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Teachers' professional learning: The role of support, informal learning, and collaboration

Author: Charles E. Marqua
This study addressed the problem of devising learning programs for teachers that effectively increased teachers' professional learning. This descriptive study (a) used qualitative methods, (b) employed the Trio Model of Adult Learning (Sheckley, Kehrhahn, Bell, & Grenier, 2007) as a conceptual frame, and (c) explored the role that socio-environmental influences played in the professional learning of middle school teachers. In the setting of a middle school that was an exemplar for professional learning, information from multiple sources, including interviews with eight teachers, were collected and analyzed to provide a thick, rich description of teachers' professional learning. The analysis used a constant comparative method. The results indicated that a supportive climate, the opportunities for informal learning, and teachers' engagement in collaborative practices each had an important role in enhancing their learning. The results suggested that for this sample, as indicated in the Trio Model of adult learning, key experiences, individual attributes and socio-environmental affordances interacted recursively to enhance teachers' learning. The limitations to this study included: credibility and transferability of the results, biases of the researcher, and the dependability and confirmability of the findings.

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING CONTENTS Approval Page ii Table of Content iii Problem Statement 4 Conceptual Framework 6 Theme (a) supportive climate 6 Theme (b) informal learning 8 Theme (c) collaborative practices 10 Research Questions 12 Methods 13 Study design and Setting 13 Sample 15 Data collection 16 Data analysis 18 Limitations and trustworthiness 19 Results 22 Three Situations 23 Situation one: A supportive climate enhanced learning 24 Situation two: Constant informal learning enhanced learning 27 Tier one: Interactions with students 28 Tier two: Interactions with professional colleagues 32 Situation three: collaboration enhanced learning 35 Engaging teachers in synthesizing ideas about shared experiences.. 36 Active engagement in solving problems of practice 38 Discussion 43 Supportive climate 43 Informal learning opportunities 45 Three examples 47 Collaborative practices 51 Contributions to the TRIO model of adult learning 53 Implications for practice 56 Recommendations for future research 57 Final comments 58 References 60 Appendix A - Conceptual Frame. TRIO model of adult learning 66 Appendix B - Table 1, Research that addressed supportive climate 67 Appendix C - Table 2, Research that addressed constant informal learning 68 Appendix D - Table 3, Research that addressed collaborative practices 70 Appendix E - An historical perspective 72 Appendix F - Letters of permission 73 Appendix G - Chronological plan of data collection and analysis 75 Appendix H - Teacher semi-structured interview protocol 77 Appendix I - Principal semi-structured interview protocol 80 Appendix J - Subjectivity statement 81 iii

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 4 Teachers' Professional Learning: The Role of Support, Informal Learning, and Collaboration In 1983, the report A Nation at Risk was issued by the National Commission of Excellence in Education in response to the national problem of low student achievement. Since 1983, national achievement gaps between African American, Latino, and White groups have mostly widened in reading, writing, and math (NCES, 2001). Furthermore, The United States of America scored close to the bottom of the rankings for 12th graders when comparing mathematical performance to international counterparts (NCES, 1999). Addressing low achievement in our schools has remained an issue of prime importance. Problem Statement Professional learning is critically important to realizing school improvement and student achievement gains (Joyce & Showers, 1987). Research studies continually document that professional learning as traditionally implemented, however, has limited effect on increases in teacher knowledge and skills or changes in classroom practices (Garet, 2001). In their analysis of professional learning activities, the National Center for Educational Statistics (2001) found that most programs adopted a traditional workshop format, were of short duration, were conducted outside the actual classroom, provided limited opportunities for application, included little or no follow-up experiences, or provided limited collaborative support (NCES, 2001). Typically, only about 10% of the participants in professional learning programs reported that they used in their classrooms the information presented in the workshop training sessions (Showers & Joyce, 1996).

