Empirical evidence is being found on the impact of an innovative professional development (PD) model on teacher development and student learning, based on “supported teacher collaborative inquiry.” The effect of administrative and other contextual supports and constraints will explicitly connect findings to participant settings. The sustainability of the model is being assessed for an additional two years after the completion of the targeted PD project.
Context: Professional Development Model
Partnership for Reform in Secondary Science and Mathematics (PRiSSM) began in Summer 2004 with 45 Lead Teachers from 22 schools across 6 districts. Mathematics and science teachers from related middle and high schools were supported in forming cross-district, cross-disciplinary professional learning communities (PLCs). The PLCs first began to develop a common vision of high quality teaching and learning, then collaboratively developed and pursued an inquiry question focused on instructional practice. The inquiry continued through the academic year, with logistical and intellectual support provided by a facilitator. In 2005-06, 100 “Expanded Team” teachers joined PRiSSM to establish school-based PLCs, led by the Lead Teachers, and again supported by PRiSSM facilitators. The majority of these teacher groups conducted collaborative inquiry for the final two years of the project.
The Research Project: Overview
A situated, sociocultural perspective on teacher learning (Lave, 1991; Rogoff, 1998) serves as a framework for this research on the relationships between the facilitation and work of a professional learning community, teaching practices, the school and district contexts (i.e., systemic affordances), and student learning. The project has the following four broad goals which frame the research questions:
- Analyze the various paths of development of participating teachers, focused on the relationships between the PD activities and the teachers’ beliefs and instructional practices
- Investigate the secondary impact of the PD activities on student achievement and learning
- Contextualize these measures in regard to the various school, district, and state based supports and constraints the participating teachers encounter; synthesize findings through an analysis of the relationships between PLC growth, teacher development, student learning, and the situated contexts in which the teacher groups are embodied
- Study the sustainability of the supported collaborative inquiry model when the external support is removed
The research design will make use of mixed methods (Creswell, 2003) in an effort to effectively capture the depth and breadth of project activity. The multi-tiered nature of the proposed research project suggests the need for empirical data at varying grain sizes. Case studies will be utilized to provide thicker (Geertz, 1973) and more contextualized understandings of processes and outcomes related to the research questions. The critical dimension of analysis in this study is the professional learning community – how the teachers involved are changed by their participation as well as how the PLC work is facilitated (or not) by project, building, and district level personnel and/or structures, and how the PLC work impacts students’ achievement.