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A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning



After an overview of the characteristics of professional learning communities (PLCs), this manuscript presents a review of 10 American studies and one English study on the impact of PLCs on teaching practices and student learning. Although, few studies move beyond self-reports of positive impact, a small number of empirical studies explore the impact on teaching practice and student learning. The collective results of these studies suggest that well-developed PLCs have positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement. Implications of this research and suggestions for next steps in the efforts to document the impact of PLCs on teaching and learning are included.
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Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 80–91
A review of research on the impact of professional learning
communities on teaching practice and student learning
Vicki Vescio
, Dorene Ross, Alyson Adams
School of Teaching and Learning, University of Florida, 2403 Norman Hall, P.O. Box 117048, Gainesville, FL 32611-7048, USA
Received 7 October 2006; received in revised form 9 January 2007; accepted 10 January 2007
After an overview of the characteristics of professional learning communities (PLCs), this manuscript presents a review
of 10 American studies and one English study on the impact of PLCs on teaching practices and student learning. Although,
few studies move beyond self-reports of positive impact, a small number of empirical studies explore the impact on
teaching practice and student learning. The collective results of these studies suggest that well-developed PLCs have
positive impact on both teaching practice and student achievement. Implications of this research and suggestions for next
steps in the efforts to document the impact of PLCs on teaching and learning are included.
r2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Professional development; School culture; Teaching practice; Student achievement; Teacher collaboration
1. Introduction
Over the past 20 yr there has been a paradigm
shift gathering momentum with regard to the
professional development of teachers. Fueled by
the complexities of teaching and learning within a
climate of increasing accountability, this reform
moves professional development beyond merely
supporting the acquisition of new knowledge and
skills for teachers. In their article on policies that
support professional development, Darling-Ham-
mond and McLaughlin (1995) write, ‘‘The vision of
practice that underlies the nation’s reform agenda
requires most teachers to rethink their own practice,
to construct new classroom roles and expectations
about student outcomes, and to teach in ways they
have never taught before’’ (para 1). Darling
Hammond and McLaughlin go on to note that
helping teachers rethink practice necessitates pro-
fessional development that involves teachers in the
dual capacities of both teaching and learning and
creates new visions of what, when, and how teachers
should learn. This most recent model of profes-
sional development ultimately requires a funda-
mental change in the institutional structures that
have governed schooling, as it has traditionally
One model that has evolved as a way of supporting
this paradigm change is that of professional learning
communities (PLCs). Although, current professional
development literature is replete with articles that
0742-051X/$ - see front matter r2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
The preparation of this review was supported by the
Lastinger Center for Learning at the University of Florida. An
earlier version was presented at the National School Reform
Research Forum, January 2006.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 352 3392 0751;
fax: +1 352 392 9193.
E-mail address: (V. Vescio).
Author's personal copy
extol the virtues of learning communities as an
essential way to organize schools in order to
maximize time spent in professional development
(e.g. Bryk, Lee, & Holland, 1993;Louis & Marks,
1998), only recently has the focus of this literature
shifted to examining empirically the changes in
teachers’ practices and students’ learning as a
result of PLCs. Although, teachers’ perceptions
about the value of PLCs are both valid and valuable,
understanding the outcomes of these endeavors
on teaching practice and student learning is crucial,
particularly in today’s era of scarce resources
and accountability. With this in mind, the purpose
of this manuscript is to provide a review of
the research available on the impact of PLCs on
teaching practices and student learning. In an
attempt to create a comprehensive picture we first
provide an overview of the essential characteristics of
PLCs. After developing this foundation, we examine
the current literature as it relates to two basic
In what ways does teaching practice change as a
result of participation in a PLC? And, what
aspects of the PLCs support these changes?
Does the literature support the assumption that
student learning increases when teachers partici-
pate in a PLC? And, what aspects of the PLCs
support increased student learning?
We conclude with the implications of this research
and suggestions for next steps in the efforts to
document the impact of PLCs on teaching and
2. Essential characteristics of professional learning
The concept of a PLC is based on a premise from
the business sector regarding the capacity of
organizations to learn. Modified to fit the world of
education, the concept of a learning organization
became that of a learning community that would
strive to develop collaborative work cultures for
teachers (Thompson, Gregg, & Niska, 2004).
Learning communities are grounded in two assump-
tions. First, it is assumed that knowledge is situated
in the day-to-day lived experiences of teachers and
best understood through critical reflection with
others who share the same experience (Buysse,
Sparkman, & Wesley, 2003). Second, it is assumed
that actively engaging teachers in PLCs will increase
their professional knowledge and enhance student
Schools interested in implementing this reform
began to shift the organization and structure of
their professional development efforts toward in-
tegrating teacher learning into communities of
practice with the goal of meeting the educational
needs of their students through collaboratively
examining their day-to-day practice. Newmann et
al. (1996) describe five essential characteristics of
PLCs. First, shared values and norms must be
developed with regard to such issues as the group’s
collective ‘‘views about children and children’s
ability to learn, school priorities for the use of time
and space, and the proper roles of parents, teachers,
and administrators’’ (p. 181). A second essential
characteristic is a clear and consistent focus on
student learning (p. 182). DuFour (2004) reiterates
this notion when he writes that the mission ‘‘is not
simply to ensure that students are taught but to
ensure that they learn. This simple shift—from a
focus on teaching to a focus on learning—has
profound implications’’ (para 5). The third char-
acteristic is reflective dialogue that leads to ‘‘ex-
tensive and continuing conversations among
teachers about curriculum, instruction, and student
development’’ (Newmann et al., 1996, p. 182).
Deprivatizing practice to make teaching public
and focusing on collaboration are the last two
characteristics of a PLC (Newmann et al., 1996).
Although expressed slightly differently, these five
characteristics (along with three additional char-
acteristics) were confirmed as critical to PLCs in a
large-scale, multi-site study of professional learning
in England (Bolam, McMahon, Stoll, Thomas, &
Wallace, 2005). Bolam et al. (2005) synthesize these
characteristics to define a PLC as a community
‘‘with the capacity to promote and sustain the
learning of all professionals in the school commu-
nity with the collective purpose of enhancing
student learning’’ (p. 145).
