ARBORETUM: A CASE STUDY USING PROBLEM BASED LEARNING TO BETTER UNDERSTAND SCHOOL CHANGE

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ARBORETUM: A CASE STUDY USING PROBLEM BASED LEARNING TO BETTER UNDERSTAND SCHOOL CHANGE

ABSTRACT

 

This study uses a case study methodology to understand how Problem Based Learning (PBL) influences teachers’ perceptions of school change. A PBL is a simulation. As such, the participants engaged with the PBL Arboretum in a safe environment that enabled them to challenge school culture and propose different solutions to all the issues presented in the PBL. This case study also aims to understand how a PBL can help teachers to establish a common vision for school change.

The PBL Arboretum was designed for this study and was tested in a pilot study before it was implemented. This PBL involved teachers in a simulation that encouraged them to take risks without fearing negative effects from their ideas. This was achieved thanks to a well-designed and administered PBL. As the PBL Arboretum resembled the school where this study took place, it allowed participants to express their ideas, including different perspectives that challenged

Arboretum and their school’s current culture, in a safe environment.

The study was conducted in the Groove (pseudonym) private school in Bogota,

Colombia. Five different groups solved the PBL in a three-day seminar. In that period of time, the participants were observed, two anonymous surveys were implemented, and a final presentation was given by each team. In the next two weeks, five interviews were completed, and each team submitted their final product.

The findings describe how teachers were able to work collaboratively through the PBL Arboretum. The participants were empowered to think about school change by solving a simulation, and the PBL provided a safe environment with rules and roles constructed by each team that led the teachers to have an effective collaboration, build knowledge, and share with each other as they built a common vision for school change.

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST       OF        TABLES          …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….             viii

LIST       OF        FIGURES         ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………           ix

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS            ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..        x

CHAPTER          1          …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………              1

Introduction   ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     1

Main           Questions:      ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     5

Sub questions:    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………                5

Grove School             …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..       6

Professional Learning Communities      …………………………………………………………………………………….       8          Problem Based Learning and Professional Learning Community           …………………………………      10

Pilot Studies               ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….        11

Pilot           Study               No.       1:         PBL     Tradition        and      Growth           at         Arboretum:           A          Problem          Based

Learning    for       Educational    Research        ……………………………………………………………………………               11

Background        ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….                12

Findings Arboretum PBL          …………………………………………………………………………………………..             12

Pilot           Study               No.       2:         PBL     A          Supervisor’s    Dilemma:        Planning         for       Change            at         Unison

Elementary           School             …………………………………………………………………………………………………………            13

Participants         …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..               13

Data Collection              ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………         16

Observations      ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………         16

Evaluation         ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….      17

Reflection Paper           ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..               17

PBL Product      ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………         19

PBL Unison Learning    …………………………………………………………………………………………………       21

Interview            ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………           21

Pilot           Studies’           Findings          …………………………………………………………………………………………………..     22

Summary       ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….               24

CHAPTER          2          A          REVIEW          OF        THE     RELEVANT     LITERATURE             ……………………………………………       25        Problem Based Learning         …………………………………………………………………………………………………….              26

PBL            in         Educational    Leadership     …………………………………………………………………………………..        32

Using          PBL     in         Dissertation    Methodology              ……………………………………………………………………       36

Educational Change               ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..        39

Fullan’s      Theory            of         Change            ……………………………………………………………………………………………       40

You cannot Mandate what Matters        …………………………………………………………………………..               41

Change is a Journey not a Blueprint      …………………………………………………………………………     42

Problems are our Friends           ……………………………………………………………………………………………            42

Vision and Strategic Planning come later          ………………………………………………………………..             42

Individualism and Collectivism must have Equal Power          ………………………………………             42

Neither Centralization nor Decentralization Works      ……………………………………………….     43

Connection with the Wider Environment is Critical for Success          ………………………….            43

Every Person is a Change Agent           ……………………………………………………………………………….           43

Concerns    Based              Adoption        Model              (CBAM)           ………………………………………………………………..        43

Change is a Process, not an Event         …………………………………………………………………………….              44

There are Significant Differences Between what is Entailed in Development and

Implementation of an Innovation          ………………………………………………………………………………            44        Organizations do not Change until the Individuals within them Change          …………….            44

Innovation comes in Different Sizes      …………………………………………………………………………     45

Interventions are the Actions and Events that are Key to the Success of the

Change Process              ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………         45

There will be no Change in Outcomes until new Practices are Implemented               ……..      45

Administrator Leadership is Essential to Long-term Change Success              …………………         45

Mandates can Work       …………………………………………………………………………………………………….                46

The School is the Primary Unit for Change      …………………………………………………………….    46

Facilitating Change is a Team Effort    ………………………………………………………………………..      46

Appropriate Interventions Reduce Resistance to Change         ………………………………………             46

The Context of the School Influences the Process of Change               ………………………………        47

Kotter’s     Theory            of         Change            ……………………………………………………………………………………………       47

Establishing a Sense of Urgency           ……………………………………………………………………………….           47

Creating the Guiding Coalition              ………………………………………………………………………………….         47

Developing a Vision and Strategy         …………………………………………………………………………….              47

Communicating the Change Vision       ………………………………………………………………………….                48

Empowering Board-based Action         ……………………………………………………………………………..             48

Generating Short Term Wins     …………………………………………………………………………………….       48

Consolidating Gains and Producing more Change        …………………………………………………               48

Anchoring new Approaches in the Culture       ……………………………………………………………..                49

Schools      That    Learn              ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..             49

Shared       Vision              ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….                50

Telling    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..       50

Selling    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..       51

Testing    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..       51

Co-Creating        ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….                51

Professional          Learning         Community     …………………………………………………………………………….              52

Ongoing Process            ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           52

Educators Work Collaboratively            ……………………………………………………………………………….           52

Collective Inquiry and Action Research            …………………………………………………………………..           53

Characteristics      of         Effective          PLCs    ………………………………………………………………………………..           53

