Teacher learning in professional learning communities : a study of three primary schools in the Pinetown District of KwaZulu-Natal.
The purpose of this study was to explore teacher learning in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) by investigating how teachers learn in a PLC. In addition it sought to explore the experiences of teachers’ professional learning in a PLC. Literature on PLCs has proliferated in the last decade, signifying the importance of collaborative learning practices. This study draws on Reid’s (2007) quadrants of teacher learning and Wenger’s (1998) community of practice theory to understand and interpret teacher learning in PLCs. This is a qualitative study, located within the interpretive paradigm. A case study research design was utilised with the case being three primary schools in the Pinetown district and it was the case of teacher learning in PLCs. Data generation methods included focus group interviews with six teachers in each school and semi-structured interviews with the principals of each school to triangulate the data. The findings of the research revealed that learning occurred predominantly in a collaborative capacity both formally and informally. Various modes of teacher learning were expressed: dialogue, workshops, networking and mentoring. However, dialogic practices were acknowledged as the most prevalent form of teacher learning in a PLC. It was further revealed that the nature of these dialogic practices were not thoroughly addressed in schools thereby hindering the reflective inquiry of engagement it requires for optimal teacher collaboration in a PLC. In terms of teachers’ experiences of learning in a PLC, occurrences were mostly positive. This was a result of engaging with social agents such as subject advisors and learning from each other. One of the most challenging factors of teacher learning in a PLC was the lack of support that was afforded to teachers. In addition the lack of time and work intensification hindered successful teacher learning in a PLC. These findings prompted the need for more involvement from leaders to support teacher learning in PLCs which was expressed as one of the recommendations. Furthermore, it was recommended that leaders play an integral role in establishing virtual PLCs for teachers to collaborate with members within and outside their organisation, allowing for networking and learning from external social agents. In this way the barrier of time as a hindering factor to teacher learning in a PLC would be addressed and teacher collaboration would be optimised.