A Collective Case Study: Understanding the Role of Colleagues in Teachers' Engagement in Professional Development
Schmalz, Karalyn Joanne
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Professional development includes the planned and unplanned activities that teachers engage in throughout their career to enhance the quality of instruction in their classrooms (Day, 1997). The attentive processes of engagement are described as being physically, emotionally, and cognitively present (Kahn, 1992). Engagement in professional development is strongly related to the level of commitment teachers have to their teaching profession (Rothwell & Herbert, 2007). Being engaged in professional development is necessary because it requires that teachers take responsibility for their learning, and believe that professional development practices will positively contribute to their career (McDonald, 2009). The purpose of this research was to understand the role of colleagues in teachers’ engagement in professional development. This study is situated within the conceptual framework of school culture. School cultures are sustaining patterns built over time through rituals, traditions, and accomplishments that enforce actions, feelings, and thought patterns of members (Deal & Peterson, 2009). One cannot have strong and effective professional development without a thick culture (Hopkins, 1994; Little, 1982). Thickness in culture is often forgotten but foundational for engagement in professional development activities (Glover & Coleman, 2005). This study is an examination of teachers’ perceptions in two schools: one school that showed exemplary collaboration among its staff and one school that was becoming a more collaborative school. Collaboration is understood as working in cohesion to achieve a common goal (Deal & Peterson, 2009; Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Little, 1982; Schlechty, 2009). One focus group with teachers at each school, with follow-up individual interviews, provided the data explaining colleagues’ influences on engagement in professional development. The findings of this study suggest that colleagues have an important effect on teachers’ engagement in professional development. Participants indicated that colleagues were a factor of engagement because they increased engagement through fulfilling their desire for face-to-face instruction, through their appreciation of being worked with, rather than worked on (Morewood & Bean, 2009), and through networking. As teacher participants worked together in professional development, they increased their school’s organizational capacity (Mitchell & Sackney, 2001).