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Supporting public high school teachers in a context of multiple mandates: A social justice approach to professional learning communities

Philip J Harak, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Although public school teaching by its inherent nature presents numerous classroom challenges, the public high school teacher today is faced in addition with multiple external mandates from several outside stakeholders. Given the established track record of professional learning communities (PLCs) to provide teacher support and development, I created a PLC that would serve as an intervention designed to support teachers in their classroom work and with their multiple mandates as well. This enhanced PLC was informed by interviews with administrators, researched best practices of traditional PLCs, and uniquely, by what teachers told me they needed in an optimal PLC experience. The PLC was facilitated and based on inclusive, holistic social justice principles that provided a framework for and experience of inclusive teaching practice, while specifically addressing ongoing teacher concerns and issues raised by the multiple mandates. ^ The PLC intervention I designed was for participants only, and I studied them along a range of outcomes that were compared to a control group of teachers identified from the same general population, but who did not experience the intervention. I used a multiple methods, predominantly qualitative approach, that included closed and open field questions taken before and after the intervention. I concluded by conducting in-depth end of term interviews with the participants in the intervention, enriched by my own field notes and observations. ^ Findings included participants unanimously reporting this PLC uniquely satisfying, both professionally and personally. Professionally, they reported a significant gain across a range of knowledge, skills, self efficacy, and classroom management; an enhanced understanding of student diversity, and of the complex interactions between their choices of pedagogy and curriculum within the learning experience between and among students and teacher—leading to more effective professional interactions. After closely examining a published holistic teaching and learning model, participants exercised their professional power by creating one organizing tool to help them personalize and connect the apparently disparate mandates, and another organizer that schematically designed their future professional development requirements. ^ Post-PLC, participants felt affirmed, empowered, less stressed, more closely affiliated, and spiritually supported by the PLC. Many continue to meet since the study’s conclusion. ^

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Adult education|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Harak, Philip J, "Supporting public high school teachers in a context of multiple mandates: A social justice approach to professional learning communities" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3545932.