Professional Learning Community and Team Leadership

Dion Ginanto

            Organization is complex and dynamic. To deal with its dynamics and complexity, a leader should be creative and innovative in order to maintain the balance of the organizations. Bekhard (in Gallos, 2006) asserted that an organization which can effectively adapt and cope with changes in its environment is therefore called an effective organization. School is one example which is always facing the dynamics and complexity of organization, including students’ attendance, discipline, performance, teachers’ collaboration, etc. The people in the building (teachers, principal, staff, and students) should be able to adjust to the situation and need to be ready to welcome changes. Every school setting has its different problems and every leader has different approaches to cope with them. However, they will always have the common issue/goal of improving students’ performance/success. Therefore, a school principal needs to be ready to stand in the front line to empower everybody as an agent of change to achieve the school’s goals. This paper discusses one organization in which I teach: SMAN 1 Batanghari, Indonesia. This paper answers the following questions: 1) What challenges are faced by SMAN 1 Batanghari in term of organizational development? 2) What approach/intervention should a leader undertake to make a better performance? 3) What leadership style (recommendation) could be use based on analysis of the context, diagnosis and identified intervention?

SMAN 1 Batanghari

            SMAN 1 Batanghari is the oldest public high school in the district of Batanghari, Jambi Province, Indonesia. This school was promoted to be an international standard school; however, the policy of implementing international-based standard was terminated due to several evaluations by congress, NGOs, and researchers. This school has 743 students, 45 teachers, and 10 staff. The school was established in 1978.

            SMAN 1Batanghari is led by a principal and seven assistant principals (ap), who have different roles and job descriptions: 1) ap for students affair; 2) ap for curriculum; 3) ap for instruction and teaching materials; 4) ap for external relations; 5) ap for infrastructures and facilities; 6) ap for information and technology; and 7) ap for quality improvement. This is interesting, because usually high schools in Indonesia usually only have four assistant principals. I had ever asked my principal why we have more assistant principals than other schools did. My principal gave me two answers: 1) to help him develop our school; 2) to help teachers get more hours in teaching. The second answer sounds interesting to me, because in Indonesia every teacher (except ap) needs to teach 24 hours a week. Because we have more teachers than the other schools do, then our school also added more assistant principals (assistant principals may teach 12 hours a week, with their additional ap jobs).

            Our school’s vision is “Menjadi sekolah bertaraf internasional yang berkarakter budaya bangsa, serta unggul dalam prestasi”: to be an international based school, which maintains local wisdoms, as well as to be a high-achieving school. Compared to other schools in our district, SMAN 1 Batanghari has more facilities, teachers, and resources. In addition, the total number of students continuing to college is also higher, compared to neighbor schools. However, this school still needs to improve its performances, especially its notion of teachers, including teachers collaboration, creating atmosphere of trust among teachers, improving teachers quality, etc.    

 Diagnosis for SMAN 1 Batanghari (a Case Study)

            Almost all high schools in Indonesia, or even in the world, have one ultimate goal: students’ success. In order to meet students’ success, most high schools in Indonesia have similar problems/challenges: The teacher issue. I am focusing on teachers, because teachers are the most influential factor in a school’s success. Sari and Tedjasaputra (2010) wrote that there is an increasing expectation for teachers in many part of the world to ensure that their students meet high standard performances in learning, and are competitive assets in this globalized world. Nevertheless, with this high demand for teachers performances, Indonesian teachers (including my school, based on my experience of my four years of teaching) are facing several problems: 1) lack of collaboration (Sari and Tedjasaputra, 20012); 2) ineffectiveness of professional development (Thair and Traagust, 2003); and 3) lack of resources (Thair and Traagust, 2003).

  1. Lack of Collaboration

Lack of collaboration seems to be a common problem in every school in the world. SMAN 1 Batanghari, based on my experience, is also lacking of collaboration. What parts of collaboration are lacking at SMAN 1 Batanghari? There are two parts of collaboration which are missing: informal and formal collaboration. Informal collaboration is the collaboration that occurs as a result of teachers’ personal initiatives, without having a regularized structure (Sawyer & Kaufman, 2007). An example of informal collaboration is spontaneous conversations in the teachers’ lounge or hallway (Hargreaves, 1994 in Sawyer & Kaufman, 2007). We do have informal conversations; however I feel that the topics are away from teaching and learning. Rather, it is about daily life that has no connection with education.

Formal collaboration occurs less frequently, and has protocols, guidelines, and techniques; it is typically established by the school administration (Sawyer & Kaufman, 2007). Several examples of formal collaboration, as summarized by Sawyer & Kaufman (2007), are teaching teams, exchanging classes, co-teaching, peer coaching, study groups, and small-scale conduct of applied research in supportive teams. Based on my experiences and observations, formal collaboration as mentioned by Sawyer and Kaufman are not yet implemented well in our school.

