision was used as the filter for all decision making.

Vision was established for the staff and for each content area. Staff and

students were accountable for learning and personal growth.

• Collective Learning, Application of Learning—The PLC time was focused on

teachers deepening their understanding of reading instruction. The teaching

and learning process began with common assessment data; however, progress

was monitored by analyzing anecdotal records and students work. The focus

was on “how,” e.g., what instructional strategies were tried and how students

demonstrated their learning. The collective learning and application of

learning was based on student academic need and strengthening teacher skills

to support student learning.

• Peer Observation and Feedback—Peer observation was valuable learning when

teacher teams observed and processed their observations together. Peer

observation of students supported by the Problem Solving team’s identified

instructional interventions. First year teachers had the opportunity to work

with a mentor and observe other classrooms.

• School Conditions—A school calendar was established for the year that

included specific topics that were addressed; specifically this year, the agenda

was to work on the District Reading Module. During the PLC, staff gathered

in close proximity—all the staff was in one room; however, grade level teams

sat together. Group norms and expectations were established and obvious

during the site visits.

 

 

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Implications for School Leaders

In a mature, successful PLC, the school vision has a central role as the filter for all

decisions (see Figure 4). The vision statement needs to be grounded in the mission of the

school. The mission statement explains why the organization exists (DuFour & Eaker,

1998). Once the mission statement is created, the vision statement is developed and

focused on the future—what the school hopes to become (DuFour & Eaker, 1998). Vision

statements should include a vision for staff and visions for each content area in order to

address the content differences. The vision statements should be focused on learning,

both for teachers and students. All staff should be involved in developing the school

vision. One process that supports the facilitation of vision is the Affinity Process (Tague,

2005). Once the vision is established, there is a collective commitment to the way

decisions are made. School leaders should also consider learning expectations that

support collective learning—professional development, peer observation and feedback,

and school conditions that support a mature PLC.

Mission

Shared Decisions

School Conditions

Figure 4. School vision.

Collective Learning

Peer Observation

 

 

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School leaders should establish the expectation that all teachers will demonstrate

continuous growth to support collective learning. The growth expectation should be

aligned with the school vision. If a teacher is not growing, school leaders need to address

it. In this study, the principal would boldly say, “I haven’t seen you growing in awhile.

What can I do to support you?” She would then work with a teacher to identify areas of

interest that support the school vision. Supporting growth is equally as important as

expecting it.

Professional development needs to align to the school vision and needs to be

meaningful. One way to support professional development is through a building level

committee. The PD committee can analyze student data trends and gather feedback from

teachers as to their instructional needs. Two points were expressed by teachers during

the interviews. First, have grade level teams work together; this is most meaningful

because these teachers are expected to work together. Secondly, use building experts as

compared to attending a workshop. By using building experts, the expert is easily

accessible for follow-up support. The principal can build professional development

capacity by supporting experts through additional growth opportunities.

Peer observation and feedback support learning in a variety of ways for both the

teacher and the observer. Three different types of observation were identified. Teacher

teams who observed each other and processed the observation together, teacher

observation of an intervention, and new teachers observing each other all created

authentic opportunities for learning. Two challenging aspects of peer observation were

time and resources. Teachers need time to observe and time to process their observation.

Resources are needed for substitute coverage since observations occur during the school

 

 

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day. Teachers reported in this study that observing one another impacted and changed

their instructional practices immediately.

School conditions that support a mature PLC are norms of collaboration, common

and focused learning time, and proximity. Norms of collaboration are the set

expectations of how teacher teams work together. Garmston and Wellman (1999)

identified seven norms of collaboration. The staff at Nimble Elementary established their

own work norms; in order for staff to honor the norms, they need to be generated by

teacher teams. PLC time needs to be focused on meaningful learning that supports the

school vision. Staff members need to be arranged in close proximity. In this study, all

staff members were in the same room and seated in grade level teams.

The school vision is important; it provides alignment and focus for all school

practices that include opportunities for shared decisions, collective learning, peer

observation, and school conditions. School leaders should expect growth from teachers

and students. Professional development should be job-embedded. Teachers should be

expected to support instructional best practices through peer observation and feedback.

Lastly, school conditions that support the PLC such as norms for collaboration, calendar,

time, and proximity need to be established.

Validity, Reliability, and Trustworthiness

Validity and reliability were established for phase one of this research;

trustworthiness was established for phase two. The first phase of this study began by

identifying successful elementary schools based on the third, fourth, and fifth grade

reading scores from the Colorado State Assessment Program (CSAP). The initial pool

was 369 elementary schools. After reviewing the CSAP data, 76 elementary schools met

 

 

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the criteria; principals were sent the School Professional Staff as Learning Community

Questionnaire (SPSLCQ). The SPSLCQ was determined to be valid and reliable during

the pilot testing and field testing conducted by Southwest Educational Laboratory in 1996

(Hord, 1996). Based on the established validity and reliability of the SPSLCQ, the

survey results were deemed accurate. Thirty-four elementary principals returned the

survey; only two indicated the school functioned as a mature PLC.

Trustworthiness is used to determine validity and reliability in qualitative

research. The second phase of research was to conduct the qualitative interviews. The

first step in establishing validity was to identify researcher biases, which was completed

before the interviews. The second step was to interview the principal and teachers in the

mature PLC. The interviews were transcribed and emailed to the participants for

verification of internal reliability, also called member check. Once the data were

verified, they were separated by common themes and clusters of meanings. The internal

validity was again verified by the interview participants via email. The researcher

observed in multiple classrooms, during the RTI Leadership team meeting, and during the

PLC time. The following artifacts were collected and analyzed: the vision statements, the

School Improvement Plan, anecdotal records, staff norms, the Reading Continuum, and

the District Reading Framework. The observations and artifact review substantiated the

common themes taken from the interviews.

