The purpose of this paper is to focus on professional learning communities (PLCs) run for and by teachers to achieve their ongoing professional development and greater pupil attainment. The paper examined principals’ perceptions of how such PLCs influence teachers, teacher learning and school processes, and their own involvement in PLCs operating in their schools. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 of 97 principals from three of the four Israel educational districts participating in a pilot programme to achieve in-service teacher professional development through supported PLCs.
The findings showed that most of the participating principals considered PLCs to influence not only the teacher-leader, but also PLC members and other teaching staff and processes. Principals perceived PLCs as influencing pedagogical processes for both teachers and students, as well as staff leadership processes. Principals reported facilitating the operation of PLCs in their schools by providing the necessary conditions or participating in PLC meetings.
In Israel, the Ministry of Education has begun to adopt a school-based PLC-based model of professional development to replace the existing framework, in which teachers attend out-of-school seminars or lectures that run for 30–60 hours. The PLC-based programme, called Hashkafa, has been described elsewhere (Avidov-Ungar, 2018). The PLCs are formed and led by teacher-leaders selected for their ability to lead their own self-learning and educate others, with the aim of leveraging their abilities to guide the learning processes of their colleagues.
A PLC may focus on any topic related to improving teachers’ teaching practices and students’ learning processes. The identity of the teachers participating in a PLC depends on the PLC’s focus. PLC members may be all homeroom teachers from a certain grade level, all those teaching a certain subject, or teachers from a variety of disciplines who convene around a multidisciplinary issue. The teacher-leaders receive support from a Hashkafa programme support group comprising all teacher-leaders in their educational district. The support group is convened and led by a ministry-appointed programme coordinator and runs throughout the school year.
Although Hashkafa places a strong emphasis on identifying and developing teacher leadership, the principal is envisaged as playing a critical role in its success. The educational reforms encourage the autonomous self-management of schools under the principal’s leadership. Principals hold formal responsibility for the professional development of their staff, with the success of teacher-led PLCs being a primary means through which principals discharge that responsibility. In the run up to the pilot programme and during its first year, the principals of schools participating in the pilot were invited to five meetings in which the concept was explained to them. However, principals did not receive detailed guidance regarding how to facilitate or interact with the PLCs and teacher-leaders or how to assess their effectiveness.
The findings suggest that principals perceive teacher-led professional development PLCs to influence not only the teacher-leader, but also PLC members and other teaching staff, as well as pedagogical processes for teachers and students, and staff leadership processes. Bolam et al. (2006) found face validity for their notion that PLCs go through three developmental stages – starter, developer and mature – depending on the percentage of staff involvement in the PLC. The current research suggests that another important consideration may be PLC influence.
Principals facilitated the operation of PLCs in their schools by focusing on providing the necessary conditions or by participating in PLC meetings. In both instances, involvement required the principal to take responsibility for teachers’ professional development, thus achieving one of the changes sought by the educational reforms through which PLCs were introduced. In determining how they wished to interact with the PLCs, the principals grappled with their own role vis-à-vis the PLCs. Principals who chose to participate in the PLC consequently became directly involved in the pedagogical management of the school. The detection of these two expansions of the role of principals to include responsibility for teacher professional development and involvement in pedagogical management is the major contribution of the current study. These shifts in the principals’ role in response to PLCs operating within their schools will be of international interest where PLCs are being implemented for the purposes of teacher professional development. Further investigation of these expansions of the principals’ role and their effect on principals represents an important direction for future larger-scale research.
Avidov-Ungar, O. (2018), “Professional development communities: the perceptions of Israeli teacher-leaders and program coordinators”, Professional Development in Education, Vol. 44 No. 5, pp. 663-677.
Bolam, R., Mcmahon, A., Stoll, L., Thomas, S., Wallace, M., Greenwood, A., Hawkey, K. et al. (2006), Creating and Sustaining Effective Professional Learning Communities, Bristol.