Shared Mission (purpose), Vision (clear direction), Values (collective

commitments), and Goals (indicators timelines, and targets)—all Focused on

Student Learning.           ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..             53

Collaborative Culture with a Focus on Learning           …………………………………………………….            54

Collective Inquiry into Best Practice and Current Reality        …………………………………….               54

Learning by Doing         ………………………………………………………………………………………………………              54

Constant Improvement               ……………………………………………………………………………………………….         54

Results Orientation        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..               55

Summary            ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….               57

CHAPTER          3          ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………                58

THE        RESEARCH     DESIGN           ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….             58

Methodology     …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………         58

The            Research        Questions       ……………………………………………………………………………………………….         59

The guiding questions for this study are:     …………………………………………………………………            59        Sub questions:     ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………       60        Case    study         ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          61

The case: Teachers’ Perceptions of Arboretum, a Problem-Based Learning

Activity              …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………         62

Participants and Group Selection              ……………………………………………………………………..        63

Tradition and Growth at Arboretum: A problem Based Learning for Educational

Research             ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           65

Methods         …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………              68

Field           Notes              and      Participant      Observation    ………………………………………………………………….       68

Documents            ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………           69

Interviews             ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          69

Surveys     ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     70

Methods    Matrix             ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………       70

Data Analysis             ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           71

Field           Notes              and      Participant      Observation    ………………………………………………………………….       71

Document             Analysis          ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..             72

Interview               Analysis          …………………………………………………………………………………………………………            72

Survey       ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….               73

Study         Purpose          …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………                73

Assessing the Study              ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..        74

Validity      ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     75

Validity Threats             …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          75

Rich Data      ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     75

Respondent Validation        ………………………………………………………………………………………..               76

Searching for Discrepant Evidence            …………………………………………………………………..           76

Triangulation            …………………………………………………………………………………………………………            77

Reliability              …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………         77

My              role     at         Grove              School             ………………………………………………………………………………………………..              78

Summary        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….               78

CHAPTER          4          ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………                79

RESEARCH        FINDINGS       ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………         79        Introduction       …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..       79

Data Collection Devices        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..               80

Field           Notes              ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           80

Survey Results          ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….             81

Table 3 Teachers’ Perceptions of the Influence of Problem Based Learning

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………                81

Survey Claims          ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..             90

Interviews             ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          92

Collaborations    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..        93

PBL        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….               95

Change    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….        96

Roles      ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     98

Vision     ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………       99

Interview Claims      ………………………………………………………………………………………………..        100

Presentation     and      Final    Product           ……………………………………………………………………………….           101      Issues     ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….        102      Team 1            ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….             102

Team 2    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           103

Team 3    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           104

Team 4    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           105

Team 5    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           107

Common Themes Across All Data    …………………………………………………………………………………          108

Teachers    and      school             change            ……………………………………………………………………………………..      108

Teachers    and      Collaboration             ………………………………………………………………………………………     109

Teachers    and      Common         Vision              ………………………………………………………………………………….         111

Teachers    and      Roles               ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..               112

Research Questions and Answers      ……………………………………………………………………………………       112

Sub questions:    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………         112

Main           Questions:      …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          115

Summary        …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….      116

CHAPTER 5              ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………           117

INTERPRETAION AND CONCLUSIONS            …………………………………………………………………            117

Introduction    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          117

Pilot Studies               ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           117

PBL    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          119

PBL’s Influence on Teachers’ Perceptions of School Change          ……………………………………               120

Educational Change               …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          120

Methodology             ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………           120

Claims or Assertions              …………………………………………………………………………………………………………            122

PBL’s Influence on Teachers’ Perceptions of the teacher’s role in change              ………………           122

PBL’s Influence on Teachers’ Perceptions of the value of collaboration     ………………….        123

PBL’s Influence on Teachers’ Perceptions of Developing a vision              ……………………………           124      PBL’s Influence on Teachers’ Perceptions of other uses for this kind of PBL        …………               124

Discussion      …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..       126

Further Research        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….      127

REFERENCES    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………         129

Appendix           A          ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     134

Interview           Questions       PBL.     ……………………………………………………………………………………………………     134

Appendix           B          ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     135

Appendix           C          ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     136

Appendix           D          …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….      138

Tradition           and      Growth           at         Arboretum     ………………………………………………………………………………..           138      General Instructions    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           138

Introduction    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..          139

The Problem               ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           139

Your           task     ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….           144

Arboretum Staff        …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………                144

Guidelines for the product     ………………………………………………………………………………………………..        149

Background Information       …………………………………………………………………………………………………..     150

History      in         a          table    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………            150

School’s     Statistics         ………………………………………………………………………………………………………..             151

Appendix           E          ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..     152

CHAPTER 1

Introduction

Much has been written about school change and its connection to teacher involvement, but there have been no studies about school change involving the use of Problem Based Learning (PBL) and teachers’ perceptions of school change or of how PBL can help teachers establish a common vision for school change. Ravitz (2009) conducted a meta-synthesis of meta-analyses on PBL’s effectiveness, and while the author reviewed some studies, his conclusions called for new research on PBL focusing on teacher effects.

PBL has its roots in medical education; however, Barrow (1985) presented the taxonomy for PBL methods by writing that PBL “… does not refer to a specific educational method. It has different meanings depending on the design of educational method employed and the skills of the teachers” (p. 481). Problem Based Learning was later adapted by Bridges and Hallinger (1992) with the objective of preparing future school administrators for leadership roles. When future school leaders are instructed using PBL, the starting point for learning is a problem they would likely face in their future careers. Furthermore, the curriculum for PBL is organized around problems rather than disciplines. In contrast to traditional administrator-preparation programs, where instruction for learning rests for the most part on the professors, PBL allocates most of the responsibility for learning on students working collectively. Learning becomes a shared experience, most of which happens collaboratively rather than individually. Bridges and Hallinger (1995) argued that PBL offers a unique bridge between academic theory and practical application, making that argument at a time where there was a great deal of dissonance separating these two sides. Not only did Bridges and Hallinger develop a methodology that brought together practice and research, but they also presented an instructional methodology that blended educational objectives with educational experiences.