Validity and reliability of the SPSLCQ were established by SEDL (Hord, 1996).

Trustworthiness was established by providing an audit trail and member check.

Conclusions were drawn based on the triangulation of the interviews, observations, and

artifact review.

 

 

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Personal Reflection

My own experiences related to working with two Professional Learning

Communities generated interest in identifying the best practices and ideas that frame a

mature PLC. There was no research at the elementary level that focused on the best

practices of a successful, mature PLC. My own bias was that working as a PLC

supported student academic needs that lead to school improvement. My own thinking

about the PLC was mostly focused on structured collaboration that used a protocol to

guide every team conversation.

As I reflect on my first principalship, I led the conversations to establish our

mission, vision, values and goals. Once these were established, we structured all of our

collaborative conversations on school improvement goals. In the second school where I

am the principal, a strong PLC was begun by establishing the school mission. According

to veteran staff members, there was no discussion of vision. The PLC used a structured

protocol for all collaborative conversations. At this point, the PLC work had become

stagnant. As a result of this research study, I realize there needs to be a vision established

to focus on where we are headed.

Vision plays a central role in what the future of the school will become.

Identifying vision statements in each content area allows for collective agreement of the

staff and provides the framework for all decision making opportunities. All decision

making opportunities have a direct impact on or can be directly tied to the teaching and

learning process, whether it is teacher participation on a committee or professional

development during the PLC. Focus in on the vision. Structure is an important

component when related to the calendar or staff meeting together in close proximity.

 

 

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Using a protocol helps focus the staff during the initial growing phase of the PLC;

however, a protocol becomes limiting to a mature PLC. In using the research of Hord

(1996) and asking questions related to each theme, the greatest common thread through

all of the themes was vision. In a successful, mature PLC, the vision of the school guides

everything.

Study Limitations

This qualitative research began by identifying successful elementary schools

based on the Colorado State Assessment for Reading in grades three through five. The

initial pool was 369 elementary schools. Seventy-six elementary schools were identified;

of the 76 identified, 34 principals rated their elementary PLC. The returned surveys were

from districts with varied demographical statistics. Two principals identified the school

staff as functioning as a mature PLC. This study was limited—only one school

participated. This study was also limited in that the PLC survey responses were solely

the principal’s perception of the school’s PLC, which may or may not be an accurate

perception/ assessment.

Recommendations for Further Research

As a result of this study, three areas of research are worth exploring:

1. Based on the themes identified by Hord (1996), several elementary schools

were identified as being mature on four of the descriptors: supportive and shared

leadership, shared values and vision, collective learning and application of that learning,

and supportive conditions, but were not mature on shared personal practice. What are the

obstacles or barriers to shared personal practice?

 

 

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2. What are the best practices for each of the four themes—supportive and shared

leadership, shared values and vision, collective learning and application of that learning,

and supportive conditions—identified as mature by the principal survey? What are the

best practices as compared to this research study?

3. How does principal knowledge of change impact the development of a PLC?

Final Thoughts

This study began by describing two elementary PLC school scenarios and the

political climate that has forced schools to become nimble through legislation that began

with the Nation at Risk (1983) and culminated in No Child Left Behind (2002).

Educators need a school climate that is able to flexibly and successfully maneuver to

meet the needs of students. The research of Shirley Hord (1997) provides a framework

on the characteristics of Professional Learning Communities that includes five descriptors

present in the PLC. This study identified the best ideas and practices that frame a

successful mature elementary PLC.

The PLC has evolved over time as noted in the work of Hargreaves and Shirley

(2009) in the book, The Fourth Way the Inspiring Future for Educational Change. The

educational timeline described through the four ways encompasses about 40 years,

beginning in the late 1970s through 2009. In the 1970s, the first way described the PLC

as “discretionary” (p. 4). The second way described the PLC as “contrived collegiality”

(p. 4). According to the third way, the PLC evolved into “data driven professional

dialogue” (p. 4). As I wrestled to identify the typifications of the PLC that make meaning

and give shape to the knowledge and practice of the PLC from the participant point of

view, I am drawn to the thoughtful description of the PLC in the fourth way.

 

 

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The fourth way describes

the best PLCs, as not merely an assemblage of teams but living communities and lively cultures dedicated to improving the lifelong learning of students and adults. Teachers in the best PLC do not just interpret spreadsheets, deliver measurable results, or complete assigned tasks in hastily convened teams. Instead, they are committed to transforming the learning that is responsible for results, valuing each other as people with care and respect, and using quantifiable evidence and shared experience to inquire into teaching and learning issues and make judgments about how to improvement them. (p. 92)

Teachers work in teams to improve their practice (Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009, p. 92).

The best practices that frame a successful mature PLC at the elementary level

begin by establishing the norms for collaboration—the rules by which team members

agree to work together. Next, the vision becomes the central focus of all decisions—the

vision sets the stage for learning expectations for staff and students. Shared leadership

opportunities occur through committees that have a direct impact on student learning.