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 5 Research on professional learning programs has focused on topics such as the perceptions of the teachers that participated (Engstrom & Danielson, 2006; NCES 2001); what happened to the teachers in the program (Garet, 2001); what areas the programs addressed (NCES, 2001); transfer of learning that occurred (Enos & Kehrhahn, 2002); and models for and components of professional learning (Blank et al, 2005; Corcoran, Mcvay &, 2003; Ding & Sherman, 2006; Engstrom & Danielson, 2006; Glaser & Chi, 1988; Sheckley & Keeton, 1999; Shower & Joyce, 1996). At the time this study was conducted, however, little research existed linking the independent variables usually studied (e.g., characteristics of professional learning programs) to the important question: Do professional learning programs effectively enhance teachers' learning? As a result educational leaders who wanted to find ways to address the limited effectiveness of professional learning programs found limited guidance in the research literature. As a first step in helping educational leaders to address this problem of ineffective teacher professional learning, this study explored whether socio-environmental factors in a middle school setting, as outlined in the TRIO model of adult learning (Sheckley, Kehrhahn, Bell, & Grenier, 2007), helped to enhance teachers' professional learning. From the perspective provided by the TRIO model, socio-environmental factors were important to explore as a dimension of professional learning because of the limited number of prior studies that had used this promising area of research on adult learning as a lens to explore teachers' professional learning.

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 6 Conceptual Framework According to the Trio model (Sheckley, Kehrhahn, Bell, & Grenier, 2007) (See diagram, Appendix A) optimal adult learning involves an interplay among three components: (a) individual attributes (e.g., metacognitive abilities, self-regulation skills, and motivation); (b) multidimensional learning experiences that trigger the cognitive processes of encoding, mapping, and abstracting; and (c) socio-environmental factors (e.g., resources, challenges, and supports). Of these components, as evident in the review that follows, socio-environmental factors provide educational leaders a promising area that if properly orchestrated could enhance professional learning. Along these lines, the tradition within middle schools to provide environmental supports (e.g., teaming and collaborative time for teachers) as a way of impacting professional growth, made middle schools an ideal context within which to study environmental factors that impact professional learning (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Three themes relating to socio-environmental factors evident in the literature were relevant to the problem this study addressed: (a) a supportive climate positively affects professional learning; (b) constant informal learning can improve professional learning; and (c) collaborative practices have the potential to improve professional learning. A supportive climate is positively related to teachers' professional learning. An analysis of the studies in Table 1 (Appendix B) indicated that school environments that were designed by teachers as learning communities provided a supportive climate that contributed to teachers' individual development. For example, Saylor and Kehrhahn (2001) in a study of 68 teachers in a middle school found that a school environment that

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 7 was designed to support teachers' learning and application of technology skills resulted in 79% of the teachers using these skills in practice. The teachers attributed the success of the program to a supportive climate in terms of (a) the facilitator's support, coaching, and timely feedback; (b) peer support, including access to peer expertise and coaching; (c) anticipation of the follow-up planning; (d) a range of activities that allowed individuals to work at their own pace; and (e) feedback from experts that the teacher-learner could access. Further analysis revealed moderate to large effect sizes between attainment of transfer goals (use of technology) and perceived social support (ESr = .43), teacher efficacy (ESr - .45), and motivation to transfer (ESr = .33). In a related study, Penuel, Riel, Krause and Frank, (2009) found that in two under-achieving elementary schools with similar demographics, the climate and environment of the schools were related to the implementation of a key initiative (improving literacy). Sixty-seven teachers participated in the study. After the first three years of the reform effort, the students at the school where the teachers directed the implementation process and collectively assumed responsibility and accountability for student learning, the students achieved an 18% gain on the California Academic Performance Index. At the other school where the principal (in good faith) determined the direction of the initiative, students demonstrated only a 3% gain in achievement. The authors attributed the positive difference between the schools to the supportive climate at the higher performing school that engendered teacher trust, autonomy, and promoted collective accountability and shared responsibility for student achievement gains.

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 8 Related studies by Ford, Quinines, Sego and Sorra (1992) (in a military setting) found that learning to complete a complex task was related to a supportive environment with a large effect size of (ESr = .69). Similarly, Maurer, Mitchell and Barbeite (2002) (in a corporate setting) found a moderately strong relationship between social support and involvement in professional learning activities, (ESr = .38). These studies reinforced the proposition that a supportive work environment had the potential to enhance professional learning. Collectively these studies suggested that a supportive school climate might have a moderate effect on enhancing teachers' professional learning. An environment that supports constant informal learning can improve professional learning. An analysis of the studies in Table 2 (Appendix C) suggests that school environments that provided teachers with constant informal opportunities to perform challenging professional learning tasks in the school setting have the potential to enhance professional learning. In a study of 93 undergraduates that required participants to actively guide their own learning, Ford, Smith, Weissbein, Gully and Salas (1998) determined that activity level had a small correlation with knowledge gains (ESr - .21) and a medium correlation with training performance (ESr - .28). In a related study, 95% of the 84 managers of a Fortune 100 company reported that they developed their managerial proficiency through a dynamic, on-going informal learning process (e.g., engaging in job experiences, social interactions, and reflections) (Enos & Kehrhahn, 2002). Similarly, in a study of 60 teachers (in a school setting) in Grenoble, France, 76% of the teachers interviewed perceived that their teaching knowledge was constructed from