Problem based learning (PBL) has enjoyed success as a means of preparing future administrators, but it may have even greater potential. As schools rely more and more on teacher collaboration and problem solving, PBL may hold promise as a means of professional development for teachers as well. In particular, using PBL to have teachers participate in problem solving may be a strategy for involving teachers in engaging the broader problems facing the whole school community. Further, PBL experiences may prepare teachers to assume more leadership responsibilities, as suggested by reformers who champion concepts such as professional learning communities (PLCs) (Dufour and Eakers, 2008). PBL could also be a mechanism to better prepare teachers to participate in the difficult process of school change.

The complexity of school change can be studied using different theories. Two examples are the change theories of Fullan (2003) and Hall and Hord (2006). The common ground for both theories is that change is a process or a journey, rather than a singular event. Both theories acknowledge that it takes time to change, and people and their reactions are the most important considerations in any change initiative. As school change is complex, it does not easily follow a blueprint. All schools are also unique, and because schools are systems, they are connected to their environment, which is another key component for change. Likewise, school change can only occur when people within the organization change; therefore, everyone in the school may be seen as a change agent.

When teachers, principals, and the community create a new vision for the school, a new challenge emerges, which implies new ways of doing things. In this era of school change, that challenge translates into a renewed focus on student learning. Change needs leaders who will facilitate collaboration on school transformation because such an enterprise requires people to work in the same direction, toward a common vision, and to support each other. As change starts, new problems inevitably come to light, and leaders should be ready to support teachers in solving such issues. Changing a school’s culture is a complicated task because the change to the culture has to address both detail and dynamic complexity (Senge, 2010). In detail complexity, there is a direct relationship between causes and effects, while in a dynamic complexity there is an indirect relationship between cause and effect, and different ideas must be theorized. As systems have so many connections, and some of those can be unpredictable, the cause and effect relationship can be difficult to analyze in detail (Senge, 2010). But that does not mean those interested in the process of change should be dissuaded from studying it.

For this study, using PBL as a catalyst for change allowed participants to focus on the detail complexity of the issues being addressed. PBL is conducted in teams, since much of the learning has to do with interpersonal relationships in problem solving. PBL also usually requires a final product that forces each team to see how each issue relates to school change and how those connections shape a bigger picture. Schools are systems, and many of the connections within them are hidden. In a car, when you push the brake, the effect is immediate. On the other hand, Senge (2010) reminds us, “When obvious interventions produce nonobvious consequences, there is dynamic complexity” (p. 71). School change requires that we see both types of change: detail complexity and dynamic complexity. It requires that we see the small details and the extensive picture. PBL as a catalyst offers an innovative approach to promoting school change, because it challenges participants to see issues both ways, in detail and dynamically.

Finally, to change a school’s culture is one of the most complex tasks of all. A school’s culture is what lays beneath habitual behaviors that are not clear for everyone. “The way we do things around here” is involuntary, especially when teachers are working primarily in isolation. Thus to change culture there must be structures that support change efforts. For instance, change strategies presented by DuFour, Eaker, & Many (2010), DuFour & Fullan (2013), Dufour (2004), and DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour (2008) described a method of cultural change that transforms schools into Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs.

This study aimed to investigate how teachers respond to a PBL on school change. It offered a unique opportunity for teachers to work together in a realistic simulation. With little threat or consequences, teachers were invited to address school dilemmas that were realistic but not real. PBL situates teachers as decision makers in solving whole-school problems, thus giving them a voice in whole-school change, a role that many teachers have not been afforded. By using a PBL in this way, the study aimed to capture their insights and reflections about participating in collaborative problem solving about whole-school change.

School change requires support from the administration, but whole-school change also requires a shared vision that includes teachers and other stakeholders (Sergiovanni and Starratt, 2006), in that it requires some degree of participation from all members of the community. Such an enterprise is complex, requiring resource allocation that creates and supports a coalition of people willing to make change. As complex as change is, and given that schools are systems, the outcomes of different change initiatives may not come to light immediately. For example, without guided reflection, teachers may not express thoughts about the impact of their role on school change. Of course, some results may not be tangible for weeks or even years. But I believe there is much to be learned from teachers as they participate in collaborative problem solving about school change. My study of the role of teachers during this process was guided by Fullan’s (2007) principles and the theories of Hall & Hord (2006) on how to implement change in complex systems such as schools.

The following case study of how to initiate cultural change undertaken through the unique approach of this study makes a significant contribution to our existing knowledge. It is a case study focused on the effects of PBL on teachers that aims to discover how Grove School’s (a pseudonym for the actual school where the study took place) teachers felt about working together on a PBL that could empower them on their journey in educational change. Throughout the study, I endeavored to understand what teachers thought when they read the PBL, how teachers responded when their voices in each group empowered them, and how they felt about working in groups solving a realistic dilemma. Of interest as well was the extent to which teachers create a climate for a Professional Learning Community because of the characteristics embedded in PBL.

Ravitz, (2009) took a step toward the future of PBL research in education, and in doing so called for research that informs both practice and policy. Furthermore, the author explained that “other sources of variation may include teacher effect and professional development” (p. 6). Through this research, I examined whether or not PBL may awaken change in a school toward becoming a PLC. The essence of the PBL developed for this study focused its goal on the creation of a product that aims toward the conception of a professional development program. In addition, the study answers Strobel and Barneveld’s (2009) call for “solid research base in need in other disciplines and contexts” (p. 55).

As this research focused on the school change process, it also contributes to the understanding of complex school phenomena and knowledge of an organization (Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2013). Furthermore as this study examined contemporary events (school teachers working on a PBL and presenting solutions to change the school’s current culture), teachers’ behaviors could not be manipulated. Therefore, observation of teachers solving a PBL as well as surveying and interviewing those teachers were the factors that differentiated this case study from an historical case study (Robert K Yin, 2013).

