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This paper focus on the change of professional development experienced in a secondary school and how Professional Learning Communities (PLC) was formally introduced and implemented as part of staff professional development. It also discusses the various phases of professional development as seen and experienced by the author and the challenges at each of these phases.
Professional development provides teachers with appropriate knowledge and skills to inform about school's processes. It also serves to ensure teachers in teams, committees, and departments within the school achieve their goals and provide satisfying and enriching learning experiences for students. Since the acquisition of the appropriate knowledge and skills have not typically been a part of teachers' professional preparation and because school leaders often underestimate its importance, it is essential that professional learning focused on helping teachers work together successfully be given a high priority. This is precisely why the school embarked on the professional development. Figure 1 shows the timeline for professional development structures implementation in the school. This paper focus on the how the change of professional development was implemented, an analysis of the implementation of this change and the challenges faced while trying to effectively implement this change in the school.
Fig. 1 Timeline of Professional Development structures in the school
Change in the school processes requires that teachers learn new roles and ways of teaching and that translates into a long-term developmental process requiring teachers to focus on changing their own practices in the classroom. Creating professional development opportunities that teachers need in order to help the students achieve the ambitious learner goals of reform will require the support and ideas of everyone in the school. When professional development is formally introduced as a central part of teaching in 2008 onwards, most decisions and departmental plans related to embedding professional development in the daily work life of teachers were made at the school level. Professional development must become part of the daily work life of teachers. Table 1 shows a summary of the changes made to the professional context in the school.
What was done?
Area of Focus
Teachers sent for courses for building of self-professional capacity
Professional Development direction team formed
Guidelines for PD implementation
Professional development time implemented
Introduction of PLC
Heads leading the PD time
2011 and beyond
Table 1 Professional Development structures in the school
With professional development structures implemented gradually in the school, it has rewarded teachers with personal and professional growth. Students benefitted primarily at the classroom level through whatever added value the learning experience gave to an individual teacher's practice. In recent years, growing appreciation for the potential impact of professional development on the overall school is observed. Moving on to PLC (professional learning communities) groups provide the social interaction that often deepens learning and the interpersonal support and synergy necessary for creatively solving the complex problems of teaching and learning. And because many of the recommendations contained in these collaborative discussions, it advocates increased teamwork among teachers in designing lessons, critiquing student work, and analysing various types of data, among other tasks, the school leaders deemed that it is imperative that professional learning be directed at improving the quality of collaborative work. With this in mind, the PD (Professional Development) time was formally integrated as part of the school timetable to facilitate more collaborations and sharing.
When PLC was formally introduced in 2010, PD time was used. School leaders saw the importance of creating time for PLC to take form as an integral part of teachers' professional life. The PD team then explore the vital concern of how to carve out time, opportunity, and other resources teachers need to realize the vision of PD reform (into PLC). A major principle of PLCs is that people learn more together than if they were on their own. The idea of team learning is an interesting concept that teachers work to promote in their classrooms but often do not practice in their professional lives.
In the context of school improvement, PLCs shift the focus of school reform from restructuring to re-culturing. The school adopt it as an on-going process used to establish a school-wide culture that is based on a fundamental belief in building teacher capacity in school improvement efforts. Through participation in PLCs, teachers enhance their leadership capacity as they work as members of on-going, high-performing, collaborative teams that focus on improving student learning. An identified key objective of PLCs is to improve instructional practice that leads to improved student learning outcomes. Applied action research in 2010 have shownÂ that PLCs is an important and contributing factor in improving student achievement and enhancing staff expertise and morale.
Analysis of the implementation of the change, using Hargreaves et al. Supporting & Sustaining Change
During work review each year, reporting officers would re-iterate to the officers under their charge that every officers in the school would be required to complete 100 hours of training courses. The officers would apply for relevant courses govern by their needs and choices in TRAISI and attended these courses. When it comes to teachers learning and valuing the effective use of new technologies, the school is slowly discovering that the kinds of training programmes offered in the past may not represent the most generative method of reaching a full range of teachers and their students. The key term is "generative" - meaning that behaviours and daily practice will be changed for the better as a consequence of the professional development experience. Figure 2 shows the flow of staff professional capacity building.