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 9 facing professional problems and overcoming them with collegial support via an informal process that involved reflection as well as interactions with colleagues, students, and parents (Grangeat & Gray, 2007). These studies supported the theme that an environment that supported constant informal learning could, to a moderate degree, improve the effectiveness of teachers' professional learning. Instructional leadership that maintains and supports constant informal learning opportunities focused on solving problems of practice—and continuous innovation, has the potential to improve teacher performance and lead to increases in student achievement. Current research indicated that there was a substantial relationship between educational leadership and effective teacher professional development that improved student achievement (McREL, 2003). Based on their meta-analysis Waters, Marzano, and McNulty (2003) reported that 21 key leadership responsibilities had an average overall medium effect size (ESr = .25) on student achievement (McREL, 2003). The meta-analysis showed that leadership could have a positive or negative effect on achievement. Some of the specific leadership responsibilities and competencies that had an impact on sustaining the socio-environmental factors that supported teachers' constant informal learning and ultimately student achievement are as follows: culture (identified core values, shared best practices, and maintained supportive climate) with a medium effect size, (ESr = .29); order (operating procedures) with a medium effect size, (ESr = . 26); resources, (ESr = .26); curriculum, instruction, and assessment with a medium effect size, (ESr = .24); focus, (ESr = .24); input (involving the teachers in decisions) with a medium effect size, (ESr = .30); affirmation (affirming teachers' efforts and innovation)

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 10 with a medium effect size, (ESr = .25); maintaining relationships with a small effect size, (ESr = .19); change agent (facilitates the group processes of change) with a medium effect size, (ESr - .30); ideals/beliefs (promotes a mission that resonates with the collective) with a medium effect size, (ESr = .25); monitors/evaluates practices (aspects of the informal and formal district evaluation plan) with a medium effect size, (ESr = . 28); flexibility with a medium effect size, (ESr - .33); and intellectual stimulation (enriches the culture) with a medium effect size, (ESr = .32) (McREL, 2003). According to this research, leaders who exercised the skill set and demonstrated the competencies to sustain the socio-environmental factors that supported teachers' informal learning usually had a positive affect on both teachers' professional learning and student learning. Overall this research indicated that effective leaders valued teachers' expertise and allocated resources based on the input of teachers to support collaborative problem-solving that was focused on improving student achievement (Sandholtz & Scribner, 2006). These studies suggested that a school setting that provided constant opportunities for teachers' informal learning more often than not provided a small to moderate boost to teachers' professional learning. An environment that encourages collaborative practices supports professional learning. An analysis of the studies in Table 3 (Appendix D) indicated that effective school environments that supported professional learning provided teachers with domain- specific expert feedback, in depth peer-peer conversations, peer collaboration, and coaching (not linked to supervisory functions). In a study of 102 manager trainees in a fast food restaurant chain social support was correlated to enhanced learning and transfer

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 11 of training, (ESr = .60) (Rouiller & Goldstein, 1993). Similarly, research on cooperative learning showed a large effect on learner achievement as measured by content specific, higher order learning, (ESr = .70) (Joyce & Showers, 1987). The Joyce and Showers (1987) meta-analysis indicated that when teachers engaged in cooperative learning efforts with other teachers their learning increased. In turn, this increased learning on the part of teachers was related to more complex learning for students. Additional support for collaborative practices was presented by Penuel et al. (2009) in a study of two under-performing elementary schools. The results showed that teachers of the higher performing school were empowered to assume collective responsibility for the reform and process and the direction of the reform initiative. In turn, they initiated more effective innovations than their peers from a comparison school where the principal led the reform effort. In the higher performing school the teachers' innovative implementation of the reform was related to the following factors: opportunities to discuss initiatives with colleagues, (ESr = .38); access to mentoring and support (ESr - .33); and access to needed materials (including knowledge-sharing systems) with a medium effect size (ESr = .32). In summary, when they are involved in complex learning situations (e.g., teachers' knowledge-sharing and collaboration regarding improving student achievement in specific disciplines) teachers may experience a moderate to large learning benefit from socially supported collaborative practices and knowledge-sharing systems (Penuel, Riel, & Frank, 2009). There are a number of limitations to the research presented including the reliability of perceptions that were measured. The generalizability to school settings of

