Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions of the Appropriate Amount of Time for Planning

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Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions of the Appropriate Amount of Time for Collaborative Planning and Professional PlanningAbstract

Professional learning communities is a best practice that has been around for decades, however due to organizational structuring in elementary schools, teachers are allowed 30 minutes of planning time.  During this time little planning is achieved.  Previous research has proven that professional learning increases the teachers’ ability to reach and teach the students which in turn results in student success.  The problem to be addressed by this study is Georgia elementary teachers’ perception of what is considered adequate time to develop professionally and how to obtain said time is not fully understood in a manner that improves teacher performance.  The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students; conduct direct observations; and collect specified documentation in an effort to identify what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.

Acknowledgements

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Background

Statement of the Problem

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Nature of the Study

Significance of the Study

Definition of Key Terms

Summary

Chapter 2: Literature Review4

Documentation6

Educational Industry in Georgia…………………………………..17

The Industry of Education……………………………………………………………21

Professional Learning Communities……………….………………………………..31

Limitations and Disadvantages of Professional Learning Communities…………….57

Summary9

Chapter 3: Research Method……………………………………….61

Research Methods and Design(s)………………………………….62

Population………………………………………………….66

Sample……………………………………………………66

Materials/Instruments………………………………………….68

Data Collection, Processing, and Analysis……………………………71

Assumptions………………………………………………..73

Limitations…………………………………………………74

Delimitations……………………………………………….75

Ethical Assurances……………………………………………75

Summary………………………………………………….77

Chapter 4: Findings……………………………………………..78

Trustworthiness……………………………………………..78

Results……………………………………………………80

Evaluation of Findings…………………………………………92

Summary………………………………………………….96

Chapter 5: Implications, Recommendations, and Conclusions………………..98

Implications………………………………………………..99

Recommendations…………………………………………..104

Conclusions……………………………………………….106

References…………………………………………………..108

Appendixes…………………………………………………..124

Appendix A: Invitation to Participate and Consent Letter…………………..125

Appendix B: Recruitment Flyer…………………………………….128

Appendix C: Invitation to Participate Email……………………………129

Appendix D: Site Permission Request Letter (District)……………………….130

Appendix E: Site Permission Request Letter (Principals)…………………..132

Appendix F: Interview Protocol/Questions Script………………………..134

Appendix G: Observations of Professional Learning Rubric…………………136

Appendix H: Confidentiality Agreement………………………………138


List of Tables

Table 1 Interview and Research Question Alignment

Table 2 Demographics and Background of Participants

Table 3 Nodes Identifieds from Interview Data

Table 4 Observational Data

Table 5 Site Characteristics

List of Figures

Figure 1 NVIVO created word cloud to illustrate word frequency.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Many scholars agreed that professional development and professional learning is essential in increasing the quality of teacher performance and students’ academic success (Burchinal, Cryer, Clifford, & Howes, 2002; Early et al., 2007; Schachter, 2015).  With the new passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the residual effects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), there had been an increase in teacher and system accountability.  Increased teacher quality and student success was contingent upon school systems and school administrators finding the time to ensure that teachers were provided the opportunity to increase their professional knowledge base (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011; Schachter, 2015).

Schools that operated with the ideology of professional learning communities; where teachers and stakeholders met to collaborate about topics of importance related to professional growth as well as teaching and learning, tended to have students who performed on grade level or above level as measured by the state mandated standardized assessments (Hord, 2015).  In order to turn around low performing schools there needed to be a change of action.  The Theory of Change outlined a strategic cycle for teacher and student change; (1) There needed to be standards-based professional learning because it changed educators’ mindset, knowledge base and performance; (2) when the knowledge base of an educator was expanded, they had a wider range of teaching strategies to pull from when trying to convey content knowledge to the students in an effort to increase learning outcomes; (3) when the performance of the educators improve there is a greater chance of practice outcomes and student achievement; and (4) as student achievement begins to improve the cycle of change continues as long as it being implemented effectively (Bradley, Munger & Hord, 2015).  Collaborative planning and professional development among teachers are proven methods to improve student achievement (Cook & Faulkner, 2010; Gill & Hoffman, 2009; Haverback & Mee, 2013; Helterbran, 2008; Rimpola, 2014; Riveros, Newton, & Burgess, 2012).

Background

The leaders of the Georgia State Board of Education have required the implementation of the Teacher Keys of Effectiveness System (TKES) to hold accountable and evaluate teachers in the state of Georgia based on their students’ performance (Georgia Department of Education [GDoE], 2014). Two of the three components used to assess the overall Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) are the Teacher Assessment on Performance Standards (TAPS) and Student Growth (SGP and SLO) (GDoE, 2014). The TAPS consist of quality Performance Standards that are scored on a rubric by a credentialed evaluator. The Student Growth components are measured using the Student Growth Percentile Measure (SGP) for teachers who teach Reading, Language Arts, and Math to students in the third through eighth grade, and the Student Learning Objective Measure (SLO) for teachers of non-testing grades and subjects, otherwise known as kindergarten through second grade (GDoE, 2014).

Seven of the ten TAPS Performance Standards are achieved through effective instructional planning and professional development. The expectations held within each of the listed standards require teachers to spend meaningful time planning; using data to determine the needs of each individual student, creating activities to remediate and challenge as needed, and make lessons relevant in order for students to not just learn but to retain the information being presented.

The recent Common Core initiative along with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) placed a focus on teacher/student performance and accountability, making lesson planning and professional development more important (Bausmith & Barry, 2011). Teacher planning usually occurs during the physical education block, which is 30 minutes (Barney & Deutsch, 2012). Professional development is often organized through workshops, seminars, and lectures that occur after hours. As elementary teachers are evaluated based on TKES, they are responsible for using the knowledge they have obtained throughout the course of their career to ensure that students are showing growth in their standardized state test scores from year to year (GDoE, 2015).

Georgia is one of 35 states in the United States of America (USA) to show no academic progress in fourth grade Math and Reading scores obtained from the end of year standardized assessment given every year (Ladner & Myslinski, 2014), indicating that the number of students meeting the standards are not increasing nor decreasing at a scientifically significant rate annually. If Georgia students are going to compete in a world that is built on global capital, they must be able to balance cognitive, personal, and interpersonal abilities (Ladner & Myslinski, 2014; Sparks, 2012). County “A” of Georgia is ranked 156th academically of the 173 districts located in Georgia (SchoolDigger, 2014). More specifically, of the 34 elementary schools located in County “A”, 30 of County “A” elementary schools rank in the bottom ten percent of Georgia elementary schools, performing lower in Math and Reading than approximately 1,092 elementary schools of the 1,213 that are currently operational (SchoolDigger, 2014).

The evolution of professional learning communities stems from a long history of teachers working independent of one another in isolation (Hord, 2008).  As the practice of education continued, teachers slowly began to break down the barriers of isolated teaching and began becoming open to team teaching.  In the 1980’s educators became more open to sharing and receiving ideas about what and how to teach, and as the teachers became more comfortable with communicating with one another about their teaching methods and styles, teachers began to build a level of trust and morale that started to shift the way educators thought about the profession of teaching, in turn this caused the teachers to make a conscious effort to find and/or make time to meet with one another to share new found ideas and strategies (Hord, 2008).  Educational leaders saw the impact this new practice was having on teacher performance and student achievement.  The practice of teachers coming together to communicate about the everyday encounters as a teacher proved to have several effects on teachers; (1) teacher were becoming more organized, (2) teachers were finding time to work on task not directly related to teaching such as ordering books and scheduling fieldtrips, (3) teachers were able to create schedules that would allow for speakers, and (4) teachers were becoming more connected with one another (Hord, 2008).

The theoretical interest for this study incorporated the views of Bandura (1977), Senge (1994), the 21st century skills paradigm, and Wenger (1998) who elaborated on the 1991 concept of communities of practice.  Learning is a social experience whereby humans learn from each other via observation, modeling, and imitation, otherwise known as the social learning theory (SLT) (Bandura, 1977).  An environment with a group of individuals who share a common vision and continuously work to augment their skills and capabilities can be referred to as a learning organization (Senge, 1994).  If the individuals in the learning environment can practice personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking they will develop into lifelong learners and a never-ending development will ensue for the individuals participating (Senge, 1994).

Statement of the Problem

The general problem to be examined in this study was that 30 minutes was not enough time for effectively planning lessons that could meet the needs of all students (Eun Kyung, 2012; Gill & Hoffman, 2009; Haverback & Mee, 2013; Prytula, Hellsten, & McIntyre, 2010).  This relatively little amount of time for planning prevented teachers from helping all students learn more than what they already knew prior to arriving at that grade level (Flowers et al., 1999; Flowers et al., 2000; Flowers et al., 2003; Haverback & Mee, 2013; Mizell, 2010; Prytula et al., 2010).  Georgia was not showing growth in student standardized test scores from school year to school year (Ladner & Myslinski, 2014).  Failing to grow academically in elementary school, leads to a higher chance that students will drop out of high school (Burrus & Roberts, 2012) ultimately failing to contribute to the creation of human capital (Permanyer, García, & Esteve, 2013). Being inadequately prepared to enter a four year college, creates a disadvantage for students, limiting them from the country’s economic, social, and political opportunities (Greene & Forster, 2003).

Research documents the importance of finding time to collaborate with colleagues to improve professional development (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011; Louis & Marks, 1998; Mizell, 2010). Research does not document the perceptions of teachers regarding the most appropriate time that should be spent during collaboration.  The problem to be addressed by this study was Georgia elementary teachers’ perception of what is considered adequate time to develop professionally and how to obtain said time was not fully understood in a manner that improved teacher performance.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students; conduct direct observations; and collect specified documentation in an effort to identify what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.  Participants’ perceptions were examined within the context of the professional learning community process; direct observations were conducted and specified documentation was collected to triangulate the researcher’s findings.  Knowledge from current learning theories and the impact they have on the educational practices of the 21st century, specifically four-day school weeks, was used to guide interview questions in this case study. A purposive sampling method was used; this method was used because participants were deliberately selected based on the experience they had and the value their knowledge brought to the study (Jupp, 2006). More specifically, the typical case purposeful sampling strategy was used. The teachers that were selected were Pre- Kindergarten through fifth grade Georgia State-certified teacher participants who participate or have participated in the creation and/ or practice of professional development communities and/ or collaborative planning. This sampling method was used because the unit of study was the perception of teachers.

The sample size of n=15 was chosen because as indicated by Guest, Bunce, and Johnson (2006) 15 should be the smallest sample size for all qualitative research and the researcher is not likely to gain any new information after the 20th  interview (Green & Thorogood, 2009).  Data that was collected from the study included (a) semi-structured interviews; (b) direct observations with a peer to maximize the case study’s reliability; and (c) documentation which included professional learning community meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes.  The multiple uses of data collection methods in conjunction with the multiple interview sources ensured triangulation.  Gathering many different forms of evidence in the study allowed for the findings and conclusions in the case study to be believable and most likely to be error-free (Yin, 2003).

Research Questions

Research has maintained that collaborative planning and professional development are necessary in order for students to grow academically and for teachers to grow professionally (Battersby & Verdi, 2015; Colmer, Waniganayake, & Field, 2015; Lalor & Abawi, 2014).  The overarching question of this study was: What do teachers in the state of Georgia perceive as an adequate amount of time for collaborative planning and professional development to expound upon their pedagogy in order to make a positive impact on student achievement in Georgia elementary schools? The research questions were:

Q1.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth?

Q2.  What do elementary school teachers in Richmond County believe is the appropriate length of time for collaborative planning that can improve student achievement?

Nature of the Study

The decision to conduct a qualitative multiple case study was because this study attempted to answer a question of “how”; the behavior of the participants in the study could not be manipulated in any way, and the answers to the researcher’s questions could not be answered out of context (Baxter & Jack, 2008).  Data from interviews and direct observations were collected from 17 participants as well as documentation from the sites visited.  Triangulation is created when the researcher’s takes the time to collect data from multiple origins providing different forms of evidence to either support or deny their claim (Yin, 2003).  A chain of evidence was established by making the research, research process, data, evidence, and conclusions available to any third party evaluator or observer (Yin, 2003).  To further reduce the threats to construct validity, before all data and evidence was analyzed, rough drafts of the reports and transcripts from interviews were given to the participants of the research study prior to the publishing of the study.  To strengthen the  internal validity, during the data analysis the researcher used a pattern matching strategy to address issues of concern towards inferences made in the case study to ensure the study was sound (Yin, 2003).  The test of external validity dealt with whether the study’s results could be said to be true for other similar situations (2003).  It was the hope of the researcher that the findings are generalized to the literature and conceptual frameworks of professional learning communities.  Reliability of the design tested whether the study could be repeated after making the necessary adjustment to remove any errors or bias and still come to the same conclusion and receive the same results (2003).  The researcher reduced the threat to reliability by following the case study protocol.  The researcher clearly outlined the problem and purpose of the study, how current studies aligned with the focus, a description of how data was collected, the questions related to the case study, and a guide for the case study report (Yin, 2003).

In an effort to keep all documentation and data collected organized, the researcher made use of a case study database (Yin, 2003).  Baxter and Jack (2008) insist the use of a database will improve the reliability of the case study.  A database will help the researcher organize and keep track of data sources as to make them readily available in case of future need (Baxter & Jack, 2008).

Significance of the Study

With this study, the researcher intended to enlighten the district of interest of how the current educators perceive the structure or lack of structure of the current state of their professional learning communities and the time they are allotted to implement the PLC with fidelity in efforts to enhance teacher perceptions and teaching quality for school improvement.

The improvement and success of a school was once thought to be because of the leadership of the principal in the school.  Research has proven that the actions of the principal alone do not create change in the improvement of the school (Hord, 1997).

The data collected from the study allowed the researcher to highlight key professional learning themes from the targeted population.  The data also provided an idea of how the targeted population could build time into the current schedule to accommodate the structure of a solid professional learning community.  With the adequate amount of time for professional learning built into the master schedule of the targeted counties, the districts of interest will have the opportunity to evaluate their structure of professional learning communities in the elementary schools and either create or modify the PLCs that are currently in place.  As with any well organized community of individuals, if all parties involved were honest during their interviews a plan could be developed to assist the targeted populations in structuring their perceived version of a professional learning community.  The individuals involved were able to identify needs improvement areas and contribute in developing sound school improvement plans.  Developing a solid school improvement plan will allow the targeted population to create a shared mission and vision, a valuable component to a successful professional learning community (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many, 2010).  When students are learning in elementary school they are being prepared to attend middle school, high school, and eventually college.  The researcher anticipated that the data collected from the study would enlighten policymakers in how school systems are structured.

Definition of Key Terms

Key terms are defined as follows:

Accountability. “To be taken into account in activities, whether such activities are of an ethical, moral, economical, or other character” (Ydesen &Andreasen, 2014, p. 3).

Collaborative planning. Collaborative planning is any amount of time when a community or group of educators voluntarily agree to work together to reach a common goal and ensure that all the needs of the students are being met by the outcome (Dever & Lash, 2013; and Friend & Cook, 2003).

Instructional days. Instructional days is considered the period of time students are required to be present at school as mandated by the local board of education (LBOE) while under the supervision and instruction of a certified teacher or substitute and engaged in activities that are instruction based (Official Code of Georgia Annotated [OCGA] 20-2-168(c); 160-5-1-.02, 2010).

Instructional hours/time. Instructional hours/time is considered all portions of the school day when instruction or instruction-related activities based on state-approved courses are provided or coordinated by a certified teacher or substitute teacher (OCGA 20-2-168(c); 160-5-1-.02, 2010).

Instructional planning. Instructional planning is the act of the teacher using the appropriate materials to plan lessons they intend to deliver to their students in an effort to meet the diverse needs of each student in the class (Barge, 2012).

Professional development/learning. Professional development/learning are opportunities provided by schools and associated districts for teachers to continually grow professionally in an effort to address areas of growth and development for student achievement (Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, 2011; Goodman & Anderson, 2015); these terms will also be used in conjunction with professional learning communities (PLC).

Professional learning units (PLUs).  Professional learning units are units of credit that are achieved after every 10 hours of formal instruction for the educator.  After every five years, educators must renew their certification with at least 5 PLUs; that is the equivalent to at least fifty contact hours of formal instruction for the educator (OCGA 160-3-3-.1 0 (i), 2003).

Student growth percentile measure (SGP).  SGP is a section of the TKES design that shows a prediction on how much a student should grow academically given his current ranking in student achievement compared to other students who have the same score history. This is only used for teachers of testing subjects (Barge, 2013).

Teacher accountability. Teacher accountability is the responsibility a teacher assumes for the academic success of the students they teach. A variety of instruments are used to evaluate teachers and measure teacher accountability (Reinking, 2015).

Teacher Assessment on Performance Standards (TAPS).  This is a tool used by administrators to evaluate teacher quality and performance (Barge, 2013).

Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM).  This is the score teachers receive that includes fifty percent of their TAPS score and fifty percent of their SGP score (Barge, 2013).

Teacher Keys of Effectiveness System (TKES). This is the system chosen by the state of Georgia that is used to evaluate teacher quality and performance (Barge, 2013).

Summary

The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students; conduct direct observations; and collect specified documentation in an effort to identify what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.  A total of 17 teachers were interviewed and observed. After the interviews, the data gathered was used to guide the observation of the teachers during time that they designate for collaborative planning and professional development. The data was then triangulated using these two sources along with documentation collected to ensure the data was more robust and rich.  At the end of the research, knowledge was obtained that could contribute to the literature on professional learning communities and aid in improving educational practice.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students; conduct direct observations; and collect specified documentation in an effort to identify what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.  In line with this purpose, the contents of the brief literature review are comprised of concepts that surround collaborative planning, professional development, teacher accountability, retention rate of teachers, educational policies, teacher/student attendance, adjusted school weeks (year round school and four-day school weeks), and the impact it has on student achievement.  This section showcases key empirical and scholarly research, which explains the key components of professional development, collaborative planning, and adjusted school weeks.

