Creating a Professional Learning Community Through Appreciative Inquiry in an Early Childhood Context

Master's Thesis, 2015

82 Pages, Grade: 3.5


Table of Contents




Chapter one: Introduction
Background and Context of Study
Statement of the Problem
Significance of the Study
Research Questions
Definition of Key Terms
Organization of this Dissertation

Chapter Two: Literature Review
Professional Learning Community
Shared Vision and Values
Collective Focus on Learning
Reflective Dialogue
De-Privatized Practices
Appreciative Inquiry
Destiny or Delivery
Strength and Limitations of Appreciative Inquiry method
Early Childhood Development (ECD) context for creating PLC
Summary of this Chapter

Chapter Three: Research Methodology
Study Design
Research Setting and Location
Population and Sample
Sampling Procedure
Role of Researcher
Data Generation Process and Tools
Stage One: Discovery
Appreciative interview questions
Focused group discussion
Phase Two: Dreaming
Phase Three: Designing
Phase Four: Destiny
Data analysis procedures
Ethical Consideration
Limitation of the Study
Summary of this Chapter

Chapter Four: Findings
Profile of Research Participants
Findings in Stage One: Discover
Best Practices of School
Contributions by Participants
Summary of Stage One: Discovery
Finding in Stage Two: Dream
Best practices of School
Contribution by Participants
Summary of Stage Two: Dream
Stage Three: Design
Summary of Stage Three: Design
Stage Four: Destiny
Classroom Teaching and Observations
Constructive Feedbacks
Reflective Dialogue Session
Summary of Stage Four
Summary of this Chapter

Chapter Five: Discussions, Conclusion and Recommendations
Factors Involved in Creating PLC
Collaborative Learning
Reflective Dialogue
Processes to initiate and create PLC
Classroom Teaching and Observation
Constructive Feedbacks
Reflective Dialogue

Appreciative Inquiry Method for PLC





This dissertation is dedicated to my loving husband Amin Sher Ali Khowaja for his endless support and motivation during the journey of four years of my MED education. It was his dream to acquire MED degree that pushed me all the time to accomplish my destiny. His confidence on my skills and abilities and his encouraging words gave me courage to complete this dissertation. I am grateful for his unconditional love and support that he provided me over the period of my graduation.

I would also like to dedicate this work to my mother-in-law for her cooperation that she gave and sacrifices that she made over the course of my studies. Without her love and prayers, I would never have been able to pursue my goal.

I showed my gratitude and special thanks to my sister-in-laws Ambreen Lakhpati for being there as a friend; and Yasmeen Khowaja for providing me academic and moral support throughout the graduate programme. Thank you for being my cheerleaders.


Upon completion of my dissertation work, I would like to thank Almighty Allah for His blessings and providing me opportunity for acquiring higher education. I would also like to show my immense gratitude to the Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, whose vision of quality education motivated me to enroll myself for higher education.

My thanks are due to my supervisor Dr. Kulsoom Jaffer, whose scholarly advice, help and constant encouragement have contributed significantly to the completion of this study. I enjoyed working with her, as I have witnessed an unselfish attitude towards the work, and every moment of our interaction has been a process of tremendous learning experience.

Special thanks are due to all faculty members and MEd students. They shared their knowledge and wisdom, which helped me in completing this study and supported me and my understanding of this complex study.

I am also grateful to my research participants who gave their consent for this research and shared their thoughts and viewpoints with me. I also appreciate the support of my school management who provided their guidance in all my endeavors.

Lastly I would like to express my heartiest recognition to my husband for his unwavering love and assistance, my mother-in law and sisters-in law for their patience, my parents and brothers for their prayers, my friends and colleagues who were a source of inspiration and motivation; and to all those who have contributed in my achievement.

Thank you all!


Schools always strive to improve the quality of education by strengthening, and making the teaching and learning process more effective. For this aspect, school provides opportunities to the teachers to bring effectiveness in their performance by arranging professional development sessions or workshops. However, teachers require continuous support on regular basis for their capacity building. Thus it requires developing a culture of professional learning community (PLC) that not only provides support to teachers on regular basis for their development, but also builds a collaborative learning environment for the teachers. With this objective, this study explored the factors that were required for creating the environment based on PLC in the school particularly in the ECD context. Further, this study also identified the processes that helped to build PLC using appreciative inquiry approach. In addition, the support of appreciative inquiry as an approach for building PLC was also measured. In this regard, eight research participants were selected who were involved in four stages of appreciative inquiry i.e. discovery, dream, design and destiny. The data revealed that trust, collaborative learning and reflective dialogue were some of the factors that are required for creating a PLC environment. However, three processes for initiating PLC culture were included which are classroom teaching and observation, constructive feedbacks and reflective dialogue sessions. At the end, this research found that appreciative inquiry approach was significant as a value-added tool that helped to build the collaborative environment in the school and provided participants an opportunity to share their skills and expertise as well as their dreams and imaginations with each other.