Teacher capacity is constructed through understanding the developmental stages of the

child, knowing how to instructionally meet students’ needs by deepening their

instructional knowledge, and then working as a PLC to share the best practices and

analyzing student work. School structures that support the work of the PLC need to be in

place.

The PLC efforts focus on the school vision. The school improvement plan is

developed to support the vision and uses student achievement data to set SMART goals

that will support the realization of the school vision. Teachers have a repertoire of

instructional strategies, and participate in collaboration and job embedded staff

development. “Teachers define and pursue high standards and shared targets, and

improve by learning continuously through networks, from evidence and from each other”

(Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009, p. 107). The successful mature PLC is one that “is a

 

 

democratic and professional path to improvement that builds from the bottom, steers

from the top, and provides support and pressure from the sides, through high quality

teachers committed to and capable of creating deep and broad teaching and learning”

(Hargreaves & Shirley, 2009, p. 107).

 

 

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I

APPENDIX A

SCHOOL PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITY QUESTIONNAIRE DESCRIPTORS

 

 

110

School Professional Learning Community Questionnaire Descriptors (Hord, 1996)

1. School administrators participate democratically with teachers, sharing power, authority, and decision making. a. Although there are some legal and fiscal decisions required of the

principal, school administrators consistently involve the staff in discussion and making decision about school issues.

b. Administrators involve the entire staff. 2. The staff shares a vision for school improvement that have an undeviating

focus on student learning, and these visions are consistently references in the staffs work. a. Visions for improvement are discussed the entire staff such that

consensus and shared vision result. b. Visions for improvement are always focused on students, teaching and

learning. c. Visions for improvement are always focused on students, teaching, and

learning. 3. The staff’s collective learning and application of the learning (taking action)

create high intellectual learning tasks and solution to address student needs. a. The entire staff meets to discuss issues, share information and learn

with and from one another. b. The staff meets regularly and frequently on substantive student centered

educational issues. c. The staff discusses the quality of their teacher students learning. d. The staff, based on their learning, makes and implements plans that

address student’s needs, more effective teacher and more successful student learning.

e. The staff debriefs and assesses the impact of their actions and makes revisions.

4. Peers review and give feedback based on observing one another’s classroom behaviors in order to increase individual and organizational capacity. a. Staff members regularly and frequently visit and observe one another’s

classroom teaching. b. Staff members provide feedback to one another about teaching and

learning based on their classroom observations. 5. School conditions and capacities support the staffs arrangement as a

professional learning community. a. Time is arranged and committed for whole staff interactions. b. The size, structure, and arrangements of the school facilitate staff

proximity and interaction. c. A variety of processes and procedures are used to encourage staff

communication. d. Trust and openness characterize all of the staff members. e. Caring, collaborative, and productive relationships exist among all staff

members.

 

 

APPENDIX B

PERMISSION LETTER

 

 

112

S D M 8 E I S 6 BEStMiSH

ST ^ T i T SEDL License Agreement i v r a i m i t EIUCAIIS

To: Michelle Johnstone (Licensee) 22327WCR3 Berthoud, CO 8Q513

From: Nancy Reynolds Information Associate SEDL information Resource Center—Copyright Permissions 4700 Mueller Blvd. Austin, TX 78723

Subject: Permission to reprint and distribute SEDL materials

Date: June T2,2009

Thank you for your interest in using SEDL’s School Professional Staff as teaming Community Questionnaire (SPSLCQ) developed by Shirley Hord in 1996. th is questionnaire wilt be referred to as the “work” in this License Agreement.

SEDL is pleased to grant permission for the use of the material cited above by the Licensee, a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, whose dissertation will focus on professional learning communities. The Licensee will administer the work to up to 100 schools in Colorado that have established professional learning communities. The following are the terms, conditions, and limitations governing this limited permission to reproduce the work:

1. All reprinting and distribution activities shall be solely in the medium in which ttie work has been made available for the Licensee’s use from a PDF’ vans/on of the work and shall be solely for educational use only. Precise compliance with the following terms and conditions shall be required for any permitted reproduction of the work described above.

2. No adaptations, deletions, or changes will be made in the material, with the exception of converting the SPSLCQ into an electronic format, nor shall any derivative work based on or incorporating the work be created, without the prior written consent of SEDL.

This permission is nonexclusive, non-transferable, and limited to the one-time use specified herein. This permission isgrantedsoieiy for use for the period June 12,2009 through July 1 , 2010. SEDL expressly reserves all rights in this material.

Wws8W-4?6486i

to 51? 476J986

www t e d l . s i c

 

 

SEDL License Agreement, p. 2

4. You must give appropriate credit: “Reproduced with permission of SEDL,” or attribute SEDL as appropriate to the professional style guidelines you are following. All reproductions of the materials used by you shall also bear the following copyright notice provided on each page of use: “Copyright 1996 SEDL, Austin, TX.”

5. An exact copy of any reproduction of the work you produce shall be promptly provided to SEDL. All copies of the work produced by you which are not distributed nor used shall be destroyed or sent to SEDL. save aaid except a maximum of three archival copies you are permitted to keep in permanent records of the activity you conducted.

6. This License Agreement to reproduce the work is limited to the terms hereof and is personal to the person to whomit has been granted; and it may not be assigned, given, or transferred to any other person or entity.

?. SEDL is not charging the Licensee a copyright fee to use the work.

I’m e-mailing you a PDF of this License Agreement. Please print and sign one copy below, indicating that you understand and agree to comply with the above terms, conditions and limitations, and send the original back to me. If you wish to keep a copy with original signatures, please also print, sign, and return a second copy and, after I receive and sign it, I’ll return it with both of our signatures to you.

