Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Effects of Networked Professional Learning Communities

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Effects of Networked Professional Learning Communities

Article excerpt

The fast-changing society and knowledge leads to the international focus on school improvement to better prepare students for the higher educational demands of the 21st century (Schleicher, 2012). This means that educators and school leaders need to learn faster than ever (Kools & Stoll, 2016). Teachers are urged to become "high-level knowledge workers" (Schleicher, 2012, p. 11). They are expected to constantly advance both their own professional knowledge and that of their profession. High-quality and continuing professional learning is therefore necessary to ensure that all teachers are able to meet these demands (Kools & Stoll, 2016; Schleicher, 2012). Teachers can be supported in rethinking their own practice and improving their teaching by working and learning together (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008). Teacher collaboration in professional learning communities (PLCs) can lead to the level of increased student learning (Borko, 2004; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006; Vescio et al., 2008). Therefore, teacher participation in PLCs is a promising strategy for promoting professional learning. PLCs often consist of teachers working together, and sometimes also school leaders (Lomos, Hofman, & Bosker, 2011; Stoll et al., 2006). Professional teamwork and networks of teachers can contribute substantially to continuous school improvement (Sahlberg, 2011). Moreover, "the increased complexity of a fast changing world has brought new challenges for schooling that are too great for those in any one school to address alone" (Stoll, 2010, p. 4). In other words, sustaining schools in the 21st century is promoted through their connection to diverse partners and networks. This means that a more recent focus for sustaining change in educational systems is the shift in emphasis from within-school to between-school (and beyond-school) improvement (Chapman, 2014).

Theoretical Framework

There is no universal definition in the literature about what a PLC is (Stoll et al., 2006). Overall, it refers to "a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way; operating as a collective enterprise" (Stoll et al., 2006, p. 223). PLCs have basic common characteristics such as shared goals and reflective dialogues (Stoll et al., 2006; Vescio et al., 2008). The concept is rooted in the knowledge and experience that has been gained over many years from encouraging teachers to work together more collaboratively (Harris & Jones, 2010; Lieberman & Pointer Mace, 2010). Overall, different researchers in multiple studies have been using five interconnected variables to define the concept of a PLC (Lomos et al., 2011). First, reflective dialogue is about the extent to which teachers engage in professional dialogues about relevant educational subjects. Second, deprivatization of practice refers to the activity that teachers observe each other's classes with the aim of giving and receiving feedback for improvement. Third, collaborative activity refers to the extent to which teachers professionally engage with others within the PLC context. Fourth, shared goals means the extent to which teachers agree with the PLC or school's mission and its principles. Finally, the collective focus on student learning refers to the mutual commitment of teachers for improved student achievement (Lomos et al., 2011). As the concept of a PLC is rather complex, multiple researchers have added additional characteristics to define the concept, such as leadership (e.g., Huffman & Jacobson, 2003; Katz & Earl, 2010), structured and guided activities with a relation to practice (e.g., Voogt et al., 2011), and trust (e.g., Bolam, McMahon, Stoll, Thomas, & Wallace, 2005; Katz & Earl, 2010; Stoll et al., 2006). All of the identified elements can be assumed to be connected to each other. A change in any of the elements invites changes in the other elements. …

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