Professional Learning Communities’ role in high school teachers’ professional learning at a private school in the Western Cape

Snyders, Estelle Martha (2017-03)

Thesis (MEdPsych) --Stellenbosch University, 2017

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT : Education is seen by most governments as an area that must be highly regulated and prescribed to serve national interests. Consequently, top-down professional development programmes have become the norm. This highly prescriptive environment threatens to diminish teacher professionalism, and at the same time, struggles to deliver effective career-long teacher professional learning or improved learner achievement because uniformity of knowledge is assumed when the aim is the transmission or transfer of knowledge and internalization. Such a situation does not serve the multifarious contexts and needs that exist in our schools today. Career-long professional learning is commonly advocated for in-service teachers and this case study intended to show that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), as seen through the lens of activity theory, could serve those learning needs well. Teachers’ classroom practice and professionalism have regularly been mentioned in publications since 1990 and the literature suggests that professional learning through participation plays a crucial role in both of these. The objective of this research study was thus to explore how the participants learn and to discover the gap between current learning practices and the potential for professional learning in a Professional Learning Community. Positioned within qualitative research, this single case study design viewed Professional Development in Education through the lens of Y. Engeström’s (1987) activity theory, which propounds a cultural historical approach to learning in which teachers see themselves as one, constantly transforming point of an integrated system of learning. A constructivist paradigm thus guided data collection and analysis. Seven teachers who had exhibited an active interest in independent professional learning and development were selected through purposive sampling. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, a focus group discussion and four questionnaires. Data were analysed by coding themes, which formed the basis of this case study’s findings and recommendations. Prior to theme development, the definitions of key terms were clarified to reflect the constructivist paradigm of this case study The following key findings were revealed by the data. There was paradigmatic dissonance between the three educational activity systems, namely the national government DBE, the provincial WCED and the school. The learning community within which the participants learnt professionally qualified as a Professional Learning Community, even though they did not call themselves so. The Professional Learning Community had a distinct culture which allowed the participants to communicate effectively. However, it also had a limiting effect on professional learning because layered development had resulted in several shared horizons. The Professional Learning Community played a positive role in collegial support because the participants saw themselves as a community. However, if the Professional Learning Community were to mature, it would need long-term support. The participants learnt formally and informally, although the role of reflection and collaboration in their learning could be further developed. The participants took collective responsibility for their learners’ learning. The implication for teachers’ professional learning lies in establishing and fostering a culture of engaging in Professional Learning Communities. The revitalised professional rigour that goes with professional learning and development leads to the development of teacher agency which in turn facilitates professional decision-making, effective classroom practice and enhanced learner achievement. Adaptability is one of the key characteristics of a modern teacher; the modern classroom is such a complex environment in which teachers must operate effectively that they have to be able to construct knowledge flexibly.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Onderwys word deur die meeste regerings beskou as ʼn gebied wat op die hoogste vlak gereguleer en voorgeskryf moet word om nasionale belange te dien. Bo-na-onder- professionele ontwikkelingsprogramme het gevolglik die norm geword. Hierdie hoogs voorskriftelike omgewing hou ʼn bedreiging in om onderwysers se professionalisme te verlaag, en terselfdertyd slaag dit nie daarin om doeltreffende professionele loopbaanlange leer vir onderwysers of verbeterde leerderprestasies te lewer nie. Hierdie situasie maak nie voorsiening vir die veelvuldige kontekste en behoeftes in ons skole van vandag nie. Loopbaanlange professionele leer word algemeen vir indiens-onderwysers voorgestaan, en hierdie gevallestudie was daarop gemik om te toon dat professionele leergemeenskappe, soos deur die lens van aktiwiteitsteorie gesien, goed in hierdie leerbehoeftes kan voorsien. In publikasies sedert 1990 is gereeld verwys na onderwysers se klaskamerpraktyk en professionalisme en die literatuur doen aan die hand dat professionele leer deur deelname ʼn uiters belangrike rol in albei speel. Die doel van hierdie navorsingstudie was dus om ondersoek in te stel na die manier waarop die deelnemers leer en om die gaping tussen huidige leerpraktyke en die potensiaal vir professionele leer in ʼn professionele leergemeenskap uit te lig. Hierdie studie, geposisioneer in kwalitatiewe navorsing en met ʼn eengevallestudie-ontwerp, het ʼn ondersoek na professionele ontwikkeling in die onderwys deur die lens van Engeström se aktiwiteitsteorie behels, wat ʼn kultureel-historiese benadering tot leer voorstaan waarin onderwysers hulself as een, deurlopend transformerende punt van ʼn geïntegreerde leerstelsel beskou. ʼn Konstruktivistiese paradigma het dus die data-insameling en -ontleding gerig. Sewe onderwysers wat ʼn aktiewe belangstelling in onafhanklike professionele leer en ontwikkeling getoon het, is deur doelbewuste steekproefneming gekies. Data is deur semigestruktureerde onderhoude, ʼn fokusgroepgesprek en vier vraelyste ingesamel. Die data is deur kodering ontleed. Kodes is gebruik om temas te bepaal wat die grondslag van hierdie studie se bevindinge en aanbevelings gevorm het. Die volgende vernaamste bevindinge is deur die data aan die lig gebring: Daar is paradigmatiese onversoenbaarheid tussen drie onderwysaktiwiteitstelsels, naamlik die nasionale Departement van Basiese Onderwys, die provinsiale Wes-Kaapse Onderwysdepartement en die skool. Die leergemeenskap waarin die deelnemers leer, kan as ʼn professionele leergemeenskap beskou word. Die professionele leergemeenskap het ʼn bepaalde kultuur wat die deelnemers in staat stel om doeltreffend te kommunikeer, maar dit het egter ook ʼn beperkende uitwerking op professionele leer weens gedeelde horisonne. Die professionele leergemeenskap speel ʼn positiewe rol in kollegiale ondersteuning omdat die deelnemers hulself as ʼn gemeenskap beskou. Die professionele leeromgewing verg egter langtermynondersteuning om verder te groei. Die deelnemers leer formeel en informeel, maar die rol van besinning en samewerking in hul leer moet egter ontwikkel word. Die deelnemers aanvaar gesamentlike verantwoordelikheid vir hul leerders se leer. Die implikasie vir onderwysers se professionele leer lê in die vestiging en kweking van ʼn kultuur van deelname in professionele leergemeenskappe. Die hernude professionele nougesetheid wat met professionele leer en ontwikkeling gepaard gaan, lei tot die ontwikkeling van onderwysers se werksaamheid, wat weer professionele besluitneming, doeltreffende klaskamerpraktyk en bevorderde leerderprestasie in die hand werk. Aanpasbaarheid is een van die sleuteleienskappe van ʼn moderne onderwyser; die moderne klaskamer is so ʼn komplekse omgewing waarin onderwysers doeltreffend moet funksioneer dat hulle in staat moet wees om kennis op ʼn buigsame manier saam te stel.

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