            Main Questions:

 

How does PBL influence teachers’ perceptions of school change?

How does PBL help teachers establish a common vision for school change?

Sub questions:

  1. What effect does participation in Problem Based Learning have on teachers’ perceptions of school change?
  2. How does PBL affect teachers’ perception of collaboration with their peers?
  3. How does PBL affect teachers’ perception of collaboration with school administrators?
  4. How does teachers’ experience influence their decision-making processes?
  5. How do teachers understand their role in school change?

How does participating in a PBL influence teachers’ readiness for participating in a Professional Learning Community?

Grove School

The study took place in Grove School (pseudonym), an actual school in Bogota,

Colombia. To provide context, the following is a brief description of the school’s history: Grove School was founded in 1945 in Bogota, Colombia after the Second World War. At that time it was a monolingual single-sex school (only girls), and its goal was to educate girls and prepare them for married life. It should be noted that in Colombia there are 11 grades, as Colombian schools have an additional transition grade between kindergarten and first grade. As a result, students graduate from 11th grade but complete 13 years of education.

In 1956, the first graduating class of only four students received its diplomas. The school had an outstanding beginning: high-income families enrolled their girls in the school under the direction of its first principal and owner. As time went by, the programs were consolidated and families looked forward to sending their children to this school. Over the years as the founder grew old, the school declined. Applications decreased, and the school had financial difficulties that threatened its operation.  The second generation of school leaders was able to save a little of the school’s reputation, but the glory days were thought to be over.

The story that is presented in this introduction focuses on major changes implemented by the subsequent generations of faculty and administrators. The school had to reinvent itself under the guidance of the current principal, and it was this innovation and characteristic of adaptation that guided the school to change its fate into what it is today.

In 1993, the school had 59 teachers and 659 students and was on the cusp of a major change. The following year, the school switched from using a monolingual to a bilingual curriculum and changed its name to represent that bilingual curriculum. This transformation also came with the addition of pre-kindergarten in order to support the new curriculum. As a result, the student population increased to 698 students and three more teachers were added. After 1994, the school changed its academic calendar from one that began in February and ended in

December to one that began in September and ended in June.

In the academic year of 1997-1998, after implementing several parents’ suggestions, the school opened its doors to coeducation with gender perspective. That means that boys and girls were instructed in different classrooms but remained together in cultural or daily activities such as lunch, recess, sports, and other events. Throughout this time, the school continued its growth, enrolling 960 students and employing 78 teachers.

In the academic year 1999 – 2000, national standardized tests began to offer school results by city and by country. That year the school was ranked 18th in its city and 112th in its country. In the year 2000, applications for new students increased, as expected, and the school had 1030 students and 87 teachers. In 2007 – 2008 the first bilingual graduates received their diplomas. That year the school grew in students as well; it had 1265 students and 118 teachers. That year also had the last female graduating class, and for the first time the school was ranked first place on the national standardized test.

For the academic year of 2009 – 2010, a third language was introduced into the curriculum: Mandarin. From that year up to the present, all second grade students have been learning their third language prior to ninth grade. Additionally, this was the first time the school graduated both boys and girls. That year the school had 1368 students and 139 teachers. The school continues growing to this day. In the academic year of 2014 – 2015 there were 1672 students and 144 teachers (Grove, 2013, 2014).

At the time of this study, the school was once again on the cusp of a generational change. Current veteran teachers had been in the school for more than 20, 30, or even 40 years. Their time to retire was approaching.

Over time these experienced faculty had crafted their teaching and leadership, not only through the learning that occurred in the classroom, but also through the wisdom they had acquired from experience. Many had mastered a “sixth sense” that allowed them to find outstanding talent in teachers applying for a position in the school. Furthermore, in the school’s current culture they had been able to guide new teachers to flourish. The questions that now needed to be asked were: why did some new teachers leave the school, or on the other hand, how is it that other new teachers had settled and flourished?

Professional Learning Communities

Professional Learning Communities (PLC) can be seen as a vehicle to change the school’s current culture of isolation that was growing among newer faculty at Grove School. PLCs are characterized by a culture of collaboration. Specifically, teachers collaborate toward a school improvement effort. PLCs are marked by cultures where students are learning not only by being taught but also by way of collaboration with their teachers (Dufour, 2004). This improvement offers time for teachers to engage in inquiry projects where they are able to share their experiences, and veteran teachers are able to bring knowledge that has been internalized to light—the “sixth sense” mentioned above. PLC is a system change theory; the whole system has to change. Schools that aim toward PLC have to reevaluate their policies about how students learn as well as how teachers work and learn.

In Grove’s culture there were teachers who were used to working in some degree of isolation with few opportunities to share what was going on in their classroom or to reflect on issues that arose from daily practice. As novices, isolated teachers had a workload that seemed beyond all bearing. They had to control and organize classroom management, conduct parent conferences, and manage curriculum issues, evaluation, and school culture (Feiman-Nemser, 2003). Finding routines day in and day out, novice teachers were only able to juggle all their requirements and survive. As routines took over novice teachers’ daily work, there wasn’t a gap for risks. Likewise there wouldn’t be a space to question if there was a better way of teaching or lesson planning. Novice teachers would learn what would be evaluated and adapt their routines to the evaluation; thus in the end, the only change would be determined by the evaluation.

The risk for such cultures is that evaluation is not a path to develop teachers; instead, it provides a minimum requirement for teaching. In such a system, novice teachers are able to survive the potential for burn out and align with these cultural standards in order to stay at the school; however, those who had a different perceptive on teaching are pushed away to other professions. Ingersoll & Smith (2003) explained how attrition is higher in novice teachers. In their study they found “between 40 and 50 percent of all beginning teachers have left the profession” (p. 2). Current Grove teachers had assimilated; they adapted to their routines, with few options for collaboration, and in the end the culture tended to favor isolation over collaboration.

