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Professional Learning Communities: School Improvement Focus Research Paper

Today, due to traditional failure in educational reforms, many educational researchers and experts are proposing a different approach to education reforms. Presently, educational research focuses on improving student learning by decreasing teacher isolation and encouraging collaboration between educators (DuFour and Eaker 21). The new focus of school improvement, termed Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), involves a small group of teachers who work collaboratively towards attaining common goals to improve student achievement (Newmann and Wehlage 63). This research, using mixed methods research design, will investigate how the teacher perceptions of the professional learning communities (PLCs) in elementary school can contribute to improvement in student achievement.

Research Paradigm and Research Design

This research study will use a positivist approach to establish the relationship between student academic achievement and professional learning communities. This research study will use a mixed-methods survey that incorporates both quantitative and qualitative to analyze both the teacher perceptions of the PLCs process and the student achievement results. In this way, a better understanding of whether the PLCs contribute to improvement in student achievement can be achieved. A combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches ensures a comprehensive understanding of the research topic than when each method is used separately (Creswell 34).

Statement of the Problem

For a long time, elementary schools have been developing and implementing educational reforms due to increased pressure from local, state, or federal organizations and legislations that demand for improvement of academic standards. In addition to these pressures, the school reform efforts are also driven by the technological and economic developments. The educational reforms aimed at improving the quality of education and ensure that students acquire high-level skills necessary for economic development. However, the implementation of appropriate reforms to improve and sustain student achievement has proven to be a challenge for most schools.

The professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are considered the best approach that holds promise for promoting and sustaining student achievement (DuFour and Eaker 41). The traditional approach of teaching and learning has been characterized by a lack of teacher collaboration contributing to low academic standards in schools. Under this approach, the student learning in a particular subject was the responsibility of a single teacher with less influence from the other staff members. However, the new approach, the PLCs, instills a culture of teacher collaboration to improve and sustain student achievement in schools.

Much research conducted on the effectiveness of the PLCs indicates that it contributes to staff development that leads to school improvement. However, less research has been done to establish the link between academic results and student improvement, and the perceptions of the teachers on the effectiveness of the PLCs in achieving staff development. In this regard, the research study will investigate the relationship between teacher’s perceptions of the PLCs effectiveness in improving staff development while improving student achievement.

Background and Context for the Problem

The idea of school reform to align the educational standards in American schools with other international systems and meet the challenges of globalization has been around for some time now. The school reforms and improvement efforts aimed at increasing the standards and accountability in schools, which led to a shift from the local control model to a model based on federal, state, and district control of the reform efforts in schools (Pipho 20).

Based on various report findings, the policymakers sought to improve student achievement through raising the educational standards, prolonging the duration spent in school, and recruiting better-trained instructors (Fullan, 87). Many school improvement initiatives sprung up because of the revelations of declining standards in schools among them the Excellence Movement (DuFour and Eaker 62).

However, all these initiatives advocated for proper implementation of the existing practices and did not propose reform of the existing system, which contributed to the failure of these initiatives. A different approach, spearheaded by the Restructuring Movement was implemented in the1990s with the sole purpose of allowing states and districts to control various aspects of education. This brought confidence to schoolteachers and principles as they were given the responsibility over issues affecting their schools (Fullan 82). At the same time, Congress approved policies that granted more freedom to schools to implement strategies by the national educational goals.

Despite the noble nature of the idea of the restructuring movement, most schools focused on student discipline, staff development, and parental involvement, which, unfortunately, did not lead to student improvement. In 2001, a new initiative, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy was implemented to ensure high-quality education for all children through multiple reform efforts. Unfortunately, the NCLB has achieved less over the last four years. Increasing evidence suggests that the “best reform efforts should aim at transforming schools into Professional Learning Communities” (DuFour and Eaker 17). The popularity of the PLCs as the means of improving student achievement in educational settings has increased over the recent past.

The PLCs mainly focus on learning whereby all the teachers have the responsibility of ensuring that all students learn. The overall purpose of the PLCs is to improve student learning in schools (DuFour and Eaker 44). Additionally, the PLCs also focus on ensuring that teachers work collaboratively as a team to achieve common goals. According to Fullan, PLCs promote a culture of collaboration with regard to better teaching practices, which leads to continual school improvement (73). In PLCs, teams collaborate in planning and preparing teaching materials, use standardized assessments to guide teaching and assume responsibility for the efforts required for student improvement.

From the literature review provided, it is clear that past reform efforts failed because of not directly focusing on aspects that could lead to student improvement. The PLCs on the other hand, if implemented properly offers an alternative way of achieving student improvement in schools. In this research study, Brighton Elementary school with a student population of 902 students, which has implemented the PLCs teaching model, would be investigated, with grades 6 through to 8 used to generate student achievement scores. The students of this school are from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The implementation of the PLCs in this school was in partnership with the local community members and the district education staff. The teachers, from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, are encouraged to work collaboratively for one hour a day regarding the teaching methods and assessment criteria.

Importance of Significance of the Study

This research study intends to provide important information to policymakers, teachers, and parents about the effectiveness of the PLCs in schools. There is no previous research available to establish the relationship between teacher perceptions of the effectiveness of the PLCs in enhancing staff development and the PLCs role in student improvement. In this regard, this study will focus on two important indicators of establishing teacher’s perception of the PLCs viz. the extent of teacher collaboration and their dedication and commitment to higher standards through collaboration. The data involving teachers with both negative and positive perceptions about PLCs will provide meaningful insight into the relationship between student achievement and teacher perception of PLCs.