Many authors have harmonized the importance of professional development in the field of education.  Linda Darling-Hammond, Ann Lieberman, Richard DuFour, Shirley Hord, Louise Stoll, Robert Eaker, and Jane Huffman are among a long list of seminal authors who have dedicated much of their publications to glorifying the benefits of professional development and professional learning communities.  A current search of professional development in a single database would render at least 80,000 results, while a search for professional learning or professional development of teacher educators in the same database would render at least twenty-thousand results.  In the same database, the addition of elementary or early childhood as a key search term would furnish less than two thousand results.  In order to be able to make an assertion that supported the need for further investigation, the researcher explored five different academic databases and each database provided very little literary articles or studies that provide detailed information on professional development and professional learning among elementary educators.  Since the early eighteen hundreds researchers and experts have been studying and documenting the positive effects of professional learning and professional development for educators, however within the last five years, there have still been at least forty-seven research articles that have addressed teacher perceptions of professional development.  This indicated that although professional development and professional learning for educators had been proven to be effective there was a gap in the effectiveness and how teachers perceived the concept.

In this review of the literature, the researcher attempted to summarize the current knowledge of professional learning communities and professional development/learning with respect to how much time is allotted and devoted to the implementing such organizations within elementary schools.  This literature review begins with a discussion about the operations of the educational system on a State level.  Because the researcher is attempting to identify the perceptions of elementary teachers in Georgia, a discussion on how the Georgia Department of Education operates is vital to understanding their role and position on professional learning.  This information bridges the gap for why the topic of appropriate time for professional development and professional learning is relevant and important for teachers’ and students’ success.  The second section begins defining the role of an educator in terms of professionalism.  Many articles have been written on professional development and professional learning; however, many of the articles refer to the professional growth of major businesses, corporations, doctors, and lawyers.  This section explores whether educators are considered professionals or non-professionals.  This is important because as the discussion continues on to the third section of the literature review there will be a discussion on professional growth and development.  This section will highlight the history of professional learning and development along with the current trends of professional development and the amount of attention being given to how often professional learning communities are being implemented in schools.  The manner in which educators are identified (professional or non-professional) should shed light on the capacity of professional learning and development among educators.  As the discussion progresses the flaws and limitations of professional learning communities and professional development will be discussed followed by a conclusion of the review of the literature.

Documentation

The literature review chapter is being completed by using the common method of research.  The researcher read many books, scholarly journals, peer-reviewed articles, and credible online resources.  To obtain the necessary information presented in the literature review, an extensive search of professional learning communities and all of the key components were researched.  The researcher also thought it would be beneficial to research the educational process in Georgia given the context of the study.  In order to find the necessary information for the literature review the researcher used the online library provided through the University library portal.  The main websites used in the search were EBSCOHost,  ProQuest, Google Scholar, Google Books, U.S. Department of Education, GA Department of Education, ERIC, SAGE, and Gale.  All databases contain scholarly research that offered a wide range of perspectives on the topic being researched in detail.  Although the goal is to obtain the most recent information both databases provided dated background knowledge that the researcher was able to use to serve as foundational information.  Terminology used in the search engines included: professional learning, professional development, collaborative planning, accountability, among other phrases that deems appropriate to the study as new knowledge was obtained.

The Educational Industry in Georgia

The educational industry is one of many changes, from qualification standards to professional codes of which the professionals are held to during their career.  Each state has the authority to delegate who becomes an educator and what qualifications are required in order for them to achieve the title as an educator.  This study focuses on the professional learning method(s) and time allotted to achieve quality professional learning in the state of Georgia; therefore it is important to understand how one becomes qualified to become an educator in Georgia and understand the code of ethics with which each professional is held to throughout their career as an educator in Georgia.

Becoming a teacher in Georgia.  For individuals who aspire to become teachers in the state of Georgia there are many details that must be considered.  Teaching certificates in Georgia are categorized into five different areas; (1) birth to kindergarten; (2) Pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade, otherwise known as Early Childhood Education (elementary); (3) grades four through eight, otherwise known as Middle Grades although most middle schools in Georgia are comprised of grades six, seven, and eight; (4) grades six through twelve, otherwise known as Secondary Education although most secondary or high schools are comprised of grades nine, ten, eleven, and twelve; and (5) pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade, this certification is comprised of subjects such as Art, Music, Physical Education, Drama, Special Education  etc. which can be taught at any grade level.  Once an individual has decided the grade level they would like to teach the next step is to choose a subject of interest.  Typically teachers would teach all subjects in the elementary grades, Pre-Kindergarten through fifth, but teachers in middle and high school typically teach one subject area.  Once an individual has decided what they want to teach and at what grade level, they must decide how they want to achieve obtaining certification in Georgia.  Currently in Georgia, there are two ways of acquiring certification in education.  If the individual does not have a bachelor’s degree they must enroll in and complete a state approved teacher preparation program, pass the state mandated GACE exam, and apply for a certificate of Eligibility.  The certificate of Eligibility informs potential employers that the individual is eligible to receive a Georgia teaching certificate.  If the prospective educator already possesses a bachelor’s degree they may qualify for what is known as an Induction Pathway 4 certificate.  Based on the bachelor’s degree that is held the individual may be able to teach in a particular subject area while working under a non-renewable teaching certificate.  The non-renewable certificate will allow the prospect three years to complete a state approve teacher preparation program.  However, the prospective educator must pass the GACE examination as well as the Georgia Educator Ethics Assessment prior to being able to work under the Induction Pathway 4 certification. Induction certificates were designed for teachers who have less than three years of teaching experience with the intent that those teachers would be fully prepared to qualify and accept a professional certificate.  A professional certificate will allow the educator to teach with a five year renewable certificate.  Once five years has passed, the educator must renew their certificate with the GaPSC; they must submit to another background and criminal check, maintain proficient and exemplary annual evaluations, and must have obtained professional learning units (PLU’s) over the course of the five year certificate time frame (Georgia Professional Standards Commission [GaPCS] 505-2-.36, 2015).  There are currently four different types of educator preparation programs in the state of Georgia; (1) Bachelor’s degree program; (2) Advance degree program; (3) Certification-Only degree program; and (4) Alternative degree programs.  All of the degree programs have the ability to lead to a professional teaching certificate.

In 2009, Georgia passed a House Bill (193) that would allow school districts to provide flexible scheduling/alternate school weeks as long as the required number of instructional minutes was being met as determined by Georgia’s Board of Education. The current rule of the state Board of Education (160-5-1-.02) (2) states that students in grades kindergarten through grade three receive a minimum of 4 ½ hours daily or two-hundred seventy minutes daily; students in grade four through five have a minimum of 5 hours or three-hundred minutes daily; and students in grade six through twelve have a minimum of 5 ½ hours or three-hundred thirty minutes daily. States were given the ability to set school schedules in a manner that met the needs of the school district and met the guidelines of the state Board of Education (Dixon, 2011).

Code of ethics.  One of the key characteristics that solidified an occupation as a profession was the notion that the profession required following a code of ethics (Cruess, Johnston & Cruess, 2005; NICE, 2012; McConnell, 2004; Saks, 2012).  In the state of Georgia,

The Code of Ethics for Educators provides guidance for protecting the health,               safety and general welfare of students and educators, and assuring the citizens of               Georgia a degree of accountability within the education profession. All applicants               are screened for certification and for employment to assure that their background               does not include acts that would present a possible danger or unhealthy               environment for students (GaPSC, 2013).

In Georgia the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) requires all teachers to acknowledge and follow the Code of Ethics for Educators.  The Code of Ethics for Educators consists of eleven standards that must be followed; (1) Legal Compliance requires all educators to follow all federal, local, and state laws; (2) Conduct with Students requires all educators to maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times; (3) Alcohol or Drugs requires all educators to eschew from consuming alcohol and/or unauthorized or illegal drugs especially on school grounds are at a school activity; (4) Honesty requires educators to be honest and maintain integrity in their professional practice and communication of information related to their education, qualification, years of service, and criminal history; (5) Public Funds and Property requires all educators to avoid misappropriation of funds at all times and   keep accurate documentation of such funds; (6) Remunerative Conduct requires all educators to accept gifts and other forms of compensation from students, parents, and other stakeholders with integrity, not using their profession to obtain gifts and other forms of compensation; (7) Confidential Information requires educators to keep all student, personnel, and testing information confidential in accordance with school board policies and federal laws; (8) Abandonment of Contract requires all educators to fulfill the terms of their contract to the fullest until the contract has expired; (9) Required Reports requires educators to file reports and legal documentation to the appropriate designees in accordance with board policy and the federal law; (10) Professional Conduct requires all educators to act in a manner that “preserves the dignity and integrity of the education profession” maintaining the ability to behave professionally at all times; (11) Testing requires all educators to administer mandatory state test in an fair and ethical manner in accordance to the federal, state, and local testing policy (GaPSC Rule 505-6-.01).  Any violation of one of the eleven standards would result in one of the five disciplinary actions or consequences.  For minor infractions or violations of the Code of Ethics for Educators, an educator could be given a warning or a reprimand, both reproaches the individual in a manner that does not nullify the educator’s certificate and license, however the reproach does serve as a forewarning that any future violations could result in a more serious retribution (GaPSC, 2013).  Violations considered to be more serious in nature could result in suspension, denial, or revocation of an educator’s certificate.  When an educator is suspended their license is temporarily invalid for a specified length of time and once the suspension has been lifted the certificate is automatically restored back to an active status.  Denial and revocation of an educator’s certificate indicates that the educator has been denied the opportunity to renew or obtain a certificate and revocation indicates that a valid certificate has been taken from an educator and they are not allowed to obtain further employment in a school.  If an educator is issued one of the disciplinary actions they are given the right to appeal the decision to the PSC to have the decision overturned.

The Industry of Education

The history of education spans hundreds of years ago.  The earliest forms of education were provided in the homes by the adult figures in the household.  It was not until the 1600’s that Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts formed the first forms of public education for religious reasons (Thattai, 2001).  However, after the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson had a different opinion on how public education should be established; he believed that the public education should be free of religious bias and it should be funded by the American tax funds (Thattai, 2001).  As the industry of education expanded and became more important to the development of the American economy; local governments and educational systems had begun establishing standards and qualifications for what represented quality education.

Education as a profession.  There was once a debate of whether teaching was considered a profession.  For more than 70 years people have questioned whether teachers were professionals.  Many have argued that it was not important whether teachers were considered professionals because it devalued the occupation of teaching (Taylor & Runte, 1995).  Many studies have attempted to identify what constituted an occupation as a profession, there has yet to be a societal agreement on what fundamentals are required in order to call an occupation a profession (Atkinson, 2013; Inlow, 1956; Taylor & Runte, 1995).  However many have agreed that a profession; (1) follows a set of ethical standards; (2) are seen by society as people with special knowledge and skills; (3) are highly educated and trained; and (4) can use what they have learned contribute to society (Cruess, Johnston & Cruess, 2005; NICE, 2012; McConnell, 2004; Saks, 2012).  As described by researchers, teaching can be classified as a mature profession (Myer, Hall & Pitts, 1997; NICE, 2012; Quinn, 2014).  Teachers attended college and majored in a field program that was directly aimed toward education; in order for the graduating degree to be recognized the student must have attended a college or university that was accredited; before gaining certification or licensing the teacher must have participated in what is known as a practicum, in which during this time the teacher must have practiced working in the field; after completing a degree program that was accredited and having practiced in the field the teacher must have taken an exam proving competency and knowledge in the field that was studied; after passing the exam a teaching license was issued to the educator by the state in which they are certified to teach; teachers are required to maintain their knowledge base by continually attending professional development to keep up with the changes that occur with regards to the field of study; once in the field of teaching, teachers are encouraged to join organizations with individuals with like minds and interest for the field of education, an example of one of these organizations would be National Education Association (NEA) or Georgia Association of Educators (GAE); and upon obtaining licensure teachers must commit to upholding a standard code of ethics issued by the Professional Standards Commission (PSC).

Teaching is a profession that requires high levels of technical knowledge from the professionals (Sheehy, Bohler, Richardson, & Gallo, 2015).  In order for teachers to make sophisticated decisions about the students, curriculum, and instructional strategies, there must be an educated community of educators who are committed to continuous collaboration and expertise development over a period of time (Sheehy, et. al., 2015).  Just as students learn by studying, doing, and reflecting, educators learn and continue to learn in the same manner (Darling-Hammond, 1999; Darling-Hammond & Snyder, 2015).

Teacher accountability.  In 1983, an article entitled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was published and expounded on the foreseen decline in the prominent status of the United States due to the decline in the quality of education our students were receiving. The government responded within a legislative framework with a few education reforms to attempt to “fix” the problem: (1) Goals 2000; (2) Title I of Early Childhood and Secondary Education Act; and (3) No Child Left Behind (Grosso de León, 2003; Superfine, 2005; Suspitsyna, 2010). Political leaders in America, as well as the public, believed that American education had failed in terms of quality, and as a result caused a problem for the country (Berryhill, Linney, & Fromewick, 2009).  Banks (2015) conceptualized the problem as failed citizenship; the quality of education can either reduce are increase the amount of citizen who are unable to contribute to human capital.  When the education of children appeared to be in jeopardy, the nation’s economic stability was at risk, therefore the government had to step in and take action.

Like many other nations, such as China, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Canada, the United States begun to focus on accountability (Atkinson, 2015; Moos, Krejsler, & Kofod, 2008; Suspitsyna, 2010). This meant there needed to be a way of holding educators accountable/responsible for the quality of education students were receiving.  Accountability is a political and legal concept that “denotes the responsibility of an organization or individual (i.e., an agent) to perform within the specified boundaries set by some higher political authority (i.e., a principal) and to report to and justify one’s actions to this authority” (Ryan & Feller, 2009, p. 173).

Not all experts agreed with the federal decision to scrutinize the quality of education through accountability. Some argued that holding teachers accountable based on how their student performed on a standardized assessment was not beneficial in closing the knowledge or socioeconomic gaps (Abernathy, 2007; Mintrop, 2004). However, standardized testing remains the best example of accountability in today’s educational system; it also remains very important in assessing and improving students’ educational achievement (Atkinson, 2015). Suspitsyna (2010), among others (Burke 2005; Huisman & Currie 2004) wondered what accountability looked like in education, who would be held accountable, and for what would they be held accountable?  Third through twelfth grade teachers of English Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies have been held to a higher level of accountability because their students’ academic growth is measured by the scores obtained on the state standardized assessment given at the end of each school year (Winters, 2015).  So along with the TKES evaluations those teachers have been subjected to, they have also been responsible for the measurable growth of their students on the standardized tests (Winters, 2012). This is not to say that teachers of students who are not in testing grades are not held accountable for their students, it simply means there are no standardized tests for those students to take. Therefore, a common assessment (benchmark) was created to assess the growth of students in non-testing grades. In light of NCLB, Common Core, and TKES a stronger emphasis has been placed on teacher/student performance and accountability, making lesson planning more important (Bausmith & Barry, 2011), because teachers are now charged with the task of meeting the needs of every student in the classroom, which may mean personalizing the learning of each individual student to ensure growth.

In February of 2010, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) (Howell, 2015).  In an effort to support education, among other organizations, President Obama allocated $100 billion dollars to education; of the roughly $100 billion, President Obama set aside $4.35 billion for a competitive program called Race to the Top (Howell, 2015).  The purpose of Race to the Top was to encourage state level policymakers to buy-in to his initiative of “college readiness, the creation of new data systems, teacher effectiveness, and persistently low-performing schools” (Howell, 2015, p., 60).  Race to the Top consisted of three Phases; Phase One and Two evaluated the states on their education policy priorities and Phase Three evaluates the implementation on a regular basis to determine if changes need to be made to the goal or process of obtaining the goal based on the progress reports.  In June, 2010 Georgia was awarded $400 million in Race to the Top funds.  Although participation in Race to the Top was voluntary, the funds forced the state to allow monitoring of annual performance, accountability protocols, and random site visits from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) (Howell, 2015).

There are six major categories that states were required to design a plan to implement the policies:

  1. The state success factors category involved Georgia being required to articulate their reform initiatives as well as show proof of students’ achievement and progress.  The state was to also show proof that the state was closing the achievement gaps as measured by standards and assessments (Howell, 2015)
  2. The standards and assessments category involved Georgia having to adopt the Common Core Standards and implement common assessments (Howell, 2015)
  3. The data systems to support instruction category involved Georgia being required to implement a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS) to monitor and use the date to inform instruction and guide the state in improving instruction (Howell, 2015)
  4. The great teachers and leaders category involved Georgia being required to provide strong teacher and leader preparation programs. Georgia was also required to provide leaders and teachers the support they needed based on their performance. In August, 2013 the federal government withheld $9.9 million from Georgia because Georgia back out of the merit-pay agreement (McNeil, 2013)
  5. The turning around the lowest achieving schools category involved Georgia being required to target the lowest performing schools to make sure they could demonstrate methods of improving those schools (Howell, 2015)
  6. The general category required Georgia to make funding a priority for charter and innovative schools (Howell, 2015).

One of the major components to the Race to the Top competition was accountability.  The U.S. Department of Education monitored and evaluated the progress of the states that have been awarded funds from Race to the Top.  The monitoring and evaluation was the Department of Education’s way of holding the winning states accountable for the progress of the students.  Georgia was required to establish a method of monitoring and evaluating the performance of the teachers and leaders in each of the state’s districts.  To stay in compliance with the policy outlined for Race to the Top winners and the NCLB Act, effective July 4, 2005, the collaborative efforts of the Governor’s Office of Students Achievement and GADOE resulted in an accountability system that would be referred to as Adequate Yearly Progress  (AYP) (U.S. DOE, 2010).  This would be the accountability system that would be used to maintain compliance with NCLB and satisfy the requirements for the Race to the Top award.  During the 2009-2010 school years Georgia was granted permission to continue using AYP and Performance Index to serve as the accountability determination for Georgia (U.S. DOE, 2010).  During this time it was required that all Georgia schools be held accountable for the growth of the students and student achievement (U.S. DOE, 2010).  AYP was determined at the state, district, and school levels; schools either met or did not meet AYP.  Performance Index was calculated for each individual school; the performance index identified the gains of students meeting or exceeding the standards as well as the total amount of students who were meeting or exceeding the standards on the standardized state assessment (U.S. DOE, 2010).

