Influences of Professional Learning Communities on an Administrators Lived Experiences Term Paper

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Teaching is in many ways a solitary profession: A teacher in his or her own classroom spends hours in contact with students but often relatively little time talking to other teachers and educators. Administrators are also in many ways isolated from the teachers. Perhaps because of this fact, the administrators interviewed for this project emphasized the personal importance of collaboration with other members of the professional and the necessity of providing support for each other. This section summarizes the findings of this research concerning how education professionals defined and evaluated different aspects of cooperation within the profession.

Subject Population and Research Design

This study was conducted at a kindergarten through eighth grade school in the district where I am employed. I conducted six interviews with administrators who ranged in experience (in administration) from one to eight years. Five were women and five were former teachers in the district. The administrators have a variety of teaching experience. One was a former sixth grade teacher, one was a former coach and art teacher and four were elementary teachers. The newest administrator, a male, is a somewhat younger than the more veteran administrators. None of them had initially intended to go into administration. Each has days when they wake up and say, "What am I doing here?" However, they do not leave.

The data-gathering procedure I used consisted of two phases. The first phase was a review of the literature on ethnographic especially vis-a-vis professional learning communities. The results of this phase were presented in chapter two of this study.

The second phase of the data gathering for this study was primary research with the six building administrators described above. In this phase, data was gathered through two methods, interviews and a focus group session. One-on-one interviews were conducted with each administrator. These sessions lasted one hour to two hours and were held at the convenience of the co-participant in their office. Sessions were verbally recorded and transcribed. Questions did vary among the co-participants. The methodology was the same, but the questions evolved as the interviews proceeded in these unstructured interviews.

The format of interviewing used in this research was that of a guided but unstructured interview. Unstructured interviews are not based on the answers to a predetermined set of questions that is given to everyone in a research project. This form of interview allowed for the researcher to derive some common data from each subject while also allowing the interview subject himself or herself to introduce topics of importance to that individual.

Unstructured interviews such as those conducted for this project are an excellent way of determining how "natives" think about a subject because they allow those "natives" to establish and respond to their own categories. This would not be possible within either a structured interview or traditional questionnaire format.

The passage below summarizes both the advantages and limitations of the kind of guided but unstructured interviews used to obtain the data for this project:

Unstructured interviewing involves direct interaction between the researcher and a respondent or group. It differs from traditional structured interviewing in several important ways. First, although the researcher may have some initial guiding questions or core concepts to ask about, there is no formal structured instrument or protocol. Second, the interviewer is free to move the conversation in any direction of interest that may come up. Consequently, unstructured interviewing is particularly useful for exploring a topic broadly.

However, there is a price for this lack of structure. Because each interview tends to be unique with no predetermined set of questions asked of all respondents, it is usually more difficult to analyze unstructured interview data, especially when synthesizing across respondents (

One focus group session was held with five of the six administrators. This session was held at my home and was recorded.

Recording of Data

An analysis of the material gathered during the interviews and focus group allowed for patterns to develop after all of the data had already been gathered: I did not precode any datum until it was all data were collected. The grounded approach is more open-minded and more sensitive to the context (Glaser & Strauss, 1997).

Each interview was transcribed and returned to the subject. Upon their approval, copies of all stories were distributed to each co-participants. Co-participants read each other's stories and the focus group session centered on their shared stories. As I wrote their stories, I conveyed
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the meanings that I have attached to their stories. I used emotional recall where I imagined being back in the scene emotionally and physically. I integrated parts of my experience into each of their stories with each having separate chapters. I also reflected upon the character of each person's story. The data gathered through these interviews can be usefully divided into a number of different categories.

Why Participants Entered the Field of Education

Each interview took place at a time chosen by the co-participants and lasted between one and two hours. All were conducted in April 2003. Each person was asked why he or she entered the field of education. Their answers included:

Having been good in school. One participant said: "I was....a very good student in school and you tend to gravitate to what you are good in doing. I had a social studies teacher teaching us the civil war. At that point, I decided that I wanted to be a high school history teacher."

Teaching is a profession that is compatible with raising a family. One participant answered: "To be frank, I had two children and the hours of a teacher were conducive to having a family."

The desire to help others, as this respondent described: "I wanted to be in some profession that helped people. First, I thought nursing, but as a single mom, my friend suggested teacher. Once I got into a teaching program, I knew it was meant to be."

It was one of the few professional options open to women in their generation, as one subject noted: "When I was growing up, there were not many opportunities for women. It was either a secretary, teacher, or a nurse. I was a good student, and I also was influenced by two teachers who made me feel special."

Others gave more visceral reasons for wanting to become teachers. Randy fell into teaching by accident. He needed employment so he accepted a position as a substitute teacher. Randy's first day as a substitute, he gave an exam that every student failed.

In the following days, he re-taught that lesson and every student passed. Randy stated, "The feeling was overwhelming."

Pat had experienced the love of teaching after she accepted a position as a teacher's assistant. She stated, "I loved it."

While the reasons varied substantially from one subject to another, each one had a clear and easily articulated reason for going in to teaching. Two of the six co-participants stated that they were influenced by teachers, and that they were good students. Three other co-participants stated, that it is a good profession for moms. However, once they became teachers they each fell in love with the profession. And yet, despite the fact that each one of them loved being in the classroom, each one of them had decided to become an administrator.

During each interview I asked the question. "I hear your enthusiasm for teaching and now we are sitting here with you as an administrator. How did that happen?" Five of the six co-participants stated that they were encouraged by other administrators. None of them had originally intended to become an administrator, although they recognized when they were still teachers the important role that a good administrator can have, as one of the subjects said: "I realized that I could influence student learning more if I were an administrator."

Effect of Administrators on Students asked each of the six administrators whether they believed they were still having a direct impact on student learning even though they were no longer in the classroom. Each of the six said that they believed that they were in fact having a continuing impact on student learning. One subject, who is focused on working together with teachers and supporting them in their initiatives, summarized her feelings like this:

Yes, I think it is our prime responsibility. We have to provide structure, resource, and support. Teachers cannot do it alone. We must support them."

Another summarized how she believed that she affected the classroom environment like this:

It is hard to tell, but I do think that in the teams where they are consistent and working on common assessments, things will translate into a more cohesive experience and improve students learning.

Randy's answer to the question was different from the others. One of the primary responsibilities of the assistant principal at the middle school is discipline. Randy believed that it would be difficult for him to handle the task of meting out discipline but found that he has a certain talent for doing…

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