Veteran teachers accrued knowledge over a period of time when Grove underwent many changes. Those veteran teachers had to grasp key knowledge that had crafted what Grove was today. In the school’s current culture, there were not enough opportunities to share that knowledge with newer Grove teachers. Therefore, if the school and its culture did not change, the knowledge that teachers had crafted over decades would be lost.

PLC challenges school cultures by “altering long held assumptions, beliefs, expectations, and habits that represent the norm of people in the organization” (DuFour & Fullan, 2013, p. 2) and focuses on collaboration and inquiry cycles that better serve the students (DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010). For Grove, this new approach to the school’s culture aspired to challenge teachers who were working in isolation and bring those teachers into a new culture.

Newer Grove teachers were so overloaded with the school’s demands that few had realized the value provided by veteran teachers. They also realized that veteran teachers would be leaving the school in years to come. For that reason, Problem Based Learning offered a unique opportunity for this study. The methodology of PBL relies upon a simulation, so it provides a safe environment for teachers to work together and solve a messy issue that may or may not deliver outcomes that could be implemented in the school that the PBL is based on.

 

Problem Based Learning and Professional Learning Community

The purpose of this part of the introduction is to direct the reader’s attention to the wider scope within which this study takes place. Much has been written about school change. For example Hall, (1973)  presented the Concerns-Based Adoption Model or CBAM. Kotter (1996) introduced eight stages of process to create a major change. Fullan’s (2007) theory introduced change as a three-phase process, and DuFour & Fullan (2013) worked on Professional Learning Communities. However, there are no studies about school change that focus on the use of PBL as a catalyst for change. This road to the use of a PBL begins with the issues that a school faces when change occurs. Fullan (2007) explained that there could be multiple factors that affect the initial decision for change. This study aims to be dynamic in the use of PBL, not only as an instructional tool, but also as a mechanism of school change in how PBL empowers teachers to become involved.

For this study, a PBL called Traditional and Growth at Arboretum was designed (see appendix 3). This PBL was based on Grove School, and there were many similarities between the PBL and the actual school. This PBL was a messy one, with enough material for participants to be challenged in solving different issues.

Bridges & Hallinger (1995) outlined eight goals for a PBL, and those goals were intended to become the trigger for the Arboretum PBL to be used as a catalyst for school change. As Grove teachers embedded in the Arboretum PBL suggested for this study, they would need to prepare themselves and the school for their future reality. As such, problems had a high impact, and teachers were going to be introduced to new knowledge that was relevant to solve the issues presented to them. As the Arboretum PBL would foster a secure place for applying and testing knowledge, Grove teachers would have a setting where they could discover how their new knowledge would become a key component to face their coming future and realize if there were gaps in their current understanding. Furthermore, they could rely on peers to fill those gaps in their knowledge. As change implies dilemmas, where new knowledge challenges old ways, teachers working on Arboretum PBL would be able to develop skills focused on problem solving.

These skills would assist them in the implementation of their solutions to the Arboretum PBL.

Pilot Studies

Two pilot studies were done in preparation for this major study. The first pilot study was a PBL, Tradition and Growth at Arboretum: A Problem Based Learning for Educational Research, which focused on testing the PBL developed for this study. This pilot was a PBL that was very similar to Grove School. Encouraging findings resulted from this first experience, which brought about a restructure of the PBL. Furthermore, this pilot study pointed out flaws that could never have been foreseen. For example, in the PBL, Tradition and Growth at Arboretum, there was a lack of supporting material. Also, as one component of the pilot, one teacher in the Arboretum PBL had left the school, and it seemed like no one could replace her. This one issue became the focus of the solutions offered in the pilot study, drawing participants’ attention away from the larger issues that needed to be solved.

Pilot Study No. 1: PBL Tradition and Growth at Arboretum: A Problem Based Learning for Educational Research

 

A PBL project prototype called Tradition and Growth at Arboretum: A Problem Based Learning for Educational Research (Arboretum PBL) was written for this study. This PBL was developed under the frame presented by Gall, Borg, & Gall (1996), which introduced the Educational Research and Development model (R & D). This type of research fits into PBL as it was adapted by Bridges & Hallinger (1995). There are ten steps in the research and development cycle proposed by the authors. The fourth step is the Preliminary Field Test and Product Revision. As the Arboretum PBL was developed, it needed to be tested and revised, so this was the purpose of the first pilot study.

Background

This first pilot study was conducted at The Pennsylvania State University in Spring 2014 with students enrolled in a graduate class of curriculum and instruction in the College of

Education. This group of 10 students was the first to test the PBL Tradition and Growth at Arboretum. This first pilot study had 5 meetings in which students faced a simulation or scenario and prepared their product and final presentation. The final presentation was done over Skype with two representatives of Grove School. Students were challenged to identify the problem and identify a solution.

Findings Arboretum PBL

This pilot study focused on testing the PBL Tradition and Growth at Arboretum. This PBL was developed as closely as it could be to the school that would be the setting for the dissertation. Key components of the PBL were addressed and needed to be tested. A PBL has to be messy, as real life is, and typically it must be both relevant and realistic for those facing it. Furthermore, the reader must be provided with sufficient information to solve the issue presented in the PBL (Bridges & Hallinger, 1995).

The first finding was that there was a lack of information relevant for problem solving in the PBL. Students were presented with key information about the school, but during the process they required more information. This information was evaluated and did not downgrade the purposes presented in the PBL (Bridges & Hallinger, 1995). Furthermore, during the process new support documents were developed and presented to the teams solving Arboretum PBL. Those documents became part of the new and improved PBL.

