An Exploration of Teachers' Lived Experiences in Professional Learning Communities in One Ohio Urban School

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Administration


Advisor: Carolyn Ridenour


The purpose of this study was to explore teachers' lived experiences in professional learning communities, conceptualized in Ohio as teacher based teams. This study was carried out against the backdrop of state policies addressed to poorly performing schools. School culture must change in failing schools. In order to change culture (Kowalski, 2006) and to effectively impact student learning in underperforming schools, new shared beliefs and behaviors must come to fruition. In an effort to improve student achievement in underperforming schools across the state of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Education has mandated that these schools engage a process called the Ohio Improvement Process (ODE, 2012). This process requires schools to develop a two-way system of collaborative data analysis among three levels of stakeholders: district leadership teams (DLT), building leadership teams (BLT) and teacher based teams (TBT). The focus for this study was one Ohio urban middle school and its teacher based teams. According to DuFour (2004), professional learning communities place an emphasis on organizational learning, collaboration and collective accountability for student achievement. This concept of creating a learning organization by DuFour was an outgrowth of the work conducted by Senge (1990). The study took place at a school that performed in the lowest five percent of all Ohio's schools. I was an insider to the school district but not to the school itself. This school was considered urban, with high poverty and a high number of minorities. Participants (N=14) were middle school teachers selected from the teacher based teams in the areas of reading, mathematics and one intervention specialist from each of the seventh and eighth grade levels. Narratives of teachers' experiences, perceptions, and beliefs were solicited through one-on-one, face-to-face audio-taped interviews. I transcribed part of the interviews, assisted by a colleague (an outsider) who transcribed part of the interviews. I alone coded and interpreted the meanings of teacher voices. From the interpreted meanings I constructed three spheres of influence on the likelihood that TBTs maintain a sole focus on student learning: teachers as resources to each other, student performance data and allocated time. These three spheres of influence capture the experiences of the 14 teachers. Literature on professional learning communities (teacher based teams) have elements that delve into two spheres: teachers serving as resources to each other and utilizing data to drive the instructional decision making process. However, less focus on sufficient allocated time, the third sphere of influence, was found in the literature. I drew implications from these findings, including questions to teachers, administrators, and policy makers overseeing the consequences for poorly performing schools in Ohio. I suggest future studies of teachers' experiences that might serve to add to a growing body of research about professional learning communities that might aid educators in their quest to improve student academic achievement.



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