Professional development communities (PDCs) are professional learning communities for teacher development in schools. Israeli educational reforms made principals responsible for staff professional development and introduced a teacher-led, PDC-based program called Hashkafa for teacher development. The current study examined principals’ views regarding: the teacher characteristics necessary to lead a PDC; the facilitators and barriers to effective PDCs; and the effect of Hashkafa on teacher professional development.
In this study the authors examine principals’ perceptions of PDCs and effective teacher-leaders by means of the following research questions:
(RQ1) What do principals regard as the characteristics of effective teacher-leaders?
(RQ2) What factors do principals consider facilitate or impede the effectiveness of PDCs in their schools?
(RQ3) What influence do principals consider the Hashkafa program to have on teacher professional development in their schools?
Since the focus of the Hashkafa pilot program was elementary schools, the sample was mostly elementary principals (n = 14). PCDs operating in the schools whose principals participated in this study focused on five topics: (1) lesson planning; (2) alternative assessment methods; (3) developing pedagogical discussions; (4) discussions of pedagogical dilemmas; and (5) improving teaching in the “individual hour.”
Overall, the uniqueness of the Israeli approach to teachers’ continuing professional development is that both PDC membership and leadership are drawn from within the school, which is also where the PDCs meet, and that several PDCs with different teacher-leaders may operate simultaneously within the same school. The theoretical benefit of this study lies in it providing evidence that principals consider the Israeli model an effective means of achieving teachers’ professional development. It further contributes to the literature by confirming the characteristics of effective teacher leaders and the factors affecting the effectiveness of PDCs. With respect to the latter, the Hashkafa program is grounded in the international literature and is resourced to avoid the known barriers faced by PDC-based programs. While these efforts overcame some of the barriers, other known issues and dilemmas have clearly endured because the increase in resourcing was not sufficient. These points will be of interest to countries currently utilizing or intending to utilize PDCs to achieve teachers’ continuing professional development.