Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

H. G. Campano

Abstract

This study challenges traditional professional development models, in which teachers are positioned as receptacles for knowledge and “best practices.” This type of professional development devalues the local knowledge teachers possess, their theories of practice (Lytle & Cochran-Smith, 1994), and their ability to reflect on their practice and determine what professional inquiries best serve the school community, their own classrooms, and the students who inhabit them.

In order to implement a more teacher-centered approach to professional development at Aspen Charter School, administrators asked me to spearhead and coordinate the implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). In the PLC framework, groups are not mandated to follow a prescribed curriculum; rather, they set their own learning trajectory and ground their study in the experiential realities of their school and classroom contexts. Thus, this dissertation tracks the work of two PLCs, comprised of teachers of all subjects in grades 4-8, who undertook year-long inquiries into the topics of Cultural Competence and Restorative Justice.

As the PLC coordinator at Aspen Charter School, I helped these groups locate resources and design learning activities that would guide their inquiries. I also had the opportunity to participate in many of the PLC sessions. Thus, the research is ethnographic and interpretative in nature, and it follows the long tradition of practitioner inquiry (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Ballenger, 1999; Campano, 2007). Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1995; Janks, 1997) revealed insights into the (un)learnings of the participants, and grounded theories (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) emerged that both inform and critique collective understandings of PLCs, cultural competence, and restorative justice.

Though PLCs hold tremendous potential to help teachers engage in transformative learning, there are several inherent and logistical tensions that challenge the extent to which teachers can adequately develop frameworks that reject dominant discourses and ideologies. Thus, this study examines both the limitations and possibilities of PLCs, as teachers seek to develop praxis in the very complicated spheres of Cultural Competence and Restorative Justice.

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