The trend toward establishing PLCs in schools
has not been without its struggles. DuFour (2004)
Although beyond the scope of this review, it is important to
note that PLC reform is almost exclusively described as a school-
based reform. Even when implemented across a number of
schools or a whole district, there is little or no discussion of
parallel district level reforms consistent with PLC principles. Our
experience in establishing PLCs suggests the reforms are fragile
when district actions undermine PLC principles. Broadening the
PLC framework to include district level principles will be an
important next step in the conceptualization of the framework.
V. Vescio et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 80–91 81
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laments the fact that all combinations of individuals
with any interest in schools are now calling
themselves PLCs. Everyone from grade level teams
to state departments of education is framing their
work in terms of PLCs. Yet, using the term PLC
does not demonstrate that a learning community
does, in fact, exist. DuFour (2004) cautions, ‘‘the
term has been used so ubiquitously that it is in
danger of losing all meaning’’ (para 2). In order to
prevent the PLC model from the same dismal fate as
other well intentioned reform efforts, DuFour
(2004) recommends that educators continually
reflect on the ways they are working to embed
student learning and teacher collaboration into the
culture of the schools. Ultimately, however, educa-
tors must critically examine the results of their
efforts in terms of student achievement. To demon-
strate results, PLCs must be able to articulate their
outcomes in terms of data that indicate changed
teaching practices and improved student learning,
something they have not yet established as common
practice. With these two outcomes as our focus, we
now turn to an examination of the empirical
literature that attempts to document these vital
3. Parameters for the review of the research
The studies for our review come from two key
sources. First, we searched the US research and
publications links on the websites of organizations
that are at the forefront of work with school-based
learning communities. Specifically, we searched the
websites of the Annenberg Institute for School
Reform, the National School Reform Faculty, the
Coalition of Essential Schools, and the Wisconsin
Center for Education Research. Our second source
of literature comes from searches on both ERIC and
EBSCO databases for articles published between
1990 and 2005. Because of the nebulous terminol-
ogy associated with PLCs, several search terms were
used. These included the following: PLCs, teacher
community, teachers and learning communities,
critical friends groups, communities of practice,
and then communities of practice with qualifiers
that included: and teachers, and schools, and
student achievement. The results of this search,
although by no means exhaustive, produced 55
books, papers, and articles that included some
efforts to connect learning communities with teach-
ing practice and/or student achievement. In select-
ing material for this literature review, we decided to
limit the review to published articles or book
chapters that included data about the impact of
school-based PLCs on teaching practice and/or
student learning. Using these parameters the search
provided only 10 empirical studies of the work of
teachers in learning communities. In addition, we
decided to include one large multi-site research
report commissioned and published by the General
Teaching Council of England, Department for
Education and Skills. Although not refereed and
published in an edited journal, this report con-
ducted by faculty at the Universities of Bristol, Bath
and London has been vetted and published by the
Department for Education and Skills in England.
These 11 studies are the focus of our analysis. The
other 44 books or articles provided non-empirical
descriptions of existing programmes, reported self-
reflective accounts of teachers’ participation, were
empirical but unpublished (e.g. papers presented at
conferences or dissertations), or were empirical but
did not document the essential characteristics of a
PLC previously mentioned. These documents were
used only as additional support for a comprehensive
picture of PLCs.
The 11 primary sources used for our review can
be grouped into two broad categories that corre-
spond to the original questions we asked in our
introduction. In addition, these 11 sources all
described efforts by schools that either explicitly
or implicitly demonstrated the five essential char-
acteristics of a PLC previously discussed. When
looking across these studies, all attempted to make
connections between learning communities and the
classroom practices of teachers. Drawing on these
sources we provide a synthesis of the research on
how teaching practices or student achievement
change due to teachers’ participation in a learning
community and what aspects of the learning
community support these changes. Additionally,
eight of the 11 studies attempted to add the element
of student achievement data to their results. How
the researchers accomplished this varied from using
standardized test results to reporting interview data
about achievement.
4. Professional learning communities and teaching
At its core, the concept of a PLC rests on the
premise of improving student learning by improving
teaching practice. As a result it is important to look
across the reviewed studies to discern the connections
V. Vescio et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 80–9182
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between participation in a learning community
and teachers’ classroom practices. As a way of
organizing this part of our review, we will focus on
our guiding questions: In what ways does teaching
practice change as a result of participation in a
PLC? And, what aspects of the PLC support these
In a general sense, all 11 research articles used in
this analysis supported the idea that participation in
a learning community leads to changes in teaching
practice. Because of this, it is imperative that we
look more specifically at what the research conveys
about how teaching practice is changed. Analyzing
the literature for these specific changes was a
relatively elusive activity; however, as only five
studies (Dunne, Nave, & Lewis, 2000;Englert &
Tarrant, 1995;Hollins, McIntyre, DeBose, Hollins,
& Towner, 2004;Louis & Marks, 1998;Strahan,
2003) mentioned specific changes teachers made in
their classrooms. One of these articles (Dunne et al.,
2000) documented the findings of a 2-year study on
critical friends groups commissioned by the Annen-
berg Institute for School Reform. In this study, the
researchers used interview and observation data to
compare the practices of non-participants to the
practices of teachers who participated in critical
friends groups. The authors concluded that the
practices of participants became more student-
centered over time. The authors state that partici-
pants increased the use of techniques such as added
flexibility of classroom arrangements and changes in
the pace of instruction to accommodate for varying
levels of student content mastery. However, the
researchers did not provide data about practices at
the beginning of the study, which decreases the
power of the reported findings. Englert and Tarrant
(1995) studied changes in practice for three teachers
within a learning community. One teacher in
particular made substantive changes in her practice.
Prior to her work with the learning community this
teacher’s literacy instructional practices ‘‘consisted
of discrete skill sheets or tasks that required
students to read or write isolated words and
sentences’’ (p. 327). Through participation in the
community this teacher implemented changes such
as developing an author’s center with mixed age
groups, implementing a new group story format,
and utilizing choral reading strategies.
In the study by Hollins et al. (2004), although
initial teaching practices were not specifically
described, the authors talked about how early
meetings of the 12 participating teachers focused
primarily on the challenges of trying to teach low
achieving African-American students successfully.