Thank you, again, for your interest in using SEDL’s School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire. If you have questions about SEDL’s License Agreement, please contact me by phone at 800-476-6861, ext. 6548 or 512-391-6548, or by e-mail at nancy.reynolds@sedl.org.

Sincerely.

Nancy Reynolds for SEDL Date signed

Agreed and accepted

* Date signed

Printed Name: Michelle. Jahnsfnnr.

 

 

APPENDIX C

SPSLC QUESTIONNAIRE

 

 

115

School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire

Directions: This questionnaire concerns your jwrcepLioiia alxmt.your school staff as a I coming organization. There are no right or wrong responses. Please consider where you believe your school is in its development of each of tiw five numbered descriptors shown in bold-faced type on-the left, Each sub-item has a five-jxrint scale. On eticli scale, circle the number Dial l>est represents the degree to which you feci your school haa developed.

Date:

School:

1. School administrators participate democratically with teachers A ha ring power, authority, and decision making.

Although there are some legHl and fiscal decisions icquii ed of the principal, school administrators consistently involve the staff in discussing and making decisions about school issues.

Administrators invite advice and counsel from staff and then make decisions themselves

Administrators never -thare wformatui with (lie stuff nor provide op|H>rtmiil:ie to be nivolvetl in decision making.

Administrators involve the entire staff.

Administrators involve a small committee, councillor team oF staff.

Administrators do not involve any staff

2. The staff shares visions for 2a school improvement tha i have an undevhtting focus on student learning, and these visions are consistently referenced in the staff** work. 2b

Visions for improvement are discussud by the entire staff such that consensus and a shared vision result.

Visions for improvement are not thoroughly explored; some staff members agree and odiers do not

Visions for improvement held by the staff members are widely divergent.

Visions for improvement are always focused on students, teaching, and learning.

Visions for improvement, are sometimes focused on students, leaching, and learning.

Visions for improvement tlo not target students, teaching, and learning.

Visions for improvement target high- quality learning experiences for all students.

Visions forimprovementaddress quality learning experiences in terms of students’ abilities.

Visions for improvement do not include concerns about the quality of learning experiences.

Copyright © 1996 by SEDL. Austin. TX.

3. The staff’s collective learning 3a and application of the learnings (taking action) create high intellectual learning tasks and solutions to address student needs. 3b

The entire staff meets to discuss issues, share information, and learn with and from one another.

Subgroups of the staff meet to discuss issues, share inform a lion, and leant with and from one another,

Individuals randomly discuss issues, share information, and learn with and from one another.

The staff meets regularly and . frequently on substantivo student – centered educational issues.

The alaffmeets occasionaDy on substantive student-centered educational issues.

The staff never meets to consider substantive educational issues

The staff discusses Ihe quality of their teaching and students* learning.

The staff does not often discuss their instructional practices nor its influence on student learning.

The staff basically discusses non- tenching and non-learning issues.

The staff, based on their learnings, makes and implements plans that address Btudents’ needs, more effective teaching, and more successful student learning.

The staff occasionally acts on their leamings and makes and implements plans to improve teaching and learning.

The staff does not. act on their learning.

The staff debriefs and assesses the impact of their actions and makes

The staff infrequently assesses their actions and seldom makes revisions based oh the results.

The staff does not assess their work.

4. Peers review and give feedback based on observing one another ‘s classroom behaviors in order to increase individual and organizational capacity.

Staff members regularly and frequently visit and observe one another’s classroom teaching.

Staff members occasionally visit and observe one another’s reaching.

Staff members never visit Iheir peers ‘ classrooms

Staff members provide feedback to one another about teaching and learning based on their classroom observations

Staff members discuss non-teaching issues after classroom observations.

Staff members do not interact after classroom obscrvnlions.

Copyright © 1996 by SEDL, Austin, TX. Page 2 of 3

 

 

5. School conditions and capacities support tbe staff’s arrangement as a professional learning organization.

Time is arranged and committed for whole staff interactions.

Time is arranged but frequently the staff fails to meet

Staff cannot arrange time for interacting.

The size, structure, and arrangements of the school facilitate staff proximity and interaction.

Considering the size, structure, and arrangements of the school, the staff are working to maximize interaction

The staff takes no action to manage the facility and personnel for interaction.

A variety of processes and procedures are used to encourage staff communication

A single communication method exists and is sometimes used to share information.

Communication dev ices are not given attention.

Trust and openness characterize all of the staff members.

Someof the staff members are trusting and open.

Trust and openness do not exist among the staff members.

Caring, collaborative, and productive relationships exist among all staff members.

Caring and collaboration are inconsistently demonstrated.among the staff members.

Staff members are isolated and work alone at their task.

Hord, Shirley M. (1996). School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire: Available by permission from; SEDL 4700 Mueller Blvd. Austin, TX 78723 http://www.sedl.org

Copyright © 1996 by SEDL, Austin. TX. Pace 3 of 3

 

 

APPENDIX D

INSTITUTIONAL BOARD APPLICATION

 

 

118

Request for IRB Change NORTHERNCOLORADO 0

Date of Original UNC IRB Approval: August 17. 2009

Project Title: Professional Learning Community Effect on Student Achievement in Reading

Lead Investigator Name: Michelle Johnstone

School: Educational Leadership

Email: Johnstone michelle@stvrain.k12.co.us

Phone: (970)532-0135 home (303)886-7591 cell

Research Advisor Name: Dr. Linda Vogel

(if applicable) School: Educational Leadership

Email: linda.vogel@unco.edu

Phone: (970)351-2861

On a separate page, describe and provide justification for the changes being proposed. Be concise and specific in describing methodological changes that affect the experience of participants and/or relate to the risks/benefits of participation. Explain why these changes are necessary.

