Encouraging professional learning communities

Year: 2012

Author: Hennissen, Paul

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


There is a growing consensus about the crucial role of the team of professionals in the school for sustainable school development. Worldwide economic and cultural changes demand high levels of quality of education and of teaching. Improved pupil learning is dependant upon teacher learning. In the past decade we have experienced the limits of formal, externally driven, professional development and school innovation. Sustained change asks for the individual and collective learning processes of teachers, investigating and improving their own practices.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) offer a context for these learning processes and for the building of capacity in the school (Hord, 1997). Verbiest (2011) defined seven essential conditions for PLCs. Although the idea of a PLC is popular, there are few schools who are really a PLC. Moreover, we do not know very much about how to develop schools as PLCs. So the question is how can the development of schools into PLCs, be described, which interventions contribute to the realization of a PLC, and which role of the schoolleader is effective in this process?

The research was undertaken in the context of a Communities of Practice project, which combined development and research. Six elementary schools in the Netherlands, were supported in their development into PLCs. Quantitative data were collected by a questionnaire focusing on the perceptions of staff members concerning the seven dimensions of PLC in their school. Qualitative data by semi-structured interviews. Full descriptions were made of the interviews and subsequently encoded and described in terms of the seven dimensions of PLC and of three schoolleaders' roles.

The main findings show that it is possible to describe the development of PLCs by comparing the results for each school on the seven dimensions with the results of 167 other schools who filled in the questionnaire. Interventions, which contribute to the development of schools as PLC, were connecting capacity building with the innovation agenda of the school, stimulating and modelling a professional culture and re-organisation of the primary process. Effective school leaders practise more roles together. This and previous studies show that there are some capacities and dimensions which are important if we want to realise a learning environment in schools.

Hord, S. (1997). Professional learning communities: Communities of continuous inquiry and improvement. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, Austin.

Verbiest, E. (2011). Developing Professional Learning Communities. Paper presented at the AERA conference, New Orleans.