They noted that by the tenth meeting, the teachers
had shifted to a more strategic focus as they
designed a new ‘‘approach to language arts instruc-
tion that involved letter writing, a poetry project
and class books, and employed the writing process’’
(p. 258). As a part of this process teachers used
strategies that included, ‘‘visualization techniques’’
to help children understand their reading, manip-
ulation of site words using flash cards, and different
strategies for having the children change words to
make new ones (p. 259).
Using a combined quantitative/qualitative design
Louis and Marks (1998) conducted a multi-site
study of the impact of PLCs. These researchers
focused on eight elementary schools, eight middle
schools and eight high schools (24 total). The
studied schools were a nationally selected sample
of restructuring schools. These researchers looked
at both pedagogy and the social structure of the
classrooms in examining teaching practice. In
particular, through classroom observations and
interviews with teachers they documented the
presence of the structural support for and the
characteristics of authentic pedagogy, a term that
is defined in their study. Briefly, authentic pedagogy
emphasizes higher order thinking, the construction
of meaning through conversation, and the develop-
ment of depth of knowledge that has value beyond
the classroom. These researchers examine the
connection between the quality of classroom peda-
gogy and the existence of the core characteristics of
PLC. Louis and Marks (1998) documented that the
presence of professional community in a school
contributes to higher levels of social support for
achievement and higher levels of authentic peda-
gogy. In fact, they note that their model accounts
for 36% of the variance in the quality of classroom
pedagogy providing robust support to demonstrate
the impact of PLC on classroom practice.
A final example comes from one of Strahan’s
(2003) case studies of an elementary school where all
of the teachers participated in efforts to improve
student achievement in reading. This case study
does not document specific teaching practices prior
to the attempted changes, but it does provide
interview data from the principal regarding the
initially negative attitudes of the teachers toward
student learning. As a part of the change process
teachers worked collaboratively to develop a shared
school mission around four guiding values that
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included integrity, respect, discipline, and excellence
(p. 133). The author concluded that this led to the
development of stronger instructional norms and
made the teachers receptive to working with a
curriculum facilitator in the areas of changing
practices for guided reading, writing, and self-
selected reading.
The other seven studies we reviewed did not
provide significant detail on the changes made to
teachers’ practices; instead change was alluded to
without explicit documentation or detail. For
example, Andrews and Lewis (2002) indicated that
teachers who participated in a learning community
known as Innovative Design for Enhancing
Achievement in Schools (IDEAS) reported changes
in their practices. The authors provided several
direct quotes to support these claims. The following
quote is representative, ‘‘I find that my teaching has
improved, I find that I understand more about what
I’m doing, why I’m doing things, and I find that’s
been an improvement’’ (p. 246). Note that although
the researchers provided a teacher’s self-reported
data that indicated change in practice, the teacher
provided no specific information about the nature
of changes in practice or thinking. This general
trend was pervasive in the research studies, whether
included in or excluded from this literature review.
Instead of descriptions of specific changes in
pedagogy, the researchers reported that teachers
perceived their practices had changed. What the
researchers typically provided was more specific
information on how the teaching culture changed as
a result of teachers’ participation in a PLC.
5. Professional learning communities and school
Although many of the 11 studies failed to describe
specific changes in pedagogy, change in the profes-
sional culture of a school is a significant finding
because it demonstrates that establishing a PLC
contributes to a fundamental shift in the habits of
mind that teachers bring to their daily work in the
classroom. All 11 of the studies cited empirical data
suggesting a change in the professional culture of
the school had occurred. Six of the studies drew
upon quotes from participants to document this
finding (Andrews & Lewis, 2002;Berry, Johnson, &
Montgomery, 2005;Englert & Tarrant, 1995;
Hollins et al., 2004;Phillips, 2003;Strahan, 2003).
Three of the studies used survey data that compared
participants to non-participants (Dunne et al., 2000;
Supovitz, 2002;Supovitz & Christman, 2003); one
drew on both interview quotes and survey data to
document three different levels of implementation
of a PLC and to report teachers’ perceptions about
how the level of participation in PLCs was
impacting their work environment (Bolam et al.,
2005); and one used survey data to document the
differences in core characteristics of PLC across
schools (Louis & Marks, 1998).
Looking across our sample, there seemed to be
characteristics inherent in learning communities
that worked to promote changes in teaching
cultures. These can be broadly organized into four
categories that include: collaboration, a focus on
student learning, teacher authority, and continuous
teacher learning. It is important to note that even as
we attempt to compartmentalize the processes that
are integral to the goals of PLC, we recognize the
complexity of this process as it plays out in different
lived contexts. For the purposes of our review we
are pulling out aspects of these 11 studies and
putting them into discrete categories, however, in
reality there is a multifaceted interweaving of how
these factors come together to change teaching
cultures. Unfortunately, our only avenue for analy-
sis lies in the less than desirable actions of
simplifying and compartmentalizing what is actually
complex and contextual.
5.1. Collaboration
We first turn our attention to elements of
collaboration that promote changes in teaching
cultures. In general, the research tells us that
successful collaborative efforts include strategies
that ‘‘open’’ practice in ways that encourage
sharing, reflecting, and taking the risks necessary
to change. For example, Louis and Marks (1998)
created a ‘‘professional community index’’ that
demonstrated that effective PLCs included both
collaborative activity and the deprivatization of
practice. Despite a relatively vague description of
their methodology, Berry et al. (2005) reported that
a learning community structure helped teachers in a
rural elementary school examine their practice
through such collaborative structures as sharing
lessons, using protocols for decision making, and
relying on systematic note taking to inform collea-
gues about their work. In another example, Phillips
(2003) drew on interviews with teachers in one
middle school to report that funding from reform
initiatives allowed the teachers to collaborate in
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ways that included observing each other in the
classroom, videotaping and reviewing lessons,
investigating teaching problems and collectively
generating new ideas for practice, engaging in
literature study circles, and participating in critical
friends groups. In the most comprehensive study of
PLCs, Bolam et al. (2005) examined survey data
from 393 schools that included early childhood,
elementary and secondary schools and interview-
based case study data from 16 school sites. Both
survey and case study data suggest a positive impact
on teaching practice and morale as a result of
participation in collaborative activities. Across the
reviewed studies, teachers reported an increase in
collaboration as they worked in learning commu-
nities. This type of change in teacher culture, which
has traditionally been described as isolationist,
seems likely to lead to fundamental shifts in the
way that teachers approach their work.