If a school did not meet the criteria for making AYP, the first year served as a warning.  However, if a school did not meet AYP for a second year in a row, the school was placed in a Needs Improvement status and the school was required to develop a school improvement plan and the parents of students who attend the school had the ability to request a waiver to send their child(ren) to another school.  Schools that failed to come out of the Needs Improvement status and remained in that status for a second year would still be required to inform parents of their school choice options, would continue to develop and implement a school improvement plan, and would begin to receive supplemental services from Georgia DOE.  Third year Needs Improvement schools would be required to continue the actions and interventions of a year two Needs Improvement school and they would be required to develop a corrective action plan for the school as well.  Fourth year Needs Improvement schools would continue the actions and interventions of a year three Needs Improvement school as well as undergo a plan for restructuring.  Fifth year Needs Improvement schools would maintain the consequences and interventions of a year four Needs Improvement school and would have to begin to implement the school’s restructuring plan.  Sixth year Needs Improvement school would be required to maintain the consequences and interventions of a fifth year Needs Improvement school as well as undergo Georgia DOE School Performance Review and Needs Assessment and would be bound to a school improvement contract. Seventh through tenth year Needs Improvement schools would undergo continuous monitoring by Georgia DOE as well undergo continuous modifications of the school improvement contract.

In the wake of amending the NCLB legislation, in 2011, states were offered the option of applying for the Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Waiver (Dunlap, 2011).  One of the key requirements for the flexibility waiver was to establish and implement a teacher and principal evaluation system.  In 2012, Georgia created the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI).  The CCRPI indicates how schools are performing on a much more detailed level unlike the meet/did not meet status provided by AYP.  Under the CCRPI, schools have the possibility of earning 100 points on their balanced score card, which is much like a report card.  There are three major categories that make up a school’s score; (1) achievement; (2) progress; and (3) achievement gap.  In 2014, Governor Nathan Deal signed the House Bill 244 which indicated that all teachers, principals, and assistant principals in the state of Georgia must be evaluated using the Teacher Keys of Effectiveness System (TKES) and Leader Keys of Effectiveness System (LKES).  Both evaluation systems have been evaluating the teachers and principals on students’ performance and teacher performance.  Principals are required to conduct six annual evaluations on a teacher; four walkthroughs and two formatives.  The walkthroughs have been intended to give the administrators a quick snapshot of what the teacher are doing in the classroom to improve student achievement.  The walkthrough have been intended to last approximately ten to fifteen minutes.  The formative observations have been intended to be more in depth observations.  They should last approximately thirty minutes.  When an administrator would observe a teacher for a formative observation, they were expected to apply their prior knowledge of how the teacher has performed in the previous walkthrough observations and use all evidence of teacher performance to rate the teachers based on ten Teacher Keys standards.  At the end of the school year teachers were given a Teacher Assessment of Performance (TAP) score (50% of their overall score) which indicated how effective their teaching practices were in the classroom.  Combined with a student growth score (50% of their overall score), the teachers would receive a Teacher Effectiveness Measure (TEM) score.  If a teacher scored below a level three, which is proficient, they were required to be put on a professional development plan, and if a teacher scored below a level 3 two years in a row they would risk losing their teaching certificate.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  On December 10, 2015, President Barak Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This law comes as a revision to the national education law.  While this law acknowledges the valuable components of No Child Left Behind, it brings a renewed focus to education.  Maintaining the ultimate goal that every student  graduates from high school prepared to attend college if he/she chooses, ESSA commits to creating relationships with the States to ensure that every state has the means and a plan to meet the needs of their students,  while eliminating unnecessary standardized tests that are given in some states and districts, expanding preschool opportunities, and upholding the civil right of every American child to receive a quality education regardless of their location are socio-economic status (Remarks on Signing the Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015).

Professional Learning Communities

There was once a time when teachers taught in isolation.  In the 1960’s teachers began working together.  This section outlines the history of professional learning communities and the importance they provide to the educational industry.  The major basis for this study is to support the research based importance of professional learning communities and identify what would be considered an adequate amount of time to participate in professional learning in order to increase educator pedagogy and possibly identify how to achieve this time with Georgia elementary educators.

PLCs in the past.  The continuous transition from one reform to another has been characterized as a series of phases (Winn & Blanton, 2005).  The profession of teaching has transformed from being a robotic profession with a set of rules to abide by in the classroom and teachers not having much of a voice in how the classroom is run to a system of professionals who collectively come together to discuss the everyday operations of the school (Winn & Blanton, 2005).   The evolution of professional learning communities began with teachers wanting to work alone in isolation from the other teachers (Goodlad, 1984; Hord, 2008; Rosenholtz, 1989).  Teachers valued their autonomy in the classroom and viewed it as a valuable asset.  The idea of autonomy in the classroom carried the idea that teachers should be able to do and say what they felt was in the best interest for student learning; using the knowledge they held about their students and using that information to teach their students accordingly. Working collaboratively meant letting go of some of the teacher’s classroom autonomy (Stefanou, Perencevich, DiCintio & Turner, 2004).  As time progressed and the field of education continued to develop teachers began to explore the concept of team teaching and open classrooms (Hord, 2008).  This new concept emerged a feeling of confliction when faced with the decision of whether are not to participate in team teaching.  Teachers felt a professional responsibility to hold on to their classroom autonomy however, they also felt maintaining the right to do as they pleased when the classroom door was closed came at a price of being forsaken by their peers (Stengel, 2010).

Initially a summons for help with special needs children, shared responsibility or school-based consultation was the first form of what would later be referred to as team teaching which would eventually prove to be beneficial to the learning process (Conn, 2010; Hae-Won, 2015; Welch, Brownell, & Sheridan, 1999).  The initial intent for this shared responsibility was to bring educators together who possessed unique backgrounds and expertise to help students with special needs and disabilities succeed academically (Welch et. al., 1999).  The initiative was later discovered to have had a positive impact on the development of the teachers involved and students learned more with multiple teachers in the classroom (Baeten & Simons, 2016; Metzger, 2015; Welch et. al., 1999).  As teachers began to communicate with one another and discuss the needs and wants in the classroom they began to build a bond that proved to be valuable in improving the morale amongst the teachers (Hord, 2008).  Teachers were giving and receiving ideas that were useful in the classrooms causing them to build levels of trust with one another, letting go of the days of keeping all the successful teaching methods a secret.

After observing an increase in academic achievement for the students and an increased sense of confidence in the classroom for teachers; teachers began to collaborate more with one another.  The method of coming together to collaborate developed into what is commonly known as professional learning communities (Hord, 2008).

Concepts of professional learning communities now.  With high expectations of student achievement in the general education classroom and the special needs classroom, understanding how teachers learned became a focal point, hence the term professional learning.  Often, districts required teachers to meet and collaborate with one another to come up with ideas that would possibly evoke change in the field of education; those mandated meetings often resulted in artificial results and understanding in the operations of the school (Johnson & Altland, 2004).  This could have been due to the notion that educators were viewed as nonessential proponents to the field of education and those who held all the answers to solving the problems in education were state departments of education, textbook publishers, and legislation (Johnson & Altland, 2004).  Teachers are professionals who have an understanding of how children learn.  Children learn by observing, listening, experimenting, sharing, collaborating, and reflecting (Holt, 2009; Kalish, Kim, & Young, 2012; Kilpatrick, Swafford, & Findell, 2001; Miller & Gildea, 1994).  Teachers learn in a similar fashion; they learn through experimentation, examination, reflections, and collaboration (Buitink , 2009; Johnson & Altland, 2004; Kennedy, 1991).  The major concept of teacher growth is evident in professional development.  Often times teachers perceive themselves to be great teachers and feel they do not need to grow and if growth is to be obtained it is to be obtained on their own (Wenzlaff  & Wieseman, 2004), not realizing that most of their learning is obtained through their interactions with others, whether the learning is obtained through their students or their peers.

The social learning theory.  The Social Learning Theory states learning takes place in a social context which would support teachers growing professionally in a professional learning community.  Learning is a social experience whereby humans learn from each other via observation, modeling, and imitation, otherwise known as the social learning theory (SLT) (Bandura, 1977).  The SLT is rooted in the theory of constructivism that expounds that of the many realities that exist in the world, there are an equal amount of impalpable constructs that exist within each individual from their own everyday life experiences (Pella, 2011).   The SLT suggested that humans observe other humans being rewarded for behaviors thus having the ability to shape how humans behave.  In the field of education, teachers are being rewarded on a constant basis; receiving plaques when their class has performed well on standardized tests, being recognized as teacher of the year, being paid based on performance, as well as receiving promotions.  Having common values and goals of student achievement places teachers in a position that warrants observing and imitating teachers who have been recognized as “model” teachers because they achieve results from their students.  Social Learning Theory bestowed a “theoretical approach that integrates cognitive aspects and social effects of learning” (Watson, 2013).  Self-efficacy promoted a willingness to innovate and a sense of self-confidence (Bandura, 1977).  Based on the idea that when individuals believe they can achieve a goal they are more likely to succeed, this notion applies to teachers who exhibit high levels of self-efficacy, they display positive behaviors which in turn generates student achievement (Bandura, 1978 and Watson, 2013).  The core components of SLT are observational learning and mental modeling of behaviors that have been observed (Watson, 2013).  As time progressed, teachers who had observed behaviors, constructed and reconstructed, and produced and reproduced behaviors that fit their teaching style and classroom began to practice comfortable and proven methods routinely (Bandura, 1977; Bandura, 1997; Lortie, 2002; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Cuban, 2009; and Wake, 2011).  Every organization needed communities of practice; a community of individuals who were not bound by their titles, but rather their participation (Wenger, 1998).  Individuals learned more when they were participating in an activity, rather than developing best practices and sharing them with one another (Wenger, 1998).

Senge (1994) contended a learning organization as an environment with a group of individuals who share a common vision and continuously work to augment their skills and capabilities.  At the heart of the learning organization are five disciplines that if practiced, will develop into lifelong learning and never-ending development for the individuals participating (Senge, 1994).  The five disciplines asserted by Senge (1994) are: (a) Personal Mastery: the willingness to change our personal perceptions in order to achieve a goal that is desired; (b) Mental Models: the act of considering how our views of the world shape our actions and the decisions we make on a daily basis; (c) Shared Vision: establishing a culture of shared commitment and using that shared vision to establish principles to operate by within the group; (d) Team learning: renouncing individual talents and abilities to think and learn as a group; and (e) Systems Thinking: identifying the most effective way to change the system in a manner in which the bigger picture is preserved.  In order to effectively practice a discipline, one must have an understanding of the world around them; once an individual begins to practice new techniques, develop proficiency, and expands their perceptions, they begin to let go of “old ways” and take hold of the new ideas and methods.

So too in our organizations today, learning is too important to leave to chance. It               will not be adequate to offer training and hope that people will be able to apply               new insights and methods.  Nor will help from consultants be sufficient to bring               about the fundamental shifts in thinking and interacting and the new capabilities               needed to sustain those shifts. It will be necessary to redesign work if the types of               ideas developed above are to find their way into the mainstream of management               practice. (Kofman & Senge, 1993, p. 18)

Senge (1994) articulated that he envisions learning organizations to be individuals who stand together to create a type of organization where people would truly like to work and thrive in a world of increasing interdependency and change; in a learning organization, people will be able to dialogue, creating a bond that will allow them to think creatively and invent new realities and build a deep connections that allow them to bring those new realities into actions.

The 21st century skills paradigm has focused on the achievement of the students of the 21st century.  Skills that are vital for the 21st century students consist of collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving; these skills are considered to be vital in order for students to be successful in the world today (Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, 2010). Along with the United States Department of Education, the Partnership for 21st century skills has created a paradigm that illustrated how to achieve student success; at the epicenter of the framework, lies the core subjects and 21st century skills which includes reading, math, science, and social studies, however it also included global awareness, financial and economic literacy, health literacy, civic literacy, and environmental literacy.  Surrounding the core subjects and 21st century skills were; (1)learning and innovation skills, which are skills that set those students who are prepared for the innovative world we live in today from those who are not prepared; those skills included creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, and communication and collaboration; (2) life and career skills, which included flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility; (3)information, media, and technology skills, which included information literacy, media literacy, and information/communication literacy (Partnership for 21st century skills, 2011).  The support system that makes the above possible consisted of curriculum and instruction, professional development, and learning environments (Partnership for 21st century skills, 2011).

Disciplines and key components of PLCs.  Being able to see the educational system as a whole is very vital to the function of a professional learning community.  By understanding the system the individuals within the system can begin to make changes and as they make changes they cause a series of events to take place which can ultimately have a positive impact on the field of education (Senge, 1994; Thompson, Gregg, & Niska, 2004).  As other parts of the system began to become affected and changes begin to take place individuals and groups can begin to recognize patterns in the system allowing them to become proactive rather than being reactive when determining actions to take to meet the needs of the school system (Thompson et. al., 2004).

Several key components have been found to be the foundation of a successful professional learning community.  A shared vision and a set of shared values is important to operating a successful professional learning community (Feger & Arruda, 2008; Huffman, 2003; PSEA, n.d.; Senge, 2008; Raines, 2009).  Organizations that intend to thrive and prosper have a vision and a set of core values that remain unchanged as the actions and practices of the organization tend to adjust as the world around everyone changes (Collins & Porras, 1996).  Having the ability to maintain the substance of the core values will allow organizations to develop a sound vision for the organization (Collins & Porras, 1996).  In order to develop the core values that should never change, the organization must be able to develop a vision (Collins & Porras, 1996; Huffman, 2003).  The development of the vision for the organization requires having core ideologies and an envisioned future (Collins & Porras, 1996).  The core ideology defines what the organization stands for and what they believe; whereas the envisioned future outlines the future aspirations of the organization (Collins & Porras, 1996). In having a core ideology, the organization must be clear on the principles they wish to abide by for the duration of the organization.  In order to develop the principles that the organization will abide by, the organization must know its’ purpose or its’ reason for being (Collins & Porras, 1996).

The purpose of education has evolved slightly as the world has evolved; in 1934 the purpose of education was to ensure that young people were equipped with the tools to function in society (Dewey, 1934); in 1948 the purpose of education remained the same as it was in 1934 however, society realized the youth needed to learn to become critical thinker, so the purpose expanded to include creating critical thinkers who could function in society (King, 1948); in 1957 the purpose of education remained the same however the terminology began to change, instead of helping the youth become critical thinkers, the purpose of education was to provide development for the youth to maintain quality function in society (ASCD, 1957); in 1964 the vocabulary of the educational purpose began to shift, the purpose was to begin creating a learning society instead of a literate society (Ammons, 1964); in 1991 the purpose of education was restated as “…to develop the intellect, to serve social needs, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective work force, to prepare students for a job or career, to promote a particular social or political system” (Foshay, 1991).  Knowing the purpose of education can assist leaders in facilitating the development of the school vision which will ultimately shape the core values.  When a school discovers where they see the future heading, they can begin to develop core values that are intrinsic in nature and will act as guiding principles for the organization.  The values that are developed should act as a moral compass to each individual who is employed in the organization.  The development of shared values and vision create what is known as a school culture (Roberts & Pruitt, 2009).

Collective learning is an important component to a successful professional learning community (Castelijns, Vermeulen & Kools, 2013; Feger & Arruda, 2008; Lawson & Lorenz, 1999). The operation of a successful professional learning community involves having members who value the opportunity to obtain a wealth of knowledge (Castelijns et. al., 2013; Thompson et. al., 2004).  In essence it is the key component in the collective learning process.  As an individual, one may be able to achieve much; however, as a collective group individuals can achieve much more (Castelijns et. al., 2013).  Many professional learning communities can damage a professional learning community by confusing the concept of collective learning with individual learning.  There is a strong possibility that in a collective setting there could still be only individual learning taking place.  The idea that a group learns together simply by being paired together is faulty; an individual player on a baseball team can miss a ground ball and quickly realize that his glove was not on the ground and adjust his action to not make the mistake again, even though baseball is a team sport the only person who would have learned anything from the missed ground ball was the individual who was involved in that particular play; so the notion that being together make learning collective is false.  An adapted definition of collective learning is that it must

… involve both (1) a ‘‘collective process,’’ which may include acquiring new knowledge through diverse actions (e.g., trial and error), assessing information and disseminating new knowledge or opportunities across individuals in a collective, and (2) ‘‘collective products’’ that emerge from the process, such as new shared ideas, strategies, rules, or policies (Gerlak & Heikkila, 2011, p. 623).

In a collective learning environment, the individuals in the groups speak the same language; they depend on one another for shared knowledge (Lawson & Lorenz, 1999).  The diversity of the group will tend to bring more knowledge to the group. This is why the structure of a collective learning environment and group is important to the learning process.  Many researchers attest that the structure of the collective should illuminate the possibilities for the group members to share their knowledge with one another and this act as the source of learning (Gerlak & Heikkila, 2011).  The focus of collective learning in a professional learning community is to increase teacher performance and student achievement (Castelijns et. al., 2013).

Within the shared or collective learning group, the members of the group need to establish a group vision; there needs to be a set focus for the group (Castelijns et. al., 2013; Senge, 1994).  As collective learners the individuals in the collective learning group independently collection information then they come together to interpret the information collected; after interpreting the information presented to the collective group; the group must then come up with actions to demonstrate the knowledge obtained from the information collected; finally after demonstrating the knowledge obtained the collective learning group must then reflect on their practices and make repeat the learning cycle as needed until the purpose is fulfilled (Castelijns et. al., 2013).

While it is important for the members of the professional learning community to; (1) understand the system of education; (2) have shared visions and values; (3) have a personal desire to continue learning as they grow in their profession; and (4) have the aspirations to learn as a group collectively, it is equally important to have a shared sense of leadership (Thompson et. al., 2004; Senge, 1994; Erkutlu, 2012; Gillespie & Mann, 2004).   Share leadership is defined as the influencing of collective group members on one another (Clarke, 2013; Muethel, & Hoegl, 2013; Pearce, Conger, & Locke, 2007).  In an independent professional organization such as education, the concept of shared leadership is seen as a give and take relationship.  This is not to be confused with teamwork; in a team the members are in constant communication with one another in a collective effort to achieve a mission, the responsibilities and contributions of the group members are balanced, and the team members are supportive in the efforts of the other team members (Andrews & Crowther, 2002; Hoegl & Gemuenden, 2001).  In the field of education the term that is often used to reflect parallel leadership; “…parallel leadership manifests differently in different situations, reflecting both the wide range of contexts in which schools are located and the diversity of personal qualities and philosophical orientations which practicing educators brought to their work” (Andrews & Crowther, 2002, p. 5).  Parallel leadership is defined as a process where principals and their teachers in the building work together to build magnitude (Andrew & Crowther, 2002).  The key components to ensuring the success of parallel leadership are; (1) mutual respect; (2) shared purpose; (3) allowance for individual expression (Andrews & Crowther, 2002).

