Organization, Information and Learning Sciences ETDs

Publication Date



High schools suffer from poor performance in attendance, achievement, literacy development, and postsecondary outcomes. Teachers cannot redesign schools by trying harder; new models of collaboration and problem solving are key to transforming their schools. Professional learning communities (PLCs) with professional development in transformative learning, constructivist adult learning theories, and collaborative problem solving may provide the best answer for school change. What are the best processes and methods for high school teachers to transform their frames of reference to solve their common difficult dilemmas while changing their approach to problem solving to improve schools and student proficiency in standards? I collected data in a grounded theory study using interviews, observations, and interview/questionnaire from teachers within four professional learning communities in two low-performing high schools in a large urban district. I interviewed 22 participants while making observations of 9 PLC meetings part of a small learning community framework. Participants completed short responses to a three-item questionnaire at the end of the study. I noted three transformative experiences of participants within the PLCs. The majority of teacher participants believed that the most effective characteristics and components of PLCs was the opportunity to work together for the best learning experiences for their students. Nearly all of the teacher participants believed that the PLC could be a structure for critical reflection to occur for themselves and others. The results did show evidence of transformative learning and collaborative problem solving. Members of a learning community learned new frames of references through their participation in a modestly developed problem solving process and as a result of their own readiness and openness to changing their frame of reference developed from insights that evolved from shared group experiences. Without a clearly developed and maintained process, PLCs demonstrated less evident or developed elements of collaborative problem solving. Without strong direction and effective facilitators, teachers did not consistently and broadly use a collaborative problem solving process. A theoretical model of transformative learning and collaborative problem solving emerged that principals and leaders of high school redesign can use to better facilitate the changes being asked of their teachers.

Degree Name

Organizational Learning and Instructional Technology

Level of Degree


Department Name

Organization, Information & Learning Sciences

First Advisor

Boverie, Patricia

First Committee Member (Chair)

Noll, Bruce

Second Committee Member

Blalock, Virginia

Third Committee Member

Salisbury, Mark

Fourth Committee Member

Borden, Allison




High school teachers--In-service training, Professional learning communities, Transformative learning, Transformative learning, Group problem solving

Document Type