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 12 studies from non-educational settings may be limited. Even with these limitations the research reviewed here suggests that the middle school setting used in this study could provide a context in which to explore the relationships between socio-environmental supports and teachers' professional learning. Research Questions 1. In the setting of a middle school recognized for success in establishing a professional learning culture, according to multiple sources of data, how did the following socio- environmental factors enhance teachers' professional learning: a) supportive climate? b) constant informal learning? c) collaborative practices? 2. In this setting, what other factors enhanced teachers' professional learning?

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 13 Methods Study Design This descriptive study employed qualitative methods (Creswell, 2002/2003) to address the research questions related to teachers' professional learning. The unit of analysis was the individual teachers at Northeastern Middle School who participated in the study. Setting The site selected for this study was the Northeastern Middle School (NMS), a fifth through eighth grade school of approximately 1,000 students located in New England. This middle school was selected as the setting because of its exemplary status. As indicated in the Appendix E (an historical perspective on NMS), the school was considered an "exemplary" site for professional learning because in this school "(teachers) created learning communities where teachers routinely discussed their practice, talked about student work, and visited each other's classrooms" (Belair & Freeman, 2002). Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recognized NMS as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 2000. As another example of the school's exemplary status, the New England League of Middle Schools named NMS as a Spotlight School in 2003, 2006, and 2009. Two factors may have contributed to the school's exemplary status. The first factor related to the environment and organizational structures at the school that were designed to support research-based elements of Turning Points (Jackson & Davis, 2000) a landmark report by the Carnegie Corporation. The second factor related to the high

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 14 achievement scores earned by NMS students (e.g., in 2007-2008 a high percentage of grade 7 students met goal level on the Connecticut Mastery Test, Fourth Generation in reading (88.9%); writing (76.6%); and mathematics (82%). I also chose NMS as a site for this study because of my role as a house principal within the school. This role gave me an in-depth perspective on the activities and practices within the school that enhanced teachers' learning. The school is located in a high-performing district in relation to communities and schools that are compared to it by the State. The profile of the school in 2008 had the following demographics: student diversity: Euro-American 84%, Asia-American 9%, Hispanic-Americans 3%, African-Americans 2%, and Native American 1%; indicators of educational need: students eligible for free or reduced lunch meals - 7%, students with disabilities - 15%, student identified as gifted - 6%, students who attended same school as the previous year - 92%. Most of the teachers in the school have been with the school for typically over 8 years. The rate of teacher turnover is low. Of the 77 certified teachers, 40 were organized into 11 teams. Each team area had four academic classrooms organized around a common meeting area (a neighborhood). Teams were further organized into a three house (small schools within a school) structure. Each team had four academic subject area teachers, one special education teacher, and approximately 85 children. The exceptions were two teams each comprised of two academic subject area teachers, one special educator and approximately 40 students. Additionally, each team was supported by a house counselor, a school psychologist, a house administrator, and the middle school

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 15 principal. Further support was provided through the subject-area coordinators and the district program director. Support from the district for this study in 2008-2009 was obtained. Refer to Appendix F for letters of support from the building principal and the superintendent of schools. Sample The purposeful sample included eight teachers, and one educational leader (the principal for the entire school). At a faculty meeting the study was introduced by a middle school educator not associated with NMS. The presenter clarified, that (a) participation in the study was voluntary and (b) all information collected during the study would be confidential. During this introduction, the Principal of NMS and the student researcher left the room. The introduction was followed by an invitation to participate sent through the school mail. Participants were selected from the group of volunteers using the following criteria: (category one) two teachers with twelve or more years of teaching experience; (category two) four teachers with between five and 12 years of teaching experience; and (category three) two teachers with fewer than five years of teaching experience. "Years of experience" was used as a selection criteria in order to access a broad range of teachers' experiences with professional development and professional learning within the school. Additionally, years of experience was used as a selection criteria because it often has a moderate relationship with how professionals go about learning (Glaser & Chi, 1988).