5.2. A focus on student learning
Each of the studies reported above focuses on the
significance and nature of teacher collaboration. It
is equally important to note that most of the studies
document the specific focus of the teachers’
collaborative efforts (Berry et al., 2005;Bolam et
al., 2005;Dunne et al., 2000;Englert & Tarrant,
1995;Hollins et al., 2004;Louis & Marks, 1998;
Phillips, 2003;Strahan, 2003;Supovitz, 2002;
Supovitz & Christman, 2003). In the middle school
case study of teachers collaborating to create
innovative curriculum, the goal of the teachers’
work was to improve learning for low and under-
achieving students (Phillips, 2003). The teachers in
studies by Strahan (2003),Hollins et al. (2004), and
Englert and Tarrant (1995) all had an underlying
focus of improving student literacy. Bolam et al.
(2005) found that in effective PLCs the ‘‘pupil
learning was the foremost concern’’ (p. 146) and
that PLCs at higher levels of development had
stronger linkages between student achievement and
teachers’ professional learning. Similarly, two over-
lapping studies (Supovitz, 2002;Supovitz & Christ-
man, 2003) powerfully demonstrated the
importance of focus in teachers’ collaborative
actions. In their report about reform efforts in both
Cincinnati and Philadelphia, the authors state that
teachers who participated on teams or in small
communities that focused on instructional practice
reported changes in instructional culture. The
teachers who reported that they did not use
designated meeting times to focus on teaching
practice did not report changes in the instructional
culture. These findings reinforce the importance of
persistently pursuing an instructional focus as
teachers engage in their work in learning commu-
5.3. Teacher authority
Another element of a PLC that helps to foster
changes in teaching cultures is teacher authority. By
teacher authority we mean the ability of teachers to
make decisions regarding both the processes of their
learning communities and aspects of school govern-
ance. A specific example demonstrating the impor-
tance of teacher authority in the overall success of a
learning community came in a case study reported
by Englert and Tarrant (1995). In this collaborative
endeavor between three special education teachers
and seven university researchers to provide ‘‘mean-
ingful and beneficial’’ (p. 325) literacy instruction
for students with mild disabilities, the researchers
encouraged the teachers to take control of the
curriculum. ‘‘Teachers were given leadership in their
choices about curriculum development, so that the
power over the topics and change agenda might be
shaped by the teachers’ concerns, interests, and
questions’’ (p. 327). In the end, at least one teacher
noted the significance of being given this authority
when she spoke of how it transformed her sense of
ownership over the curriculum.
At the beginning, I didn’t like that [parity] at all.
I wanted Carol Sue to say, ‘‘Try this,’’ and ‘‘Do
this.’’ And there was none of thaty. Now I can
see why that was a really good way of doing that
because I feel that I’ve [speaker’s emphasis] done
it, as opposed to taking somebody else’s [ideas].
Even though I’ve used hundreds of other people’s
ideas and so forth, it’s still mine, you know (p.
In a second example, Supovitz (2002) reported
survey data comparing team-based and non-team-
based teachers’ perceptions of school culture on 33
items that were grouped into five key indicators of
school culture. He found ‘‘strong and persistent
evidence’’ that team-based teachers ‘‘felt more
involved in a variety of school-related decisions’’
(p. 1604). He concluded that giving teachers the
power to be decision makers in their own learning
process was essential to improving students’ learn-
ing. Finally, case study data from Bolam et al.
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(2005) demonstrated that the mobilization of leader-
ship within strong PLCs enabled faculties and
administrators to develop innovative strategies for
use of financial and personnel resources to increase
student learning and the strength of the professional
learning context.
5.4. Continuous teacher learning
The final element of PLCs that supports overall
changes in teaching cultures is that of continuous
teacher learning. Participation in learning commu-
nities facilitates professional development that is
driven by the needs of teachers as they are naturally
engaged in efforts to accomplish their goals. The
importance of continuous teacher learning was
supported throughout the reviewed literature (Berry
et al., 2005;Bolam et al., 2005;Englert and Tarrant,
1995;Hollins et al., 2004;Phillips, 2003;Supovitz,
2002). More specifically, Hollins et al. (2004)
documented that teachers involved in efforts to
improve literacy in African-American students
sought out scholarly literature on culturally relevant
teaching. Berry et al. (2005) reported that teachers
in one learning community searched for outside
ideas to help them solve their teaching dilemmas.
Bolam et al. (2005) indicated teachers saw a clear
connection between their own professional learning
opportunities within the PLC and changes in their
practices and student learning. And in a final
example, Englert and Tarrant (1995) noted that
researchers brought new ideas and strategies rooted
in scholarly literature to three special education
teachers attempting to change their reading instruc-
tion for students with mild disabilities.
6. Professional learning communities and student
The literature provides modest evidence that
PLCs impact teaching. What, however, does the
evidence tell us about the effects on students? In an
educational climate that is increasingly directed by
the demands of accountability, the viability of PLCs
will be determined by their success in enhancing
student achievement. This makes it incumbent upon
educators to demonstrate how their work in
learning communities improves student learning.
Of the 11 studies reviewed for this analysis, eight
attempted to make those connections.
6.1. Evidence of increases in student achievement
All eight studies (Berry et al., 2005;Bolam et al.,
2005;Hollins et al., 2004;Louis & Marks, 1998;
Phillips, 2003;Strahan, 2003;Supovitz, 2002;
Supovitz & Christman, 2003) that examined the
relationship between teachers’ participation in PLCs
and student achievement found that student learn-
ing improved. Berry et al. (2005) documented the
progress of a rural elementary school over a 4-year
period. During this time, the results of grade level
testing indicated that students improved from
struggling—with slightly more than 50% perform-
ing at or above grade level—to improving rapidly
with more than 80% of students meeting grade level
standards. In a case study documenting the efforts
of a middle school faculty engaged in learning
community efforts to target low and underachieving
students, Phillips (2003) reported that achievement
scores increased dramatically over a 3-year period
(p. 256). More specifically, in this middle school,
ratings on a state-wide standardized test went from
acceptable in 1999–2000 with 50% of the students
passing subject area tests in reading, writing, math,
science, and social studies, to exemplary in
2001–2002 with over 90% of the students passing
each subject area test. In Strahan’s (2003) account
of three struggling elementary schools over a 3-year
period, results also demonstrated dramatic improve-
ment. In each of these schools student test scores on
state achievement tests rose from 50% proficiency
to more than 75%.
