University of Tasmania
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Fijian secondary school teachers' perceptions of the interpersonal characteristics of professional learning communities

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:47 authored by Parmeshwar Mohan
Professional development (PD) in Fijian schools consists of traditional approaches, such as short-term or single session workshops, training, seminars, lectures, and conference sessions, and job-embedded PD, where teachers' learning is grounded in their day-to day teaching practice with the intent of improving student learning. Fiji has an archipelago of more than 330 islands and is a geographically scattered developing country facing its own unique challenges regarding teachers' professional learning activities. This study examines a job-embedded PD (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009; Desimone, 2009) model through the lens of a professional learning community (PLC) (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; DuFour & Fullan, 2013, Hord, 1997), focusing in particular on the interpersonal characteristics of PLCs; reflective dialogue, de-privatised practice, and collective responsibility (Vanblaere & Devos, 2016a, 2016b, 2018; Wahlstrom & Louis, 2008). There are very few studies on PLCs that have taken these individual characteristics into account whilst considering the potential facilitating factors. An explanatory sequential mixed methods case study approach was adopted to probe three research questions in two phases. The research questions were: 1. How do teachers perceive the interpersonal characteristics of PLCs in Fiji? 2. What are teachers' current practices of the interpersonal characteristics of PLCs in Fiji? 3. What factors inhibit or promote the interpersonal characteristics of PLCs in Fiji? The first phase was the completion of an online survey by teachers (n = 197) from six secondary schools (two urban, two rural, and two remote). The second phase involved a series of individual semi-structured interviews with teachers from the six schools. Eight personnel were interviewed from each school; three teachers, three Heads of Department, and two administrators (either Principal, Vice Principal or Assistant Principal). A total of 16 personnel were interviewed from each region of urban, rural, and remote, making a total of 48 interviews. Statistical analyses with SPSS revealed there was no significant difference between teachers' perceptions on the interpersonal characteristics of PLC across the three regions and within the schools of the same region. However, there were significant differences in teachers' practices in reflective dialogue both across the regions and within the same region, and in teachers' collective responsibility practices within the same region. The data revealed that de-privatised practices hardly exist in Fijian schools with no significant difference either across regions or within the same region. The qualitative interview data was subjected to thematic analysis based on five common themes that were identified by the conceptual framework developed from the review of literature; individual, team, school, community, and government. Teachers viewed a PLC as being influenced by individual factors such as the teacher's attitudes, culture and background, beliefs, commitment, experience, interest, values, workload and time available. Team level factors included the presence of a shared vision, openness, respect, team culture, and voluntary participation. Infrastructure, leadership, school culture, and resources were identified as school level factors. Factors within the community were the locality, socio-economic background of the student, and the educational background of parents. At the government level, funding, national curriculum, policies, national planning, the provision of school infrastructure and resources, and teacher supply all influenced the existence of PLCs. The study concluded that PLCs in urban, rural, and remote schools are unique in their own ways. A conceptualised framework of the influencing factor levels that may be helpful in identifying problems and encouraging quicker solutions in the differing circumstances was presented. The proposed framework does not show that a PLC can operate with a 'ripple effect,' meaning that change at one level, will automatically generate change at other levels. Instead, in order to create sustainable PLCs, change needs to have a 'balloon effect', that is, if change occurs at one level, it needs to be simultaneously aligned to other levels. Two-way interactions, communication, and mutual influence between levels are essential. Understanding the relevance of PLCs to teachers' professional growth in Fiji should benefit other developing nations and, in turn, the educational community generally.


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