A case study of the relationship between collective efficacy and professional learning communities

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act (2001) has created a high stakes accountability climate by setting federal mandates for increasing levels of student achievement in the Kindergarten through twelfth grade public education arena. Consequently, schools and districts who fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress guidelines are subject to progressive degrees of corrective action. As a result, the role of educators takes on an even greater importance as educational researchers and policymakers seek reforms to meet the new demands placed on teachers. One model showing great promise is the professional learning community (PLC) model. Researchers continue to examine whether or not PLCs may be the impetus for increased student achievement and a possible support structure leading to the closing of the achievement gap. While these studies have been crucial in identifying effective, research-based PLC practices, they have largely ignored the fact that many schools continue to struggle in implementing and sustaining PLCs. This seems to suggest that PLC success may be determined by other factors. Using surveys, one-on-one interviews, and documentation to triangulate the data, this mixed-methods study examined the relationship between PLCs, collective efficacy, and transformational leadership. This study utilized the conceptual frameworks of DuFour and Eaker's (1998) PLC model, Goddard's (2002) collective efficacy construct, and Leithwood's (1994) transformational leadership model. This case study examined one district in Central California that successfully implemented the PLC model for the past five years. The quantitative phase resulted in 297 usable surveys containing items exploring PLC and collective efficacy characteristics. Findings suggest that there is a positive relationship between PLCs and collective efficacy as reported by descriptive, correlation, multiple regression, and structural equation modeling tests. A qualitative phase was also conducted through one-on-one interviews with teachers and principals at two K-5 and two K-8 schools demonstrating higher and lower levels of collective efficacy and more and less effective PLC teams adding depth to survey results. The data indicated that transformational leadership is essential in building and sustaining the PLC process. Findings also provided evidence that the more effective PLC teams had higher levels of perceived collective efficacy.