Learning communities in learning schools: Developing the social capacity for change

Karen R Seashore

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


Public concerns about education seem to increase daily and have resulted in a ceaseless flood of reform recommendations that began in the 1980s. Bureaucratic bloat is blamed for the lack of rapid improvement and policy makers in many countries seek more nimble and responsive schools through site-based management coupled with accountability for results. This trend has been joined by an emphasis on clearer expectations about what students should know and better tests to measure whether students (and schools) are doing a good job. Teachers, administrators and policy makers are, consequently, living in an environment that increasingly emphasizes accountability, data-based decision-making and continuous improvement. The policy focus on structural and curriculum reform initiatives has been joined in recent years by a renewed emphasis on improving the social organization of the school. Researchers have also begun to pay more attention to how adults work together to create effective learning environments in schools. A focus on social capacity for change is increasingly capturing the imagination of teachers and administrators; national and local authorities in a number of countries have responded by supporting or developing initiatives to increase human capacity, including school leader academies and networks, new teacher assessment practices, and improved induction for teachers. This chapter explores two approaches to school improvement that are directly related to this book’s focus on teacher and school development: professional community (PC) and organizational learning (OL). They have resonance because they build on two overlapping issues: organizational learning focuses on how people find and use “good�? information to improve their collective work; professional community reflects the natural strengths of schools and educators, as generally cooperative and concerned about student learning. In recent years, PC and OL have become merged in the educational literature, increasingly becoming known as professional learning communities (PLCs). Their popularity builds both on an increasing research base and also on practical appeal. PLCs are not expen- sive, comprehensive reforms requiring radical change with big up-front investments. To shift a school toward organizational learning and professional community requires rearranging existing resources and the imaginative use of talents and preferences that may have been undetected in traditional schools. In other words, they begin with the assumption that teacher development necessitates building on human capital that already exists. In this chapter I first examine some of the conceptual and empirical underpinnings that support a focus on PLCs. Second, I look at what we know about the effects of PLCs on school outcomes that matter, focusing on related literature from outside education as well as from our educational research colleagues.1 Finally, I address the characteristics of schools that need to change if PLCs are to achieve their potential benefits for teacher development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge International Handbook of Teacher and School Development
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781136715976
ISBN (Print)9780415669702
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


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