1. Context of the Work
Teaching reform efforts in the United States have often shown only short-term effects. Based on an analysis of video data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Stigler and Hiebert (1999) argue that the reason for such limited success is that teaching is embedded in cultural practices whose pervasiveness is too great to overcome through standard professional development activities. They argue that real change requires career-long learning and focus on student thinking and classroom practices exemplified by Japanese lesson study in which teachers collaborate to develop, evaluate, refine, and disseminate new instructional ideas (Yoshida, 1999; Ma, 1999; Stigler & Hiebert 1999; Shimizu, 2002). We report results from a five-year study of the implementation and support of small groups of teachers called Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) designed to promote meaningful collaboration among the participants. By "meaningful," we emphasize the need for long-term, scientific engagement of issues of teaching and learning, such as that promoted in Japanese lesson study. We emphasize "collaboration," as an essential goal for these communities is to open teachers' classroom doors to the "critical colleagueship" of their peers (Lord, 1994; Garmston & Wellman, 1999). This research report will summarize attributes that differentiated high from lower performing PLCs, critical features for supporting and evaluating PLCs, and beliefs about learning and teaching that can prevent teachers from translating positive experiences in PLCs into their own practice.