Research suggests that the most effective student learning happens in a culture in which teachers, in a specific, shared context, are engaged together in improving practice and working towards a shared vision of student learning outcomes. Research also suggests that the most effective way of achieving this is through the development of professional communities which are engaged in ongoing, collaborative, reflective and accountable learning and application. What I found so frustrating in my previous school, was that it was so hard to get teachers to engage in the wider school goals and purpose; to collaborate, reflect, and be accountable. Had I stayed in that position, I had planned to look at what I could do as leader of teaching and learning to improve this situation - to develop a commitment to a shared understanding of student learning needs and how they could be met. I intended to do this by establishing structures and processes that would hopefully encourage a more ongoing, collaborative and accountable form of professional development and evaluating and adapting these in a cycle of action research.
While, sadly, due to circumstances out of my control, I had to leave that position and abandon my plans of action research, my intrigue into this phenomenon remained and I've encountered it in at least two other schools I have had contact with since.
On the basis of this, and my thinking outlined in my previous post, what I want to know is How do communities build capacity and commitment among their members? As this is an MSc in Leadership, I want to think about it from a leadership perspective. I could ask What is the role of leadership in building commitment? But actually I am not sure I want this to be the focus of my research, as I believe that while leadership is an important factor in that, it is not the only factor. Therefore, perhaps I want to ask What are the implications of the research findings for school leaders?
I'm also aware that I need to clarify some of the words in that central research question - for example what is meant by capacity? what is meant by community?; commitment to what? And what will be the purpose of my research - to identify, evaluate, describe or all of the above? Another way of phrasing it might be to say How is capacity and commitment built in a professional learning community? Again, I feel the need to explore the literature surrounding the definition of PLCs, as opposed to professional communities, learning organisations, learning communities - they're all used in the literature surrounding improved student learning outcomes. I must make sure that the reader is clear of the framework I am working within.
The school in which I am hoping to base my upcoming research has made significant steps towards establishing practices which develop ongoing, collaborative and context-specific professional learning through the development of a professional development programme, focused on promoting and supporting teacher professional growth in order to improve student learning. What I want to investigate is:
- what steps have they taken to build capacity and commitment to improved student learning among their teaching community?
- to what extent are current initiatives achieving the intended goal of increased capacity and commitment?
- what barriers exist to developing capacity and commitment?
- what has been the role of leadership in this process?
I think it is fair to say I do not lack curiousity. I just seem to lack the ability to synthesise the huge amount of information, experience and thinking around this subject and settle on something I feel happy to move forward with.