Change efforts in schools: implications for professional development as a strategy for change

Jennifer Petschler

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

This doctoral thesis is an exploration of the challenges in bringing about effective change in schools. The focus is on professional learning strategies and their use in the implementation of change.

This research details a plan to implement an integrated curriculum. After lengthy consideration and various professional learning activities this plan was withdrawn. Experiences from the school provide insight into the complex challenges associated with change. The single day, ‘one-shot’ style of professional development has fallen from favour (Fullan, 1995; Miles, 1995; Day, 1999; McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001; Groundwater-Smith and Mockler, 2009; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012). The trend has been to seek alternatives, including professional learning communities (Sergiovanni, 1999; McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001; Durrant and Holland, 2006; Groundwater-Smith and Mockler, 2009; Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012) and networks of learners (Day and Sachs, 2009; Groundwater-Smith and Mockler, 2009; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Sachs, 2011).

This research considers these models, but is more concerned with professional learning practices used in the site school. The research focus is on understanding factors that impede or facilitate change, and the role of professional learning strategies. The connection between cultural context and the strategies used to support learning and change emerged as a critical point of analysis. The methodological design is an ethnographic case study. As the customary term ‘participant observer’ did not accurately represent my role, I adopted the term ‘embedded researcher’. This position allowed for extensive insider knowledge, perceptive work with participants, and flexible and extended access which had analytical implications. The evidence based conclusions are formed through this comprehensive access. This role extended the opportunity for creative insights.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Deb Hayes