Fostering Teacher Learning Communities: A Case Study of a School-Based Leadership Team's Action Research
Fischer, Kenneth B.
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The purpose of this study is to examine how a school-based leadership team identifies and alters school conditions to foster the development of TLCs. Many educators, school leaders, and politicians have embraced teacher learning communities (TLCs) as a vehicle for school reform. Despite the considerable documentation of the capability for TLCs to influence teaching and learning, TLCs are not the norm in American schools. The development of advanced levels of TLCs is dependent, in part, on the presence of certain school leadership, professional development, and workplace design conditions. This study examines how school leaders and teachers conceptualize TLCs, how they identify and alter supportive conditions, and how those altered conditions influence the development of TLCs. The researcher conducted a single case study incorporating a practitioner inquiry stance with his own school where he served as an assistant principal. The study traced the influence of conditions altered by school leaders to two embedded subunits: the Math and World Language TLCs. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with five school leader participants, focus group interviews with the two TLCs, observations, and document analysis. Participants identified six characteristics of TLCs capable of accomplishing goals: trusting relationships, common purpose, reflexive dialogue, collaborative activity, data-driven decisions, and agency. School leaders identified and altered 12 supportive conditions. Of those 12, participants reported that nine influenced their work and the development of their TLCs from traditional teacher teams to novice and intermediate professional communities. Although compatible with scholars' descriptions of TLCs, participants' descriptions represented an emerging/novice perspective suggesting a dynamic TLC conceptualization. Three of the six characteristics that participants' identify are precursors to other scholar's conceptualizations. These TLCs could reach advanced levels without developing shared values, deprivatizing practice, and focusing on student learning. The study's findings also suggest that school leaders seeking to foster TLCs provide time embedded into the teachers' regular workday and identify someone to serve as a resource/power broker to help teachers negotiate power relationships. By addressing their emerging/novice perspective and continuing to alter additional conditions, school leaders may influence the development of TLCs, eventually reducing teacher workload and improving teaching and learning.