Figure 2 Flow of staff professional capacity building
Linking this back to Hargreaves (2001) where he stated that structures of schooling have often become so institutionalised or entrenched over years and even decades that they define the essence of schooling itself for the teachers and students who work there. They become an accepted part of the school's culture, of the way people routinely do their work. The school leaders did see the impending "failure" of this continuance. This challenge here should be about using new tools to help students master the key concepts and skills embedded in the science, social studies, art and other curriculum standards. It is not so much about just attending the courses according to personal needs or fulfilling the required hours. The focus should be on the transference of teaching and learning strategies that make a difference in daily practice - on activities translating into stronger student performance. Fortunately, the school started identifying approaches more likely to encourage teachers to employ these technologies on a frequent and sustained basis to enhance student learning.
The true challenge of professional development at this point is to inspire and prepare classroom teachers to launch the school's curriculum-loaded activities with the tools that make sense. While it is tempting to make frequent usage of technology professional development, the school did also focus efforts on promoting usage that is curriculum rich and likely to make a discernible difference in student achievement. The school recognised the risks that new technologies may unintentionally lead to slick student performances that are both glib and thin. Some teachers even termed this movement superficial and a glitzy use of technologies "powerpointlessness." Without a focus on sound educational principles, learning with these new technologies can induce a kind of cut-and-paste thinking that might actually undermine the ability of students to think. This also coincides with Hargreaves (2001) when he stated that teachers relied heavily on their principals and vice-principals to help them sift and sort through the most bewildering parts of policy documents. There is very little ownership or autonomy from the teachers' end. The school leaders' intention is to challenge teachers to reflect on and possibly review their teaching practices and reconsider their views about the way students learn. These are not trivial issues and will form the basis of substantial discussion and debate if they are engaged with significantly.
It is therefore very important for the leadership team to streamline this professional development implementation. The first look is to see what is possible to ensure that appropriate organisational support is available and to be given for this change to come. This involved identifying key people within the school who are in a position to help solve problems, ensuring that they recognise the significance of the initiative, and flagging the needs and the associated arguments. Whatever the organisational support requirements, they will need to be thought through as part of the action planning and the implementation process. With this in mind, the Professional Development Direction Team was formed. Figure 3 shows the composition of the Professional Development Direction Team.
Figure 3 Composition of Professional Development Direction Team
While some teachers maintained that reluctance to professional development implementation was simply rooted in a lack of skill and confidence, there is evidence from Becker and Fullan (2001) that teachers need to be recruited. They must be convinced of the value of the new activities and then given ample time to work on teams to invent effective lessons. The most effective learning strategies require a change in the ways teachers spend their time and the ways they work together. Frequently we notice how informal support systems, partnerships, teams and collaborative structures may be the most efficacious elements in a broad-based change effort.
The direction team saw the need to do much more than teach technology skills to teachers. The teachers should also be convinced of the value of engaging students in problem-based or project based learning with these new tools. The shift of the school cultures to support staff learning, professional development is experienced as a personal journey of growth and discovery that engages the learner on a daily and perhaps hourly basis. In the best cases, andragogy includes an emphasis upon self-direction, transformation and experience. One learns by doing and exploring and also by trying, by failing, by changing and adapting strategies and by overcoming obstacles after many trials in 2008.
As school-based initiatives are developed and trialled, it will be important to keep track of how well they are working for both teachers and students. Modifications can then be made where needed, to enable teachers to develop a common language about the nature and effectiveness of the initiative and so that the outcomes can be formally reported beyond the school. The direction team sees the need to implement a process through which student outcomes can be monitored and also a feedback and reporting process whereby teachers can communicate variations on strategies or content and comment on what is or is not working. It is important to ensure that what is done at the school is making a difference. Evidence needs to be collected that school-based initiatives are working to improve student learning and attitudes. Classroom behaviours and teacher perceptions are an important component of monitoring. Without change in classrooms, there can be no change in student outcomes. Hargreaves (2001) stated also that educational innovation and reform often include some provision for professional development and training to support the process of implementation and complex curriculum change depends for its success on forms of planning and professional learning that are embedded in and not appended to the fundamental work of teaching. This requires time and human support that are part of a redesigned conception of teaching where learning to teach better becomes part of teaching itself. It is easy to be distracted by new, attractive opportunities. It is likewise easy to become caught up in day-to-day activities, which prevents the implementation from moving ahead. A well-prepared strategic plan documents and clarifies the intended direction. In this case, the team's main focus would be to set direction and guidelines for the PD implementation in the following year (2009).