Results from the research conducted by Hollins
et al. (2004) also document improvement in
achievement. Hollins et al. (2004) report that at
both levels assessed (second and third grade),
struggling African-American students in the target
school increased their achievement significantly
more than comparable students in the district. For
example they report:
In 1998, 45% of second graders [at the target
school] scored above the 25th percentile as
compared with 64% in 1999, and 73% in 2000.
This is a 28% overall gain. District-wide, 48% of
second graders scored above the 25th percentile
in 1998, 61% in 1999 and 56% in 2000, an overall
gain of 12% (p. 259).
Similar gains are reported for third graders. In
addition, the percentage of students moving into the
50 percentile or higher in target schools exceeded
district gains at both grade levels.
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In their large-scale study conducted in England,
Bolam et al. (2005) compared PLC characteristics of
schools (as reported in school surveys) with student
outcome data from a national pupil assessment
database. Links between the strength of PLC
characteristics and student achievement were statis-
tically significant at both the primary and secondary
levels. Although, the relationships were not robust
the authors were encouraged to find clear positive
relationships when they used valued added mea-
sures (used to make comparisons between relative
student progress in the PLC schools and that of
students in the non-targeted schools). The authors
concluded that, ‘‘the greater the extent of reported
staff involvement in professional and pupil learning,
the higher was the level of pupil performing and
progress in both primary and secondary schools’’
(p. 132).
Finally, the studies conducted by Bolam et al.
(2005),Louis and Marks (1998),Supovitz (2002),
and Supovitz and Christman (2003) are particularly
important in helping to discern the value of PLCs.
In these studies, results of student achievement
gains varied with the strength of the PLC in the
school (Bolam et al., 2005;Louis & Marks, 1998)or
with the specific focus of the efforts of teams or
small communities of teachers (Supovitz, 2002;
Supovitz & Christman, 2003). After adjusting for
grade level and student background Louis and
Marks (1998), found that student achievement was
significantly higher in schools with the strongest
PLCs. This effect was so strong that the strength
of the PLC accounted for 85% of the variance
in achievement in this study. In both sites studied
by Supovitz (2002) and Supovitz and Christman
(2003) ‘‘there was evidence to suggest that those
communities that did engage in structured, sus-
tained, and supported instructional discussions
and that investigated the relationships between
instructional practices and student work produce
significant gains in student learning’’ (p. 5). It
is important to note, however, that in the commu-
nities where teachers worked together but did not
engage in structured work that was highly focused
around student learning, similar gains were not
Although few in number, the collective results of
these studies offer an unequivocal answer to the
question about whether the literature supports the
assumption that student learning increases when
teachers participate in PLCs. The answer is a
resounding and encouraging yes.
6.2. A focus on student learning is the key to
increased achievement
Inquiry about how learning communities pro-
duced the improvement in student learning is
important to the continued and future work of
educators. When analyzing these eight studies there
seemed to be a common feature that facilitated
success. This feature was a persistent focus on
student learning and achievement by the teachers in
the learning communities. All eight studies docu-
mented that the collaborative efforts of teachers
were focused on meeting the learning needs of their
students. In this section of our analysis we examine
seven of the reviewed studies to highlight the
significance of this common thread for the success
of PLCs.
Initially, the work of Supovitz (2002) and
Supovitz and Christman, 2003) demonstrated in-
consistent student achievement results. As noted
above, this occurred because there was not a
uniform effort by teachers in teams or small
communities to focus on student learning. In both
of the sites where the research was conducted, the
authors found evidence of improved achievement
but only for students whose teachers worked in
teams or communities that focused on instructional
practices and how they impacted student learning.
Berry et al. (2005) reported consistent improvement
for students. In this study, the teachers worked in
professional learning teams to develop instructional
strategies that were based on student data and
reinforced by professional literature, to lead to
meaningful student achievement. Hollins et al.
(2004) stressed the importance of a facilitator who
helped teachers maintain a focus on the goal of
improving literacy for African-American students
during all group meetings. Additionally, the facil-
itator worked to ensure that the efforts of their
collaborations were always rooted in improving test
scores and other measures of student achievement.
Similarly, Strahan (2003) noted that the reform
efforts of the three elementary schools he studied
were driven by data-directed dialogue. He explained
that this meant teachers’ collaborative efforts were
always focused on data about student learning and
directed toward increasing that learning. Louis and
Marks (1998) examined the nature of impact of
PLC on pedagogy and achievement to conclude that
the focus on the intellectual quality of student
learning within PLCs boosts achievement because it
pushes teachers toward the use of authentic
V. Vescio et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 80–91 87
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pedagogy. Finally, in the case study by Phillips
(2003), interview data indicated that the teachers in
this middle school continually analyzed data from
each child to identify ways to affect his/her success
both cognitively and affectively. Phillips concluded
that the teachers ‘‘knew their students’ population
well, and they deliberately created culturally rele-
vant programs to make learning more meaningful’’
(p. 258). In the long run, the data across these
studies indicated that a key element of successful
PLCs is their pervasive attention to meeting the
learning needs of their students.
7. Summary
The use of professional learning communities
(PLCs) as a means to improve teaching practice and
student achievement is a move that educators
support and value, as indicated by teachers’
perceptions of impact as cited in this review. There
is also some limited evidence that the impact is
measurable beyond teacher perceptions. To sum-
marize the findings across the reviewed literature in
terms of our two initial research questions: (1)
participation in learning communities impacts
teaching practice as teachers become more student
centered. In addition, teaching culture is improved
because the learning communities increase colla-
boration, a focus on student learning, teacher
authority or empowerment, and continuous learn-
ing; (2) when teachers participate in a learning
community, students benefit as well, as indicated by
improved achievement scores over time. All six
studies reporting student learning outcomes indi-
cated that an intense focus on student learning and
achievement was the aspect of learning communities
that impacted student learning. Together, these
findings from the literature provide preliminary
evidence of the benefit of learning communities for
teachers and their students.
