Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 60 Number 3, p. 258-276 (May/June 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
Teacher professional learning communities provide environments in which teachers engage in regular research and collaboration. They have been found effective as a means for connecting professional learning to the day-to-day realities faced by teachers in the classroom. This article explores the nature and varying forms of professional learning communities in rural Gansu, one of China’s poorest provinces, in northwest China.
In this article, the authors use qualitative and quantitative data. They draw on survey data collected in primary schools serving 71 villages in rural Gansu Province as well as transcripts from in-depth interviews with 30 teachers. With analysis of transcripts from qualitative interviews, they investigate the extent to which professional learning communities are viewed by teachers as a regular part of their lives and illustrate the diversity of forms of professional learning communities. With analysis of survey data, they investigate the prevalence of types of activities associated with professional learning communities.
They also investigate the characteristics of schools, principals, and teachers themselves that are associated with these indicators of professional learning communities.
The findings suggest that professional learning communities are thriving even in one of China’s most resource-constrained rural regions. Engagement in professional learning communities is associated with strong leadership of the principal as reported by teachers, policy reforms that fully engage the structures of teacher professionalism in dissemination and experimentation of innovations in teaching, and the initiative of teachers themselves.
At the individual level, our key finding that teachers rated as excellent in the past 4 years are more likely to actively participate in professional learning communities and to publish may also speak to the importance of institutional supports.
This research has shown, the time, physical space, and institutional incentives exist in China to make teacher professional communities possible and worth teachers’ efforts.
The authors suggest that the policy and research community in the United States may also wish to look to the professional learning communities that exist across the wide socioeconomic spectrum served by the Chinese educational system.