The second finding was in the PBL itself. Students that faced the PBL focused their answers on one issue that emphasized on how one teacher, Fernanda, left the school with the knowledge she crafted over years and how the students suffered that loss. This piece of the puzzle was there to offer evidence that Arboretum’s teachers did not share ideas, how Arboretum had lost knowledge, and how a culture of isolation would only work against the best interests of the school, students, teachers, and community. This was one of the problems encountered in the PBL at Arboretum, but the solution seemed easy and straightforward, the principal rehired the teacher for three more years, so for that reason it was adapted. In the presentation of the final product of this first pilot study, students focused on how Arboretum needed to develop the knowledge that left with one teacher, which took energy away from focusing on how to change the school culture. The result of this finding led to the modification once more of the PBL Tradition and Growth at Arboretum; the Fernanda situation was adapted, and that issue was addressed.

Pilot Study No. 2: PBL A Supervisor’s Dilemma: Planning for Change at Unison Elementary School

 

In the summer of 2014, Grove School and 20 of its teachers were enrolled in pilot study using a PBL named “A Supervisor’s Dilemma” (appendix E). When the PBL Tradition and Growth at Arboretum was discussed with my dissertation committee, the suggestion was made that PBLs that were close and personal to teachers at Grove School could alienate teachers from the issues presented in the PBL and that their products, experiences, and efforts would not trigger a change the school culture toward a PLC. To address this suggestion, a pilot study of the PBL A Supervisor’s Dilemma was conducted in Grove School.

Participants

There were 5 teams of 5 teachers each, all from Grove School. Teachers were presented with resources to solve the PBL. Four topics were presented to the teachers before they could work on the PBL. The first topic was Personal and Professional Leadership Development, the second was Group Facilitation Skills, the third was Collaborative Decision Making, and the last was an exploration of a Professional Learning Community (PLC). At the end of the workshop, teachers were presented with the PBL A Supervisor’s Dilemma.

For this pilot study, teachers were selected by taking into consideration the number of years of experience they had in the school and/or area in which they worked. All the teachers were distributed in groups in which members had the same characteristics. The rationale for group selection focused on three aspects. For the first two groups, the rationale for grouping was the sources of authority. There are four sources of authority: bureaucratic, personal, professional and moral authority. Bureaucratic authority refers to the power associated with a hierarchical position (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). Personal authority refers to team leaders or any “teacher’s ability to use motivational techniques and to practice other interpersonal skills” (p. 28). Professional authority “is based on the informed knowledge of the craft of teaching and on the personal experience of teacher” (p. 31). Finally, moral authority’s focus is on the commitment that teachers have toward their community, in view of shared values and ideas (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007).  Taking into consideration the different types of authority, teams were sorted according to how every member could share their authentic voices without being influenced by teachers with different sources of authority.

The first two teams were composed of veteran teachers with 15 years or more of experience at the school. In addition, those teachers were also content area leaders, which meant they had a bureaucratic authority over all the teachers. They also had a personal authority due to the characteristics of their job. Content area leaders had to work with all the teachers in a specific area. For example the math department encompassed all math teachers of the school under the direction of the math content area leaders. The content area leaders had to work on curriculum, evaluation and follow-up with every member of the team, as well as teach. In addition, team area leaders were part of the “consejo academic,” or academic council, which had to make decisions on curriculum, evaluation, professional development, and far more. The role these teachers played in the school implied recognition of their leadership and experience as educators in the community. In the sorting process, when other teachers were grouped with content area leaders, their voices could become biased because of the leadership and influence that content area leaders had in the school. For these reasons, content area leaders were selected to work in groups separate from other teachers. As some other participants were novice teachers who followed directions from the content area leaders, their voices in particular could be silenced by deference to their content area leaders.

The third team was a selection of teachers with 10 – 15 years of experience. These teachers were being groomed to become content area leaders in the future. In the same way, these teachers also developed their personal, professional and moral authority within the school. They were the right hand (and in some cases right and left hands) of their content area leaders. Their experience in the school and leadership had put them on the path of becoming the next content area leaders. Their knowledge and understanding of the school gave them a unique approach to solve school issues. On the other hand, their loyalty to their content area leaders could bias their decisions in the same way the content area leaders biased other teachers.

The fourth team was the novice team, consisting of teachers with 3 or fewer years of experience in the school. With new ideas and different perspectives, novice teachers can challenge the status quo. To do so they should be in a place where they feel comfortable, and what better place than with peers with the same characteristics.

Finally, the fifth team was a selection of pre-k to transition teachers. Teachers in preschool are not under any content area leader; they work with the preschool immersion leader, the preschool coordinator, and the vice principal. This team of teachers could offer a different perspective due to the nature of their organizational arrangement and the differences in their daily work. Similar to schools in the U.S., preschool at Grove School had homeroom teachers. The preschool has a total immersion program in which students are exposed to English in 90% of their classes. For that reason, this team of pre-k to transition teachers was selected to be part of this unique experience. Usually only one person represented each group of teachers, but for this pilot study the whole team was invited. Teachers were selected to participate, and each had the option to be part of the study or not. One content area leader decided not to participate because she was too busy working with part of her team.

Data Collection

This pilot study provided a unique opportunity to test data collection. The first source of data was observation and field notes. The second source was the evaluation presented to each participant. The third was the evaluation paper written by each team member at the end of the workshop. Finally, the fourth data collection tested was the product presented by each team at the end of the PBL.

Observations

Observation and taking field notes are complex tasks. Observations add to the data collection process because they take place within the process, so there is no controlled setting as there is in the interview. This amplifies the details of observations, which have no filter; observations are firsthand data (Merriam, 1998). Taking field notes provides a space for the researcher to write down what happened. Field notes are descriptions of people, places and activities, but they can also be hunches, reflections, or records of ideas that come to the researcher when he or she is in the field (Bogdan & Biklen, 2006). This pilot study made it clear that field notes could remap the first idea of data collection.

