01 SES 08 A, Professional development of teacher educators
This paper deals with the conduct and impact of twelve professional learning communities (Henceforth PLCs) of teacher-educators who were active for the last three years in a large college of education in Israel. Led by social constructivist notions of learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Vygotsky, 1978), communities of learners have become a popular way to think about not only student learning but also the learning of teachers and other professionals within their organizations (Sergiovanni, 1994).
PLC have been described as a “group of people sharing and critically interrogating their practice in an ongoing reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning oriented growth promoting way” (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006, p. 223). In summing up the literature, Stoll and her colleagues mention five characteristics that PLCs share: values and vision, collective responsibility for student learning, reflective inquiry, collaboration and interdependence and group learning as well as individual learning. The focus on collaborative reflective inquiry matches suggestions to adopt the “inquiry as a stance” attitude in the professional development of teachers and teacher educators (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999, 2009a, 2009b).
During the 1990s, these ideas penetrated many school reforms that aimed at improving, restructuring and building schools’ capacity (Hargreaves, 1994; Lieberman, 1995; Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996; McIntyre & McIntyre, 1999; Murray, Jones, McNamara, & Stanley, 2009). In line with Dyson & Desforges’ (2002) definition of capacity as the multiplication of individual expertise, motivation and opportunities, the establishment of PLCs in schools was considered an opportunity to develop individuals as well as the institutional collective academic capacity.
Extending the idea of PLCs as a tool for capacity building of teachers to capacity building of teacher educators led many teacher colleges to establish such communities. In contrast with PLCs of teachers in their schools, PLCs of teacher educators are less interested in the improvement of practice and student learning but rather focus on developing teacher educators' own learning and academic capacity.
Establishing learning communities of teacher educators in colleges of education in Israel should be looked upon in the context of the academization process these colleges have undergone since the 1980s. As part of this process, the three-year post-secondary teachers’ seminars became academic colleges that grant academic degrees. This process placed an increasing demand on the staff of the colleges, most of whom had little experience in the academic ethos, perceiving themselves first of all as teachers and educators who suddenly were required to engage in research, write and publish as a precondition for being employed and promoted.
This process is not unique to Israel. Hill and Haigh (2012) describe a similar situation in South Africa, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, UK and the USA, where a range of strategies were needed to foster the research abilities of teachers in teacher education colleges or “New Universities,” as these institutions were called. Among the strategies, situating research engagement within PLCs was regarded as a productive way to address inhibiting factors of developing research capacity among staff members. However, these were usually one-off attempts, rather than a comprehensive action taken at the institutional level as was the case of the Israeli college described in this paper.
The present study investigates the characteristics and impact of the twelve PLCs that were established as a strategic act of institutional capacity building.
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