PLC Literature Review

May 22, 2018 | Author: Mike Dreiblatt | Views: 984 | Comments: 0

Are you a member of a professional learning community (PLC)?  Has it improved student learning?  Has it improved your instructional quality?  Why or why not?  Please share your experiences.  Thanks.  Michael Dreiblatt  
PLC Literature Review
In this Literature Review, I discuss the existing research on professional development, professional learning communities, and group reflection and their impact on instruction and learning. Based on the literature, I argue that professional development, professional learning communities, and other forms of group reflection can have a positive impact on instruction and learning. In addition, teaching culture is improved because the learning communities increase collaboration, a focus on student learning, teacher authority or empowerment, and continuous learning. (Vescio, Ross, and Adams, 2006)
Professional Development Defined
Guskey (2003) states the key to ensuring that every child has a quality teacher is “finding a way for school systems to organize the work of qualified teachers so they can collaborate with their colleagues in developing strong learning communities that will sustain them as they become more accomplished teachers” (p. 16).

An effective curriculum for professional development should enrich teaching and improve learning for all students. Thus, a strong professional development curriculum is an essential link to higher student achievement. Guskey (2000) writes that “teacher knowledge and practices are the most immediate and most significant outcomes of any professional development effort” (p. 75). Elmore (2002) writes that “professional development is the set of knowledge – and skill-building activities that raise the capacity of teachers and administrators to respond to external demands and to engage in the improvement of practice and performance” (p. 13).
Hefner (2011) states that “most educational leaders agree that changing the format of professional development opportunities is critical if the needs of children are going to be met and student achievement improved” (p.19).  Educational leaders are continually searching for strategies to improve the structure for professional development and professional learning communities seem to fit this need. Hefner (2011) goes on to state that: effective educational leaders also know that regardless of the need for change within the traditional format of professional development, lasting reform cannot and will not be sustained without a comprehensive understanding of what must be done to perpetuate the change. (p. 21)
A 2010 report published by the National Staff Development Council, which examines data from the federal government’s 2008 Schools and Staff Survey (SASS), states that teachers nationwide in 2008 had fewer opportunities to engage in sustained professional learning opportunities than they had had four years earlier. The report also reveals that teachers were half as likely to report collaborative efforts in their schools as teachers did in 2000 (Wei, Darling-Hammond, and Adamson, 2010). Unfortunately, in this regard, U.S. trends are going in the wrong direction as far as the sustainability of professional learning communities go. The inability to sustain learning communities in schools is a barrier that requires serious attention from principals and other school leaders.
Professional Learning Communities Defined   
For this paper, I use Shirley Hord’s (1997) definition of professional learning communities as collegial groups of educators who are “united in their commitment to student learning. The group shares a vision, work and learn collaboratively, visit and review classrooms and colleagues, and participate in shared decision making” (p. 56). Hord (1997) also defines a professional learning community or PLC as a, “group of professionals (teachers and administrators) who work and learn together, and act on what they learn to increase their instructional effectiveness for their students” (p. 57).
Hord’s definition of professional learning communities is taken a step further when we ask questions like:
What do we want each student to learn?
How will we know when the student has learned it? And
What plan will we have in place when the students don’t learn? (DuFour, 2004)
Another way to view a professional learning community as being united by a common purpose or shared vision. This collective commitment has specific and measurable goals. Teams engage in action research and collective inquiry. continuous improvement cycles are built into the routine practices of the school; and evidence gathering regarding student learning is a constant focus (Burnett, 2002).