The shared leadership theory denotes that in an organization that operates under the theory of shared leadership, there are roles each individual plays on a daily basis (Clarke, 2013; Muethel & Hoegl, 2013).  The individuals will either act as a leader, follower, or in relationship to one another.  The leader role in shared leadership is not one of a dictator but rather one of service; the “leaders” will offer ideas and thoughts that will be perceived by the “follower” as assistance and ultimately received and used in the manner in which the “follower” wanted; this allows the “follower” to maintain the concept of autonomy (Muethel & Hoegl, 2013).  The perspective of the leaders is one that intends to influence the decision making of others.  This individual normally assumes the responsibility of the teams’ outcome (Muethel & Hoegl, 2013).  The perspective of the follower is one that receives the influences of the leaders as a favor and then believes that the favor should be reciprocated (Muethel & Hoegl, 2013).  However, because the individuals in the learning community value the ability to make decisions based on their own professional knowledge they appreciate being able to act of their own free will.  This notion solidifies that the influence being received by the follower cannot be viewed as manipulation but rather assistance.

The leaders in the school building are paramount in building the school culture.  The leaders build trust amongst the employees.  When trust has been built among the faculty and staff, the individuals feel safe participating in creating a vision and set of values to honor, trust provokes the community members to work harder, and share the knowledge with one another.  The establishment of trust fosters an environment that invites shared leadership.  “Within professional learning communities, the traditional role of omnipotent principal has been replaced by a shared leadership structure. In such a model, administrators, along with teachers, question, investigate, and seek solutions for school improvement” (Morrissey, 2000, p. 5).

Transformational and transactional leadership.  At one point in time leadership was viewed as a position of authority and those who occupied the position of leaders took one of two approaches; (1) the leader would rely solely on the fact that they are in a position of authority and expect all others to do as they were commanded because of this position; or (2) they relied on coercion to get those under their authority to do as they were instructed or expected to do (Bass, 1991).  The most common method used to lead a large group of individuals is explaining what the expectations are and the compensation that is connected with performing the expected tasks and duties as well as the consequences for not performing the expected tasks and duties.  The term used for this type of leadership is commonly referred to as transactional leadership (Bass, 1991; Lowe, Kroeck, & Sivasubramaniam, 1996).

Transactional leadership involves a transaction between the leaders and the followers, the leaders relay the job that is to be done and explain that there are positive and negative consequences attached to the completion or non-completion of the job.  The problem with this form of leadership is that it tends to stimulate mediocrity. Those who were following the leaders were prone to simply completing the task at hand without putting forth their best work.  This would leave the leader in a predicament of accepting mediocrity from those that followed them.

In the context of professional learning communities, leaders are expected to lead in a manner that promotes and supports shared leadership.  The type of leadership that would most typify the needed style of leadership would be transformational leadership (Bass, 1991; Lowe et al., 1996; Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006).    Transformational leadership is when the leader “…generates awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group” (Bass, 1991, p. 21).  Transformational leaders are usually charismatic in nature (Bass, 1991; Lowe et al., 1996; Stoll eta al., 2006).  There are four major characteristics that separate a transformational leader from a transactional leader.  Transformational leaders are (1) charismatic, they know how to persuade those who are following them to agree to the vision and mission that has been set forth, they also have the capability to foster mutual trust and respect among others; (2) inspiring, they inspire those who are following them to set and maintain high expectations in an effort to fulfill the purpose of the group, they explain all goals in a simplistic manner; (3) intellectually stimulating, they encourage those following them to think rationally when solving problems; and (4) considerate of every individual by giving them the attention that they need in relationship to giving advice and coaching them through tough tasks (Bass, 1991).  In a professional learning community a transformational leader could possibly be the reason a group succeeds or fails.

The principal’s role in a PLC.  As the leader of the school, principals have a responsibility to ensure that students are learning.  They are responsible for making sure the teachers are teaching as well as making sure the teachers are equipped with the knowledge and tool kit to delivery instruction in a manner that students will assimilate.  Research has determined that in a professional learning community it is important to have shared leadership however, it is also important to have good leadership to facilitate a successful professional learning community.

If students and teachers are going to be successful, the principal has to place learning at the center of every focus.  In most discussions held about education, student learning is the key focus; however the principal has to make sure there is a focus on adult learning as well. When a principal places a focus on adult learning they are in the mode of thinking like teachers (Fahey, 2013).  When principals think like teachers they understand that their adult educators have to maintain a knowledge base that will allow the teachers to use teaching strategies that are beneficial for the students in the classroom.  Principals have to portray themselves as the educator to the adults in the building.  The learning needs of the students in any given classroom will vary and the same holds true for the adults in any given school.  The principal has to be able to recognize the various needs of the adults in the school building in order to provide support in those various areas (Fahey, 2013).

As students grow in their learning, the manners in which students learn changes.  Students in the beginning of the year may need a lot of attention and one-on-one assistance but as the year progresses the students who needed a lot of on-on-one attention may not need as much anymore.  The nature in which an adults learning develops will change much like a students.  The constructive developmental theory of adult learning recognizes that adults are prone to try and make sense of the world around them and the experiences they have throughout life and while changing how they see the world as they age (Fahey, 2013).

Four qualities are important for a principal who strives to think like a teacher; (1) the principals must have a purpose; (2) they must be eager to learn themselves; (3) they must be clear on who they are as a learner; and (4) they must have courage (Fahey, 2013).  Principals must make their purpose clear to the staff and continual learning needs to be a part of the purpose.  The adults who are in the building will gravitate to the leader if their purpose is clear and they see the leader will never ask of them what they are not willing to do themselves, so if the leader expects that adults to continue learning and remain aware of how they learn the leader has to demonstrate their motivation to continuous learning and staying aware of their own learning needs.  Failure will happen to the best principals; however principals have to have the courage to rely on the support of their faculty and staff to participate in the shared leadership to develop new ways of making progress (Fahey, 2013).

Professional Development/Learning by way of PLCs.  Professional development and professional learning hold like definitions; they are defined as means to improving the effectiveness of educators in improving the academic success of students; this involves all members of the community working together to ensure the students are being served in a manner where their academic needs are being met on a daily basis in the classroom and in the school (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010; The Professional Learning Association, n.d.). Teachers have to have the ability to see the needs of their students and adjust their teaching styles and methods accordingly when needed (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995).  Professional learning communities consist of the stakeholders in the school and community whose goals align with those of the school; this includes all classroom teachers, resource teachers, special area teachers, media specialists, and counselors (DuFour et al., 2010; Murphy & Lick, 2005; Reeves, 2010).

Professional learning communities enhance the conventional forms of professional learning which consists of the traditional workshops, courses, or seminars where stakeholders listen to an acknowledged expert. Most teachers do not want to work alone and do want to be a part of something greater than just themselves (Honawar, 2008). Professional learning communities provide a more practical learning experience because it is a form of learning on the job (Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014). In the wake of NCLB, common core requires teachers to teach using more inquiry; however, there have been many teachers and experts complaining that there is not enough time to teach using inquiry-based instruction. The use of PLCs and collaborative planning can help teachers plan lessons while being time conscious as well as transform current standard activities into learning opportunities (Lewis, Baker, Bueno Watts, & Lang, 2014).

While PLCs have been researched and proven to be successful at; (a) increasing student achievement by refocusing teachers attention to student achievement and making it the core of a teachers job; (b) assisting teachers with making instruction more engaging; (c) highlighting discrepancies with teacher intentions and actual behaviors in order to make changes; and (d) meeting accountability mandates (Lalor, &Abawi, 2014; Lewis et al., 2014; Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014; Thessin, 2015) it is also effective at retaining teachers through the initial stages of their career (Rosenholtz & Simpson, 1990). However, if conducted incorrectly the learning community will yield no results (DuFour et al., 2010).  The focus of dialogue in PLCs should be curriculum, assessments, and instruction (DuFour et al., 2010). The manner in which PLCs are set up is just as important as the PLCs focus. There are several ways to structure the learning communities within a school:

  • By grade level: This learning community will consist of teachers who teach the same grade level. They may not necessarily teach the same content.
  • By course: These teachers will teach the same course. The teachers in this learning community may teach at the same grade level, which would be referred to as a horizontal learning community, because they teach the same course on the same level; or the teachers may teach different grade levels in which case this learning community would be referred to as vertical learning community, because they teach the same course on different levels.
  • By technology/media: This learning community may not be bound by location, because proximity is not a prerequisite for an effective learning community (DuFour et al., 2010).
  • Through an interdisciplinary model: This learning community may have teachers who hold no content or objectives in common, therefore their major focus and common interest will be the students. The learning community will work interdependently to achieve a particular goal.

Many ideas need to be taken into account when developing a PLC; there must be significant buy-in from all the staff, allotted time, and guiding principles (DuFour et al., 2010; Murphy & Lick, 2005; Hirsh, 2011; Reeves, 2010).  Experts have researched many schools and districts that have used PLCs and have evidence to support increases in student achievement (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011).

Developing a professional learning community.  The creation of professional learning communities is difficult and requires much cultural change (Honawar, 2008, p. 7). Therefore, it is important that the individuals who will be working together be acquainted with one another. The school has to have a culture of its own; just as cultures have social norms that govern behaviors of that culture, such as removing your hat to sing the Star Spangled Banner; the school has to have norms that shape how individuals interact with one another on a social level.

Collaborating and building relationships will diminish transactional distance, heighten educational experience (Dixon, Crooks, & Henry, 2006), and set the tone for interactions that will occur in the future (Wald & Castleberry, 2000). There are several ways for individuals to get acquainted; from creating nametags to standing and introducing themselves to the group. While everyone in the PLC is getting to know one another, they should get to know how each other perceive the process; what are their values, morals, and beliefs? This shapes how the individuals work together, and how they will eventually develop the vision, mission, and goal for their school after they have assessed the needs of the school. In order to understand what has to be done to address the needs of the school there must be a thorough evaluation of the school’s history (Microsoft Partner in Learning, n.d.). Wald and Castleberry (2000) suggest that every school has a story, and the stories of the past can help position the teachers to explore the future. Achievement data is one piece of history that could be explored to tell a story of a school; although Reeves (2010) believes that it can blind educators to a deeper focus since achievement data considers the data instead of the effect of or reason for the data. Once the history of the school has been evaluated, the current reality of the school needs to be assessed to begin determining the mission and vision of the school; all those who have a vested interest in the school have influenced the past and present conditions (Wald & Castleberry, 2000). Some researchers argue that common ground and clear priorities must be established regarding a school’s vision towards change (DuFour et al., 2010; Kruse et al., 1994; Louis and Marks, 1998; Microsoft Partners in Learning, n.d.; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995). During this time, the learning community needs to understand what forces have an influence on the school and the community, and how are they affected.  Forces that may affect a school or a community include language barriers, socio-economic status, family structure, and parental education level. Therefore, the question that needs to be asked at this stage is, “What are we doing right now to get where we want to go?” At this point, the learning community needs to determine what initiatives are taking place currently to achieve the desired goals.  The initiatives need to be actions that affect all the entire school.  All stakeholders need to benefit from the initiatives that are set in place by the school.  For example; to aid a school in which a large population of the students come from a low socio-economic background, one school initiative could be to provide a parent center that assists parents with finding and applying for jobs and colleges.

As the PLC is being established, the administration in the building should take this time to practice shared leadership so that teachers are convinced that the administration is not there to dictate and eliminate their autonomy but to support and facilitate. The reality is that teachers are the individuals in the classrooms teaching the students. Professional communities of learners, in which the whole faculty, including teachers and administrators, continuously share and act on their learning, improves student achievement (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011; Lumpe, Czerniak, Haney, & Beltyukova, 2012). Change is difficult for most individuals therefore teachers will meet change with the most resistance when there is not buy-in and the school’s vision has not been defined in a manner where all understand and can contribute to the goals set.

There is an old saying that we will eat when we get hungry, just as we make time for what is important. Opportunities for PLCs to meet must be clearly identified and scheduled if the concept is to be met with an open mind. Time may be difficult to find given the eclectic structures of the different schools, but just as learning time is built in the day for the students, teachers must be afforded the same opportunities.  At least 25 percent of an educators work time be dedicated to professional growth and learning, and that the school district should invest approximately 10 percent of the district budget to fund professional development (Killion & Roy, 2009).

Anything that is worth doing is also worth evaluating (Wilmore, 2013, p. 76). Improvement comes with feedback and conducting an evaluation of the PLC is the best way to continue to improve and identify best practices. Administration may choose to evaluate how well the learning communities are working together, their actions, and the outcomes that have been produced (Killion & Roy, 2009; Reeves, 2010). The perceptions of the learning community members will also need to be assessed to determine if the group collectively felt as though they obtained their goals of student achievement and/or school culture improvement.

In education, trends and practices get old and are replaced by new and improved “best practices”. The potential problem is that every time teachers attend a new workshop, listen to a new expert’s speech or read a new article that claims to have “figured it out”, the best practice that was just learned the week prior would soon be considered the “old way” of teaching and reaching the students. This cycle of old and new methods and best practices has the capability to exhaust both new and veteran teachers. Teacher burnout causes a loss in focus on the initial objective of improving student achievement (Reeves, 2010).

Sustainability of a professional learning community and professional development has proven to build trusting relationships among faculty (Darling-Hammond, 1999); changes the trajectory of teachers’ thinking from not only the importance of standards based instruction but to meeting the physical and emotional needs of the faculty in order to meet the needs of the students; causes professional transformations; changes the mindsets of individuals in education causing them to evolve professionally; reduce teacher absenteeism; strengthen teachers’ understanding of content knowledge; creates an environment where all individuals take a shared responsibility of the students’ growth; strengthen the commitment to the shared mission and goals of the school (Hord, 1997; Sheehy, et. al., 2015).  Professional development is still worth the effort and PLCs are an excellent way of achieving the goal of teacher learning. However, all parties involved have to always keep the student in focus.

Collaborative planning.  Collaborative planning has become an essential component of effective instruction. In an industry that is in the business of learning, the central mission of schools is to develop environments that promote learning (Tschannen-Moran, Uline, Hoy, & Mackley, 2000). Due to the current educational policies such as NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), classrooms have become more inclusive and teachers are now being held accountable for the learning of all students they teach for at least 65% of the school year (Lewis et al., 2014; Rimpola, 2014; Thessin, 2015). Although teachers are afforded the same opportunities in content experience in elementary schools, not all teachers hold the same level of expertise in every content area, making it necessary for teachers to collaborate and aid one another in lesson planning and profession growth (Lewis et al., 2014). It has been proven in many studies that individuals learn when engaged in collaborative work (Clark et al., 1996; Cook & Faulkner, 2010; Gill & Hoffman, 2009; Haverback & Mee, 2013; Helterbran, 2008; Rimpola, 2014; Riveros et al., 2012; Tschannen-Moran et al., 2000), and teachers learn from one another when planning collaboratively (Rimpola, 2014). In keeping with the concept that education is a business of learning, when teachers learn, the learning transcends to the students, the achievement gap begins to close, and student success is evident (Cook & Faulkner, 2010; Rimpola, 2014; Gill & Hoffman, 2009; Goddard, Goddard, & Tschannen-Moran, 2007; Haverback & Mee, 2013; Helterbran, 2008; Riveros et al., 2012). When collaborative planning is ongoing knowledge is distributed, and learning is social and situational (Tschannen-Moran et al., 2000).

While research has proven that collaborative planning is effective in professional growth and student achievement, collaborative planning can be destructive if not used appropriately.  Proponents of collaborative planning acknowledge that collaborative planning creates the opportunity for discussions that are pertinent to the development of pedagogical knowledge (Clark et al., 1996; Kotelawala, 2010).  However, others recognize cracks within the walls of collaborative planning.  Brand and Gaffikin (2007) note that while most scholars view collaborative planning as a blank slate of time, it is impossible to treat it in this manner.  Time in all locations and dimensions must be viewed in terms of its uniqueness.  As an example, Brand and Gaffikin (2007) described time allotment in this manner: ten seconds of an individual riding a bicycle through a polluted highway is different from ten seconds of an individual riding a bicycle in a nice park. The time of each individual was spent and experienced differently due to special circumstances and environmental circumstances. It was also pointed out that the scholars who are proponents of collaborative planning share a uniformed assumption of the mindset of humans in a very social world. The social world, however, is characterized by fragmentation, uncertainty, and complexity that often borders on chaos (Brand & Gaffikin, 2007). Roberts (2000) describes Collaborative planning has been described as an attempt to tame difficult problems by handing them over to experts or a group deemed capable of powering through the problem or issue at hand.  Scholars must be careful not to describe collaborative planning in a manner that paints a picture of perfection.

Collaborative planning will often fail, and it is how the individual parties react and respond to such failure that will determine how the group ultimately responds. When dealing with true issues in education, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to operate in a unilateral fashion to define and solve the issues (Roberts, 2000).  Few believe that social learning should happen in a self-organizing system that co-evolves as individuals meet and discuss one another’s actions (Brand & Gaffikin, 2007; Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014; Roberts, 2000). In the collaboration process, one has to acknowledge the limitations that hinder planners from planning effectively; lack of knowledge, resources, and information make for an unrealistic expectation that a group of experts or educators can come up with a single most exact resolution to solve any problem (Klosterman, 1999).

