Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Vincent A. Anfara, Jr.

Committee Members

Pamela Angelle, Colleen Gilrane, Jason Huff

Abstract

With research supporting the benefits of professional learning communities in transforming schools, school leaders need insight and understanding into how to lead the organization toward successful implementation. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of the principal in developing and sustaining professional learning communities in elementary school settings. The exploratory, sequential, mixed method case study was conducted using Hord’s (1997, 1998, 2008) Five Dimensions of a Professional Learning Community as the theoretical framework. The research design was a quan→QUAL sequential approach, with priority or dominance given to the qualitative phase (Greene, 2008; Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004). Triangulation of data sources and methods added strength to the findings.

In the initial phase, 107 teachers from eight elementary schools from one school district in a southeastern state responded to the PLCA—R instrument (Olivier & Hipp, 2010a). The PLCA—R data provided insight into teachers’ perceptions of the extent to which PLC practices are found in elementary schools. The quantitative data analysis led to the selection of two elementary schools with strong evidence of PLC practices to serve as cases for the qualitative phase.

In the qualitative phase data collection at the elementary schools included interviews with principals and teachers, observations of PLCs, and artifacts. Both within case and cross-case analyses were conducted to determine the extent of PLC practices and findings related to the role of the principal. With strong evidence of PLC practices, three themes were developed concerning the principal’s role in developing and sustaining PLCs: relationships matter; principal support is critical; and structure is important. The themes fall within the supportive conditions dimension of PLCs (Hord, 1997, 1998, 2008). As elementary principals lead their schools in developing PLC practices, they can benefit by recognizing the impact of principal support on the process. Principals can also foster PLCs by building trusting and caring relationships and by developing structures that support the collaborative work found in PLCs.

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