01 SES 11 C, Collaborative Teaching and Professional Learning Communities
Educational changes are at the heart of this project. The aim is to identify and understand effective processes of change in Icelandic compulsory schools (ages 6–16) and to develop a model for systemic improvements for effective and sustainable change. Cowan, Joyner and Beckwith (2012), among others, introduced a model for systemic improvement intended to facilitate sustainable school improvement. This model was adapted as a framework for this study. The project seeks to establish effective organisational routines for five main themes: creating coherence in policy; professional leadership at municipality, school and classroom level; effective use of data; professional development; and the building of relationships within and between schools. The research questions are:
- What actions are taken in schools and municipalities to enhance coherence in policy, professional leadership, use of data, professional learning and professional relationships?
- How do these activities and routines reflect the development of professional learning communities in the schools?
- Which structural or cultural components seem to affect the process and outcome of improvement work in schools?
According to Hopkins, Stringfield, Harris, Stoll and Mackay (2014), school systems require structured, multi-level intervention studies that are contextually based. The abovementioned model is intended for schools and municipalities in their efforts to promote long–term improvement based on continuous professional learning. The approach brings to bear findings from studies concerning the professional learning community (PLC), which have been linked with successful schools in previous studies (Sigurðardóttir, 2010). Hopkins et al. (2014) present a poignant overview of research on successful school improvement over the last four decades, which suggests that more emphasis must be placed on building capacity for learning and continuous improvement. The complexity of the educational system is emphasised as well as the interdependency of different components. Improvement efforts therefore need to focus on different levels of the system. There is often a danger that the changes may only be superficial, while the core activities, such as teaching and learning, remain unchanged (Blossing, Nyen, Söderström and Tønder, 2015). The main challenge currently facing researchers in this field is the demand to understand how coherence is created between different levels in the system, and how various components of the system affect the improvement process differently in different cultural and social contexts. Changes that lead to sustainable, enduring improvements are therefore highlighted in the current literature. Moreover, capacity building, inquiry–orientated practice, professional collaboration, and data–driven decisions are considered as central themes in sustainable improvements (e.g. Fullan, 2016). This point is reflected in theories about the school as a professional learning community (Stoll and Louis, 2007), where collaborative inquiry into daily school practice is emphasised with the help of data regarding student performance. Professional development tends to be more effective when it is integrated in and maintained as an integral part of a larger school improvement effort, rather than an isolated activity with little or no link to other school initiatives or improvement efforts. Blossing et al. (2015) emphasise the importance for each school to find its own way in the process of development given the fact that in different schools there exist different organisational cultures and structures. In this study, therefore, each participating school was encouraged to choose a project to develop cooperatively.
The project entails a multiple case study with a multi–level approach, which includes two years of intervention (2016–2018). The participating municipalities were selected purposefully, for reasons of convenience, given that they are located close to the University of Iceland, in order to avoid high travel expenses. Thirteen schools were randomly selected for data collection, before and after, of which four schools were invited to participate in the two years intervention study. It is both of a holistic and embedded nature (Yin, 2014). It is holistic in the sense that each of three municipalities is defined as a unit of analysis along with each of the four intervention schools. However, each of the five themes, mentioned above, is also treated as an embedded unit of analysis across the schools. Mixed methods are used for data collection which is conducted in three phases: a) Quantitative data are collected at the beginning of the study in all schools (13) in the participating municipalities (3) about the level of PLC (measured by an existing instrument); b) qualitative data are collected by means of interviews and field visits, in each of the four schools (intervention schools) for a period of two years during which an intervention project is carried out in each of them; c) and finally, equivalent quantitative data, as in the first phase, are collected in the all 13 schools. Furthermore, the directors of the schools in the municipalities are interviewed at the beginning and in the end of this two-year period. A model for systemic improvements is used as a framework for the intervention and analytical processes. The research group (six members) has now worked with administrative teams in the four schools for one and a half academic year (from autumn 2016), on developing the five themes introduced above. In this presentation the overall design of the project is introduced and the preliminary findings from one case study, in one of the intervention schools, will be presented.
In this presentation, the overall design of the project is introduced. However, the main focus will be on the preliminary findings from one case study. It should be noted that the process of the intervention part of the study has been slower than expected; even though he collaborative administrative teams that were formed in each of the four schools have been positive regarding the project and willing to participate, they have experienced difficulties in persuading the teachers to act even though they, theoretically, agree on the overall approach of the project. Each school could choose a project to develop and one research team member, designated to that school, cooperates with them on the intervention. Additionally, the research team member works with one or more teams of teachers in their designated school. It turned out that three of the four intervention schools chose to implement and develop team teaching. Team teaching is at the top of the list for development programs in Iceland currently (Sigurgeirsson, 2017), which coincides with what the literature regards as a natural result of the ideology of PLC (Joyce 2004; Sandholtz, 2000). The case study which will be discussed in this paper consist of one of the intervention schools and two of its teachers who were willing to participate in spite of being new in the school, as well as being newly qualified teachers. They joined the study last autumn and are in the process of implementing team teaching in their grade five teaching. Both of them experienced team–teaching throughout the extended practice teaching (a whole term) which is part of their final year of a five-year master’s degree program in teacher education at the University of Iceland. Preliminary findings of the current case study will be presented as work in progress.
Cowan, D., Joyner, S., & Beckwith, S. (2012). Getting serious about the system. California: Corwin. Blossing, U., Nyen, T., Söderström, A., & Tønder, A. H. (2015). Local drivers for improvements capacity. Six types of school organgisations. Heidelberg; Springer. Fullan, M. (2016). The new meaning of educational change. 5th ed. New York: Teachers College Press. Hopkins, D. Stringfield, S., Harris, A., Stoll, L., & Mackay, T. (2014). School and system improvement: A narrative state-of-the-art review. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 25(2), 257–281. Joyce, B. (2004). How are professional learning communities created. History as a few messages. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 76–83. Sandholtz, J. H. (2000). Interdisciplinary team teaching as a form of professional development. Teacher Education Quarterly, 27(3), 39‒54. Sigurðardóttir, A. K. (2010). Professional learning community in relation to school effectiveness. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. 54(5), 395–412. Sigurgeirsson, I. & Kaldalóns, I. (2017). Comparison of co-operation, interaction and school development in team teachings schools and schools where teachers teach alone. Netla – Online Journal on Pedagogy and Education, University of Iceland – School of Education. See http://netla.hi.is/er-samvinna-lykill-ad-skolathroun-samanburdur-a-bekkjarkennsluskolum-og-teymiskennsluskolum/ Stoll, L. & Louis, K. S. (Eds). (2007). Professional learning communities: Divergence, depth and dilemmas. Maidenhead UK: Open University Press. Yin, R.K. (2014). Case Study Research (5th edition). Thousand Oaks Cal.: Sage.
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