A final question we considered was whether these
benefits could be the result of the Hawthorne Effect,
that is, were the positive findings a result of the
interest and involvement of the teachers in an
innovation as opposed to a benefit specifically tied
to participation in a PLC. The small number of
studies makes it impossible to discount the possibi-
lity of the Hawthorne Effect, however, four of the
studies report a differential impact on teaching
practice or student learning as a result of participat-
ing in a PLC and therefore would contradict the
Hawthorne Effect. Bolam et al. (2005) and Louis
and Marks (1998) found that higher student
achievement was related to the extent that schools
had strong professional communities. Supovitz and
Christman (2003) and Supovitz (2002) found that
measurable improvement in student achievement
only occurred in PLCs that focused on changing the
instructional practices of their teachers.
8. Conclusions
Reviewing literature is essentially an act of
interpretation. That is, the reviewers elect which
literature to include and which to exclude based
upon the guiding questions for the review. Those
decisions shape the conclusions from the review. In
this review we have not reported the findings of the
many reports that describe work within PLCs nor
have we reported the results of reflective self-reports
of the value of this work. In part, this is because we
accept as valid and significant the perspectives of
teachers and administrators that this work is valued
and perceived positively (Bambino, 2002;Carver,
2004;Olson, 1998;Slick, 2002). Our focus in this
review has been to look at the empirical literature
on PLCs that might validate these perceptions. That
is, we reviewed the empirical studies that connect
PLCs with changes in teaching practices and student
learning. This review is further limited by our
decision to report only published or vetted research
because the review process is a strategy for
determining the quality of a research report. This
focus clearly limited the scope of the review as few
published studies have looked at the impact of PLCs
on teacher practice or student learning. However,
studies which have been done clearly demonstrate
that a learning community model can have positive
impact on both teachers and students. Just as
important, our act of interpreting the literature
has led us to draw conclusions that are significant to
future research.
8.1. The focus of A PLC should be developing
teachers’ ‘‘Knowledge Of Practice’’ around the issue
of student learning
Traditional models of professional development
have focused on providing teachers with the skills
and knowledge necessary to be ‘‘better’’ educators.
These models have typically been grounded in the
assumption that the purpose of professional devel-
opment is to convey to teachers ‘‘knowledge FOR
practice’’ (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). That is,
V. Vescio et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 80–9188
Author's personal copy
the professional development activity is based on
the premise that knowledge and expertise are best
generated by university researchers outside of the
day-to-day work of teaching. Through professional
development, teachers acquire and then implement
this knowledge. In addition, the knowledge pre-
sented is usually advocated as a prescription for
better teaching. The PLCs model represents a
fundamental shift away from this traditional model
of professional development. PLCs at their best are
grounded in generation of ‘‘knowledge OF Prac-
tice’’ (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). That is, ‘‘it is
assumed that the knowledge teachers need to teach
well is generated when teachers treat their own
classrooms and schools as sites for intentional
investigation at the same time that they treat the
knowledge and theory produced by others as
generative material for interrogation and interpre-
tation’’ (p. 272).
PLCs honor both the knowledge and experience
of teachers and knowledge and theory generated by
other researchers. Through collaborative inquiry,
teachers explore new ideas, current practice, and
evidence of student learning using processes that
respect them as the experts on what is needed to
improve their own practice and increase student
learning. Learning communities are not a prescrip-
tive, one-size fits all approach. However, learning
communities also cannot be insular, focused only on
making explicit the practical wisdom teachers
already possess about teaching. Instead learning
communities should support teachers in making
decisions based on their contexts, their goals,
current and new professional knowledge, and the
needs of their students.
In a research study that analyzed teachers’
representations of classroom practices, Little
(2003) cautioned against the limited nature of
teacher-led collaborative groups. After analyzing
the language of teachers in a high school math and
English department, she warned that teaching
communities could be limited by their own ‘‘hor-
izons of observation’’ (p. 917). She defined this term
as, ‘‘the extent to which elements of a work
environment are available as a learning context’’
(p. 917). She then used transcripts of meetings to
analyze the discourse of teachers engaged in a
learning community to improve instructional prac-
tices. Her main point was that teachers construct
visions of teaching and learning based on a picture
that is structured by their very positions as teachers.
This can create paradigms of thinking that privilege
certain voices and epistemologies based on precon-
ceived notions of right, wrong, good, or bad in
schooling. In the end, this horizon of observation
can serve to limit the solutions teachers develop to
improve their own practices or improve student
This can also be true for university-based
educators, particularly those who work closely and
extensively with schools. As educators, our visions
are limited by our lifetimes spent within education
and Little (2003) makes a strong argument for
taking steps to ensure that teachers working in
PLCs broaden the scope of their inquiry to
problematize any and all aspects of the learning
environment as appropriate. That is, as educators at
all levels engage in the work of improving teaching
and learning it is important that we seek external
perspectives from other constituents (e.g. families,
citizens, educators working outside our immediate
environment, educational research, sociological
research) so that all aspects of our practice be can
be interrogated as an integral part of our efforts.
Although, it is important for researchers and
teachers involved in the work of PLCs to keep
Little’s (2003) caveat in mind, the reviewed studies
clearly show this model is working to shift teachers’
habits of mind and create cultures of teaching that
engage educators in enhancing teacher and student
learning. Additionally, in those studies where the
work of PLCs is linked to student achievement, the
research clearly demonstrated a strong positive
connection. In each of these cases the key was
collaboration with a clear and persistent focus on
data about student learning. This finding is con-
sistent with the findings of other researchers who
have reviewed literature about the importance of a
focus on student learning and the analysis of
student work (Guskey, 1997;Little, Gearhart,
Curry, & Kafka, 2003). The studies in our sample
documented changes in student achievement over
time, in some cases up to 5 yr. What these studies
show is that working collaboratively is the process
not the goal of a PLC. The goal is enhanced student
8.2. Additional and rigorous research documenting
the impact on teaching practice and student
achievement is imperative
A great deal of the writing about PLCs describes
the work of these communities and/or reports
teachers’ perceptions of the value of this work.