Huffman and Jacobson (2003) claim that “the profession learning community concept provides for stakeholders to engage collaboratively in dialogue to ensure school improvement and student achievement” (p. 239).
The development of PLCs depends upon the current elements of school communities, the effects of school community on staff members and students, the structural and organizational factors of community in schools, and the relationship of community to other improvement activities (Elmore, Peterson, & McCarthey, 1996). Tarnoczi (2006) contends that the most advanced professional learning communities are ones in which members are actively living out the spirit of the mission and vision of the school. Tarnoczi further contends that as they participate in the construction of common vision statements, teachers are expected to take intellectual authority over the movement of the goals. 
Benefits of Professional Learning Communities
The current literature provides research supporting the role of professional learning communities as a means of effective professional development, the benefits to students and teachers, the stages of implementation, and role of the leader in the implementation of the professional learning community (Little, 1990; Kruse, Louis, & Bryk, 1995, and McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001). Findings suggest that participation in a professional community with one’s colleagues is an integral part of professional learning that impacts positively on students (Timperley, 2008). 
Rosenholtz describes effective schools as places where the teachers are encouraged to collaborate, share ideas and solutions to problems and learn about educational practice. She also found that as the teachers’ practice improved, the students also benefited (Rosenholtz, 1989). Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin (1995) and Wood (1995) have identified that professional learning communities can engage individuals in collective work and bring them into contact with other people and possibilities. Professional learning communities can provide opportunities for teachers to reflect critically on their practice, thus creating new knowledge and beliefs about teaching and learning.
Lieberman and Mace (2008) have come to understand that adult learning, rather than being solely individual as many have thought in the past, is actually also social. People learn from and with others in a variety of ways. Adults learn through practice (doing), through meaning (intentional), through community (participating and being with others), and through identity (changing one’s attitudes and thoughts). According to Stoll and Louis (2007), there is now a great deal of evidence that teachers learn best when they are members of a learning community.
Professional learning communities provide opportunities for staff to look deeply into the teaching and learning process and to learn how to become more effective in their work with students. 
Benefits to Students 
Much research has been done in the area of collaborative teams, indirectly linking teacher collaboration to student achievement. Senge (2000) says, “a strong professional community encourages collective endeavor rather than isolated individual efforts” (p. 327). According to Haberman (2004), an attribute of a learning community is collaboration in which teachers become involved in team teaching and other collaborative efforts in program development. Achinstein (2002) observes a renewed interest in fostering teacher community or collaboration as a means to counter teacher isolation, improve teacher practice and student learning, and build a common vision for schooling. Achinstein (2002) further observes teachers engaging in professional collaboration have a greater capacity to improve student learning. 

“The primary purpose of a professional learning community is to enhance teachers’ effectiveness as professionals, for students’ ultimate benefit” (Bolam, Stoll, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006, p. 229). DuFour (2004) was cited in the West Bloomfield School District Southfield Public Schools’ electronic newsletter as noting the following advantages for teachers working in collaborative teams in professional learning communities:
(a) gains in student achievement,
(b) higher quality solutions to problems,
(c) increased confidence among all staff,
(d) support of one another’s strengths and an accommodation of weaknesses,
(e) ability to test new ideas,
(f) more support for new teachers, and
(g) expanded pool of ideas, materials, and methods.
Yvonne Goddard, Roger Goddard, and Megan Tschannen-Moran (2007) studied student achievement in fourth-grade math and reading and found that fourth-grade students have higher achievement in both subjects when they attend schools characterized by higher levels of teacher collaboration for school improvement. Schools with a one standard deviation increase in teacher collaboration showed a .07–.08 standard deviation increase in fourth-grade test scores. This holds true even when accounting for student characteristics such as race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM, 2008) calls upon math leaders to:
(1) ensure teachers work interdependently as a professional learning community to guarantee continuous improvement and gains in student achievement,
(2) create the support and structures necessary to implement a professional learning community, and 
(3) ensure a systemic implementation of a professional learning community throughout all aspects of the mathematics curriculum, instruction, and assessment at the school, district, or regional level (p.13)

With the support of the National Science Foundation, the National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future engaged in a joint study of STEM teachers in professional learning communities. The study revealed that there was universal support for PLCs across forty STEM professional organizations and that STEM teaching is more effective and student achievement increases when teachers join forces to develop strong professional learning communities in their schools (Fulton & Britton, 2011).