Using the strategy of collaborative planning to increase student achievement does not have to have a name or title; it simply needs to be a way of having teachers work together. In doing so, schools will meet the staff development standard of the NSDC in reference to professional development (2004). According to the NSDC, meeting regularly with colleagues to plan instruction is most effective when the teachers meet regularly during a regular time within the school day to accomplish tasks such as developing lesson plans, examining student work, monitoring student progress, assessing the effectiveness of their teaching, and identifying their professional needs (Murphy & Lick, 2005, p. 22). While collaborative planning may have its disadvantages, positive results can be yielded by training teachers in collaboration skills, consensus building, and conflict resolution (DuFour et al., 2010). Collaborative planning must be systematic in nature with teachers working together and interdependently. In doing so, teachers will reflect on how they approach the learning process with their students and make the necessary adjustments as needed to ensure the academic development of their students (DuFour et al., 2010; Murphy & Lick, 2005; Rimpola, 2014).

Four day school week.  Since as early as 1936, school districts have been implementing four-day school weeks; the main purpose was to reduce operating costs (Anderson & Walker, 2013; Beesley & Anderson, 2007; Daly & Richburg, 1984; Dam, 2006; Darden, 2008; Dixon, 2011; Donis-Keller & Silvernail, 2009; Duchscherer, 2011; Grau & Shaughnessy, 1987; Hewitt & Denny, 2011; Sangness & Salzman, 1993;). Through the years, researchers became interested in how the four-day school week affected student achievement. There have been mixed reviews of the effect the change has on student achievement. Many studies have been conducted that found student performance benefited from the adjusted school week (Grau & Shaughnessy, 1987; Toppo, 2002; Yarborough & Giman, 2006; & Turner, 2010). Each of the studies that proved to show growth in student achievement used standardized test scores to establish academic growth. Anderson and Walker (2013) contest that there are a couple of factors that can contribute to the growth of student achievement (a) teachers’ attitude; (b) extra time to plan lessons that are relevant and catered to the students’ needs; (c) reduced teacher absenteeism (Beierlein, Gibson, & Tibbs, 2011; Donis-Keller & Silvernail, 2009); and (d) teachers’ favorable attitude towards the four-day school week. When the effects of the change in the school week have a positive effect on the behaviors of the teachers and students, it is reasonable that there would be growth in student performance (Ehrenberg, Ehrenberg, Rees, &Ehrenberg, 1991; Shoemaker, 2002). However, in the initial phases of implementing the four-day week schedule, it may be difficult for teachers and students to adjust to the shortened week which would cause stress on both the students and teachers (Chamberlain & Plucker, 2003). Others declared that changing to a four-day school week rendered no significant change (increase) in student achievement (Anderson & Walker, 2013; Daly & Richburg, 1984; Feaster, 2002; Hewitt & Deny, 2011; Lefly & Penn, 2009; Sagness & Salzman, 1993).

Although there are notably many positive outcomes from changing over to a four-day school week, experts have notated some drawbacks (a) special needs students may find it harder to retain information; (b) parents finding daycare for children on the off day; and (c) possibly longer school years (Beasley & Anderson, 2007; Feaster, 2002). Others have also noted that once a district or school changes over to a four-day school week model, it is hard to go back as well as manage the budget (Donis-Keller & Silvernail, 2009).

Many of the school districts that have identified disadvantages to using the four-day school week model, they have also noted that the positive effects of the four-day school week supercede the disadvantages (Anderson & Walker, 2013; Feaster, 2002; Grau & Shaughnessy, 1987).

Limitations and Disadvantages of Professional Learning Communities

Professional learning communities can be seen as a team of educators and stakeholders who have come together for a common goal; to improve the academic achievement of students.  However, as with all teams, there is the possibility of malfunction.  The possibilities of malfunction are higher because the teams are made up of imperfect human beings (Lencioni, 2013).  There are several reasons why teams often fail to function cohesively.  The first cause of a failed team could be a lack of trust (Lencioni, 2013).  When team members do not feel safe to share their flaws and limitations with the group, it prevents the team from growing as a unit.  It causes them to be fearful of discussing their mistakes thus never asking for or receiving help from the team.   A lack of trust will also cause the team members to question one another’s commitment to the team (Lencioni, 2013).  In a team of individuals who are used to working in isolation for the majority of the day, a lack of trust can also cause the team members to become unnecessarily competitive with one another which will ultimately lead to conflict. Without trust among the team members any conflict that does arise will not get addressed because the team members will fear having crucial conversations with one another to address concerns (Lencioni, 2013).

In a team of imperfect human beings there lies the possibility of a lack of commitment.  Often times the team members will want everyone to agree on decisions that have to be made.  In a team of individuals who have their own perceptions and ideas this may prove to be impossible. When people fail to come to a consensus they may fail to commit to a decision or even reach a decision (Lencioni, 2013).

Lack of commitment can lead to lack of accountability (Lencioni, 2013).  When no one in the group commits to a decision that has to be made or has been made, when the decision is found to not have been the best decision, no one will take responsibility.  Because there is a lack of trust the team members may also feel fear of holding one another accountable for fear that it will cause unwanted conflict (Lencioni, 2013).

All of these malfunctions lead to the ultimate inattention to the results (Lencioni, 2013).  In a team where the team members do not trust one another; no one is committed; the team members fear conflict; and no one takes accountability or holds anyone else accountable; it leads to no one caring about the success of the team because everyone is focused on protecting the interest of themselves (Lencioni, 2013).

Professional learning communities are much like teams; however professional learning communities have key components that if not implemented appropriately can cause professional learning communities to operate in dysfunction or to not operate at all.  Weber (2011) outlined five dysfunctions of a professional learning community while Provini (2013) outlined the causes of a failed professional learning community; (1) lack of norms; (2) lack of goals; (3) lack of trust; (4) lack of communication; and (5) lack of essential learning outcomes; (6) insufficient time to access data in order to make decisions; (7) lack of time for teachers to meet with one another; (8) lack of teacher buy-in and participation; (9) the perception that the teachers are being told what to do by the administrators; and (10) an established culture where teachers still view themselves as an isolated entity and competitors rather than teammates.

Ultimately the failure of a professional learning community is caused by the staff members’ reluctance to change, the inability to obtain the resources necessary to make a professional learning community operate in the manner in which research says it should work, and the affect policies and budgets have on the infrastructure of a school (Provini, 2013).   While research has proven that professional learning communities are a way to improve student achievement, it can be unsuccessful if those who are leading the professional learning communities do not acknowledge the constraints that teachers face (Tarnoczi, 2006).

Summary

In the wake of NCLB, ESEA, ESEA Flexibility Waivers, and ESSA, it is important that teachers are continuing the learning process in an effort to improve student achievement.  Research contends that professional learning communities are a viable method to increasing student achievement and teachers performance (DuFour et al., 2010; Hirsh, 2011; Lalor, & Abawi, 2014; Lewis et al., 2014; Lomos et al., 2011; Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014; Murphy & Lick, 2005; Reeves, 2010; Thessin, 2015).  There are several components to professional learning communities that must be incorporated appropriately in order for professional learning communities to be effective in improving student and teacher performance.  One of the major factors that determines whether professional learning communities are successful is time (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011; Schachter, 2015).  The faculty must be afforded the time to participate in professional learning communities.  Research attests that professional learning communities often fail due to lack of teacher buy-in, poor infrastructure, and lack of resources such as time (Provini, 2013).

Chapter 3: Research Method

In the research method chapter of this study, the research method was defined by the appropriate protocols and procedures of what has been documented as well developed qualitative case-study research.  The chapter includes the selection of participants, the materials and instruments used, the collection of data, processing of data, and analysis of data, the assumptions, limitations, delimitations, and the ethical assurances for the study.  This chapter will conclude with a summary.  The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students using a purposive sampling method.  After carefully reviewing the related literature, the overarching question of this study was: What do teachers in the state of Georgia perceive as an adequate amount of time for collaborative planning and professional development to expound upon their pedagogy in order to make a positive impact on student achievement in Georgia elementary schools?  The research questions were:

Q1.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth?

Q2.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement?

Research Methods and Design

To address these questions and gain insight into a phenomenon, a qualitative case study method was chosen. A case study is “…an observational method that provides a description of an individual.  This individual is usually a person, but it may also be a setting such as a business, school, or neighborhood” (Cozby, 2012, p. 121).  A case study can also be described as “an exploration of a ‘bounded system’ or a case (or multiple cases) over time through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information rich in context” (Creswell, 1998, p. 61).  Case studies are intended to explore in depth some phenomenon such as an event, person, or program (Gall, Borg, & Gall, 1996).  A case study, as defined by Yin (2003) is “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context; when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used” (p. 13). Case studies analyze limited numbers of events, and their relationships (Yin, 2003, p. 13).  Yin (2003) also explains the use of “what”, “how” and “why” questions; stating that “what” questions are usually used in exploratory case studies (p. 5) while “how” and “why” questions are explanatory questions which are used in case studies (p. 6).  When the researcher is studying contemporary events in which they have little to no control and the boundaries between context and phenomenon are unclear, a case study is the preferred research method (Yin, 2003).  The issue of professional learning and time is a real-life issue that the researcher has no control over.  By using a case study, the researcher was able to gain a greater understanding from information that was uncovered through research. There were three different advantages for using a case study method: (a) the analysis of the data was done within the context of its use; (b) the researcher was able to obtain qualitative and quantitative data through the variety of approaches available such as intrinsic, instrumental, and collective; and (c) the detailed qualitative accounts aided in describing the data in a real world context; not all information could be obtained from surveys and experiments (Yin, 2003). The intent of the researcher was to obtain the perceptions of elementary teachers in their natural context.  The unit of analysis was the perception of 17 teachers in Richmond County of Georgia regarding the appropriate time for collaborative planning and professional development. The researcher also conducted direct observations and collected specified documentation from each site.

The interview questions provided a means for the researcher to obtain information on the perceptions of educators in the school district as it related to collaborative planning and professional development, and its relationship to teacher accountability and student achievement. Responses to these questions offered insight to whether educators in the district believed enough time was put into collaborative planning and professional development and whether or not they believed it had an impact on their teacher accountability rating.  In addition, in answering these interview questions, the researcher was able to comprehend the feelings of the teachers about the atmosphere and attitude of the school districts as presented by the teacher participants.

Yin (2003) offers four tests that assist in establishing the quality of case studies; (a) construct validity; (b) internal validity; (c) external validity; and (d) reliability.  Construct validity is about knowing how to conduct the study (2003).  In an effort to decrease the threat to the construct validity, the researcher gathered many different forms of data from different sources.  Data from interviews and direct observations were collected from 17 participants as well as documentation from the sites visited.  Triangulation was created when the researcher took the time to collect data from multiple origins providing different forms of evidence to either support or deny their claim (Yin, 2003).  A chain of evidence was established by making the research, research process, data, evidence, and conclusions available to any third party evaluator or observer (Yin, 2003).  To further reduce the threats to construct validity, before all data and evidence had been analyzed, rough drafts of the reports and transcripts from interviews were given to the participants of the research study prior to the publishing of the study.  To strengthen the internal validity, during the data analysis the researcher used a pattern matching strategy to address issues of concern towards inferences made in the case study to ensure the study is sound (Yin, 2003).  The test of external validity dealt with whether the study’s results could be said to be true for other similar situations; could general statements be made (i.e. all cats have whiskers) (2003).  It was the intent of the researcher that the findings would be generalized to the literature and conceptual frameworks of professional learning communities.  Reliability of the design tests whether the study can be repeated after making the necessary adjustment to remove any errors or bias and still come to the same conclusion and receive the same results (2003).  The researcher reduced the threat to reliability by following the case study protocol.  The researcher clearly outlined the problem and purpose of the study, how current studies aligned with the focus, a description of how data was collected, the questions related to the case study, and a guide for the case study report (Yin, 2003).

In an effort to keep all documentation and data collected organized, the researcher made use of a case study database (Yin, 2003).  Baxter and Jack (2008) insist the use of a database will improve the reliability of the case study.  A database helped the researcher organize and keep track of data sources as to make them readily available in case of future need (Baxter & Jack, 2008).

In taking the steps to conduct a qualitative case study, the researcher attempted to get very personal in the approach that was being taken, a quality that is prevalent in a case study research (Stake, 1995).  Also, because the nature of a qualitative case study was personal, the interaction between the researcher and the participant was distinctive and therefore it was difficult to replicate, therefore the quality of the study should not be based on its replication, but rather on whether the meanings obtained from the study were valuable (Stake, 1995).  As the study began, the researcher hoped to identify and develop themes and concepts that would cause the study to be enhanced along the way.  The qualitative study was not conducted with the mindset to discover or uncover any truths; rather the researcher was attempting to gain insight.  This allowed the researcher to alter the research methods as new concepts were developed.  The main focus of the researcher was to identify; (1) how teachers felt about the capacity of professional learning in their district; (2) how teachers viewed the amount of time they are currently being allotted with the standards they are being held to by the GaPSC; (3) what teachers viewed as areas of improvement in the districts professional learning plan; and (4) how teachers felt the expectations of professional learning have been disseminated throughout the district.  In an effort to induce candor, the interview questions were open-ended.  This qualitative case study hopefully gave a voice to the teachers in the targeted county on the concept of professional learning, professional learning communities, teacher accountability, and student achievement; that quality alone made for a meaning case study (Meyer, McMillan & Northfield, 2009).

Population

The population for this study involved PK-5 teachers in public school systems in Richmond County, Georgia.  All teachers were aware of the role teacher accountability plays on their career and the components that contribute to their accountability and student achievement.  The district had implemented or attempted implementation of Professional Learning Communities as well as implemented or attempted to implement a four-day school week.  The unit of analysis was the perception of the teachers who currently work in this school district as it relates to the implementation of professional learning communities and four-day school weeks.  Richmond County school district is comprised of 32,426 students occupying 56 schools, 33 of which service elementary age students (PK-5). Approximately 96.8% of these students qualified for free and/or reduced lunch.  There were currently over 2,300 certified employees and approximately 73% of them held advance degrees.  All teachers in Richmond County are required to be state certified and must renew their certificates every five years with professional learning units.  Professional learning units show the continual effort to grow as an educator to maintain pedagogical knowledge.

Sample

The researcher used a judgment sampling technique, also known as the purposive sampling technique, to select the 17 participants from the district via an invitation to participate via email (Appendix C) (Coviello & Jones, 2004; Marshall, 1996). The selection of participants were typical case-based (Ritchie, Lewis, Nicholls, & Ormston, 2013). The sampling units were selected because they typified the phenomenon under consideration (Ritchie et al., 2013). The participants targeted for this study were all most likely familiar with the concepts that the researcher was investigating; therefore, a purposive sampling technique was most appropriate for this case study. The purposive sampling of participants was based on whether teachers (a) had experienced working in a four-day school week school; (b) participated in a PLC; and (c) had participated in collaborative planning.  These criteria were important to the purpose of this qualitative study which was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.    Therefore, the teachers who were chosen to participate were employees of Richmond County school district in Georgia who participated in professional learning communities and/or four-day school weeks.  The district indicated participated in PLCs and/or modified school weeks.  The sample size of 15 was chosen because as indicated by Guest et al. (2006), 15 should be the smallest sample size for all qualitative research because any sample smaller than this would not be considered sufficient (Baškarada, 2009) and the researcher is not likely to gain any new information after the 20th interview (Green & Thorogood, 2009); however the researcher continued to interview participants until data saturation had occured.  The act of data saturation occurred when no new themes had been identified by the participants (Francis, Johnston, Robertson, Glidewell, Entwistle, Eccles, & Grimshaw, 2010).  The researcher had however established a minimum number of participants and protected the content validity as long as data saturation was allowed to occur (Francis et. al., 2010).

To solicit participants, the researcher sent an email (Appendix D) to the superintendent of the district requesting permission to contact principals in the district to request permission to solicit participant for the qualitative case study.  Once the researcher had obtained permission to contact the principals, the researcher then requested permission from the principal (Appendix E) to contact the teachers in the school building to request participation in the case study.  After permission from the principal had been granted the researcher sent an email to the teachers in the respective schools.  The email specifically stated the purpose of the request for participation, the reason they were selected to participate, and the duration of the case study.  The email informed the participants that they had the option to participate face-to-face or via telephone however; they were informed that all interviews would be recoded using an iPad or hand held voice recorder.  The first fifteen respondents from Richmond County were selected.  This provided the 15 participants needed to conduct the qualitative case study.  Two addition participants were selected to acquire saturation.

 Materials/Instruments

The researcher used semi-structured interviews (Appendix F) to acquire the necessary information needed to conduct the study, thus making the researcher an integral instrument in the qualitative case study.  The interviews conducted were used to conceivably answer the researcher questions that had been posed in the qualitative case study.  This interview approach was used because semi-structured interviews were well suited for exploring perceptions (Barribal & While, 1994; Fylan, 2005; Rabionet, 2011; Whiting, 2008).  In this type of interview approach, the participants were asked the same open-ended questions.  Doing so provided a rich amount of data that could be used to ascertain their viewpoints and opinions.  The purpose of the interview was to obtain an understanding of the individual experiences of the participants and the significance they had made of those understandings.  In order to conduct these interviews, a formal letter was drafted and sent to the appropriate representative in the respective school districts. Once permission is granted, the data for this study was collected through face-to-face or telephone interviews.  The semi-structured interview questions for this interview were open-ended and provided data that was led by constructs that were currently in place and rooted in the experience of the case study participants.  Each question adhered to the purpose of the qualitative case study.  Because the questions were open-ended, the researcher left room to ask follow-up questions when deemed appropriate or necessary.  An interview guide was followed to ensure all participants were asked the same questions.  In an effort to make sure all participants were comfortable and ready to participate in the semi-structured interview, the participants were allowed to arrange the date and time of their interview.  The semi-structured interview questions were validated with the assistance of three professionals who were well versed in the subject area of the case study and the proposed interview guide was used for field testing.  During field testing, if the experts believed the interview guide and or questions needed to be modified, the appropriate changes were made.  After the semi-structured interviews had been saturated, the researcher began the coding process of the semi-structured interviews.

The data was collected via telephone or recorded face-to-face interviews that were transcribed afterwards.  The researcher used the Nuance Dragon Professional voice recognition software, which was voted the best voice recognition software of 2016, to store transcripts of the interviews.  After researching many computer-based coding software, NVIVO11 was a quality fit for coding the interviews. The interviewees were assured of their privacy and they could indicate their refusal to participate at any time. Their data was considered confidential and was stored and available to only the researcher. Any unused data was destroyed after data analysis.