V. Vescio et al. / Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 80–91 89
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Teachers working within PLCs need to develop
collaborative relationships with researchers to help
document the impact of their efforts. Although, the
number of studies reviewed here was not high, what
we found was encouraging. Clearly future research
must continue building evidence that supports the
impact of PLCs on teaching practice and achieve-
The studies that formed the basis of this analysis
were mainly qualitative, although some of them
added quantitative data in the form of survey results
or students’ standardized test results. Two provided
more robust quantitative analysis of survey and
achievement data (Bolam et al., 2005;Louis &
Marks, 1998). Most of the qualitative data reported
in these studies were from interviews, observations,
field notes, and meeting transcriptions that were
then reported in a case study format. Further
research should draw broadly across various meth-
odologies to document the creation of PLCs and
their impact. The following kinds of studies are
Quantitative studies that document changes in
teachers’ perceptions of the professional culture
of the school.
Longitudinal observational studies (both quanti-
tative and qualitative) that document changes in
teaching practice as teachers work in PLCs.
In-depth case studies of changes in teaching
practice and student achievement for sample
teachers working in PLCs.
Qualitative documentation of the nature of the
work teachers do as they analyze student work
and how this changes over time.
In-depth case studies of changes in student
learning for sample students in classrooms of
teachers working in PLCs.
Quantitative documentation of changes in stu-
dent achievement over time as teachers engage in
work in PLCs.
Although, the analysis of data about student
achievement is time-consuming, it is essential in
building the case that PLCs are powerful types of
reform and with the current demands that schools
collect and analyze evidence of student achievement;
this analysis is less difficult than it once was. Many
teachers and university collaborators note that
achievement tests assess a narrow range of learning
and may fail to capture the breadth of impact of a
PLC. While we would not argue with the validity of
this observation, it cannot be used as a rationale for
failing to collect evidence of the impact of this work
on student achievement. Data from achievement
tests can be supplemented with case studies that
examine changes in student work over time. In fact,
these kinds of cases studies done by individual
teachers working within learning communities
would create a powerful picture of impact. At this
point, we do not have these case studies.
Additionally there are a couple of methodological
issues researchers should consider. First, researchers
should carefully report research methodology and
data sources. In several of the reviewed studies, the
description of methodology omitted important
information (e.g. the number of teachers who
participated in interviews, the nature of interview
questions, the amount of interview data collected).
Rigorous reporting of research methodology is
essential if we are to build a credible justification
for the resources necessary to sustain PLCs. And
second, it is important to incorporate viable
evaluation designs into our efforts. Seven of the 11
research studies used for this analysis are note-
worthy because the evaluators were independent
from those who facilitated the work of the PLC
(Andrews & Lewis, 2002; Bolam et al., 2005;Dunne
et al., 2000;Louis & Marks, 1998;Phillips, 2003;
Supovitz, 2002;Supovitz & Christman, 2003). No
matter how rigorous the methodology or how
unbiased the report, research conducted by the
facilitator will be suspect. To build a strong case, we
must guard against the danger of researching
Conducting this research, like the work
itself, will take time. Just as it is difficult to shift
teachers’ thinking to build collaborative cultures, it
is difficult to capture the essence of this contextually
driven process. The studies reviewed here provide a
model for these efforts and a basis for suggesting
improvements. They leave us hopeful that learning
communities offer an avenue to build the momen-
tum of a shifting paradigm in the professional
development of teachers and the learning of
This particular recommendation is easy to make but very
difficult to operationalize. University faculty must publish. As a
result, those of us interested in working with schools find it
essential to research our own efforts to meet the requirements for
tenure and promotion. If external researchers are hired to
document and publish the work of PLCs, this could leave
facilitators with few incentives to engage in the work. Probing
this dilemma is beyond the scope of this paper, however, this
problem deserves attention.
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... The teacher professional community focuses on teachers' professional learning, a collaborative and ongoing process that is connected with teachers' classroom practices [8,[48][49][50][51][52][53]. Lesson study, one form of TLCs, intentionally encourages teachers to plan, observe, and discuss the lessons collaboratively [54,55]. ...
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Collaborative professional learning is essential for teachers to work collectively in facilitating student learning. A program of Learning Community under Leadership for Learning was launched to support teacher learning in authentic situations in Taiwan. Applying the theory-driven evaluation model, the study aimed to investigate the impact of a program component of teacher learning communities (TLCs) on professional learning beliefs and behaviors. A sample of 226 elementary and junior high school teachers in Taiwan was surveyed and analyzed using structural equation modeling. The findings suggest that the experiences in TLCs had an impact on teachers’ professional learning beliefs and behaviors through their self-efficacy. Additionally, teacher self-efficacy was found to have a direct impact on their beliefs and behaviors, and beliefs were found to affect behaviors significantly. This study has expanded the understanding of self-efficacy in relation to professional learning beliefs and behaviors and provided practical insights for effective strategies for teacher development.
... al., 2015[38]) (seeBox 5.3 and Box 5.4 for an overview of professional networks and collaboration).Teacher co-operation is an important component in teacher empowerment and agency and it can improve students' learning(Goddard, Goddard and Tschannen-Moran, 2007[39]). PISA results have shown that when teachers engage in professional collaboration it can have a positive effect on student performance (OECD, 2016[23]). ...
This chapter explores the aspects of leadership and school decision processes, teachers’ feelings, actions and working environments that are relevant to teacher empowerment. It first describes several dimensions of principals’ and teachers’ autonomy, and principals’ instructional and distributed leadership. It later addresses teachers’ self‑efficacy and collaboration in their professional practice. Finally, this chapter describes the perceptions of school principals and teachers on shortages of resources that may hinder their capacity to deliver quality instruction. It also explores teachers’ priorities for spending in schools.