PD time is incorporated officially into the school timetable. For this implementation, several school processes were augmented. On the PD time slot (which is usually 45 mins to 60 mins) on Thursday, students would report late for school on that day. Guidelines of the PD time are communicated to the teachers by the direction team.
During this stage of implementation, communication between the PD direction team and teachers is critical and regular meetings and communication of progress is important. There are aspects of reporting that are important for maintaining the momentum of the PD implementation. Reporting to the school community via staff meetings and reports in the school newsletter help to establish the initiative in the school. This in turn supports teacher morale and helps gain support for initiatives. The school leadership and culture is critical to supporting and validating the work of teachers. Without commitment to improvement, the pressure and support required is not forthcoming. Experience and research has emphasised the importance of the role of the school leadership team, and particularly the principal, to the success of the initiative. The principal can support the PD initiative in a variety of ways; by according it a central place within school policy initiatives; by identifying links with current initiatives to support the PD implementation. Table 2 shows an excerpt of the timetable with PD time incorporated.
0715 - 0745
0745 - 0830
0830 - 0900
1400 - 1430
Table 2 Excerpt of the timetable with PD time incorporated
This PD change clearly recognizes the role and influence of the school leadership on whether change can be sustained in the school. It seems clear that transforming a school organization into a learning community can be done only with the sanction of the school leaders and the active nurturing of the entire staff's development as a community. The professional learning team conversations can derive a lot of strength from the work of individual teachers doing interesting and powerful things which may have been unacknowledged. These can lead to mentoring or peer-coaching arrangements between individuals within the teams.
In Hargreaves (2001), when students' learning needs are diverse and contextualising learning so that it is relevant to and engages students is a priority, the planning and development process needs to be able to accommodate student input and build on the collaborative efforts of colleagues who know their students well. That is the main spirit of the change. This change is not however, without its challenges. The transformation of teaching styles, preferences and behaviours requires persuasion, learning by experience and the provision of highly personalized learning journeys. In the school, teachers are isolated from each other and preoccupied with what Fullan calls "the daily press" of getting through their schedule. Quite a few of these teachers are likely to cling to routines they have enjoyed in the past until they are equipped and encouraged to find, invent and test new routines that are suitable and reliable replacements. This creative exploration, invention and testing will require a change in schools that breaks down isolation, facilitates the work of teams and provides ample time for program development.
Although this is great way to support an individual teacher's personal professional development, it can sometimes feel very disjointed. Having enough time to work with all of the different individuals in one school can be challenging, and/or discussing the same ideas with several different people or not being able to cross pollinate ideas because it's always a "private" discussion can be isolating. Hargreaves (2001) further states that structures of schooling have often become so institutionalised or entrenched over years and even decades that they define the essence of schooling itself for the teachers and students who work there. They become an accepted part of the school's culture, of the way people routinely do their work. Not all teachers, administrators, parents, or community members agree that teachers need more time for professional development. Many people would argue that teachers should hone their skills before entering the profession and/or on their own time. They would argue that the school district is in the business of educating students, not teachers. Some educators may see little value in investing more time in professional development if their previous experiences have been predominantly negative. Other teachers may resent taking time away from their students. Professional development can be particularly troublesome when substitutes are used to release teachers for planning and professional growth activities. Even teachers who find professional time valuable are often uncomfortable with the disruption caused by the use of substitutes. Yet the school do not possess the kind of learning community that makes this possible.