Research Design

This study will employ mixed methods research design to assess the teacher perceptions of the PLCs and to analyze the student achievement results. The mixed methods research design combines both the quantitative methods such as correlation analysis and qualitative methods involving case studies to collect analyze and interpret data (Creswell 34). To measure the relationship between teacher perceptions and student achievement scores, correlation analysis would be used.

Research Purpose Statement

The purpose of this case study will be to describe how student achievement correlates with teacher perceptions of the PLCs. The participants for this study will be grade 6 through to 8 elementary school teachers from Brighton school, particularly English language and math teachers currently participating in math or English language Professional Learning Communities.

Research Questions

The central research question for this study will be; Does teacher perceptions about adding their personal skill, while participating in PLCs, influence student achievement?

The sub-questions can be derived from the central research question include:

  1. How do the teacher perceptions regarding the skill level of their Professional Learning Community contribute to collaboration?
  2. How do teacher perceptions of the skill level of their Professional Learning Community promote student improvement?
  3. Is there a connection between teacher perception about Professional Learning Communities and student achievement?
  4. What proportion of teachers has met their goals with regard to their Professional Learning team’s set objectives?

Data Collection

A cross-sectional survey that involves collecting data from different sections of the sample would be used (Creswell 146). In this research study, the cross-sectional survey will investigate teacher perceptions regarding the Professional Learning Communities. Data would be collected using questionnaires circulated electronically via email to the participants of Brighton Elementary school. To ensure the information provided is not biased, the study will involve a pilot survey of teachers not included who do not belong to a participating group.

The cross-sectional survey will provide data that can be used to analyze the teachers’ perceptions of the PLCs and what impact the perceptions have on student achievement. To collect this data, I will need permission and the cooperation of the administration of Brighton School and the full cooperation of the participants. A request for participation will be sent to selected teachers via email. An electronic survey questionnaire will then be sent to those who accept participate and the data collected compiled electronically. To measure the student achievement scores, the criterion-referenced test (CRT) scores will be used (DuFour and Eaker 154). The CRTs will be administered on Math and English language to measure the students’ achievement in grades 6 through 8.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

In this study, the research design will be a mixed-method research design, which is a combination of both quantitative and qualitative approaches (Creswell 138). Therefore, I will use quantitative analysis techniques using the available statistical analysis software and then compare this with qualitative results from the qualitative data collection and use them in my final analysis. In this survey, the dependent variable will be teacher perceptions of the PLCs while the CRT scores, the PLC team size, and achievement of the team goals are the independent variables.

The CRT scores for both Math and English language will be grouped in two categories i.e. prior and one year after the implementation of the PLCs. The CRT scores will also be analyzed individually about negative or positive teacher perceptions of the PLCs process. One way to validate the results would be through the use of a pilot study. The data obtained from the pilot study will be important in checking the validity of the results obtained from the participating group.

Ethical Considerations

Respect for Persons

To ensure that the participants are informed before agreeing to participate, an email will be sent to selected teachers in Brighton school giving a detailed description of the survey and outlining the importance of the survey. This will then be followed by a formal request for participation sent electronically. In this request, recipients after indicating their informed consent to participate will be redirected to the actual survey.


In this study, information regarding teacher perceptions is likely to be sensitive as it may affect the PLCs implementation process in Brighton school. However, I intend to keep the teacher’s responses confidential so as not to affect the operations of the Professional Learning teams. This research study has the potential of providing important insights about how teacher perceptions of the PLCs relate to student achievement scores.


To ensure that the research process is all-inclusive, after the first email request for participation, a follow-up email will be sent urging the recipients to participate. If the responses are few, I will expand the scope of the study to include teachers not previously included in the initial survey. The findings of this study will be availed to the teaching staff of Brighton school along with recommendations.

Limitations of the Research Project

  1. The research study will be conducted in only one school and therefore the information provided will not be significant when considered nationally.
  2. The perceptions of the participants may be biased based on the participants’ attitudes.

The information may not be factual as only the participants report their perceptions and no interviews will be conducted.

Annotated Bibliography

Creswell, Johann. Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating Quantitative and qualitative research. New Jersey: Pearson, 2005.

This book covers both the qualitative and quantitative approaches to research evaluation in educational research. It covers research design methodologies and the ways of evaluating research findings of others.

DuFour, Roberts, and Eaker, Remy. Professional learning communities at work:Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree, 1998.

This book offers strategies by which the Professional Learning Communities can be sustained in schools and how teachers can be made to function as professional learning communities.

Fullan, Martin. Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2001.

The book presents educational leadership that involves programs operated independently by teachers with coordination from community partners. It provides a cross-cultural collaboration and explains the importance of PLCs.

Newmann, Francis, and Wehlage, Gareth. Successful school restructuring: A report toThe public and educators by the center for restructuring schools. Madison, WI:University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

The authors provide ways in which the staff can work together in collaborative teams that primarily focus on student learning and other parameters that promote student success. Explains the PLCs should work together to develop a common assessment and analysis criteria for student results.

Pipho, Cohen. Governing the American dream of universal public education. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2000.

The book provides the history of public education system in the United States. It also describes the history of the educational reform in the United States and the factors that led to the reforms.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Professional Learning Communities: School Improvement Focus." July 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/professional-learning-communities-school-improvement-focus/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Professional Learning Communities: School Improvement Focus'. 24 July.

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