The following is an updated excerpt from my Master’s thesis originally written in 2010. We are working hard at Jackson Elementary to effectively collaborate as a staff in order to create the highest quality learning environment for all.
Student achievement remains a top priority for nearly all schools in the United States due to an increased focus on test scores, federal mandates for schools to meet proficiency requirements, and the desire for all students to be successful upon completion of schooling. As the focus on school improvement and reform continues to magnify, it is evident that in order to effectively manage the daily operations and the instructional environment of a school, the administrator needs to take specific actions to ensure that all intentions are met with results. In order to create schools that are healthy and able to confront the issues that face education today, the checklist for administrators may seem a mile long. However, one unchanging necessity is that school leaders need to partner with teachers and staff to create a productive learning culture for faculty and staff in order for teachers be effective in their roles.
The meta-analysis of Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) identifies twenty-one leadership responsibilities that are significantly correlated with student achievement. I have worked to identify the associated key responsibilities that have the greatest effect size upon successfully implementing professional learning communities. With the ever changing climate of school reform and the parade of “fixes” that are proposed by leaders outside of education as well as within, it can become tiring to hear of another model for re-inventing schools. However, the concept of a professional learning community (PLC), while perhaps conjuring up a variety of definitions, may actually offer new hope for the despondent school leader. Creating and sustaining a professional learning community or PLC is not a quick fix and is most certainly not a band-aid approach to school reform. The establishment of a professional learning community is a shift in the culture of the school and the actions and behaviors of the administrator are critical to the success or failure of the PLC.
Principals who once filled the role of manager must be willing to step forward and lead the school of the twenty-first century in creating learning organizations that promote staff effectiveness, collaboration among staff members, and the implementation of best-practices for all. Through specific leadership behaviors, effective principals establish a culture in which the staff operates as a learning community and thus, becomes a powerhouse for effective teaching and learning. Because the leadership behaviors of administrators are so critical in the success of teachers and students, the investigation of leadership behaviors influencing the effectiveness of Professional Learning Communities represents a topic worthy of investigation.
Over the past several decades, educators have faced a number of innovations, reforms, and theoretical “cures” to assist, improve, or radically alter America’s struggling public schools. In light of the seemingly endless parade of reform programs that are ushered through the doors of schools, one fact remains constant: schools need effective, knowledgeable, and consistent leadership. Additionally, schools need not always adopt the newest fad but rather, with able leadership, attempt a shift in culture. Articulating the notion that administrators should concern themselves with creating an environment in which successful practices are implemented, Liebman (2005) offers some points to reflect upon:
The following questions are often asked: What assumptions guide our practices? How can we, as administrators and teachers, merge new learning with existing organizational knowledge? How can we modify existing norms and policies? How can we collectively learn to use innovations to enhance our teaching and learning (p. 7)
Developing and implementing a Professional Learning Community, or PLC, is not another reform but a shift in the school’s culture. The need for attention to leadership tasks is explored in the work of Thompson, Gregg, and Niska (2004) who observed that, “Lambert, Walker, Zimmerman, Cooper, Lambert, Gardner & Szabo (2002) call for a redefining of leadership that is more important than ever in this age of accountability where collective action must be taken to change the learning experiences for both teachers and students” (p. 5).
Through specific behaviors and actions of the administrator, teachers and students benefit from the focus on creating a positive, student-centered culture in which teachers collaborate and take advantage of the opportunity to provide input for the well being of all in the school community. Through examination of “The 21 Responsibilities of the School Leader” identified by Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) this researcher identifies a strong overlap between at least five of the leadership responsibilities and the literature focusing on successful PLC’s.
Blankenship, S., & Ruona, W. (2007). Professional learning communities and communities of practice: A comparison of models, literature review. Online Submission, Retrieved from ERIC database.
Cranston, J. (2009). Holding the reins of the professional learning community: Eight themes from research on principals’ perceptions of professional learning Ccmmunities. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, (90), 1-22. Retrieved from ERIC database.
DuFour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Elbousty, Y., & Bratt, K. (2010). Continuous inquiry meets continued critique: The professional learning community in practice and the resistance of (un)willing participants. Online Submission, Retrieved from ERIC database.
Fullan, M. (2006). Leading professional learning. (cover story). School Administrator, 63(10), 10-14. Retrieved from Professional Development Collection database.
Knutson, K., Miranda, A., & Washell, C. (2005). The connection between school culture and leadership social interest in learning organizations. Journal of Individual Psychology, 61(1), 25-36. Retrieved from Academic Search Elite database.
Liebman, H., Maldonado, N., Lacey, C., & Thompson, S. (2005). An investigation of leadership in a professional learning community: A case study of a large, suburban, public middle school. Online Submission, Retrieved from ERIC database.
Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Mullen, C., & Hutinger, J. (2008). The principal’s role in fostering collaborative learning communities through caculty study group development. Theory Into Practice, 47(4), 276-285. doi:10.1080/00405840802329136.
Rooney, J. (2008). Taking hold of learning. Educational Leadership, 66(3), 82-83. Retrieved from Professional Development Collection database.
Servage, L. (2008). Critical and transformative practices in professional learning communities. Teacher Education Quarterly, 35(1), 63-77. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Thompson, S., Gregg, L., & Niska, J. (2004). Professional learning communities, leadership, and student learning. RMLE Online: Research in Middle Level Education, 28(1), 1-15. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Williams, R., Brien, K., Sprague, C., & Sullivan, G. (2008). Professional learning communities: Developing a school-level readiness instrument. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, (74), 1-17. Retrieved from ERIC database.