• Yes X No The proposed changes in protocol will necessitate changes in documents such as recruitment flyers, consent forms, debriefing forms, or other project-related documents.

• Yes • No If yes, copies of the revised documents with changes highlighted are attached to this request.

CERTIFICATION OF LEAD INVESTIGATOR I certify that information contained in this request is complete and accurate.

MC<>heU&John&tone’ November 14, 2009

Signature of Lead Investigator Date of Signature

CERTIFICATION OF RESEARCH ADVISOR (If Lead Investigator is a Student) I certify that information contained in this request is complete and accurate.

Signature of Research Advisor Date of Signature

 

 

119

APPROVED:

Chairperson, Institutional Review Board Date of Signature

Date Request Received by SPARC:

 

 

120

On a separate page, describe and provide justification for the changes being proposed. Be concise and specific in describing methodological changes that affect the experience of participants and/or relate to the risks/benefits of participation. Explain why these changes are necessary.

The following changes have been made:

Project Title Previous Project Title: Professional Learning Community Effect on Student Achievement in Reading

Revised Project Title: Best Practices and Ideas of Mature Professional Learning Communities at the Elementary School Level

Rationale: The new title is more indicative of this study.

Research Question The research question was; At the elementary level, what is the impact on student achievement in reading when teachers engage in a Professional Learning Community Process?

Revised research question: The revised research questions is; In a successful elementary school with a mature Professional Learning Community in place, what are the ideas and best practices that frame the Professional Learning Community?

Rationale: The reason for the change is that this is not an “impact” study; I am trying to develop the understanding of a mature PLC at the elementary level.

Theoretical Framework and Methodology The theoretical framework and methodology were not changed; I just included

additional information from Merriam to strengthen my rationale for Interpretivism and Phenomenology.

Inclusion Criteria I changed the specific number of schools to be included in the study to a range of 3-7

rather than a specific number because I am not certain of the number of elementary schools in the state of Colorado with mature Professional Learning Communities.

Participants Rather than conducting individual teacher interviews, I am changing to focus group

interviews. A mature PLC functions in a group format rather than individual. District permission to conduct the study has been included.

Data Analysis

Included in the data analysis will be a review of artifacts collected and a description of the respondents that includes geographical information, size and location of the school

 

 

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district, the school and student population. Based on PLC information, typically there are artifacts, such as a protocol that are used to guide the PLC discussion. The geographical information will provide the reader with additional knowledge related to the mature PLC.

 

 

Project Title: Best Practices and Ideas of Mature Professional Learning Communities at the Elementary School Level

Section I: Statement of Problem/ Research Question

Statement of the Problem

The problem in understanding the Professional Learning Community (PLC) is that there are broad range of definitions of professional learning community as validated by Fullan (2006) when he explains that “the term travels faster and better than the concept” (Fullan, 2006, p. 10). This means many have jumped on board with the term but do not fully understand what it means. “We have many examples of superficial PLCs— educators simply calling what they are doing professional learning communities without going very deep into learning and without realizing they are not going deep” (Fullan, 2006, p. 10) Educators don’t realize what they don’t know. Definitions of a PLC range from reading an article and discussing it to embedding the new knowledge into a school culture with an organizational support structure (PLC). Of recent, there has been some abandonment of professional learning communities out of frustration due to the lack of understanding of what it means to be a Professional Learning Community. The organizational structure of a Professional Learning Community is as important as understanding the structure needed for the PLC. Fullan describes the purpose of structure for the PLC as, “time to meet and talk, physical proximity, inter-dependent teaching roles, communication structures and teacher empowerment” (p. 10). An example of organizational structure is job embedded professional development having teachers gather together on a weekly basis using student data to write SMART goals (SMART goals are strategic, measurable, attainable, results-oriented and time bound.) and decide on common, specific instructional strategies and common assessments to measure student progress. Job embedded professional development uses time efficiently, allows for teacher to apply and integrate new knowledge immediately. Teachers work from their curriculum maps they have developed that are based on state content standards.

Research on Professional Learning Communities is limited and primarily focused on the secondary level. There is not a lack of information on the theory of PLCs; however, there is little research that substantiates the impact of the PLC. In researching the Academic Search Premier (EBSCOhost) under the term professional learning Community, 113 articles appear. However, in adding the terms empirical study, this number reduces to three: the research review by Vescio, Ross and Adams (2008), one study at the secondary level, and one study that focuses on the professional learning community dialogue by researchers Baumfield and Butterworth (2005). In conducting the same search through ERIC, professional learning community plus elementary identified 52 articles. When the term study was added, this reduced the number to 19 articles. In reviewing the 19 studies, only one was conducted at the elementary level and focused on monitoring student data and intervention in two elementary classrooms in high poverty setting in California. Based on the lack of existing research, the research problem for this study is to focus on is the impact of the Professional Learning

 

 

123

Communities (PLC) as evidenced by student achievement in Reading at the elementary level. I would like to gather information from successful mature PLC schools that show a steady increase in reading achievement in third through fifth grades for which CSAP data is available. Interviews would be conducted in schools that have a mature PLC based on principal responses on the screening instrument authored by Shirley Hord (1998)and published by Southwest Educational Laboratory (SEDL) that show steady increase in reading achievement in third through fifth grades. Permission has been from Southwest Educational Laboratory to use the survey and is attached at the end of the IRB.