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 16 Within each category, participants with more years at NMS were selected over those who have fewer years of experience at NMS. If candidates were equal on all criteria, participants who applied earliest were selected. Teachers whom I supervised were excluded from the study. Data Collection and Instruments Data collection was bounded (Creswell, 1998) by the time period January 2009 through June 2009. This study was also bounded by the requirements of the district's professional development (PD) policies, the requirement to demonstrate the impact of their selected PD on student learning), the school goals (e.g., promoting literacy across the curriculum), and strategic initiatives (e.g., inclusion). A chronological plan of data collection and analysis began with obtaining district permissions, IRB approval, and then recruiting participants. Next, the initial phase of data were collected from four teacher interviews. Interviews were transcribed by the student researcher and then member-checked. A list of themes was developed from the interviews using closed, open, and axial coding. Then, interview protocols were adjusted for the second phase of data collection. The second phase of data were collected from the participating teachers, the principal, and other school and district documents. Interviews were member-checked and then analyzed until a constant comparative analysis (Creswell, 2008) determined that theme saturation had been achieved. Refer to Appendix G for the chronological plan of data collection that was followed. Interviews. The interviews with each teacher, following recommendations from Creswell (2002,2008), were guided by a semi-structured interview protocol with a set of

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 17 open-ended questions along with follow-up probing questions (Appendix H). Before being used in the study, this protocol was reviewed with educational peers not in the study to confirm that the questions were stated clearly and that the questions related directly to the research questions that guided the study. Each interview was audio- recorded with participants' informed consent. Interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes. Each interview was scheduled at the convenience of the interviewee. Each recording was transcribed by the student researcher and sent by sealed school mail to the participant for member-checking prior to analysis. Data were collected in two phases. In phase 1, four teachers were interviewed. The results of these interviews were analyzed (as described in the next section) to identify themes where data saturation occurred and themes where additional information was required. The interview protocol was adjusted accordingly (e.g., questions were altered to focus most of the interview on the themes where more information was required) for phase 2, the interviews with the next set of four teachers. For the principal, again following recommendations from Creswell (2002, 2003), a semi-structured interview protocol with a guiding set of questions and follow-up probing questions was used (Appendix I). Before being used in the study, the protocol was reviewed with administrators not in the study to confirm that the questions were stated clearly and that the questions related directly to the research questions that guided the study. This interview was audio-taped with the interviewee's informed consent. It lasted approximately 60 minutes. The interview was transcribed by the student

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 18 researcher and sent to the principal by sealed school mail for member-checking prior to analysis. Each tape recording was coded to provide confidentiality for the interviewee. Only the researcher had access to the codes. All codes and interview tapes were kept in a locked file in the researcher's office. Once data analysis was completed for the study, the tapes were destroyed. Data collection included a review of public documents that related to specific themes and patterns that emerged in the interviews (e.g., evaluations of professional development workshops, 2007 faculty meeting group work on middle school philosophy, 2006 house evaluation minutes, and 2003 Blue Ribbon self-evaluation documents). This review was designed to add depth and breadth to the data analysis. Data Analysis As outlined in Appendix G, data were analyzed using a constant comparative process (Glaser, 1992) (Creswell, 2002/2008). The data related to RQ 1 were analyzed using a closed-coding process (Baurer, 2000) guided by the three themes listed in RQ1. RQ 2 was analyzed using an open and axial coding process (Creswell, 2002/2008; Strauss, 1998). The goal of the data analysis was to provide a rich, thick description of the professional learning experiences of the participants in this middle school setting. Additionally, the researcher met regularly with peer debriefers. In these meetings, the discussions focused on the current task and purposes of the data collection and analysis. Peer debriefing was used to cross check themes, categories, and researcher assumptions. Essentially, this debriefing process allowed the researcher to recalibrate his

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 19 understandings against the peer comments and perspectives provided by the peer debriefers. This cross-check helped to control for, to the extent that such control is possible, some limitations to the study. Limitations and Trustworthiness Among the key components of limitations in this study were transferability, credibility, reliability, and confirmability. Specifically, transferability is accepted as a limit of this study because of the specific middle school context used in the study. This issue was managed and minimized by thick description, but was recognized and accepted. Furthermore, the readers of the study are advised that the findings are specific to this setting and may not transfer to other contexts. Other potential limitations to this study were threats to the credibility of the findings. First, as a participant researcher with a personal subjectivity, my subjectivity may have influenced my interpretation of the analysis. For example, because of my involvement in the district and building professional development committees I may have been inclined to review references to this process in a positive light. To address such subjectivity, I attempted to bracket, as much as possible, my interpretations of events. For example, because of my role as change agent in the school, I may have been inclined to filter negative case examples of the teachers' learning experiences. To address this possible tendency I reflected on and reported negative case examples. Additionally, the underlying assumptions that guided this study (e. g., the researcher's bias that collaborative practices and supportive practices positively affect professional learning)