I also feel that in our school, the teachers are divided into two parts: novice teachers and veteran teachers. Based on my observations so far, there is a gap between the two groups. The novice teachers feel they are not welcome; meanwhile, the old teachers do not feel comfortable to collaborate with the young teachers, due to the age gap. The novice teachers are reluctant to ask questions to old teachers; meanwhile, the old teachers resist the new ideas brought by novice teachers. The senior teachers seem to use the old methods and theories of teaching and learning; meanwhile, the novice teachers always come up with up-to-date theories and methodology of teaching practices.

  1. Ineffectiveness of Professional Development (PD)

For most teachers in Indonesia, they are lacking in professional development. The PD is centered in a district or at the provincial level. Thus, there are a lot of teachers who do not have a chance to do PD. Meanwhile, there are certain teachers who are always sent as a school representative for PD; and most of them are those who have close connections with the principal or superintendent.

And yet, the PD is not effectively applied. Scott and Scott (in Sari and Tedja, 2010) argued that current teachers’ professional development in Indonesia mostly emphasizes “directive” method and prescriptive information dissemination with little emphasis on teachers interaction and collaboration. As a result, PD is not really effective to support school changes.

I have been teaching for five years, but I was not lucky enough to be sent to PD at the provincial level. When I asked my principal about it, he told me that the quota was not enough; I need to wait until next year. Nevertheless, after waiting for the following year, I still had no chance for PD at the provincial level, and the reason remained the same: there were not enough quotas. Therefore, I am thinking of a professional development at the school level. I believe if the principal can empower his assistant principals to be teacher coaches then we can have regular PD without being afraid that teachers do not have enough quotas for self-development.

  1. Lack of Resources

I could not agree more with the notion of lack of resources for teachers in Indonesia, by Thahir and Traagust (2003). The centralized program that invites one or two trainers will cause a lot of teachers to be on the waiting list for a long time to get PD. Can we imagine if in one district, the government only does one or two professional development programs? How can teachers elevate their knowledge? How can they adjust to the changes? The lack of trainers/instructors for PD in Indonesia has become a serious problem that needs to be solved as soon as possible. If our school only counts on PD offered by the government, I am afraid that teachers in our school will inevitably find themselves teaching in the same way they have done all the time.

Other resources that is still lacking in my school are books and journals about professional development that can promote collaboration. However, if the principal can provide professional development within the school, then we can buy several books or journals which can be shared and used together in groups.

Professional Learning Community (PLC) as an Alternative Change

Given all the challenges in most schools in Indonesia, including my school, Professional Learning Community (PLC) is considered to be one effective approach to make change. What is PLC? Dufour, Dofour and Eaker (2012) wrote that PLC is an activity in which educators are committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research, in order to achieve better results for the students they serve. Professional learning community enables teachers to work in teams (not in a group) by focusing their activities on the success of the students. PLC is ideally initiated by a school principal within the building, and it is conducted regularly for his/her teachers, focusing on several topics to improve instruction including topics on increasing students’ positive behavior.

There are three components of PLC according, to DuFour (2004): 1) ensuring that students learn; 2) focus on results; and 3) a culture of collaboration. Further, DuFour (2004) asserted that improving school by developing PLC is becoming a trend in many schools in the United States of America. In line with this, Dennis Sparks (in Schmoker, 2006) emphasized that professional learning communities are indeed the best form of staff development so far.

What kinds of activities are in PLC? The answer is, as long as an activity promotes collaboration, focuses on results, and ensures that students learn, we can call them as PLC. For example classroom walkthroughs, instructional rounds, staff development using protocols, curriculum designs, mentoring, journaling, lesson study, study/reading groups, dialogue, action research, etc. can all be considered PLC. The point is, if PD is usually held three to four times in a year, and is held at the district or provincial level (Indonesian context) attended only a few of participants, we can do PLC weekly and at the school level.

My two favorite programs that I would use if I become a principal are classroom walkthrough and staff development using protocols. I did on internship in several schools here in East Lansing, and I learned that classroom walkthroughs are very effective for maintaining and increasing the quality of teachers in the classroom. By doing classroom walkthrough all teachers will feel that they are not alone in the classroom. They can exchange feedback, and therefore the quality of instruction will remain positive. In addition, in order for teachers to have a formal dialogue on a small scope, I will apply self-development using protocols. Protocols have been proven effective in several research studies, for leading discussion to be more efficient and effective. Protocols are also considered to be a tool to make sustainable self-development.

Team Leadership

To implement the change, in this case PLC a school should deploy an appropriate leadership style which fits to the situation and the context. MetLife Foundation (n.d) put leadership as one standard for professional learning: “Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning” (MetLife Foundation, n.d). One leadership style that can be applied to implement PLC is team leadership.