Research Question

1) In a successful elementary school with a mature Professional Learning Community in place, what are the ideas and best practices that frame the Professional Learning Community?

The following sub questions are based on the PLC work of Shirley Hord (1998). Hord describes the following five characteristics of a successful PLC supportive and shared leadership, shared values and vision, collective learning and application of learning, shared practice, and supportive conditions. Each of these sub-questions explores one of the five characteristics.

Sub-questions: 1) How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making

with teachers in a PLC process to support achievement in reading? 2) What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to

support student achievement in reading? 3) How does staff collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in

reading? 4) How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student

achievement in reading? 5) What school structures are in place to support your work as a PLC in reading?

Section II: Method

Sampling Initial Pool: 369 public elementary schools in the state of Colorado Inclusion Criteria: 3-7 public elementary schools with a mature Professional Learning Community scoring 4-5 on each of the survey characteristics based on the School Professional Staff as Learning Communities Questionnaire developed by Shirley Hord and published by the Southwest Educational Laboratory. Exclusion Criteria: private or charter elementary schools in Colorado.

 

 

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Theoretical Framework, method, trustworthiness This will be a qualitative research study. Participants will be identified first by

reviewing the Colorado State Assessment Program reading trend data for grades three through five as provided by public record from the Colorado Department of Education. Elementary principals whose schools are demonstrating a consistent positive trend in reading will be asked to voluntarily complete a survey developed through the Southwest Educational Laboratory. District permission will be obtained by calling or emailing district personnel to ensure that this study adheres to local district policy. Elementary principals whose schools are demonstrating a consistent positive trend in reading will be asked to voluntarily complete a survey developed through the Southwest Educational Laboratory. Principals that rate their school as a mature PLC by scoring their school in a range of four to five on the survey in each of the five areas will be asked to participate voluntarily in a qualitative interview. In addition to the principal, I would like to interview third through fifth grade teachers who teach reading to gain understanding from their perspective as to the best practice and ideas that frame their mature PLC.

The Theoretical Framework provides a guide for qualitative research that aids the reader in making logical sense of the research and understanding the connection to the variables. “The theoretical perspective provides a context for the process involved and a basis for its’ logic and its’ criteria” (Crotty, 1998, p. 66). The Theoretical Framework of this study is Interpretivism. “Interpretivism is often linked to the thoughts of Max Weber (1864-1920), who suggests that in the human sciences are concerned with Verstehen or understanding” (Crotty, 1998, p. 67). Thus this research framework is used to build understanding of the relationship between student achievement in reading and teachers engagement in a Professional Learning Community.

The method of research used will be Phenomenological which comes from philosophical roots. “The focus would be on the essence or structure of an experience” (Merriam, 1998, p. 15) Phenomenological research is thought to have been developed by Edmund Husserl in the twentieth century, taken from the Greek phainomenon meaning that which appears and logos meaning study. Alfred Schutz (1962, 1964, 1967, 1970) used the work of Husserl as a starting point to further develop social phenomenology, basically identifying the way in which members “approach the life work with a stock of knowledge composed of every day constructs and categories” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 485) which he identified as typifications. “Typifications make it possible to account rationally for an experience, rendering various occurrences recognizable as particular events” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 485). As applied to the PLC, the typifications are the characteristics of the PLC that make meaning and give shape to the knowledge and practice.

According to Gall, Gall, and Borg (2007) “phenomenology is the study of work as it appears to individuals.” Interviews are the best way to gather the research data “as the truth lies in the integration of various perspectives rather than in the choice of one as dominant and objective (Lightfoot, 1983, p. 13). Interviews would be conducted with third through fifth grade teachers in small focus groups and the building principal, basing the questions on the five characteristics of Professional Learning Communities developed by Shirley Hord (1998) that are addressed in the sub questions. The phenomenological data analysis steps would include the following in this order; the researcher will acknowledge her own ideas about Professional Learning Community work in order to

 

 

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build an understanding of the effect on reading achievement when teachers participate in a mature PLC; horizontalization, the interview protocol will be divided into statements for each of the five characteristics. The statements will be reorganized into clusters of meanings. “These meanings will be tied together to make a textural description” (Creswell, 1998, p. 54-55) of each of the five characteristics as related to a mature PLC.

Trustworthiness is used in place, of validity and reliability in qualitative research. Two methods used to establish internal validity are a member check and researcher’s biases (Merriam, 1998). Member checks are “also called member or respondent validation, it is a sociological term for soliciting feedback from respondents on the inquirer’s findings” (Schwandt, 2001, p. 155). Once the interviews are transcribed, a copy of the individual transcription will be sent to each of the participants for review and any clarification. The transcription would be sent electronically. Secondly, internal validity is established by “clarifying the researcher’s assumptions and theoretical orientation at the onset of the study” (Merriam, 1998, 205). The researcher will identify her own biases as they relate to PLCs before beginning the study.

