Portland State University. Department of Educational Leadership and Policy
Date of Award
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership: Administration
Educational Leadership and Policy
1 online resource (xii, 256 pages)
Professional learning communities -- Handbooks, manuals, etc. -- Case studies, Professional learning communities -- Oregon -- Estacada, Educational leadership -- Case studies, Teachers -- In-service training, Educational change
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are groups of educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. PLCs operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006). Researchers and practitioners agree that PLCs are critical to the overall success of schools. The problem is that implementing PLCs with fidelity to an inquiry process is a real challenge. Most school districts do not have a systematic or comprehensive approach to guide their PLC process. School leaders are in need of quality tools and resources to assist them in implementing PLCs.
As a possible solution to this problem, a design team of four Estacada School District principals and one vice principal was convened to create, field-test and refine a handbook for PLC leadership. The handbook was field-tested in four schools and evaluated to determine its usefulness. The study's primary research questions were: (a) Is the PLC handbook a useful resource for school leaders? and (b) What are the handbook's strengths and weaknesses? Secondary research questions focused on specific topics and sections of the handbook: (a) How do school leaders organize and support a PLC framework? (b) How can PLCs support school change initiatives? (c) How can PLCs gather and analyze student data? (d) How can PLCs plan for future action? and (e) How can PLCs troubleshoot challenges?
The design team relied on a problem-based learning approach (Bridges & Hallinger, 1995) and the use of a research and development process (Borg & Gall, 1989) to design an educational product ready for operational use in their schools. The design team met weekly for regularly scheduled meetings. They used the Critical Friends Consultancy Protocol (Harmony Education Center, 2013) as a systematic way to problem solve and collect qualitative data. The data collected from these sessions were transcribed, coded for themes, and analyzed. Other data sources that were used included the review of institutional documentation, structured interviews with teacher leaders, and survey results. The design team then refined its PLC handbook through the first seven steps of the research and development process: (a) Research and information collecting; (b) Planning objectives, learning activities, and small scale testing; (c) Developing a preliminary form of the product; (d) Preliminary field-testing; (e) Main product revision; (f) Main field-testing; and (g) Operational product revision.
The design team determined that the handbook was in fact a useful resource for school leaders, and it helped move PLC work forward in each of the four schools. The team found that the handbook had a number of strengths, including the clarification of key terminology and the establishment of a common language for PLCs. Another noted strength was that the activities included in the handbook were user-friendly. A noted opportunity was that the field-tested handbook did not create viable ways to involve parents, families, and community members in PLC work alongside educators. This opportunity is being addressed by the design team in future handbook revisions.
The handbook helped school leaders organize and support a PLC framework. The design team confirmed that the handbook assisted PLCs in completing the work required of major school change initiatives, including Differentiated Instruction/Sheltered Instruction, Response to Intervention/Positive Behavioral Intervention Support, Common Core State Standards, and Proficiency-Based Learning. The design team also found the PLC handbook to be useful as an orientation tool for new staff members, as well as a valuable review tool for PLC veterans, particularly regarding how to collect and analyze student assessment data. The handbook also helped PLCs plan future action relative to providing intervention and enrichment opportunities for students. Finally, the handbook provided tools to help educators troubleshoot challenges that surfaced during their PLC work.
The design team will continue to refine its handbook and provide support for the Estacada School District and community as mutually-beneficial PLC-related activities, grants, and projects are pursued. The optimal next step for future use of the handbook would be for several schools and districts throughout Oregon, particularly from small, rural areas, to pilot the handbook. The piloting schools and districts could then share the roadblocks and success stories pertinent to their use of the handbook, which would in turn support the design team in making a quality final product revision.
Draper, Daniel Paul, "Guiding the Work of Professional Learning Communities: Perspectives for School Leaders" (2014). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1823.