Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Exploring Contradictions in an EFL Teacher Professional Learning Community

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Exploring Contradictions in an EFL Teacher Professional Learning Community

Article excerpt


Over the past three decades, the conceptualizations of teacher education have shifted from a positivistic paradigm to an interpretive and situated paradigm, in line with the epistemological changes in the conceptualizations of human learning from behaviorist, to cognitive, and to social views (Johnson, 2006). This change moves teacher education beyond merely supporting the acquisition of new knowledge and skills for teachers. Within the new paradigm, teacher learning was coined and conceptualized as a social process contingent upon teachers' collaboration and dialogue with others (Johnson, 2015). In other words, to understand how teachers learn and how they change, we should not only take into account cognitive and individual constructs but also consider them within the notions of contexts and communities (Shulman & Shulman, 2004). In response to this paradigm shift, since the 1990s, the notion of professional learning communities (PLCs) has gained momentum as a promising model to improve teaching quality and, thus, enhance student learning (e.g., Bullough, 2007; DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006; Hord, 1997; Sargent & Hannum, 2009).

However, existing literature has focused much on the nature and impact of PLCs (e.g., Hord & Sommers, 2008; Lomos, Hofman, & Bosker, 2011; Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008), whereas scant attention has been given to the process of developing PLCs. Especially, more work is needed in understanding the contradictions that may forge such a process. To address the need, this study aims to examine the contradictions and how they were tackled in developing and sustaining a PLC for teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) in China.


Developed from the ideas of Dewey (1929), Stenhouse (1975), and Schon (1983) on teacher inquiry and reflective practitioners, PLC involves a group of teachers or educators who work collaboratively and collegial ly to improve student learning outcomes (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006). A teacher PLC can take different forms such as collaborative action research (e.g., Burns, 1999), exploratory practice (e.g., Miller, 2003), teacher study groups (e.g., Clair, 1998), lesson study (e.g., J. F. K. Lee, 2008), and computer-mediated cooperative development (e.g.. Edge, 2006). These forms present consistent characteristics of PLCs, including shared values and vision, collective learning, emphasizing student learning, taking an inquiry stance, engaging in reflective dialogue, sharing experiences and expertise, shared and supportive leadership, and supportive conditions (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2001; SnowGerono, 2005).

Current teacher education literature is replete with articles that acclaim the virtues of teacher PLCs. Researchers empirically examined and reported the positive impact of PLCs on teachers' practices and students' learning (Lomos et al, 2011; Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2007; Vescio et al, 2008). Recent studies have also revealed that PLCs lead to increased involvement, ownership, innovation, and leadership among teachers (e.g., Andrews & Lewis, 2002; Kaasila & Lauriala, 2010; Phillips, 2003), and help teachers develop pedagogical content knowledge (e.g., So, 2013).

Lately, a growing number of studies have examined the practices and influencing factors in teacher PLCs in Asian settings (e.g., Ahn, 2017; Cheng & Wu, 2016; Gao & Wang, 2014; M. Lee & Kim, 2016; Salleh, 2016). For example, Ahn (2017) revealed that teachers perceived prepared teacher leaders, trust and respect among faculty, and time for classroom observation and PLC meetings as necessary preparation in creating and implementing their PLC in a South Korean school. Wang (2016) found that Chinese teachers were not familiar with the term PLC but actually participated in school-based PLCs such as teaching research groups, lesson preparation groups, and grade groups. Chen, Lee, Lin, and Zhang (2016) explored the key factors in developing effective PLCs within a Taiwanese context, and found that a collegial trust relationship was the most important factor related to shared practices. …

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