Professional Learning and Collaboration
The American education system must utilize collaboration to meet the challenges and demands our culture poses for schools. Deeply rooted processes and structures favor teaching and learning in isolation and hinder the shift to a more collaborative paradigm. Professional learning communities (PLCs) support continuous teacher learning, improved efficacy, and program implementation. The PLC provides the framework for the development and enhancement of teacher collaboration and teacher collaboration develops and sustains the PLC. The interpersonal factors that influence collaboration make it difficult to implement and preclude the use of any systematic directions to develop a PLC successfully. However, research has identified emerging strategies that could guide the development of collaborative cultures for school improvement. The researcher designed this case study to describe collaboration in the PLC of an elementary school. The study focuses on collaborative behaviors, perceptions, influences, barriers, and strategies present in the school. The researcher utilized the Professional Learning Community Organizer (Hipp & Huffman, 2010) in the analysis of the data. Hipp, Huffman and others continued the research started by Hord (1990) and identified PLC dimensions and behaviors associated with those dimensions. The PLCO included behaviors aligned with the initiating, implementing, and sustaining phases of each dimension of a PLC. Structure and process, trust and accountability, and empowerment emerged as important themes in the observed PLC. The sequential path to teacher empowerment began with the development of structure and process. Teachers developed trust in each other by demonstrating accountability required by those structures and processes. Trust provided opportunities for risk taking and leadership to emerge. The teachers and administrators demonstrated their commitment to the vision and worked collaboratively for the learning success of all students. The data provided evidence of administrators and teachers making decisions to solve problems and improve instruction based on the vision. The PLC of the elementary school observed demonstrated development at the implementing and sustaining levels. The teachers and administrators worked collaboratively over time to improve teacher practice resulting in improved student learning. The opportunity to utilize the PLC for continuous growth by challenging the new norms and embracing risk taking remains.