Exploring the relationship between professional learning communities and the growth in teaching quality and student achievement
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Professional learning communities (PLCs) have been a national phenomenon implemented in schools across the nation since the 1990s. PLCs offer hope for schools by providing imbedded professional development for educators to improve their teaching and, thus, improve student outcomes. Many schools implement PLCs but results vary from campus to campus on how those PLCs have improved instruction and student achievement. Many are believed to refer to meetings or teams as PLCs even though these meetings and teams lack the support and structure to support improvement within the school in a meaningful way. Within the last decade, many schools across West Texas have implemented PLCs in their middle schools in an effort to improve student outcomes. The purpose of this study was to describe what components make up effective PLCs that enhance teacher development and student achievement in core academic classes in middle grades across West Texas. This research study included 62 participants who are administrators, content coaches, and teachers of Grades 6 through 8 core academic classes from nine different middle schools in West Texas. This study focused on four research questions: (a) What are educators’ perceptions of their PLC as it relates to learning trends, organizational support, inquiry orientation, and nonteaching support staff? (b) What are the educators’ perceptions of PLCs’ impact on teaching and on student learning in Grades 6 through 8 core subjects? (c) In what ways do teaching practices change as a result of participation in a PLC, and what aspects of the PLCs support these changes? and (d) What specific aspects of middle school PLCs support increased student learning and achievement? This study employed a mixed methods research design where the quantitative data from 62 surveys were collected first, and the qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with six participants were collected last. Descriptive data analysis was completed on the surveys to inform the researcher of each participant’s perceived PLC effectiveness. Individuals identified as members of a highly effective PLC and individuals identified as members of a less effective PLC were chosen for the interview phase of this research in order to attain perspectives from both viewpoints to answer the research questions. Four overarching themes were found to be important for effective PLCs: professional learning trends, organizational and managerial support for the learning community, internal and external inquiry orientation, and participation of nonteaching staff. The researcher concluded that when PLCs are implemented and sustained with these crucial components, they are likely to increase teacher effectiveness and student learning.