2.3.2 PLCs or inquiry?
Some authors, such as Timperley and her colleagues, distinguish between PLCs and teacher inquiry (Timperley, 2011, Timperley & Alton-Lee, 2008, Timperley et al., 2009). It may seem unnecessary to tease out the differences between these approaches, yet it is useful to do so. For example, Nelson (2008) completed a comparative case study of three PLCs and argued that where the inquiry was sustained (in one of the three schools) both individual and collective learning were evident; in the other two schools such learning failed to materialize. What is evident in this study is that it is not PLCs per se that are doing the work, but a student-focused teacher inquiry stance that made the difference. School change does not happen simply because educators work collaboratively. Engaging in rigorous inquiry into teaching and learning practices helps educators to identify the gaps between students’ learning and teachers’ teaching practice, provide direction to teacher learning and changing teaching practices accordingly, which consequently leads to improved outcomes for students (Timperley, 2011). An inquiry stance also honours the knowledge teachers bring to PLCs, motivates individual teacher’s orientation to change and signifies a new relationship between the work of teachers and their commitment to the act of research/inquiry as central to their work and professional role.
Hipp et al.’s (2008) study also helped to distinguish between the issue of creating a learning informed culture and the processes of teacher learning. Their work addressed the dialectic relationship between PLCs and school culture suggesting that effective PLCs contribute to the collective beliefs, values and habits of a school, which are represented by the school culture and that such a collaborative school culture is a necessary component of school success. Just as importantly, productive and positive school cultures can make a significant contribution to creating professional learning communities that sustain momentum for school improvement over time. As schools transform into PLCs, “the conceptualization of the PLC becomes rooted within the school culture and a structure emerges providing both a foundation and a guide for learning goals, strategies and outcomes” (p. 177). Other scholars have actually foregrounded the change in school culture and the larger educational context as the factors that contribute to effective PLCs (Mitchell & Sackney, 2007; Mitchell & Sackney, 2011; Stoll, 2009a).