DESCRIPTION This chapter presents an overview of the current situation of physics teacher professional learning, encompassing pre-service teachers at the start of their teaching careers and throughout the lifetime of their teaching careers. We outline the needs and opportunities for teacher professional learning in several educational systems, including the transnational mobility program offered to teachers in Europe. We reflect on the frameworks for teacher professional learning that support teachers to develop their general pedagogical content knowledge and specialized content knowledge for teaching physics. We explore the strategies for reflective, collaborative interaction between teachers and researchers, focused on reinforcing teacher's confidence in teaching physics and developing their competencies for long-life learning. Overall, this chapter explores the state-of-the-art of teacher professional development and how these strategies can be utilized to support physics teachers in designing teaching and learning activities that address the needs of future physics learners.
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This book constitutes the refereed proceedings of the 27th ATEE Spring Conference on Social Justice, Media and Technology, ATEE 2021, held in Florence, Italy, during October 28–30, 2021. The 19 full papers included in this book were carefully reviewed and selected from 49 submissions. They were organized in topical sections as follows: teaching critical media/digital literacy in multicultural societies; decommodifying teacher (digital) education; and digital technology and equity for inclusive teaching.
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Die berufspraktische Ausbildung nimmt in der Lehrerinnen- und Lehrerbildung eine zentrale Rolle ein. Bis heute dominieren aber traditionelle Formen. Eine Innovation stellen die Partnerschulmodelle dar, welche dank mehr Kooperation und Kontinuität eine höhere Professionalisierung versprechen. Ein solches Modell wurde an der Pädagogischen Hochschule St. Gallen im Rahmen einer Interventionsstudie untersucht (n1 = 33, n2 = 80). Bei Studierenden in den Partnerschulen zeigen sich positive Effekte in der Wissensintegration und der Schülererfolgsorientierung. Die Daten deuten darauf hin, dass weniger die vermehrte Kooperation als vielmehr die höhere zeitliche und örtliche Kontinuität der Grund für die positive Wirkung der Intervention sein könnte.
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Researchers posit that conditions for improving teaching and learning are strengthened when teachers collectively question ineffective teaching routines, examine new conceptions of teaching and learning, find generative means to acknowledge and respond to difference and conflict, and engage actively in supporting one another's professional growth. Yet relatively little research examines the specific interactions and dynamics by which professional community constitutes a resource for teacher learning and innovations in teaching practice. In particular, few studies go "inside teacher community" to focus closely on the teacher development opportunities and possibilities that reside within ordinary daily work. This paper draws on intensive case studies of teacher knowledge, practice, and learning among teachers of mathematics and English in two high schools to take up the problem of how classroom teaching practice comes to be known, shared, and developed among teachers through their out-of-classroom interactions.
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Looking at Student Wo r k Fo r Te a ch e r Le arning, Te a ch e r C o m m u n i ty, and S chool Re f o r m Teachers are usually alone when they examine student work and think about student perf o rmance. The authors describe several projects that have enabled teachers to leave the isolation of their own classrooms and think together about student work in the broader contexts of school improvement and p rofessional development.
By providing structures for effective feedback and strong support, Critical Friends Groups help teachers improve instruction and student learning.
Many reforms today-including the small schools movement, efforts to build small learning communities, and teacher teaming structures-are based on the theory that organizing schools into smaller educational environments will help to build more collaborative and collegial communities of teachers, providing them with the autonomy and motivation to make better curricular and pedagogical decisions in the interests of their students and therefore improving student learning. Using multiple sources of data from a 4-year evaluation of a team-based schooling initiative in a medium-sized urban district, this study tests many of the assumptions underlying this theory. The results suggest that although these types of organizational reforms may succeed in improving the culture within which teachers teach, they alone are unlikely to improve instruction and student learning. The communities that develop are often not communities engaged in instructional improvement. For teacher communities to focus on instructional improvement, the author argues that communities need organizational structures, cultures of instructional exploration, and ongoing professional learning opportunities to support sustained inquiries into improving teaching and learning.
This article examines the community of practice model as a framework for integrating educational research and practice. This perspective extends current notions about collaborative inquiry and the role of teacher participation in research aimed at improving educational practices. In addition to defining communities of practice and describing reflective practice and situated learning as the theoretical underpinnings of this approach, the article analyzes applications of this model from the literature and offers suggestions for transforming traditional methods of conducting research on educational practice. The article concludes with a challenge to the field to consider ways to promote dialogue and inquiry to advance our knowledge on this issue.
In the fall of 1994, 12 people gathered in Chicago to outline a professional development program for educators, a program meant to break new ground. All had been involved in programs associated with the Coalition of Essential Schools, some as teachers, others as administrators. Three were professional development specialists from the fledgling Annenberg Institute for School Reform. All were familiar --and dissatisfied --with traditional forms of professional development, such as scripted workshops and motivational presentations. They wanted to build a very different approach, one that focuses on the practitioner and engages the teacher in defining what will improve student learning. This new model had worked very well for individuals in the group. The challenge was to make it work for groups of practitioners within a school. A program emerged from this meeting. It was practitioner-driven and highly collaborative. It asked participants to draw on one another's skills and ideas, as well as on knowledge bases outside the school, to design a program and expand repertoires in ways specifically tailored to their own environment. The program was supported by emerging research from the Stanford Study of the Context of Secondary School Teaching led by Milbrey McLaughlin and Joan Talbert and from Fred Newmann and Gary Wehlage's school restructuring study at the University of Wisconsin.1 Scholars and school people agree that professional collegiality correlates with more appropriate teaching practices and elevated student achievement. The professional development unit of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), took on the task of designing a program to train coaches who would help groups of practitioners, or Critical Friends Groups (CFGs), identify student learning goals that make sense in their schools, look reflectively at practices intended to achieve those goals, and collaboratively examine teacher and student work in order to meet their objectives.
Teacher-researcher communities constitute an imporant forum for change in the educational reform movement. yet little is known about the construction of these communities in special education contexts. in the early literacy project, we found that the discourse inthe teacher-researcher community provided a public space in which participants constructed new literacy meanings. a more careful examination of the discourse revealed that talk related to six issues: theoretical principles, teaching practice, problem solving about difficulties related to curricular enactments, the effects of the literacy curriculum on students, case studies of particular children, and references to prior events in the community. further, talk about principles and teaching practice formed a tightly woven braid ofmeaning that came to represent common assumptions about ways-of-doing and ways-of-thinking about literacy.