“Reliability refers to the extent in which research findings can be replicated” (Merriam, 1998, p. 205), or generalized to other settings. An audit trail will be created as a means of systematically documenting the interviews. “It is an organized collection of materials that includes the data generated in study; a statement of the theoretical framework that shaped the study at the onset; explanations of concepts, models and the like that were developed as part of the effort to make sense of the data” (Schwandt, 2001, p. 155). Essentially, the audit trail explains how the results were generated.

Participants and Procedure: The sampling procedure used will be criterion; Colorado public schools that have a

mature Professional Learning Community as identified by the principal of schools demonstrating growth in reading in grade three through five. Participants will be asked to participate voluntarily in a small focus group interviews to gather their thoughts and perceptions. The researcher would interview the principal and third through fifth grade teachers in each of the elementary schools, already identified by systematic random sampling. “Systematic random sampling is a group of individuals obtained by taking every “nth” individual from a list containing the defined population” (Gall et al., 2007, p.655) All participants would be asked to participate confidentially. The interviews would be approximately 45-60 minutes and would be digitally recorded in a private office setting or mutually agreed upon location. Interviews would then be transcribed. Once transcribed, all recordings would be erased and transcriptions would remain confidential by assigning participants a number during the transcription as well as a pseudonym in the final report. Participants would be asked to sign the informed consent, having already been approved through the IRB process and by participating school districts. Participants would only be known to the researcher.

 

 

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Proposed Data Analysis

The qualitative data analysis would occur in four phases. First, the interviews would be transcribed, then transcriptions would separated by common themes, and then the statements would be reorganized into clusters of meanings, (themes and categories) (Cfeswell, 1998, 2005). Second, these meanings would then be tied together to make a textural description of the perceptions of principals and teachers regarding characteristics of successful mature PLCs on the elementary level. Third, trustworthiness would be established by confirming the results with interview participants. Lastly, will be a review of artifacts collected and a description of the respondents that includes geographical information, size and location of the school district, the school and student population.

Section III: Risks/ Benefits and Costs/ Compensation to Participants There are no risks to participants in this study since they are all adults. Benefits to

participants include learning more about a mature Professional Learning Communities at the elementary level.

Section IV: Justification for Expedited This study qualifies for Exempt review because the participants are adults, data will be

collected in a professional manner, the data are not sensitive in nature – accidental disclosure would not place the participants at risk, and no identifiers will link individuals directly to their responses. The research to be undertaken does not propose to disrupt or manipulate participants’ normal life experiences or incorporate any form of intrusive procedures; this research will be conducted in established educational and professional settings.

Section V: Documentation Consent form and Interview Guide Attached

 

 

U N I V E R S I T Y ” /

NORTHERN COLORADO

Informed Consent for Participation in Research University of Northern Colorado

Project Title: Best Practices and Ideas of Mature Professional Learning Communities at the Elementary School Level.

Researcher: Michelle Johnstone Phone number: (970)532-0135

Research Advisor: Dr. Linda Vogel Phone Number: 970-351-2501

The purpose of this study is to investigate best practices and ideas that frame the Professional Learning Community (PLC) process in a mature PLC at the elementary level. A mature PLC includes a focus on the school vision, SMART goals based on state standards, student achievement data and work samples, instructional strategies, collaboration and job embedded staff development. Essentially a mature, PLC has the potential to address the academic needs of all students in a standards based system required under No Child Left Behind as the focus of the PLC is centered on student attainment of benchmarks skills and content standards. The results of this study would be useful to school leaders who want to start or strengthen their own PLCs and would provide research evidence as to the characteristics of a mature PLC.

There will be a total of three to seven principals and third through fifth grade teachers interviewed. The research will consist of a group interview approximately 45-60 minutes in length. Your participation is voluntary and confidential. The interview will be taped and transcribed maintaining your confidentiality by erasing the digital recording and assigning you a pseudonym in the transcription process. Data gathered will be analyzed to discover common meanings. For the purposes of the final reporting you will be given a pseudonym to maintain confidentiality. Results will be shared with you by providing you with a copy of the transcription and then the final report. Study results may also be shared with other school administrators for the purpose of developing the Professional Learning Community model in their school buildings.

Your participation is entirely voluntary. You may decide not to participate in this study and if you begin participation you may still decide to stop and withdraw at any time. Your decision will be respected and will not affect your employment status or result in loss of benefits to which you may otherwise be entitled. Having read the above and having had an opportunity to ask any questions and seek clarification, please sign below

 

 

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if you would like to participate in this research. A copy of this form will be given to you to retain for future reference. If you have any questions about your selection or treatment as a research participant, please contact the Sponsored Programs and Academic Research Center, Kepner Hall, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639; 970-351- 1907 or Dr. Linda Vogel, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, McKee 421 at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado 80639 or call 970-351-2501. Thank you!

Participant’s Signature Date

Researcher’s Signature Date

 

 

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Interview Guide Interview Protocol

Longevity of the current school principal? Longevity of the PLC? Why did staff become a PLC? What was the motivation? Five Characteristics; as taken from the survey

School administrators participate democratically with teachers sharing power, authority, and decision making.

The staff shares visions for school improvement that have an undeviating focus on student learning, and these visions are consistently referenced in the staff’s work.

The staff’s collective learning and application of learning (taking action) create high intellectual learning tasks and solutions to address student needs.

Questions Main question is bolded with sub questions below it.

How does the school administrator share power, authority, and decision making with teachers in a PLC process to support achievement in reading?

1. What decisions do you or have you made that have lead to an increase in reading achievement? 2. How are student learning issues solved? 3. What student reading assessment data to you collect? How is the data used?

