Date of Award

12-15-2014

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Educational Studies

First Advisor

Heidi Mills

Second Advisor

Tasha Laman

Abstract

This qualitative case study explored a learning community in action. The purpose of this study was to investigate the professional conversations that teachers in a learning community had and the impact of those conversations on the practices and beliefs of the individual teachers in the community. Specifically, the study sought to discover how and why facets of professional learning transferred (or did not transfer) into classroom practice. The researcher spent five months with a learning community comprised of six middle school literacy teachers and attended their learning community meetings, visited their classrooms, and videotaped them teaching. Each classroom visit was followed with a one-on-one guided reflection conversation. These guided reflection conversations were semi-structured interviews during which the teacher and the researcher watched teacher-selected clips of the filmed observations. The findings in this study expanded and complicated understandings about professional learning. Elements of narrative analysis were utilized in order to capture the voice of teachers and the stories they told about their teaching and learning experiences in order to reveal a deeper understanding of effective professional development: professional development that honors teachers as professionals, creates space for teacher collaboration, and values reflection as a means for growth and learning. Analysis of the data led to deeper understandings about teachers’ professional needs, about the dynamic relationships teachers form, and about the importance of creating multiple spaces for professional learning. Through data analysis, three professional learning spaces emerged and were described in detail: 1) inside - the professional learning within the learning community, 2) outside - what teachers took back to their classrooms, and 3) around - the professional learning settings that surrounded the learning community and the teachers’ classrooms, including: spaces for reflection, school-based professional development, graduate school, one-on-one professional settings. The study explored data collected during learning community meetings, from teachers’ classrooms, and through guided reflection conversation. The subsequent findings provided support for the continued creation of learning communities; however, findings also indicated that learning communities cannot stand alone as a singular approach to professional learning. In other words, learning communities, while necessary, were not a total solution. While the findings of this study do not provide a simple solution, they do honor the complexity inherent in all human endeavors and the belief that a comprehensive professional learning plan can be designed to include multiple spaces to meet the diverse needs of teachers.

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