During the first days of the PBL, participants were given the option of working with a survey that questioned how teams make decisions. The purpose of this survey was to understand how teachers made decisions before and after their work in the PBL; it was a pre- and post test. Unfortunately, the instructions given to teachers were not as clear as they should have been, so participants answered both surveys by focusing on their daily work and not on the learning and experience they had during the second pilot study. The bottom line was that instructions were not clear, and the results of this survey were compromised in the pre- and post-test. The key learning from this process was to make very certain that directions were clear enough so that teams could solve the problem without outside assistance.

Evaluation

One source for evaluating this experience was a survey—an evaluation that participants filled out—which revealed that one of the most valuable experiences of such work was the possibility to work in groups. Sixteen out of twenty-four teachers highlighted group work as one of the most valuable aspects of the seminar. One teacher reported that the most rewarding aspect was the “exercise [involving] group work because usually our daily work tends to be individual.” A second teacher reported that the exercise “verifies that the work in interdisciplinary teams is not only possible, but highly productive.” This was evidence not only of how much group work was valued in this school’s culture but also of how isolation in the classroom had become the constant (Sarason, 1996). One explanation for why teachers valued this teamwork so much was that it was unusual to find spaces where teachers could think and work on something different than their daily practices.

Grove had built two types of meetings into its teachers’ schedules. The first was a content area meeting in which all teachers of the same area, for instance Spanish teachers, worked with the content area leader on curriculum and issues around teaching. The second meeting was a level meeting, so all teachers that taught 5th grade got together and reflected on the performance of students within that level. What usually happened was that this time was used for disciplinary issues, and inquiry for growth was not on the agenda.

Reflection Paper

A third data source comes from a teacher reflection paper. We asked teachers to answer five questions about this simulation:

  1. What makes Grove School a great place to work?
  2. What would you like it to become?
  3. What reputation would you like it to have?
  4. (Complete the following sentence) I want Grove School to be a place where…
  5. When I leave Grove School I want to be remembered for…

Through this source of data, key components came to the light. One teacher answered that Grove was a school where teachers had “opportunities to learn at school, from one another, and in other institutions… I can continue to growing as a professional and as a person… we can discuss, agree or disagree without hurting others.” Another teacher reported, “happiness toward knowledge on behalf of its students and teachers.” A third teacher answered, “I would like to have the reputation of building community.” These arguments are congruent with DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour’s (2008) six characteristics of effective PLCs. Thus there are beliefs among teachers and the community that could support a change in Grove School toward a PLC.

Other teachers addressed how Grove School was “innovative in its methodologies, practices and educational thoughts” and how the culture also “supports new projects.” Another teacher said, “I want Grove School to be a place where no one is afraid of making mistakes.” This statement presented an invitation to take risks, which is a key component of inquiry and action in the classroom. According to these data, it could be suggested that some members of the community were endorsing some of the behaviors and ideas of a PLC. Furthermore, some teachers also suggested that Grove School had to keep changing and taking risks to change. The idea of a community learning together must be inherent, at least to some degree, in the school’s culture, and the teachers’ responses reflected this idea.

This second data source was one that allowed me to become an insider in what teachers thought about Grove School. This was an opportunity to learn about the school’s culture, as well as the teachers’ openness to change, and what type of change they were expecting.

PBL Product

The last set of data came from a written paper that each team presented at the end of the PBL. In those documents, a common theme appeared, which was the need to create a coalition to support change. One group suggested a plan that was built on the core values that most teachers agreed upon. This plan was also supported by strategies that endorsed communication and how teachers were part of the decision making process. As a result of these two structures, this team suggested the idea of creating close relationships among teachers. Furthermore, this team suggested the need for a community that had the knowledge to inquire and solve problems. Finally, the last suggestion from this particular team was the need for the support from the board, principal, and so on. Beyond the need for support, the team described the need for the trust that teachers would be able to find effective solutions. The core of this change, as the group presented it, was to create leaders inside the institution.

The team of new teachers, who had three or less years in the school, argued that parents were an important piece to solve the Supervisor’s Dilemma. This idea would have to be embedded in the Arboretum PBL, and it was not taken into consideration. A second suggestion of this team was to focus on how Unison, the school of the Supervisor´s Dilemma, had to find a common purpose. This group said, “Teachers must find unity of purpose about what teaching is and what it means. Furthermore, teachers and the school must understand how that unity of purpose aligns with the school’s objectives and community needs.” Effective PLCs must have a common purpose, but that common purpose implies not only finding where the school needs to focus its efforts, but also a mindset of accountability for all community members (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2008). Moreover, this team added the concept of a learning community and how the school had to reevaluate its perception of the type of community that it was. Likewise, sharing was also a theme described in this team’s final report, to “develop mechanisms that would allow experience to be transferred, so individual experiences can become experiences for the community.

One of the veteran teachers’ teams suggested how veteran teachers could become coaches in the coming future. The main role of those coaches would include induction programs for new teachers. This proposal of this team aimed toward a culture of change in the school. They were looking forward to breaking the isolation in the classroom so that new teachers would be embedded in a different culture. What was not clear from this solution was how much time novice teachers would have for coaching and whether or not teachers would work alone in the future.

The second veterans’ team focused their solution on teamwork and sorted Unison’s faculty in five groups. Each group had a specific project: math, reading and writing, arts and sports, English as a second language, and special ed. Evaluation of each team was embedded in the solution, each team had a different evaluation system, and in the end, each team could share their successful experiences. In addition, these veterans also added parents as a core part of their proposal. Finally, this group of veteran teachers’ solution added the implementation process for how to make change possible to the solution. In short, this team of veteran teachers was practical.

The PBL products offered outstanding data to analyze. A deep understanding of the problems posed by the PBL engaged participants in a discussion and brought them to create solutions as a team, where consensus needed to be found in order to make decisions. Such decisions focused on school change, and those are the types of decisions that reflected how a new desire for change comes from the teachers. Teams and teachers must be provided with structures that support PLCs, and support for a cultural change that can be traced in their PBL products. Teachers have a voice and experience in problem solving, problem finding, and PBL, and in the end they shared solutions to a problem they found within the PBL. Collective problem finding and solving aligns with the characteristics of PLCs, and I expected to find in the study that teachers would come to understand the value in working together and learning from peers, but at this point in the research, this remained to be seen.