What role does the school improvement vision play in guiding the PLC process to support student achievement in reading?

1. What is the school vision? 2. How does the vision influence your decisions in regard to student reading achievement?

How does staff collaboration in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

1. Describe your collaborative process/ opportunities? 2. How are collaborative teams established? What is the focus? 3. How do you plan together? 4. What are your team norms? 5. Are goals set? Are they SMART goals? 6. How are Colorado Reading standards used? Taught?

 

 

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Peers review and give feedback based on observing one another’s classroom behaviors in order to increase individual and organizational capacity.

School conditions and capacities support the staff’s arrangement as a professional learning organization.

How does peer review and feedback in a PLC process support student achievement in reading?

1. Are there opportunities to learn from each other? Observe each other? 2. How are reading ideas shared? 3. Is student work collectively reviewed? If so how often? 4. What instructional resources in reading are used? What research based instructional strategies are used?

What school structures are in place to support your work as a PLC in reading?

1. Is there a structure or protocol that is used for your Reading PLC dialogue? If so, what steps are followed? 2. Is there a calendar to support regular PLC meetings?

 

 

IDWBCIN6 MSHBtK

OLJU1-J SEDL License Agreement

i t F l i V l l t EBSTCATIOH

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Date:

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Nancy Reynolds Information Associate SEDL Information Resource Center—Copyright Permissions 4700 Mueller Blvd. Austin, TX 78723

Permission to: reprint and distribute SEDL materials

June 12,2009

Thank you for your interest in using SEDL’s School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire (SPSLCQ) developed by Shirley Hord in 1996. This questionnaire will be referred to as the “work” in this License Agreement.

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Thank you, again, for your interest in using SEDL’s School Professional Staff as Learning Community Questionnaire, if you have questions about SEDL’s License Agreement please contact me by phone at 800476-6861, ext. 6548 or 512-391-6548, or by e-mail at nancy.reynolds@sedi.org.

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APPENDIX E

FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS

 

 

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Follow-up questions for March 30 and 31st

Principal

1. How is staff involved in the school budget process, staffing, and interview

processes?

2. Of all the committees, which is most crucial to increasing student achievement and

why? How do you empower this team to do their work?

3. How long has your building focused on the Developmental Continuums? What steps

went into the adoption?

4. How are new staff trained on the continuum, workshop model, anecdotal note

taking, and use of the anchor charts?

5. Is the Professional Development Calendar set at the beginning of the year? Does it

change as needs change?

6. How often does the PD committee meet? What data do they collect to determine

staff needs?

7. What are the processes (both formal and informal) that are used to encourage staff

communication?

8. As you think about your staff’s trust and openness, what specifically have you done

or do you do to build trust and openness?

Individual Teacher Interviews:

Teacher from PD Committee

1. How does your team decide on the learning focus?

2. How is success measured?

3. What follow-up support is provided?

 

 

135

4. Describe the team members and the experience they bring to the committee. How

are committee members selected?

Individual Teacher Questions

1. There is a vision for each content area. Please describe the process used to

determine the vision for the school and for reading.

2. How does the school vision influence your classroom practices?

3. How are the PLC rubrics posted in classrooms used with students?

4. Describe your collaborative processes and opportunities as related to reading

achievement. How does your team plan together? When?

5. How are the Colorado Reading Standards used in your classroom?

6. Are there opportunities to learn from each other? Observe each other?

Third-fifth grade team

1. How are reading ideas shared?

2. Is student work collectively reviewed? If so how often?

3. How are reading journals used in your classrooms?

4. How are anchor charts used?

5. Is there a pyramid of interventions for reading?

6. What instructional strategies are used to teach reading? Are there “common”

strategies that you have been trained to use?

7. Does your team collectively agree on instructional strategies?

8. How is student success measured or progress monitored? What happens for students

who demonstrate proficiency? What happens for students who don’t demonstrate

proficiency?

 

 

APPENDIX F

PRINCIPAL LETTER

 

 

December 14, 2009

137

Dear ,

Congratulations on your great CSAP results!!! My name is Michelle Johnstone. I am

currently the principal at Spangler Elementary in the Saint Vrain Valley School District.

I am working on my doctorate through the University of Northern Colorado. My

dissertation is focused on researching the best ideas and practices that frame a mature

Professional Learning Community. There is limited research at the secondary level and

essentially no research at the elementary level.

My research question is, in a successful elementary school with a mature PLC in place,

what are the best practices and ideas that frame the PLC process? I have identified your

school as one that is demonstrating success on CSAP. My next step is to ask if you

would complete the attached survey and return it to me. The School Professional Staff as

Learning Community Questionnaire (SPSLCQ) was developed by Shirley Hord and

copy written in 1996 by SEDL. I have been granted permission by SEDL to use this

survey. Completing the survey should only take 10-15 minutes. This will help identify

elementary schools that have a mature Professional Learning Community. Once the

elementary schools are identified, I will work through each district to request interviews

with both the principal and teachers. There is a great deal of information about

Professional Learning Communities, however there is no research documenting the great

work of a mature PLC.

I have attached the survey and a self addressed stamped envelope for return. I want to

thank you in advance for your time! Even if your team is not working as a PLC would

you please let me know by returning the survey and I invite you to share ideas about your

successes. If you have questions, I have included my phone numbers and email.

Thank you again,

Michelle Johnstone 970.532.0135 home, 303.886.7591 cell Johnstone michelle^stvrain.kl2.co.us

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