PD is streamlined further with the introduction of PLC. In Hargreaves (2001) context, this places a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of policymakers, system administrators, and school leaders to create and maintain the supportive conditions in which teachers can do their best work. With introduction of PLC, teachers are able to respond to multiple innovations, deal with constant change, and always be open to and interested in exploring ways to improve their teaching on a continuous basis. Seeing a gradual and steady success in PD time implementation, PLC aims also to be one of the successful educational strategies. These strategies are therefore ones that do more than promote and implement change in particular sites; they also need to anticipate and overcome obstacles to sustaining change over time.
Also, during this PLC implementation, the principals did notice that some of the teachers were "early innovators" or "quick adopters," grabbing onto the opportunities of the school's new direction for professional development. The principal supported and rewarded these teachers' efforts through personal memos and notes. She however, also noticed that there were some "hard-core resistors" who could not let go of the old ways. The principal intuitively knew that if she did not effectively deal with, or confront, those "resistors", they would eventually pull the rest of the staff back into the old ways. Fortunately, the principal knew exactly where to challenge, confront, cajole, support and even handhold the teachers through the needed changes.
With the PLC direction moving into action research, the staff are divided and formed into PLC groups according to departments. Good teachers have inquiring minds. Action research is about seeking information or knowledge by investigating and questioning. It is a planned and considered approach to the teaching and learning challenges that build classroom knowledge. We also have a repertoire of current practice - what we do now. In general we keep on doing what we are doing unless the results of that practice are problematic. A shift in practice depends on our willingness to acknowledge there is a problem. Even then, a shift in our behaviours and practices is dependent on our beliefs, values and assumptions, and knowledge of what else we could do.
Hargreaves (2001) mentioned that openness and ability to work effectively with continuous change rather than specific reforms depend not on control strategies but on what change theories call strategies of capacity building. If capacity of the system is insufficient, it can be increased by developing teachers' knowledge, skills, dispositions, and views of self. Capacity can also be influenced by creating professional communities within the organisation. Although educational change can be initiated and imposed by heavy-handed edicts, only the deeper human capacity of individuals and schools can sustain reform efforts over time. Being able to tap into a diverse group of experiences, knowledge and imagination means that we can learn even more, and everyone feels both needed and supported. Teachers in the school indicated that the greatest challenge to implementing effective PLC action research is lack of time. Because action research is a relatively new area for the teachers, teachers need time to understand new concepts, learn new skills, develop new attitudes, research, discuss, reflect, assess, try new approaches and integrate them into their practice; and time to plan their own professional development.
We also need to understand that sudden and widespread structural change may destabilize the routines and identifies of teachers who have grown accustomed to them to such a degree that curriculum innovation and classroom learning will suffer rather than prosper. Unfortunately, implementing a professional development plan is often hampered by others' perceptions of teachers' work. According to McDiarmid (1995), "Although reform has changed expectations for teachers, how the public and policymakers perceive teachers' work has not changed. They continue to think teachers are working only when they are with their students. As a result, there is little support for providing the time and resources teachers require for teachers to change their practice". Castle and Watts (1992) explain that "the traditional view of teachers' work is governed by the idea that time with students is of singular value, that teachers are primarily deliverers of content, that curricular planning and decision making rest at higher levels of authority, and that professional development is unrelated to improving instruction". This limited view of teaching does not allow opportunities for teachers to participate in curriculum development learn and share successful methods of reaching students, discuss comprehensive and efficient ways to implement standards, and continue their own learning.
With PLC into full swing, and with teachers in the school supporting it, the direction for PLC in 2011 would use lesson study as its focal. Commenting on Hargreaves (2001) on the kinds of support that can help sustain educational change over time include developing widespread leadership capacity rather than making change reliant on small numbers of exceptional leaders in a system; developing widespread (and job-embedded) staff development rather than investing all hope in special groups of change enthusiasts; and maintaining policy consistency or at least a policy framework that leaves schools and teachers with sufficient scope and discretion to establish their own consistency over time. One of the most difficult tasks of such groups is constructively managing the conflict that inevitably arises when participants discuss their fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning and seek the best ways to improve student achievement. Some schools have managed conflict by steering away from controversial issues or pretending that significant disagreements do not exist. Such "pseudo community" or "contrived collegiality" is a barrier that inhibits educators from speaking honestly with one another about their views on important issues, which is a critical first step in conflict resolution. These candid conversations are essential in reaching consensus on long-term goals and strategies and in finding solutions to the perennial problems of teaching and school leadership.