Observational data was also collected by visiting the elementary schools of the participants. To increase reliability, a colleague conducted direct observations alongside the researcher. The sites were observed as they conduct the process they identify as collaborative planning as well as professional development. Their behaviors were observed according to the seven standards of Professional Learning Communities along with the data collected during the interview process. Doing so increased the richness of the data as well as compared the perception of the teachers with their objective conditions.

Documentation was requested and collected from each site that was visited.  The documentation that was requested included Professional Learning Community protocol and policies, PLC meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes, and any survey data previously compiled from Professional Learning Community surveys completed by the individual sites.  The interviews, observational data, and documentation helped form triangulation. Given that the data derived from interviews with different individuals, this in itself provided triangulation through different sources. Moreover, the data derived from different methodologies allowed the researcher to provide more insight and a deeper understanding of the subject.  Collection from multiple sources also strengthened the credibility and reliability of the study (Yin, 2003).

The use of a cross-case synthesis was proposed for this qualitative case study.  This type of analysis is appropriate for the study because there is more than one case in the study (Yin, 2003).  Each participant and site provided information that was pertinent to the purpose and research questions of the qualitative case study.  Having more than two cases strengthen the findings of the study (Yin, 2003).

Data Collection, Processing, and Analysis

After obtaining the appropriate permission to contact the district’s schools, administrators, and teachers, the researcher sent out an email inviting teachers to participate in the case study.  The email detailed the purpose of the study as well as how much of the participants’ time was required.  The email also informed the participants of their rights to decline at any time as well as their privacy rights.  A separate email was sent to all those who were selected to participate in the study containing a consent form to use a handheld voice recorder for all interviews.  All participants were given the opportunity to indicate when and where they would like to conduct their interviews.  The participants need to feel comfortable in the interview environment in order to provide the researchers with open and honest responses.  After a schedule had been created, the researcher conducted the interviews one by one.  The day observation were conducted the participating site administrators were given a form (in hand or via email) indicating artifacts that need to be collected as additional data.  The administrators were also asked to schedule a separate date and time for the researcher and colleague(s) to return for the collection of observational data.  The following research questions were addressed using semi-structured interviews via phone and face-to-face;

Q1.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth?

Q2.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement?

The researcher interviewed 17 people from one district.  Once all interviews had been completed the researcher transcribed the contents.  All interviews and notes were transcribed using Nuance Dragon Professional voice recognition software.  Each participant had the opportunity to review the transcriptions prior to analysis.  To maintain anonymity the transcribed interviews were stored in Drop Box, a system of password protected files.  The semi-structured interviews were coded using NVIVO11.  After the interviews had been uploaded into NVIVO11, they were coded and analyzed for materialized themes.  Data obtained from the analysis was organized in accordance to their relationship to the research questions.

On a scheduled date and time the researcher and a colleague visited a particular school to observe the school’s version of a professional learning community.  The researcher and colleague used the seven Professional Learning standards to evaluate and observe each professional learning community in action.  The researcher also collected the requested artifacts on this day.  The researcher used a professional learning evaluation sheet to observe and evaluate each participating school on their capacity of professional learning (Appendix G).

After collecting the observational data from both the researcher and volunteering colleague on the professional learning evaluation, the researcher analyzed both sets of evaluations to identify the correspondences provided to related to the themes identified by NVIVO11; the listed documents that were collected served as artifacts and evidence to correlate with the responses from the interviews and evaluations.  Utilizing the emerging themes across the districts, the researcher then took the emerging themes that were populated from the NVIVO11 database and attempted to form triangulation by analyzing the data by related themes in relationship to the site’s observational data and documentation.  All data was further organized as it relates to the case study research questions.

Assumptions

The researcher assumed that all participants were open, honest, and committed to the qualitative case study research.  The researcher made every attempt to ensure all participants were aware that participation in the case study was completely voluntary.  The researcher assumed the participants may be reluctant to divulge negative information about their current workplace.  Therefore the researcher made every effort to reassure the participants of their anonymity and privacy.  The researcher assumed that all semi-structured telephone interviews will be conducted in an environment that is most comfortable for the participant.  The researcher assumed that all face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted at a location satisfying to the participant.  The location selection provided the participant the opportunity to meet with the researcher in a comfortable environment that provided a sense of openness.

Limitations

Four potential limitations were identified for this study:

  1. The study was conducted in one southern state.
  2. The state board of education receives federal grant money that supports the districts in their efforts of professional learning.  This may have pose as a limitation to the external validity of the study.   Due to the funding received by the federal government, the researcher may not have been able to generalize the findings across the educational field.
  3. The sampling type chosen for the study; the researcher had chosen to use a purposive sampling technique also known as a judgment sampling technique; this type of sampling techniques has the potential to select a sample that is favorable to the researchers view point (Kothari, 2004).  To mitigate this limitation, the researcher invited all teachers within the chosen district and the participants were picked based on a first come, first selected basis.
  4.   The researcher’s own bias; to prevent the researcher’s bias to pose as a threat to the study, the researcher adhered to a protocol that ensured all information from the semi-structured interviews were recorded and transcribed appropriately and the participants had the opportunity to review all of their interview transcriptions for accuracy.

Delimitations

This qualitative case study dealt with the perceptions of elementary teachers in reference to the amount of time they deem appropriate for professional learning, there were four delimitations:

  1. The researcher did not select participants who teach middle or high school
  2. The researcher denied the participation of administrators, board officials, and superintendents as this study evaluated teachers’ perceptions
  3. The researcher conducted a qualitative case study; therefore the researcher did not collect any quantitative data.
  4. The researcher maintained strict characteristics for the participants that were chosen to participate in the study; the study called for elementary teachers who work in Richmond County school district.  Any other elementary teachers who work in a district different from the district chosen were not of interest for this study

Ethical Assurances

In compliance with the Institutional Review Board (IRB), there was no recruitment, contact with potential participants, or collection of data prior to the approval of the IRB.  The ethical standards indicated that the study be conducted with an assessment of risks and benefits; when at all possible, the study was conducted where there was no known risk to the participants.  Each interview was conducted voluntarily, individually, and privately with the informed consent from each participant.  This reduced the amount of risk posed to the participants for any responses they gave during the semi-structured interview.  Also, all participants were provided anonymity and confidentiality.  The anonymity provided protection of identity for all elementary teachers who participated in the study.  All data and documentation was collected with respect to protecting the human subjects.  The Belmont report outlined several ethical principles that were adhered to throughout the case study;

  • Informed Consent- Every participant in the qualitative case study was given the right to determine what will and will not happen to them.  All participants were aware of the purpose of the case study as well as the potential risks and benefits and how the study was conducted.  The information was disseminated to the participants in writing in a manner that was understandable and was available in alternate languages when necessary.  Participation were voluntary and each participant was given the opportunity to ask questions about the study.
  • Assessment of Risks and Benefits- As the case study was structured; participation in the study posed no clear risk to the participants.  Because measures were taken to ensure anonymity and confidentiality, the participants stood to benefit from participating in the study.  Because the study was completely voluntary and anonymous, the participants could speak openly and honestly without fear of retribution.
  • Selection of Subjects- The principle of justice was adhered to through the selection of participants.  No participant was denied the opportunity to participate due to their age, sex, race, or religion.  The case study called for subjects with particular characteristics, however no one group of individuals benefited from the study while others suffer.

In this case study, the researcher took precaution to ensure that all participants remained anonymous and all data collected remained confidential.  All data was stored in a password protected data base called Drop Box.  Only the researcher had access to that database.  Once the study had been completed the researcher maintained access to the data collected and will continue to maintain access for a total of two years.

Summary

To address the questions of the study and gain insight into a phenomenon, a qualitative case study method was chosen.  The intention of the study was to allow the perceptions of elementary teachers to be heard with regard to the allotted time provided for professional learning.  There was an exploration and in-depth phenomenon of multiple cases over-time through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information rich in context (Cozby, 2012; Creswell, 1998; Yin, 2011).  The case study design allowed participants to answer semi-structured interview questions in an open-ended manner, which was consistent with a case study design (Yin, 2009).  Because the researcher had little to no control and the boundaries between context and phenomenon were unclear, a case study was the preferred research method chosen by the researcher (Yin, 2003).

Chapter 4: Findings

The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.  In this chapter, the data collected by participants using an interview tool as well as data collected using an observation rubric are presented.  The findings from the interviews are organized to correlate with the responses from the individual participants in response to the research questions.  The findings from the observation rubrics are organized to align with individual sites’ data obtained from the rubrics.

Trustworthiness of Data

The researcher collected the interview data obtained in this study.  A professional colleague assisted in collecting the observation data obtained in this study.  Participants were obtained on a voluntary basis.  The goal was to interview at least 15 participants, however after interviewing the fifteenth participant it was not believed that saturation had been achieved.  Two more participants were interviewed before the researcher was confident saturation had been achieved.  All 17 participants were given the option to choose the location of the interview.  All 17 participants agreed to being recorded during the interview.  Signed consent forms were collected on the day of each interview.  Participants knew the study was completely voluntary and they had the option to refuse to answer any question as well as end the interview at any time.  The interview questions in alignment with the research questions are represented in Table 1.

Table 1

Interview and Researcher Question Alignment

Introductory Questions Interview Questions
  What grade level do you currently teach?

How long have you been in the profession of education?

Have you ever worked in what would be considered the corporate field?

Did you participate in any form of professional growth in that field? (if an affirmative answer was provided for #3)

Research Question Interview Questions
How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth? Can you tell me about the methods used to obtain professional growth when new concepts are presented to elementary teachers?

Does (insert teacher’s county name here) have district-wide professional learning days?

When does (insert teacher’s county name here) generally conduct these professional learning days? (if an affirmative answer was provided for #6)

Is participation for these sessions mandatory?

Can you describe in as much detail as possible how leader expectations are presented to faculty and staff with regards to professional growth?

How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement? Does your current school participate in a professional learning community?

In as much detail as possible can you describe the schedule for professional learning that takes place in the building?

Can you tell me about the expectations on teachers to obtain professional learning?

Do the expectations affect teacher motivation to participate in professional learning? (if possible ask for examples)

With regards to professional learning what do you expect from your principal? Colleagues? Community? District? State?

Several methods of qualitative coding were used to analyze the data.  The researcher first transcribed all interview recordings and submitted them to the participants for their approval.  Once approval was received by the participants, the researcher organized all responses in an excel spreadsheet.  Responses were also organized in a Microsoft Word document with commentary included by the researcher.  This allowed the researcher to make anecdotal notes about responses from the interviews. These steps aided in triangulating the data which made the study more credible and trustworthy (Stake, 2010).

Results

Each participant was assigned a code to maintain anonymity; in random order the participants were coded as with the letter “P” (Participant) followed by a number.  The demographic makeup of the participants is represented in Table 2.

Table 2

Demographics and Background of Participants

Participant Grade Level Years of Experience Experience in Corporate PL
P1 4th 10 Yes
P2 K 20 No
P3 3rd 28 No
P4 5th 10 Yes
P5 2nd 22 Yes
P6 K-5th 30 No
P7 2nd 29 No
P8 3rd-5th 14 Yes
P9 K-5th 20 No
P10 1st-5th 4 No
P11 PK 1 Yes
P12 1st 2 No
P13 4th 16 No
P14 K 4 No
P15 PK 2 No
P16 K-5th 29 Yes
P17 5th 26 No

The data was ultimately uploaded into the NVIVO 11 Plus software.  “NVivo organizes raw data (interviews, observations, etc.) and links them with memos and “databites” where researchers might make codes and analytical notes, and then edit and rework ideas as the project progresses” (Walsh, 2003, p.253).  Data was analyzed and a variety of reports were created using the software.  The reports used for data analysis were created based on nodes that were identified based on the data entered into the NVIVO 11 Plus software.  The reports generated were: (a) auto-coded themes, (b) word frequency query, (c) tree map report, and (d) word cluster report.  There were twelve nodes that manifested from the interview responses obtained by the participants.  The nodes mark relevant concepts and topics in text documents that can be searched and analyzed (Walsh, 2003).

Table 3

Nodes Identified from Interview Data

Name References
Days 23
Grade 22
Growth 18
Learning 69
Level 18
Meetings 15
Planning 18
School 33
Student 17
Teachers 29
Time 30
Year 14

In an effort to visualize the word frequency from the key terms mentioned throughout the interview responses, a word cloud (see Figure 1) was created using the NVIVO 11 Plus software.  Each node was reviewed for relevancy to the research questions posed in the study.

Figure 1. NVIVO created word cloud to illustrate word frequency.

After further investigation of the nodes presented, themes began to emerge as they related to the research questions presented in the study.

Research Question 1.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth?  The first research question presented in the study was designed to identify how elementary teachers perceived the impact that current allotted collaborative planning time has on teacher growth.  Based on the individual interview data that was presented one of the major themes presented was professional learning and collaborative planning practices.               Professional learning and collaborative planning practices. Participants indicated district wide professional learning sessions are mandatory, and they are placed on a calendar prior to the beginning of the school year (P3, P4, P5, P7, P9, and P15).  During these mandatory professional learning sessions, information is presented face-to-face with an outside consultant or district professional learning instructor/facilitator (P1, P4, P6, P9, P12, P13, P16, and P17).  Participants are often informed by the principal or someone from district office in the curriculum department via email informing the desired audience when and where to show up for training; P1 indicated, “We are sometimes sent emails, stating that she wants us to participate in certain professional learning’s.”  Information is often received via group sessions with a guest speaker or through a facilitator using a PowerPoint; P12 stated, “We go to a school or central office and listen to someone talk to us and show us a PowerPoint.”  The interview data also revealed that professional learning sessions are generally held on days the students are out of school (P1, P9, P11, P12, P13, P14, and P16), usually before school starts for the year periodically throughout the year and at the end of year (P4, P3, P5, P6, P7, and P15) and even on some Saturday’s (P3, P9, and P11).

Lack of time. The second theme that emerged as related to research question one was lack of time. Teachers were very clear in their perception of the impact of the current allotted time to grow professionally and plan.  Participants responded with the following statements:

P1: There’s not enough time for it; it’s short and thrown at you

P2: Currently the collaborative planning time is too short. Teachers need at least an hour of uninterrupted collaborative planning in order for it to be effective.

P3: Based on conversations that I have had with other colleagues during my time in education; most elementary teachers don’t really consider the time we are allotted impactful. I mean, really let’s think about it, we get a planning period that is 45 minutes during connections, and at the end of the day we are busy waiting on busses to arrive.  So when do we really have time to collaborate with one another.

P4: Elementary school teachers are not allotted enough time for collaborative planning and professional development to be effective within the school.  There isn’t enough time in the day for teachers to get together and learn from one another.

P5: Elementary school teachers are not allotted enough time for collaborative planning and professional development to be effective within the school.  There just isn’t enough time to do it.

P6: In my opinion, there is not enough time provided for professional development from one skill/vendor to the next.  It is delusional to believe that several hours (4-8), will provide teachers with in-depth knowledge to implement let alone obtain a proficient level of success with new skill sets/vendors.

P7: Unfortunately, teachers do not get the appropriate amount of time needed to plan individually let alone collaboratively.  This year 2016-2017, the administrator in our building decided to rearrange the schedule to include an hour of collaborative planning for each grade level.  Teachers in the building were ecstatic!  Well, that was a joy short lived.  We quickly found out that this was just another way for the administrative staff to gain time to do meetings and staff developments with the teachers.  So, there is no real time to collaboratively plan.  I wouldn’t be so disappointed if the staff development was pertinent for me and my students.  Most of the things covered are to add more to the teacher’s plate and not relevant to what will benefit the students and their education.  However; grade levels are assigned one day a week to have a grade level meeting.   That hour is appointed for the teachers to go over notes that the grade chair receives from her grade level meeting with the administrators.  I have had many conversations with co-workers in and out of my school building and I’m hearing the same things from each of them.  We spend most of our “family time” doing our school work and things that could have been done during a planning block.  A “REAL” planning block.  Teachers do not have life outside of the building, if they are doing what is expected.  I know that I spend approximately 11 hours in the building each day and then I go home and work for another four or sometimes five hours.  This is something that I must do to keep my head above the paperwork line.  No TEACHER gets paid enough for this!!  I am so over joyed that I’m coming to the end of my tenure. I feel that teachers shouldn’t have to go to college and spend thousands and thousands of dollars for a degree when outsiders (People who have never spent a day in the classroom with the students) decide that they have the answer!  They know better what is going to work than the teacher who spends the most time with the students.

P8: I don’t think they perceive there to be an impact seeing as how there is not enough time to participate in professional learning. That’s a joke with elementary teachers.  Maybe you would get a positive response from someone in middle or high school.

P10: I think the professional development being offered at my particular school is seen by teachers to not be beneficial. I think most teachers have made the complaint that they would like to spend more time on effective professional developments.

P11: Well… I can’t speak for everyone else since I really don’t know a lot of people yet, but I am slowly discovering that you do not get a lot of time to meet with your colleagues to discuss things that could potentially increase student achievement.  For instance, I have a mentor and he is supposed to get with me at least once a week and I barely get to see him.  When he is free I have something to do, when I am free he is tied up with something.  We sit together at faculty meetings and try to catch up there but it is nowhere near enough time to make an impact on student achievement.

P12: They feel like it’s a joke… there is no time to do that

P14: They perceive the impact as minimal. They perceive it this way because teachers do not want to listen to what is being taught to them or said to them. They also do not want to want to try what was shown to them in their classroom and stick to the ways they have been teaching for years.

P16: Well sweetheart, I can tell you like this, for as long as I can remember, the amount of time teachers get to plan has always been the same.  It’s almost like it’s just understood; you plan during your PE break, duty free lunch, and before and after school (depending on the kind of person you are; whether you are morning or afternoon kind of person).  Many teachers, myself included will tell you that that’s not enough time to collaborate with your colleagues and plan accordingly. I personally take work home.  My husband has had to get over it, my job had to come first if my kids were going to be successful and if I was going to be able to keep up with the ever changing field of education.

