Creating a Professional Learning Community through Self-Study

Nov. 01, 2011

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 7, No. 3, November 2011, 315-330
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors describe the use of self-study as a frame for professional learning that grew out of a professional development program for teachers examining their practice in a dual-language K-4 school.

The elementary school , located in the center of the rural state of Iowa, has a unique program that provides dual language (Spanish-English) instruction to their K-4 student population.
The goal of the school is to develop both bilingual and biliterate students who will be able more fully to participate in the rich linguistic demands of the world around them.

Self-Study as a Frame for Professional Learning
The authors of this article represent the varied participants in this evolution of a dual language program.
The authors are two classroom teachers, a program coordinator, and two university professors.
They created a professional development plan that incorporated self-study for teachers to examine their own practice.

Data Sources
Teacher-created self-study focus areas were examined through specific data sources chosen by the teachers to directly address their self-study.
The data sources included: lesson plans of classroom instruction and teacher field notes of student response; student (and teacher) language use in the classroom as documented in field notes, student artifacts, and colleague observations; documentation of student participation with the target language; and self-reports of sheltered practice use in the classroom.


The authors argue that the use of self-study as the frame for their professional learning experience was seen as a powerful and positive experience overall, impacting both their own practice and the dual language program at large.
Within their practice, self-study helped to focus attention on issues that mattered to the teacher.

The authors also argue that during the process of self-study, many of the teachers became supportive collegial friends, colleagues who appeared genuinely interested in working together to improve practice.
By working as collegial friends, by engaging in critical discussions of genuine issues and teacher-chosen interests in improving practice, the dual language program as a whole benefited.
Teachers seemed more clearly able to articulate programmatic issues and concerns as well as strengths and successes.


The authors found the use of a self-study frame a useful tool to begin the process of thinking about self-study of practice.
This frame seemed most helpful when used in the context of a professional learning community where colleagues can work together discussing their ideas and sharing ways to think about data and to gather data.

The authors conclude that the collegial friendships that develop for most of the teachers within a safe professional learning environment encouraged both honesty and ownership in teaching practice.
Furthermore, these collegial friendships seemed to facilitate positive professional growth for teachers involved in professionally challenging their own instructional change.

The authors also found the use of collegial friends works well when colleagues feel safe sharing their stories, discussing their practice, and critiquing their own strengths and needs. These dynamics helped foster improvement in the authors' own practice and in their own professional learning for the purpose of improving our practice and making a difference for the learners we affect.
They found it particularly helpful for the administration to be visible and public in their support of self-study research in the classroom.

Updated: Jan. 15, 2014