Indeed, classroom practice may need to change to a degree where teachers feel a need for structural changes that will support the emerging practices that they are starting to value (Hargreaves, 2001). As the basic building blocks of PLC has been laid previously, the PLC learning teams use strong inquiry-based collaborative tools (e.g. Lesson Study) to help teachers improve on their instructional practice. To ensure fidelity of practice across the education system, objectives of Learning Teams are aligned to school goals and other areas of learning priority. These learning teams provide practical, job-embedded PD that will help teachers address the gaps between theory and practice and better apply their professional knowledge in the classroom. This would, in turn, improve student outcomes and help in the achievement of school goals. It is also a testament to teachers' being able to respond to multiple innovations, deal with constant change, and always be open to and interested in exploring ways to improve their teaching on a continuous basis (Hargreaves, 2001).
It is important to identify the supportive leadership of principals as one of the necessary human resources for restructuring staff into school-based professional communities. It is not uncommon to refer to the school principals as "post-heroic leaders who do not view themselves as the architects of school effectiveness" The characteristics of principals in schools that undertake school restructuring: a willingness to share authority, the capacity to facilitate the work of staff, and the ability to participate without dominating. Hargreaves (2001) also reflected on this note because it reflects and reinforces the school's principles of organisation, educational priorities, and distinctions of power.
It is also important that the principal believe that teachers have the capacity to respond to the needs of students, that this belief provides moral strength for principals to meet difficult political and educational challenges along the way. The principal's job is to create an environment in which the staff can learn continuously. It is then in turn, the job of the superintendent is to find principals and support the principals who create this environment. This observation suggests that no longer can leaders be thought of as top-down agents of change or seen as the visionaries of the corporation; instead leaders must be regarded as democratic teachers. Because structural changes affect whole schools, they require collective action and support.
Some researchers recommended at least 20 percent of teachers' work time should be given to professional study and collaborative work. Instead of being devoted exclusively to just the PD time, this time must be part of virtually every school day and must be closely linked to the day-to-day demands of teaching (e.g., collaborative lesson planning, assessment of student work). As an organizational arrangement, the professional learning community is seen as a powerful staff development approach and a potent strategy for school change and improvement. Thus, persons at all levels of the educational system concerned about school improvement - state department personnel, intermediate service agency staff, district and campus administrators, teacher leaders, key parents and local school community members - should find this paper of interest. It is an on-going process used to establish a school-wide culture that is based on a fundamental belief in building teacher leadership in school improvement efforts. Through participation in PLCs, teachers enhance their leadership capacity as they work as members of on-going, high-performing, collaborative teams that focus on improving student learning. Collaborative work cultures helped teachers make sense together of the reform initiatives they were expected to implement. They also helped to stimulate teacher creativity, provided the teachers with the confidence to experiment with new ideas, and offered a support network in which teachers were more prepared to persevere when they experienced setbacks.
It is important for leadership in the schools to establish and maintain the implementation of PD structures. Successful PD structures will require a shift in the traditional leadership role from leader-centred (top-down) to shared leadership. Often, a top down leader will create the vision statement and then staff members will be encouraged to adhere to the goals outlined in the statement. Many teachers often feel that "new ideas that came from someone else without teacher input" is a waste of time and does not qualify as true leadership or support. Principals need to lead from the center rather than the top. The view of the principal as the instructional leader is changing to one that reflects the principal's role within a community of learners and leaders. "The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared 'pictures of the future' that foster genuine commitment and enrolment rather than compliance. In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt".
Through this commitment and creation of a shared vision the team becomes empowered to work together and achieve goals. "Top-down mandates and bottom-up energies need each other." This process involves sharing diverse ideas and making compromises so that all people are satisfied with the direction in which the school is moving. As teachers' capacity increases and they develop a feeling of success, they will better understand that when they ally their strengths and skills they are able to reach goals they could not reach on their own.