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 20 are limitations I worked to minimize. Moreover, threats (e.g., researcher bias affecting neutrality during analysis; making too many inferences from limited data; lack of agreement among observers; and poor data record, etc.) to the confirmability of the findings of the study existed as potential limitations. Efforts that minimized and managed these threats included: a reflective journal, memo procedure, peer debriefing, and seeking out alternative hypotheses and negative examples presented. Refer to my subjectivity statement for a fuller description of how my subjectivity may have influenced my work in collecting and analyzing information (Appendix J). The strategies used to manage and minimize threats associated with my subjectivity included member- checking, triangulation (i.e., collecting data from a variety of sources with a variety of methods), peer debriefing, and participant involvement. While I monitored this threat with field notes, memos, and a reflective journal to account for researcher bias, ultimately, this potential threat was recognized and accepted. The readers of the study were advised as to the extent my personal biases toward collaborative processes and my conceptual framework of the Trio Model of Adult Learning which affected the interpretation of the data. While this threat cannot be minimized, it was acknowledged. Another possible limitation was the threat to the dependability or reliability of the findings. Factors, such as my status as researcher participant, my knowledge of the specific exemplar middle school context, and the reality that this study was a snap shot in time were all possible threats to the dependability and reliability of the findings. I worked to minimize this threat by keeping an "audit trail" documenting in detail all methods and procedures.

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 21 To the extent that these controls did not fully address this list of limitations, they were accepted as limits of the study. Significance of the Study This study explored environmental factors in a middle school setting that potentially provided insight as to the factors that enhanced teacher's professional learning. This study also pointed to areas for future research. As this and other research identifies factors that enhance teacher's professional learning, educational leaders can use this information to implement more effective ways to enhance teachers' professional learning. Moreover, professional learning research can inform the decisions policy makers and community leaders make regarding the effective use of limited educational resources. Finally the study may contribute ideas that will help school leaders in their efforts to improve student achievement.

TEACHERS' PROFESSIONAL LEARNING 22 Results This study used the Trio Model of adult learning (Sheckley et al., 2008) as a theoretical basis for examining the professional learning of middle school teachers. The TRIO model provided a useful frame for this analysis because the model is broadly applicable to a wide range of individuals and contexts. The results of this study are in line with the Trio model's assertion that professional learning is most effective when the process: (1) helps learners to enhance the complexity of mental models they use to guide practice; (2) engages learners in a multifaceted, experience-based activities; (3) engages learners in an environment that supports and challenges their learning; and (4) engages learners in a long-term process (Sheckley, 2007) The World of the Middle School Teacher The results of this study are best interpreted within the context - the "qualia"—in which these teachers worked and learned (Shoemaker, 1990). The professional learning community that existed at the school was consciously developed and influenced in line with the professional learning philosophy that existed at the school. Following this philosophy embedded within the school's culture and climate were expectations that teachers would engage in professional discussions and would participate in on-going peer coaching. The structures in place at NMS provided multiple times for teachers to meet together by in teams and by subject matter. The common meeting times and related structures were in place to encourage teachers to improve their professional learning by taking advantage of informal learning opportunities. The emphasis on informal learning options was necessary at NMS because formal professional development opportunities were limited to only 2.5 days of professional

Full document contains 85 pages
Abstract: This study addressed the problem of devising learning programs for teachers that effectively increased teachers' professional learning. This descriptive study (a) used qualitative methods, (b) employed the Trio Model of Adult Learning (Sheckley, Kehrhahn, Bell, & Grenier, 2007) as a conceptual frame, and (c) explored the role that socio-environmental influences played in the professional learning of middle school teachers. In the setting of a middle school that was an exemplar for professional learning, information from multiple sources, including interviews with eight teachers, were collected and analyzed to provide a thick, rich description of teachers' professional learning. The analysis used a constant comparative method. The results indicated that a supportive climate, the opportunities for informal learning, and teachers' engagement in collaborative practices each had an important role in enhancing their learning. The results suggested that for this sample, as indicated in the Trio Model of adult learning, key experiences, individual attributes and socio-environmental affordances interacted recursively to enhance teachers' learning. The limitations to this study included: credibility and transferability of the results, biases of the researcher, and the dependability and confirmability of the findings.