Great Leaders for Great Schools: This Five-District Professional Learning Community Is Having a Positive Influence on School Culture, Teaching Practices and Student Achievement

By Leon, Ronald J.; Davis, Stephen H. | Leadership, September-October 2009 | Go to article overview

Great Leaders for Great Schools: This Five-District Professional Learning Community Is Having a Positive Influence on School Culture, Teaching Practices and Student Achievement


Leon, Ronald J., Davis, Stephen H., Leadership


The development of professional learning communities has become an integral component in contemporary school reform efforts. Although current PLC forms have emerged from the school re-culturing movement in the early 1990s, its conceptual underpinnings are framed around theories about the sociology of the workplace, adult learning, workplace motivation, job satisfaction and personal efficacy. Importantly, over time, empirical research has revealed evidence that high-performing PLCs can positively influence student achievement (Rosenholz, 1989; Kruse, Louis & Bryk, 1998; Barkley, 2009).

Most scholars agree that a successful PLC is not a prescriptive phenomenon of an innovative program, but rather an infrastructure that engenders interdependent work (Hord, 1997). Experts also agree on three general elements of successful PLCs (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006): a focus on learning; a collaborative culture with mutual accountability for student success; and results-oriented thinking.

With these principles in mind, The Great Leaders for Great Schools Institute at Cal Poly Pomona, in collaboration with the university's Teacher Quality Enhancement Grant (TQE--Teacher PREP) and Springboard Schools, recently developed and implemented a professional learning community across five school districts (Baldwin Park, Hacienda La Puente, Pomona and Rowland Unified and Valle Lindo) involving more than 200 school administrators and teacher leaders. These high-need school districts represent 123 schools responsible for nearly 100,000 K-12 students. With the support of grant resources to jump-start our work, we have developed a robust model for creating a thriving, multi-district professional learning community focused on improving student achievement.

The catalyst for our efforts was a successfully funded federal TQE grant awarded the university. While largely centered on teacher education, one objective addressed principals, student achievement and engaging new teachers. With about 18 months of funding available, the challenge became: how does an IHE partner with five school districts simultaneously help and support their diverse efforts in administrator professional development while meeting the objective(s) of the grant?

Origin of the Great Leaders for Great Schools Institute

The prior year, educational leadership faculty at Cal Poly Pomona developed a proposal for a Great Leaders for Great Schools Institute (GLGSI) on the campus. With a growing faculty of veteran school administrators dedicated to supporting school leaders, the institute's guiding principles centered on building strong collaborations, preparing practice-ready instructional/ school leaders, and facilitating organizational learning. The opportunity to work with five local school districts through the grant proved to be a perfect match for the new institute.

Creating a five-district partnership

To create this viable district/university partnership, an associate professor in educational leadership and the grant's director met individually with the five superintendents. The purpose of these conversations was to complete a "needs assessment" and find common themes across the districts. Each superintendent was asked to select a top district administrator who had the authority and knowledge to represent the district in determining principal training needs and priorities.

These five key planners--plus faculty from the university, the TQE director, the grant's evaluator and experts from Springboard Schools retained by the grant to help create and facilitate the professional development- formed the planning team that has guided the content and delivery of the work.

As a consequence of the planning team's diagnostic analyses, the contours of an inter-organizational model for collaborative learning, problem-solving and school reform emerged. To achieve increased student achievement, the PLC needed to begin with a clear and firm commitment to focus on learning. …

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