There are implications that professional learning communities and higher student achievement are linked (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2001; Westheimer,1998; Bolam et al., 2006). A documented effort supporting increased student learning took place after a five-year project in the United Kingdom (Jackson, 2006; Jackson & Temperley, 2007). In the project, teacher networks were developed where the teachers planned collectively, developed problem-solving teams, and shared professional development activities. These networks of teachers from different schools managed to raise achievement for students, learned to work collaboratively in rigorous and challenging joint work, and managed to build trust in making teaching public as they developed and distributed leadership among the teachers (Earl, Katz, Elgie, Jaafar, & Foster, 2006).
In studies where the work of PLCs is linked to student achievement, the research demonstrates a strong positive connection. In each of these cases, the key was collaboration with a clear and persistent focus on data about student learning. This finding is consistent with the findings of other researchers who have reviewed literature about the importance of a focus on student learning and the analysis of student work (Guskey, 1997; Little, Gearhart, Curry, & Kafka, 2003).

Multiple researchers, when examining the relationship between teachers’ participation in PLCs and student achievement, found that student learning improved (Berry et al., 2005; Bolam et al., 2005; Hollins et al., 2004; Louis & Marks, 1998; Phillips, 2003; Strahan, 2003; Supovitz, 2002). Supovitz & Christman, 2003) Berry et al. (2005) documented the progress of a rural elementary school over a 4-year period. During this time, the results of grade-level testing indicated that the percentage of students meeting grade-level standards increased from 50% to 80%. 
In a case study documenting the efforts of a middle school faculty engaged in learning community efforts to target low and underachieving students, Phillips (2003) reports that “achievement scores increased dramatically over a 3-year period” (p. 256). More specifically, in this middle school, ratings on a statewide standardized test went from acceptable in 1999–2000, with 50% of the students passing subject area tests in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, to exemplary in 2001–2002, with over 90% of the students passing each subject area test. In Strahan's (2003) account of three struggling elementary schools over a 3-year period, results also demonstrated dramatic improvement. In each of these schools student test scores on state achievement tests rose from 50% proficiency to more than 75%. Results from the research conducted by Hollins et al. (2004) also document improvement in achievement. 
Louis and Marks (1998) examine the impact of PLCs on pedagogy and achievement and conclude that the focus on the intellectual quality of student learning within PLCs boosts achievement because it pushes teachers toward the use of authentic pedagogy. In a case study by Phillips (2003), interview data indicated that the teachers in a middle school continually analyzed data from each child to identify ways to improve his/her success both cognitively and affectively.
Bolam et al. (2005) and Louis and Marks (1998) found that higher student achievement was related to the extent that schools had strong professional communities. Supovitz and Christman (2003) and Supovitz (2002) found that measurable improvement in student achievement occurred in PLCs that focused on changing the instructional practices of their teachers. 
It appears based on the above literature review that PLCs can encourage teachers to reflect upon their practice (Guskey, 1997; Little, Gearhart, Curry, & Kafka, 2003). The literature review backs the notion that teachers in PLCs engage in group reflection on instruction and learning. This group reflection is characterized by mutual support and respect, and recognition of the responsibility of all teachers to constantly seek ways to improve their practice and contribute to student achievement. This review is in-line with Putnam and Borko’s (2000) assertion that, “for teachers to be successful in constructing new roles they need opportunities to participate in a professional community that discusses new teacher materials and strategies and that supports the risk-taking and struggle entailed in transforming practice” (p. 8). 

“Research has steadily converged on the importance of strong teacher learning communities for teacher growth and commitment, suggesting as well their potential contribution to favorable student outcomes” (Little, 2006, p. 2). Analysis of data collected by the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools shows that the development of professional learning communities is critical to improving schools. The analysis elaborates on the conditions that lead to successful PLCs (Kruse, Seashore Louis, & Bryk, 1994). Carroll notes that studies on teaching teams and collaboration conclude that, “when teachers are given the time and tools to collaborate they become lifelong learners, their instructional practice improves, and they are ultimately able to increase student achievement far beyond what any of them could accomplish alone” (Carroll, 2010, p. 10). 
My review of the literature on professional learning communities reveals that, “developing professional learning communities appears to hold considerable promise for capacity building for sustainable improvement” (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006, p. 1). This project will give teachers the opportunity to collaborate, which Bay et al. (1999) cite as the most important factor impacting student learning.
Are you a member of a professional learning community (PLC)?  Has it improved student learning?  Has it improved your instructional quality?  Why or why not?  Please share your experiences.  Thanks.  Michael Dreiblatt  

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