P17: It has very little impact… Most teachers learn from experience because there is not real time to collaborate and grow professionally as a team.  Trial and error baby.   But for my school, it took three years to get a good buy in so that teachers were on board for doing whatever they needed to do to help our kids.

Research Question 2.   How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement?  The major theme to emerge from the interview data as it pertained to the second research question was lack of participation in a PLC or the lack of knowledge of what a PLC was.

Lack of participation or knowledge of a PLC. Many of the participants did not know what a Professional Learning Community (PLC) was so many gave a one word response when asked whether they participate in a PLC.  Some participants were a little more detailed and P5 expressed, “I really don’t know much about professional learning communities… but if that means do we participate in professional learning together as a school, then yes we do.”  P9 boldly stated, “I don’t even know what that really is so I would have to say no.”  The majority of the participants who gave a detailed response, responded similarly to P10, who expressed uncertainty of what a PLC was and how it operated, however, the participant did know that the school and administrative staff offered some form of training to parents and the staff.

Inability to obtain the appropriate time. The second theme to emerge from the interview data was inability to obtain the appropriate time.  Many of the interview participants simply indicted that they do not get enough time to plan and collaborate therefore they do not achieve the appropriate amount of time to grow or improve student achievement (P4, P5, P8, & P12).  P13 responded from a different perspective when she stated her method of achieving the appropriate time for student and professional growth,

[It’s done] on their own time.  It is rare that a teacher is able to fit in enough time               to grow professionally in the building on the clock.  Teachers have to be               dedicated to               moving their students from one level to the next on their own.                Now, with that being said, do I think we should have to spend all of our personal               time on school work? No; I feel like we should be able to spend time with our               families and our friends.  So if there is a teacher who values their personal time,               they won’t achieve the appropriate amount of time to improve student               achievement.  This is NO nine to five job. It’s a lifestyle!

P14 indicated,

Teachers stay after work to make sure that they are prepared for the next day to               teach their students. Also, some teachers come in early to set up for the day to               make sure students have what they need for the day to succeed. Teachers work at               home to make sure that they have their lessons ready for the next week. Teachers               make their schedules to where they see the students multiple times a day and               week to help them with concepts being taught to them.

P9 added,

If you ask many teachers, they will tell you that it is impossible with all that is               required of them; but I believe that if a well thought out plan is developed a good               amount of time for professional learning can be ascertained.

A deeper exploration of the interview data indicated that many teachers were under the impression that their school operated as a PLC.  The observational data proved those impressions to be inaccurate.

Observational Data

The observational tool used to evaluate six elementary schools revealed there was no clear understanding of what a Professional Learning Community was and how it was to be organized and operated.  Table 4 displays the data collected from the site observations.  Each site was measured on how it met each of the seven standards of a PLC.  The seven standards of a PLC were used and rated on a scale of “not evident,” “somewhat evident,” and “evident.”  The seven standards of Professional Learning Communities are:

Standard #1 Learning Communities:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.

Standard #2 Leadership:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.

Standard #3 Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.

Standard #4 Data:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.

Standard #5 Learning Designs:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.

Standard #6 Implementation:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long-term change.

Standard #7 Outcomes:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards. (Killion & Bryan, 2011).

Table 4

Observational Data

Site (Sn) St. 1 St. 2 St. 3 St. 4 St. 5 St. 6 St. 7 Overall
S1 SE SE NE E NE NE SE NE
S2 SE SE NE E NE NE SE NE
S3 SE SE NE E NE NE SE NE
S4 SE SE NE E NE NE SE NE
S5 E SE SE E NE NE SE NE
S6 SE NE SE E NE NE SE NE

E= evident (2 pts); SE= somewhat evident 1 pts); NE= not evident (0 pts); Overall; E= 14 pts.; SE= 11-13 pts.; NE= ≤ 12 pts.; St.n=Standard; Sn=Site

The sites observed were randomly named S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, and S6.  Each site had at least one teacher participate in the interview process.  All participants remained anonymous. The administrators in the building did not know that they had educators in their building who participated in the interview process. Table 5 provides a list of characteristics for each site.  Some of the information included in the table was gathered from the school profiles provided on each site’s web page.  To maintain anonymity, exact student enrollment and number of staff members were not provided.

Table 5

Site Characteristics

Site (Sn) Student Enrollment Community

Socioeconomic Status

Title One School Number of Staff Members Avg. CCRPI score (2013-2016)
S1 ≈700 Middle class Yes ≈75 >70
S2 ≈ 700 Upper class Yes ≈75 >70
S3 ≈400 Lower class Yes ≈50 <60
S4 ≈400 Lower class Yes ≈50 <60
S5 ≈400 Lower class Yes ≈50 <60
S6 ≈600 Upper class Yes ≈70 >70

The observational data revealed three major themes; (a) attendance, (b) content, and (c) motivation.

Theme 1: Attendance.  P3 expressed, “The leadership in the building expects for you to show up when they schedule a professional learning.”  Observation of the six sites revealed zero schools with 100 percent participation in the professional learning session.  On the date of each observation, each school had 100 percent faculty attendance, meaning on the date of the observation all teachers in the building came to work on that day.  There were no formal interview or question sessions with anyone in the building, including the principal, therefore it is unknown whether the teachers who were not in attendance at the professional learning were out due to family emergencies, prior obligations, etc.  It is also unknown whether the lack of attendance is an ongoing issue for the school on professional learning days.

Theme 2: Content.  The second theme that quickly emerged from the observations was content.  The content being discuss and delivered at the professional learning sessions mirrored faculty meeting content.  Five of the six sites prepared agendas for the professional learning sessions.  The agendas listed bulleted talking points for the administrator.  The teachers sat and listened as information was being delivered by the administrator and in two of the schools, an instructional coach.  Topics of discussion ranged from parent teacher conferences that were coming up, to the fundraiser that was going to kick off the following week.  One school included a “data dig” on the agenda however, the data dig was led by the instructional coach and the teachers looked on at data that was given to them.  There was no collaboration during this time.  To coincide with the observational data P6 stated,

Results and or Ideas are shared at Admin meetings usually with some type of data               to substantiate the need for growth/improvement. That information is then passed               on via faculty/staff meetings.  Verbal ideas are sometimes shared but the overall               goal is always to improve.  Unfortunately, clarity as to how the improvement(s)               will be made is evasive. Rarely are teachers afforded the opportunity to provide               input.  In fact, in some instances it is merely to try and get buy in but the building               admin dictates how that will take place.

Theme 3: Motivation.  As the sites were being observed, the lack of motivation was prevalent in all the sites.  Each site (S1-S6) contained four or more teachers who talked during the professional learning session, three or more individuals at the sites were observed utilizing their cell phone in some manner (i.e. texting, playing a game, viewing a website, etc.).  One of the sites (S2) observed had a teacher to fall asleep during the professional learning.  In four of the sites (S1, S3, S4, S6), individuals were observed leaving before the professional learning session was over.

P3 states, “People don’t really want to attend [professional learning’s] because they feel like it’s just for protocol.”  P14 indicated, “The teachers complain about having to do professional learning and will sit in the room and talk when the presenter is teaching. The teachers will not pay attention to the concept being taught.”  P5 declared, “…teachers are naturally burnt out from the day to day rigmarole of the act of teaching.   Teachers already feel like they give so much of themselves; why do I need to spend additional time meeting with other tired teachers.”   P6 indicated, “Being burnt out can cause teachers to follow through with what is required of them; however, the requirements are carried out without integrity.”  In an effort to justify the behaviors of some teachers P8 states, “…we feel the way we always feel when the school or district wants us to do something else… tired and worn out.”  While P12, expresses the overwhelming feeling of wanted to “pass out” if they [administrators/district] puts one more thing on their plate.  Sometimes, teachers complain and feel like certain professional learning’s as P10 explained, do not apply to them, and they feel like that time could be used in their classroom planning.

Evaluation of Findings

After reviewing and analyzing the interview data, NVIVO11 Plus identified 12 nodes which after being analyzed further revealed four major themes related to the research questions.  The observational data revealed an additional three themes related to the research questions.

Two themes emerged for research question one which was: How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth?  The two emerging themes were: (a) professional learning and collaborative planning practices and (b) lack of time.

Research question one was important to the study because it allowed the researcher to gain awareness of how elementary teachers perceived their current pedagogy and how the amount of time they are currently allotted for professional development and collaborative planning affect their individual pedagogy.  This research question also allowed the researcher to gain insight on what issues teachers believe need to be addressed in relations to professional development and collaborative planning in the elementary school setting.  The themes for the first research question coincide with existing research.  Often, districts required teachers to meet and collaborate with one another to come up with ideas that would possibly evoke change in the field of education; those mandated meetings often resulted in artificial results and understanding in the operations of the school (Johnson & Altland, 2004).  However, when dealing with true issues in education, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to operate in a unilateral fashion to define and solve the issues (Roberts, 2000).  In previous studies about professional development and collaborative planning, the issues of professional development practices and the lack of time were presented as well (Barber, Cohrssen, & Church, 2014; Dirani, 2011; Guo & Young, 2013; Lanigan, 2011).

Evidence from the interview data revealed the majority of the elementary teachers interviewed perceived the practices that district uses for professional learning ineffective and perceived the time allotted for professional development to be limited.  The district mandates a set number of professional learning’s per school year, the dates are given in advance.  The professional learning sessions are usually delivered face to face via a hired speaker who may or may not use a PowerPoint.  There is little interaction during the professional learning sessions which tends to leave teachers disengaged during the process.  Outside of the prescheduled time for professional learning sessions, the teachers expressed a lack of time to grow professionally and collaborate with peers.  All interview participants indicated that there is an expectation for teachers to grow professionally and collaborate with peers; however, obligations they have as teachers prevent them from being able to fully meet those expectations.

Two themes emerged from the second research question which was: How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement?  The two themes that emerged from the interview data collected in relation to the second research question were; (a) lack of knowledge and participation of a PLC, and (b) inability to obtain the appropriate time.  The second research question was important to the study because it allowed the researcher to gain access to the ideas teachers held in regards to achieving the necessary time needed to not only improve their pedagogy, but to improve student achievement as well.  It also provided insight on how the district of focus could address the issues elementary teachers found with obtaining professional growth so that elementary teachers could improve student achievement.  The themes identified for the second research question correlated with existing research.  Many researchers attest that the structure of the collective should illuminate the possibilities for the group members to share their knowledge with one another and this act as the source of learning (Gerlak & Heikkila, 2011).  The focus of collective learning in a professional learning community is to increase teacher performance and student achievement (Castelijns et. al., 2013).  While PLCs have been researched and proven to be successful at: (a) increasing student achievement by refocusing teachers attention to student achievement and making it the core of a teachers job; (b) assisting teachers with making instruction more engaging; (c) highlighting discrepancies with teacher intentions and actual behaviors in order to make changes; and (d) meeting accountability mandates (Lalor, &Abawi, 2014; Lewis et al., 2014; Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014; Thessin, 2015) PLCs have also been effective at retaining teachers through the initial stages of their career (Fresko, & Nasser-Abu Alhija, 2015; Hoaglund, Birkenfeld, & Box, 2014; Rosenholtz, & Simpson, 1990).

The interview data obtained in relation to the second research question indicated some teachers were under the impression they were operating under the guides of a PLC, while others admitted to not knowing exactly what a PLC was by definition.  For those who did not know what a PLC was, and for those who did not believe they operated as a PLC, no one was able to offer a suggestion of how to obtain the time needed to grow professionally and collaborate in order to improve student achievement.  The teachers indicated the only way they see of obtaining sufficient time to grow professionally and collaborate was to work during what they consider to be personal time.

Three themes emerged from the observational data which measured how the schools followed the 7 standards of a PLC.  The three themes were: (a) attendance, (b) content, and (c) motivation.  As mentioned in Chapter 2, according to the NSDC, meeting regularly with colleagues to plan instruction is most effective when the teachers meet regularly during a regular time within the school day to accomplish tasks such as developing lesson plans, examining student work, monitoring student progress, assessing the effectiveness of their teaching, and identifying their professional needs (Murphy & Lick, 2005).  Of the sites observed, not one site had 100 percent participation.  The meetings were set up with the use of agendas, the content that was being covered was content appropriate for faculty meetings; of the sites that went over data, there was no dialogue from the teachers, and they listened as someone discussed the data for them.  As indicated in a study conducted by Lanigan (2011), the content being presented can cause professionals to lack motivation and become disengaged and dissatisfied, causing a lack of desire to attend and participate in professional development.  In an effort to improve the professional development and collaborative planning practice, there must be a clear understanding of how teacher perceive the current state of operation.

Summary

The researcher employed a qualitative multiple case study to better understand the perceptions held by elementary teachers with regards to the time allotted for professional growth and collaborative planning and how the two impact their pedagogy and student achievement.  Through a one on one interview process and site observations, the researcher was able to analyze multiple forms of data to gain insight on the issues teachers identified in order to improve the current state of practice for obtaining professional development and participation in collaborative planning to form operational professional learning communities.

Several themes emerged from the data that were analyzed. Two themes emerged from research question one; professional learning and collaborative planning practices and lack of time.  Two themes emerged from research question two; lack of participation or knowledge of a PLC and inability to obtain the appropriate time.  The observational data produced three themes; attendance, content, and motivation.  The one on one interview data addressed two research questions and based on the data provided the researcher was able to gain insight on how elementary teachers perceived the current pedagogy and amount of time currently allotted of professional development and collaborative planning.  The data revealed the majority of elementary teachers who were interviewed perceive the current professional learning practices to be ineffective for improving teacher pedagogy and they perceived the current amount of time allotted for collaborative planning and professional development to be limited.  The interview data also revealed there were teachers who were unsure of whether their school was operating as a PLC and those that knew they were not operating as a PLC were unable to offer suggestions as to how they could obtain the time to operate as a PLC.  The observational data that was collected indicated that some schools believe they are operating as PLC and based on the standards of the PLC they are not operating as a PLC.  The observational data provided insight on moving forward to educate leaders on what it means to operate as a professional learning community.

Chapter 5: Implications, Recommendations, and Conclusions

The general problem raised in this study was that 30 minutes was not enough time for effectively planning lessons that could meet the needs of all students (Eun Kyung, 2012; Gill & Hoffman, 2009; Haverback & Mee, 2013; Prytula, Hellsten, & McIntyre, 2010).  While addressing this problem, issues with adequate time to develop professionally and collaborate with fellow peers arose.  Research has indicated professional development and collaboration are linked to professional pedagogy, which included planning, and student achievement.  The problem identified, if not addressed can negatively affect teacher pedagogy and student achievement.  The purpose of this qualitative multiple case study was to understand the perceptions of Georgia elementary teachers on what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally in order to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students; conduct direct observations; and collect specified documentation in an effort to identify what is considered an appropriate amount of time to collaboratively plan and develop professionally to impact their pedagogy to meet the needs of their elementary students.  To gain insight into this phenomenon, a qualitative case study method was chosen.

The Institution Review Board of Northcentral University granted permission for the study to be conducted.  The unit of analysis was the perception of 17 teachers in Richmond County of Georgia regarding the appropriate time for collaborative planning and professional development.  Participation of the study was voluntary and all participants were given an informed consent form which they signed acknowledging that they understood the purpose and process of the study.  Direct observations and a collection of specified documentation such as the professional learning schedules, meeting agendas, and sightings of data from each site along with individual interviews were the sources of data for the research.  Individual interviews consisted of 16 questions; participants understood they had the option to withdraw from the study or refuse to answer any question at any time.  Several methods of qualitative coding were used to analyze the data collected.  The interviews were first transcribed and submitted to the interview participants for their approval, then the interview responses were organized in an excel spreadsheet as well as a Microsoft Word document with commentary.  The NVIVO 11 Plus computer software was then used to aid in the coding and analysis of the interview data.

This chapter will address implications such as conclusions that can be drawn from the data although it is not directly stated in the text.  This chapter will also include recommendations which are suggestions on how to resolve and/or improve the issues that arose from the data.  Lastly, the chapter will close with conclusions found from the research.

Implications

Professional development and professional learning are essential in increasing the quality of teacher performance and students’ academic success (Burchinal, Cryer, Clifford, & Howes, 2002; Early et al., 2007; Schachter, 2015).  Increased teacher quality and student success is contingent upon school systems and school administrators finding the time to ensure that teachers are provided the opportunity to increase their professional knowledge base (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011; Schachter, 2015).  However, the data obtained from the study indicate the perception teachers hold is they are not receiving the time needed to increase teacher quality, thereby increasing student achievement.  Seven themes emerged from the data analysis.  Three themes that emerged were aligned to the observational data and the other four themes that emerged were aligned with the two research questions;

Research question 1.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth? Elementary teachers in Richmond County perceived the impact of the current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development to be minimal to the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth.  However, the participants indicate that they understand the importance of collaborative planning and professional development to their pedagogy.

The responses obtained by the participants indicated that the method the district uses to organize professional learning for all teachers is determined solely by the leadership at the district office.  Furthermore responses also indicated that professional learning on the building level was organized and developed by the leaders.  Elementary teachers are instructed of when and where professional learning and collaborative planning will take place.  When teachers are involved in the creation of professional development they are more likely to participate (Wieczorek, 2017).  Based on the responses obtained from the individual interviews, it is evident elementary teachers are not involved in the development process of professional development for neither the school district nor the school building.  The methods in which the professional learning sessions were conducted on the district level were consistently the same with the presenter delivering a presentation face-to-face with a visual such as a PowerPoint or via a webinar.  Research reports, teachers prefer to obtain professional development through one-on-one meetings with instructional experts, online courses, and small group discussions over large group face-to-face sessions (Grover, Walters, & Turner, 2016).  Research indicates that teachers need to be more involved in the development of professional learning development (Wieczorek, 2017), and based on the responses from the interview participants, the district and school leaders would benefit from involving teachers in the development process for professional development and collaborative planning.

The elementary teachers do not believe they currently receive enough time to develop professionally or plan collaboratively.  The elementary teachers are currently allotted approximately thirty minutes for planning during the school day.  Elementary teachers are consumed with the required paperwork and communication requirements; these tasks and responsibilities prevent teachers from being able to utilize the allotted thirty minutes to plan collaboratively with colleagues.  School wide professional learning and collaborative planning are typically scheduled at the end of the school day, which requires teachers to remain at work after the work day has technically ended.  Teachers feel the time for professional learning and collaborative planning need to be creatively implemented into the school day.  The elementary teachers present a desire to develop professionally and collaborate with one another however, the time to do so have not been adequately allotted.

