Toward a Model of Multi-Level Professional Learning Communities to Guide the Training and Practice of Literacy Coaches

Toward a Model of Multi-Level Professional Learning Communities to Guide the Training and Practice of Literacy Coaches

Michelle McAnuff-Gumbs (The College of Saint Rose, USA) and Katherine Verbeck (The College of Saint Rose, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1936-4.ch019


Were coaches exposed to key PLC concepts? Were they engaged in crucial processes? Was a viable training model used? The study indirectly affirms the efficacy of innovations geared at training literacy professionals online.
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Organizational Background

As budgets shrink and staff rosters contract, schools find themselves hard-pressed to provide cost effective professional learning opportunities for teachers, often looking internally in their bid to sustain school improvement efforts. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in their various configurations (cross-functional teams; whole-faculty teams; building leadership teams; teacher study groups; lesson study teams) are resurging in popularity, and there is burgeoning research indicating that their ongoing, collaborative and job-embedded nature make them more effective than “fly-by” training workshops (Alberta InPraxis Group, 2006; AISR, 2003; Darlington-Hammond & Loewenberg-Ball, 1998; Eaker, DuFour, & Burnette, 2002; Hord, 1997). While debates rage regarding definitions and the form such communities should take, their popularity in the educational literature seems unwavering, and literacy teacher educators are increasingly being called on to induct candidates into PLC principles, processes and practices. Such calls have increased in intensity given research indications that effective literacy-focused schools tend to be organized as PLCs in which faculty work together to re-culture their schools, to strengthen staff competence, to improve educational offerings and, ultimately, to enhance student outcomes (Alberta InPraxis Group, 2006; Gaffney, Hesbol, & Corso, 2005; Stoll, Bolan, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006).

The current study scrutinizes training practices in an online graduate-level literacy leadership course to discover whether training, as it stands, inducts prospective literacy coaches into concepts and processes of effective professional learning communities, whether provisions adequately mentor candidates toward implementing the kinds of PLCs proven to work for school improvement, and whether conversations among candidates and their facilitators could unveil a viable model to guide the training and future work of coaches. Key concerns involve whether the kind of collective thinking and problem-solving fostered in learning forums mirrors PLCs in which practitioners identify a broad range of school-related issues and work together to locate viable, research-based solutions to strengthen leadership, instruction and student learning, and whether interactions mirrored PLCs processes at three crucial levels: instrumental action aimed primarily at improving both teacher and student performance, systems thinking focused on mainly on improving school conditions, and transformative thinking geared at fostering critical inquiry into socio-political issues, internal as well as external, to schools (See Bhola, 2006; Du Four, 2004; Servage, 2008; Talbert, 2010).

DuFour (2007) expresses deep pessimism regarding the role that teacher education institutions can truly play in producing leaders with the appropriate mindset and the propensity for forming PLCs, stating, “I don’t think we can wait for higher education to foster PLC concepts” and “teachers are unlikely to find it” in their training (Newsweek, November 19, Online). Additionally, Kwakman (2003) indirectly implicates teacher education in faulty implementation of PLCs, maintaining that research attention to the quality of teacher training is necessary if PLCs are to be effectively implemented in schools. Feger and Arruda (2008), in a review of the PLC research, underscore the need not only for research scrutinizing the “pre-service participation [of] both teachers and instructional leaders” in PLCs, but also for studies examining the “design of online professional development courses” especially those that report on observation of teachers as they engage in PLC processes (p. 18). As a response to these demands, the study scrutinizes practices in an online course in literacy leadership to ascertain whether the course appropriately inducts candidates into PLC concepts and processes in a comprehensive manner. A secondary purpose linked to course design involves exposing the training model used.

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