What is team leadership? Team leadership is a leadership style in which the members are interdependent, share common goals, and must coordinate their activities to accomplish organizational goals (Hill, in Northouse, 2013). By sharing common goals, every single teacher in the building can feel empowered. As a result, their sense of belongingness in the school increases; and eventually we can achieve our goals together. Team leadership is similar to distributed leadership. Distributed leadership involves sharing influence by team members who step forward when situations warrant providing the leadership necessary, and then stepping back to allow others to lead (Hill, in Northouse, 2013).

Team leadership is congruent with the idea of PLC, in which every body is a learner. Teachers are learners, staff is learners, students are learners, and the principal is a learner. Therefore, implementing change in a professional learning community by using team leadership will be effective, not only because PLC and team leadership have something in common, but also because this leadership style fits with our culture and tradition of “Gotong Royong.” Gotong Royong is rooted in rural Javanese culture. It refers to the principle of mutual help among neighbors in a community (Asian Disaster Reduction Center and International Recovery Platform, 2011). Because teachers are already used to the idea of gotong royong, the ideas of PLC, and team leadership therefore can be implemented effectively.

How does It Work?

There are several strategies I will apply to make PLC works in SMAN 1 Batanghari. My first strategy is planning. Almost every successful activity is started with effective planning. Therefore, I will also think about planning in order to run PLC smoothly. Collecting the data is part of the planning strategy. I will disseminate a questionnaire about collaboration and PLC to the students and teachers. Then I will also do a survey as well as observation, to obtain factual data before I make a decision to change. By having data-driven decision-making, I will avoid making a decision based only on assumptions.

The second step of implementing change is socialization. I will introduce the idea of PLC to teachers, staff, and students. There have been a lot of changes which did not bring success, or even made matters worse; one reason is that the leader failed to communicate the importance of the idea of change. I will have both informal and formal conversations with people in the building about the idea of PLC. In addition, effective communication is also a part of team leadership.

The third step is empowering everyone to take part. The idea of team leadership is that everybody can lead. Therefore, it is important to build trust among colleagues in the building. The first approach is providing a positive role model, and making everybody in the school feel comfortable with my leadership. Thus, everybody will feel that they are being appreciated, and finally they will voluntarily take part in the idea of change we brought.

            Having a clear and regular schedule of PLC is my fourth step. The difficult part of making successful change is sustainability to make a sustainable program; we usually have a time constraint, because every teacher has a lack of time to do PLC. Therefore, I will implement the policy by taking one hour every Saturday (every month) for a professional learning activity. The students will go home one hour earlier every Saturday (every month). The schedule will be put on the hallway announcements board, as well as in the teachers’ office, so that the teachers are aware of the PLC.

            The last step is evaluating. Evaluation is so important to measure the strengths and weaknesses of the program. I will have both formal (survey and questionnaire) and informal (informal conversation with teachers) evaluation. The evaluation will tell drive me whether or not I should continue PLC for the next level.

Conclusion

To sum up, all organizations, including a high school, need always to make changes. This is because change is an inevitable part of a good organization. One program that I will implement to make a change in my school is PLC. I believe that by implementing PLC in my school, I will be able to increase collaboration among teachers. Having good collaboration in the building will bring a positive environment in the school (positive school climate). The ultimate goal of implementing change (PLC) in my school is the students’ success. In order to make a smooth change in my organization, I will deploy several steps in my team leadership: planning, socializing, empowering, having a clear schedule, and evaluating.

 

 

 

References:

Asian Disaster Reduction Center and International Recovery Platform. (2011). “Gotong Royong” in the recovery processes: The case of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Availabele: http://www.jointokyo.org/files/cms/news/pdf/04_ADRC_Gotong_Royong_in_recovery.pdf

 

DoFour, R. (2004) What is a professional learning community. ASCD Journal. 61(8) p. 6-11.

 

Dufour, Dofour & Eaker (2012) A big picture look at professional learning community. Solution Tree.

 

Gallos , J.V. (2006). Organizational development: A Jossey-Bass reader. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

Northouse, P.G. (2013) Leadership: Theory and practice (6th Edition).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

 

Sawyer and Kaufman (2007). Teacher collaboration in the context of the responsice classroom approach. Teacher and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 13(3) 211-245.

 

Sari, E. and Tedjasaputra, A. (2010). Collaborative learning among Australasian educators through online learning community (OLC). In C.H. Steel, M.J. Keppell, P. Gerbic & S. Housego (eds.), Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown future. Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010 (p. 869-871).

 

Schmoker, M. (2004). Start here for improving teaching and learning. School Administrator. 61(10). p. 48.

 

Thair, M and Treagust, D.F. (2003). A brief history of a science teacher professional development initiative in Indonesia and the implications for centralized teacher development. International Journal of Education Development. 23(2) p.201-213

 

 

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