Research question 2.  How do elementary school teachers in Richmond County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement?  In order to achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement according to teachers is to stay late beyond the regular work hours, arrive to work early before the work day is to begin, or work from home during their personal time.  However, research has indicated that teachers need collaborative planning and training as well as it needs to involve active learning and teaching (not on a one-shot lecture or a ‘drive-by’ workshop); the professional development should be delivered to a team of teachers and is focused on specific content knowledge/strategies in a manner that helps teachers develop the pedagogical skills with strong positive effects on practice (McMurray, O’Neill, & Thompson, 2016).

Observational Data

The remaining three themes emerged from the observational data obtained by each participating site.  Research has indicated that the most important aspect of the professional development is getting teachers together to discuss their practice and attempt to improve their pedagogy (Nelson, & Slavit, 2007).  The attendance data illustrated that there may be a lack of commitment on behalf of some of the faculty members in the schools.  No site was able to achieve 100 percent participation through attendance.  Attendance is a vital role in a successful professional learning community (Talbert, 2010).

Collective responsibility for student learning is a key characteristic of professional learning communities (Watson, 2014); however the sites demonstrated a lack of motivation for improving student learning in the building.  During the meetings, staff members talked amongst themselves about topics that did not relate to student achievement nor did they discuss issues related to improving teacher learning and best practices that would or could benefit teacher pedagogy.

A history of research indicates that teachers have to create an environment that cultivates cooperation, support, and personal growth amongst the teachers in order to operate as an effective professional learning community (Zhang & Pang, 2016).  During the professional learning meetings that are held on site, the educators should be committed to staying focused (DuFour et. al., 2010); however, the sites had a difficult time staying focused which could have affected the level of motivation that was being displayed at the various sites.

Although leadership plays a vital role in the success of professional learning communities, it is important for there to be shared leadership in the organization of a PLC (Huffman & Hipp, 2001).  It was evident that a majority of the leaders were either unaware or ignored the fact that an effective professional learning community operated under the idea of shared leadership.  The majority of talking during the meetings was done by the leaders in the building; again this facilitated the side bar conversations that took place while the meeting was in progress.

The topics of discussion during the professional learning meetings varied but lacked the substance needed to facilitate an effective meeting.  Student achievement and teachers’ learning were not topics on any of the agendas.  The focus of dialogue in PLCs should be curriculum, assessments, and instruction (DuFour et al., 2010).  The basis for a professional learning community is to build individual as well as collective capacity; this includes cultivating building level motivation, individual and group skills, positive learning for both students and teachers, organizational conditions and culture, and system of support (Stoll et. al., 2006).

Recommendations for Practice

Based on the findings from the study, it is recommended that the district takes a closer look at the structure of the elementary schools.  Creativity is going to be vital in coming up with a unique structure that will meet the needs of the teachers and solidify working time for educators to participate and engage in a successful PLC.  One recommendation would be to consider the structure of a four-day school week.  As indicated in Chapter 2, Anderson and Walker (2013) indicate a couple of factors that can contribute to the growth of student achievement (a) teachers’ attitude; (b) extra time to plan lessons that are relevant and catered to the students’ needs; (c) reduced teacher absenteeism (Beierlein, Gibson, & Tibbs, 2011; Donis-Keller & Silvernail, 2009); and (d) teachers’ favorable attitude towards the four-day school week.  The teachers overwhelmingly indicated that they did not perceive the time they are currently allotted to be enough time to grow professionally nor make an impact in improving student achievement.  A key reason for not being able to obtain what teachers perceive to be an adequate amount of time is because the current school hours simply do not allow for it to be done; the majority of growth happens after school during what is considered personal time for the teachers.  Countless studies had indicated the importance of time to operate effectively in a professional learning community (Lomos, Hofman, & Rosker, 2011; Schachter, 2015).

Beyond taking a closer look at the infrastructure of elementary school days, it is recommended the leaders are properly trained on how to create and organize an effective professional learning community in the school they are leading.  The observational data told a story of lack of buy-in from teachers.  Teachers were unmotivated and not committed to the professional learning community that was in place; not being in attendance at the meetings, not staying focused during the meetings, and congregating about topics that were not relevant to personal growth or student achievement were all characteristics that allude to lack of buy-in.  Buy-in is a key component to building an effective and sustainable professional learning community at the building level (DuFour et al., 2010; Murphy & Lick, 2005; Hirsh, 2011; Huffman & Hipp, 2000; Reeves, 2010).                The final recommendation to be made based on the findings from the study would be to explain the purpose of a PLC to the leaders of elementary schools as well as the elementary educators and provided a visual for educators to see how an effective PLC is organized and how one should operate.  The interview data exposed the lack of knowledge elementary teachers had in reference to professional learning communities.  Teachers were unable to explain whether or not the school they work in operated as a professional learning community.  By understanding the PLC the individuals within the PLC can begin to make changes and as they make changes they cause a series of events to take place which can ultimately have a positive impact on the field of education (Senge, 1994; Thompson, Gregg, & Niska, 2004).

Recommendations for Future Research

The recommendation for future research would be to obtain the perceptions of other stakeholders of the elementary schools.  The perceptions of the building leaders, district leaders, paraprofessionals, as well as a specific selection of substitute teachers should be obtained to substantiate the data obtained from the elementary teachers.  By including the populations mentioned above, the reliability and validity of the finding can be strengthened.  Further recommendations for future research would be to observe middle and high school sites to obtain data of how their buildings operate with regards to professional learning.  This addition data will aid in validating the difference or lack of difference in how the schools are able to structure time within the work day to participate in professional learning and collaborative planning amongst colleagues and administration.  Again, the admittance of this data will aid in strengthening the reliability and validity of the research findings.  Another recommendation to be made for future research would be to collect evidence from other districts that operate under recognized PLCs.  This data will serve as a guide for comparison again strengthening the observational data collected.

The final recommendation for future research would be to include a quantitative component to the study.  It would be recommended to conduct the study over time to measure student achievement and teacher evaluations.  Based on previous research professional learning communities have been proven to; (a) increase student achievement by refocusing teachers attention to student achievement and making it the core of a teachers job; (b) assist teachers with making instruction more engaging; (c) highlight discrepancies with teacher intentions and actual behaviors in order to make changes; and (d) meet accountability mandates (Lalor, &Abawi, 2014; Lewis et al., 2014; Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014; Thessin, 2015).  The additional data will provide a point of view that will prove or disprove the ideas stated by previous research.  The quantitative data in conjunction with the qualitative data will aid in solidifying credible and reliable results.

Conclusions

Based on the data collected, elementary teachers perceive the current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional growth to be ineffective and not adequate to evoke professional growth or impact students’ learning.  Lack of teacher and student growth can pose a systemic problem in the future; failing to grow academically in elementary school, could lead to a higher chance students will drop out of high school (Burrus & Roberts, 2012) ultimately failing to contribute to the creation of human capital (Permanyer, García, & Esteve, 2013).

The participants in the study believe the structure of the district and their individual schools PLCs are not structured in a manner that will aid in achieving what they perceive to be an adequate amount of time to collaborate, grow, and impact student learning.  Based on the data obtained, recommendations for practice and future research were made.  The recommendations made will hopefully aid in the rethinking of how elementary schools are organizationally structured.  The growth of educators and students will become a driving force for that change.

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Appendixes

Appendix A: Invitation to Participate and Consent

Introduction: 

I am leading a study on elementary teachers’ perception on time allotted for professional learning.   I am completing this research as part of my doctoral degree at Northcentral University.  I invite you to participate.

Activities: 

If you participate in this research, you will be asked to complete:

  1. Phone/Face-to-Face Interview (60 minutes): 14 questions used to learn about perceptions about allotted PL time

Eligibility: 

You are eligible to participate in this research if you:

  1. Are an elementary educator
  2. Experience participating in professional learning communities
  3. Experience participating in collaborative planning

You are not eligible to participate in this research if you:

  1. Know the researcher
  2. Are not an elementary educator
  3. Have no experience with collaborative planning

I hope to include 15 people for the interviews of the research study.  Of those 15 people, I hope 10 locations will consent to observations.

Risks: 

There are minimal risks in this study; it might be difficult to talk about challenges at work.

To decrease the impact of these risks, you can: skip any question and/or stop participation at any time.

Benefits:

If you decide to participate, there are no direct benefits to you.

The potential benefits to others are: the information gained from the study will benefit the continued learning of educators.

Confidentiality: 

The information you provide will be kept confidential to the extent allowable by law.  Some steps I will take to keep your identity confidential are:  (I will use a number to identify you, and I will keep your name separate from your answers).

The people who will have access to your information are: myself and my dissertation chair.  The Institutional Review Board may also review my research and view your information.

I will secure your information with these steps: all paper forms of data will be stored in a lock box when not in use.  The lock box will be kept out of sight in my closet.  I will keep your data for 7 years. Then, I will delete electronic data and destroy paper data.

Contact Information:

Voluntary Participation:

Your participation is voluntary.  If you decide not to participate, or if you stop participation after you start, there will be no penalty to you.  You will not lose any benefit to which you are otherwise entitled.

Signature:

Your signature is required to meet my human subject requirements. A signature indicates your understanding of this consent form.  You will be given a copy of the form for your information.

                                                    

Participant Signature  Printed Name     Date

                                                    

Researcher Signature    Printed Name     Date

Audiotaping:

I would like to use a voice recorder to record your responses.  You can still participate if you do not wish to be recorded.

Please sign here if I can record you:                             

Appendix B: Recruitment Flyer

ELEMENTARY EDUCATORS:

VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED FOR A RESEARCH PROJECT ON ALLOTTED PROFESSIONAL LEARNING TIME

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am looking for volunteers to participate in my doctoral dissertation project for Northcentral University.  It is about elementary teachers’ perception on professional learning times.  As a volunteer in the study, you will participate in a 60-minute interview in a public setting of your choosing.  Your participation is greatly needed and appreciated. 

You can participate in this research if you:

  1. Are an elementary educator
  2. Have experience participating in professional learning communities
  3. Have experience participating in collaborative planning

 

Appendix C: Invitation to Participate Email

July 20, 2016

Dear Elementary Educator:

You are invited to participate in my research study that I am conducting as a doctoral student at Northcentral University.  The research deals with elementary teachers’ perception on time allotted for professional learning.  You have been selected because you are an elementary educator.  Your participation in this study would be greatly appreciated.

Attached is the research study’s Informed Consent Form that further explains participation in the study.  I would be happy to answer any questions about participation or information on the consent form.  If you choose to participate, we will go over the consent form together and sign it before the interview.

Your participation is voluntary.  If I have not heard from you within 10 days, I will resend the invitation through your district’s WebMail.  If you are interested in participating, you may respond to that email.  If you are interested in participating, please respond to my email address with your contact information and I will contact you to schedule an interview time.

You may withdraw from the study at any time.  You may also opt out of the study, or may choose to have no further contact from me, by calling or emailing me at the contact information below.  Just leave a message that you do not wish to participate, and I will not contact you.

The interview should take 60 minutes.  The interview will be scheduled at a time and public place that is acceptable to both of us or via telephone for your convenience.

Appendix D: Site Permission Request Letter (District)

Introduction: 

I am leading a study on elementary teachers’ perception on time allotted for professional learning.   I am completing this research as part of my doctoral degree.  I am requesting permission to contact your elementary schools and principals to recruit participants by email; have my flyer posted; obtain a copy of the school-wide plan and schedule; and conduct a walk-through to collect observable data such as goal charts, data walls, PLC books, book study books, sponsor walls, printed/listed roles and responsibilities, teams/groups, professional learning library, etc.

Activities: 

Those who choose to participate in this research will be asked to complete:

  1. Phone/Face-to-Face Interview (60 minutes): 14 questions used to learn about perceptions about allotted PL time (for individual participants)
  2. Observation of a professional learning session (10 minutes): Used to identify PL practices (for participating sites)

Eligibility: 

Participants are eligible to participate in this research if they:

  1. Are an elementary educator
  2. Experience participating in professional learning communities
  3. Experience participating in collaborative planning

Participants are not eligible to participate in this research if they:

  1. Know the researcher
  2. Are not an elementary educator
  3. Have no experience with collaborative planning
  4. Have no experience with professional learning communities

I hope to include 15 people for the interviews of the research study.  I hope 10 locations will consent to observations.

Risks: 

There are minimal risks in this study; it might be difficult to talk about challenges at work.

To decrease the impact of these risks, you can: skip any question and/or stop participation at any time

Benefits:

There are no direct benefits to those who choose to participate.

The potential benefits to others are: the information gained from the study will benefit the continued learning of educators.

Contact Information:

Appendix E: Site Permission Request Letter (Principals)

Introduction: 

 I am leading a study on elementary teachers’ perception on time allotted for professional learning.   I am completing this research as part of my doctoral degree.  I am requesting permission to have my flyer posted; have my invitation to participate forwarded to your teachers; obtain a copy of the school-wide plan and schedule; and conduct a walk-through to collect data such as goal charts, data walls, PLC books, book study books, sponsor walls, printed/listed roles and responsibilities, teams/groups, professional learning library, etc.

 

Activities:

 

Those who choose to participate in this research will be asked to complete:

  1. Phone/Face-to-Face Interview (60 minutes): 14 questions used to learn about perceptions about allotted PL time (for individual participants)
  2. Observation (PL session) (10 minutes): Used to identify PL practices (for participating sites)

 

Eligibility: 

 

Participants are eligible to participate in this research if they:

  1. Are an elementary educator
  2. Experience participating in professional learning communities
  3. Experience participating in collaborative planning

Participants are not eligible to participate in this research if they:

  1. Know the researcher
  2. Are not an elementary educator
  3. Have no experience with collaborative planning
  4. Have no experience with professional learning communities

I hope to include 15 people for the interviews of the research study.  I hope 10 locations will consent to observations.

 

Risks: 

 

There are minimal risks in this study; it might be difficult to talk about challenges at work.

To decrease the impact of these risks, you can: skip any question and/or stop participation at any time

Benefits:

 

There are no direct benefits to those who choose to participate.

The potential benefits to others are: the information gained from the study will benefit the continued learning of educators.

 

Contact Information

Appendix F: Interview Protocol/Questions Script

To help my note-taking, I would like to audio record our conversation today. At this time I will need for you to sign a form that meets my human subject requirements. This form is stating that I will keep all of your information confidential; participation in this study is completely voluntary and you may withdraw consent to participate at any time; and by you participating in my study I do not intend to have any harm inflicted upon you.  Thank you for participating in this study.

This interview should last about an hour. There are several questions that I would like to cover; some questions may require a follow-up question for clarity however, if I notice that we are losing time I may have to intervene while you are answering a question in an effort to keep us moving forward.

Introduction

You have been selected to speak with me today because you responded to an email invitation to share your opinions about the current allotted time for professional learning.  My study does not aim to rate your techniques or experiences as an educator.  I am trying to learn more about providing adequate time for elementary teachers to grow professionally so their students can become more successful.

Introductory questions:

  1. What grade level do you currently teach?
  2. How long have you been in the profession of education?
  3. Have you ever worked in what would be considered the corporate field?
  4. Did you participate in any form of professional growth in that field? (if an affirmative answer was provided for #3)

Research Question #1: How do elementary school teachers in ([choose appropriate one] Chattooga, Elbert, Haralson, Talbot, Richmond, and Stewart) County perceive the impact of current allotted time for collaborative planning and professional development on the growth of teachers’ skills and knowledge growth?

  1. Can you tell me about the methods used to obtain professional growth when new concepts are presented to elementary teachers?
  2. Does (insert teacher’s county name here) have district-wide professional learning days?
  3. When does (insert teacher’s county name here) generally conduct these professional learning days? (if an affirmative answer was provided for #6)
  4. Is participation for these sessions mandatory?
  5. Can you describe in as much detail as possible how leader expectations are presented to faculty and staff with regards to professional growth?

Research question #2: How do elementary school teachers in ([choose appropriate one] Chattooga, Elbert, Haralson, Talbot, Richmond, and Stewart) County achieve the appropriate length of time that can improve student achievement?

  1. Does your current school participate in a professional learning community?
  2. In as much detail as possible can you describe the schedule for professional learning that takes place in the building?
  3. Can you tell me about the expectations on teachers to obtain professional learning?
  4. Do the expectations affect teacher motivation to participate in professional learning? (if possible ask for examples)

With regards to professional learning what do you expect from your principal? Colleagues? Community? District? State? (please provide a response to one or all)
Appendix G: Observations of Professional Learning Rubric

 

School Name: _____________________District:_______________ Date: _________

Standard #1 Learning Communities: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Standard #2 Leadership: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Standard #3 Resources: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Standard #4 Data:  Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Standard #5 Learning Designs: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Standard #6 Implementation: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long-term change.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Standard #7 Outcomes: Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

Evident Somewhat Evident Not Evident

Appendix H: Confidentiality Agreement

Northcentral University

Non-Disclosure/Confidentiality Agreement

I (assistant’s name) will help Kristi Wise with the research study titled Elementary Teachers’ Perceptions of the Appropriate Amount of Time for Collaborative Planning and Professional Planning

My role will be to walk around approved elementary sites to make observations and listen in on a professional learning session to score an “Observation of Professional Learning Rubric” and submit my feedback to the primary researcher.

In this role:

  1. I will not disclose the names of any participants in the study.
  2. I will not disclose personal information collected from any participants in the study.
  3. I will not disclose any participant responses.
  4. I will not disclose any data.
  5. I will not discuss the research with anyone other than the researcher(s).
  6. I will keep all paper information secured while it is in my possession.
  7. I will keep all electronic information secured while it is in my possession.
  8. I will return all information to the researcher when I am finished with my work.
  9. I will destroy any extra copies that were made during my work.
  10. I will not speak with any students.
  11. I will not interview or speak with any teachers.

                                                       

Assistant Signature       Date

                                                       

Researcher Signature         Date

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