A Study on the Principal’s Role in the Development of Professional Learning Communities in Elementary Schools that “Beat the Odds” in Reading

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Current federal legislation, such as No Child Left Behind and The Race to the Top, have elicited high levels of accountability for increasing student reading achievement. Professional organizations and researchers encourage educators to organize schools into professional learning communities (PLCs) to improve student learning. Despite the increasing popularity of the term PLC, actually transforming the culture of a school into a PLC continues to be a complex and challenging task. Leadership has been identified in studies as a critical element of change that leads to improvement. Research is needed to define the principal’s practices that are successful in developing and sustaining a school-wide professional learning community. This qualitative study addresses successful leadership practices of principals in four schools that are “beating the odds” in reading. These schools are at or above the district mean proficiency on the MCAII and have higher ELL and poverty levels than other elementary schools in the district.Through one-on-one interviews with principals, classroom teachers, intervention teachers, special education teachers, and coaches as well as principal observations and artifact collection, data was gathered to learn more about the daily actions and decisions of principals in these schools. Data collection was guided by five attributes of professional learning communities—shared leadership, shared values and vision, deprivatized practice, collective creativity, and supportive conditions. The major findings of the study identified the following principal actions as conducive to the establishment of professional learning communities: (a) teachers had input in curriculum, instruction, and assessment decisions; (b) school building level iv systems (committees, staff meeting norms) were involved in decision making and information dispersion; (c) schools had a reading instructional framework informed by research; (d) grade-level and cross grade-level collaboration on reading instruction included reflecting on practice, reviewing student work, common planning, studying research, and analyzing student data; (e) teaching peers provided instructional support to colleagues by mentoring, observing, and co-teaching; (f) a high commitment to quality instruction and achievement elicited collective creativity via seeking research, professional development and internet resources; and (g) extrinsic recognition of student reading achievement.

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