PBL Unison Learning

                Interview

In this second pilot study there were no interviews. At this point, I felt overwhelmed by the data that was collected. After reviewing the data, questions had arisen, such as why the veterans did not give a voice to the teachers of Unison School. In every item they presented for the teachers, all decisions were made by others. On the other hand, the novice teachers’ product focused on change and gave a voice to current teachers. Was this a generational difference, or was it just a matter of perspective? One possibility was that certain voices controlled the group’s dynamics and decisions. Interviews would offer a deeper understanding of the product presented by each team and would enrich the perspective of each participant (Bogdan & Biklen, 2006).

Interviews would also offer meaning to what was observed during the time that teachers worked together in solving the PBL and presenting their solutions. Additionally, as the Arboretum PBL was a close and personal PBL to this school, understanding what it meant for each group to be part of the solution of the problem stated in the PBL offered them a voice and a unique opportunity to develop their own plan for school change. What was important to one group might not be important to another, and finding discrepancies and similarities among groups would nurture this study (Krathwohl, 2009). It was clear from this pilot study that interviews would assist my understanding about whether or not a PBL may influence teachers’ perceptions of school change and if a PBL helped teachers establish a common vision for school change.

 

 

Pilot Studies’ Findings

These two pilot studies offered unique insights for this study with different lessons from each pilot. The first lesson focused on observations. In each of the pilot studies, a common theme was for teams to gather together to solve the PBL in a different setting where I could conduct observations. In both cases, when the final presentation and product were presented, there was no link between my field notes, the presentation, and the final product. This is one limitation of the study. One reason for this discrepancy could be how technology has changed the way we work. Teams might have worked collaboratively over the Internet by using the cloud or e-mail. This gap has to be closed because observations of these communications could redefine my interviews. A second possibility is that teams divided their work. Teams would work together defining issues for the PBL and afterward divided the issues so that each member solved them individually and then, finally, reviewed solutions and commented on them.

The second lesson focused on time. When participants started their work, time went by quickly. There was not a moment to reflect on a change; that was why the plan had to be set before starting. It was clear that things could change but my reflections needed to be written every day. For both pilots, I made some reflections and wrote them down. These reflections became the product of what I had learned from these two experiences. As a result of these reflections, the interview questions could be reshaped.

The third lesson focused on my own silence. Participants were eager for more information in both pilots, and from time to time I jumped in and answered those questions. As a result, I think I may have guided the participants to the answers that I was expecting, and by doing that I constrained groups from finding their own paths. With that in mind, some questions needed to be answered for the participants, but before answering them I needed to reflect on how to answer them without biasing the groups with my expectations.

The fourth lesson had to do with the differences between the groups. Groups had different dynamics, and sorting groups randomly could work when groups are homogenous, but when participants had different power roles in the sample, the products and groups’ dynamics would lean toward that figure of power. For that reason, I sorted each group[1] .

The fifth lesson was to allow time for participants to have small chats and to make those chats part of my data collection. The main reason was that in those small chats participants felt confident about sharing the idea of having a PBL that really reflects their reality. Teachers thought that their work would mean much more if their time were invested in something productive for the school. One teacher said, “I would like to solve a PBL that really impacts me.” It is in those chats that teachers were able to express their own opinions.

As a final point based on my findings, lessons, and experiences from both pilot studies, I decided to study the change process using PBL as the catalyst. In both processes, teams worked together addressing issues presented in both PBLs and came up with innovative solutions. In the end, the experience of teamwork and having the space to reflect on the PBL offered learning opportunities for teachers that they would not have otherwise had. PBL offered time for the participants to solve issues about schools together, to which no one knew the answer. Thus, we were able to engage teachers in solving and gearing their knowledge toward the benefit of the group. If the final product can become a road map that teachers for the school actually work on as, a coalition, as Kotter (1996) described, this would thanks to the PBL, and the change process would be initiated. On the other hand, the PBL could also establish a sense of urgency for change (Fullan, 2007). Finally, depending on this study’s findings, PBL can become an effective method of cultural change in a school.

Summary

            The purpose of this chapter was to outline and describe the problem of school change in a specific context, present the research questions, establish the need for such a study, and describe the contribution this study makes to the understanding of how PBL might be used to change school culture and create a learning community. The setting of this study was enriched by the PBL “Tradition and Growth at Arboretum” because of its similarities with the current setting for the study. In addition, this chapter also provides a conceptual framework for the study. PBL has been used for instruction in different fields and in education, but as it was structured within this study, I was able to study if PBL influences teachers’ perceptions of school change and whether PBL helps teachers establish a common vision for school change, including the adoption of PLCs, which offer an opportunity for change that challenges the school’s current culture and fosters a transfer of knowledge between one successful generation of teachers to the next.

The purpose of this chapter was also to provide evidence for how the PBL Tradition and Growth at Arboretum was tested and redefined thanks to the first pilot study at Penn State. Learning from that experience allowed me to adjust the PBL so the teams solving it could focus on school change and not on solving one dilemma posed by a teacher that retired from the school. Likewise, A Supervisor’s Dilemma: Planning for Change at Unison Elementary School also offered the opportunity to test whether or not teachers in this case were willing to face a personal issue or preferred to work on a PBL from an unfamiliar school.

[1] In the second pilot study veteran teachers were in one group. All of those teachers had been in the school for 20 years or more. Not only are they seen as leaders but they are also bosses of other participants. So in the end I chose to keep the groups segregated, in the same way I did for the second pilot study, even though random selection would support in some degree of validity for my study.

ARBORETUM: A CASE STUDY USING PROBLEM BASED LEARNING TO BETTER UNDERSTAND SCHOOL CHANGE

 

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