Keywords: Professional development, capacity building, professional learning community, appreciative inquiry, ECD context

List of Figures

Figure 1. 4-Ds Stages of Appreciative Inquiry

Figure 2. Illustration of Stage Three of Appreciative Inquiry: Design

Figure 3. Involvement of participants in stage three

List of Tables

Table 1: Data Generation tools and process in Each Stages of Appreciative Inquiry

Table 2: Profile of Research Participants

Chapter one: Introduction

This chapter presents the background and context of study, the purpose of this research along with statement of problem and significance of this study. The main questions and sub questions for this research, and definition of key terms are also discussed.

Background and Context of Study

Schools particularly within the private sector are always striving to improve the standards of provision of quality of education by adopting different strategies. Curriculum enhancement, assessment, teacher effectiveness and effective leadership are some of the strategies that help to maintain and sustain the progress of a system (National High School Center, 2008). Teacher effectiveness or capacity building of teachers is another important strategy for bringing effective results in student’s learning. As Wong & Wong (2010) suggested teachers are “the greatest asset of a school” (p. 13). Teachers are the prime persons who play significant role in terms of nurturing the students through their pedagogical skills and content knowledge. At the same time, teachers are responsible for bringing the positive change in school.

For this purpose, schools arrange professional development sessions or workshops for teachers that not only improve teachers’ instructional activities but also make teachers skillful (Harwell, 2003). According to the results of Teacher and Learning International Survey (Talis) in 2013, which is presented by OECD (2014), professional development is “defined as activities that aim to develop an individual’s skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as a teacher” (p.87). The types of professional development like workshops, courses, educational conferences, seminars, in-service training courses, visits and so on were also explored in the same survey.

The sessions arranged for professional development in schools are mostly for a limited time period and not as an ongoing process, which sometimes hinders teaching practice and understanding as endorsed by Ghulam Hussein (2013). The duration of professional development sessions suggested by Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson & Orphanos (2009) in their report, should be intensive and ongoing and for longer periods. Thus, the professional development of teachers is not a one day event or one-shot activity which lasts for a day but it must be continued on an ongoing basis to bring the effectiveness in teaching and learning process (Harwell, 2003).

The school where this research was carried out demonstrated the similar kind of picture of professional development sessions, which were arranged for teachers twice a year. Particularly in the context of Early Childhood Development where teachers are required to upgrade their knowledge on continuous basis but unfortunately they received very little opportunity for their professional development. As endorsed by Ministry of Social and Family Development, Singapore (2011), ECD practitioners should advance their understanding related to development domains of children on an ongoing basis.

The school management although aimed for capacity building of teachers through professional development (PD) sessions, was not able to provide it regularly nor in a formal and structured manner. Moreover, the PD interventions planned to meet the expected requirement for capacity building of teachers, were only for short term and not long enough, where teachers could learn from each other through collaboration and sharing of knowledge as suggested by Harwell (2003).

Although teachers attended and taking benefited from these sessions yet very little impact could be observed in their performance because of less opportunity for professional learning. Darling-Hammond et al (2009) in their study of US teachers have shown the impact of longer duration of professional development sessions on teaching and learning process in form of student’s achievement Thus the issue of short duration of professional development sessions or workshops could be resolved by incorporating a culture that would encourage a learning support system.

Hence, there is a need to develop a culture of continuous professional learning environment for sustainable improvement through creating professional learning community (PLC) in the school (Stoll, 2007). When I heard about professional learning community (PLC) in one of my MED courses, it intrigued me and I wanted to explore more about PLC, this led me to conduct a literature search on characteristics and features of PLC. I found PLC as a suitable solution to counter act the issue of one-shot workshops. PLC, not only is known to sustain the professional learning of teachers but also to help and create a collaborative environment where teachers will learn and gain knowledge together. According to Stoll, Bolam, McMohan, Wallace & Thomas (2006), the salient features of PLC help to provide a culture of collaboration by sharing knowledge and values through reflective dialogues and partnerships for taking responsibility of student’s learning together.

Moreover, PLC supports to shift the paradigm from isolated learning to shared learning as well as paradigm from individual to collaborative learning for making the teaching and learning process more effective (Stoll et al., 2006).

Therefore, this study explored the factors involved to create and sustain PLC in ECD contexts particularly and identified the processes involved for developing and designing PLC environment. With this aim, appreciative inquiry approach was found as a suitable approach for this study because this approach allows to engage participants for bringing change and positivity in the environment. Thus this approach helps to explore and identify the good practices of organizations (Shuayb, Sharp, Judkins & Hetherington, 2009). Therefore, the positivity of this method became helpful for this study and also become worthwhile for creating PLC environment in the context. The 4-Ds stages of appreciative inquiry approach were applied for this study. These stages are (a) discovery, (b) dream, (c) design, and (d) destiny (Thomas, 2013).

Statement of the Problem

Though PLC is an evolving field that encourages the improvement in teaching and learning process on regular basis but it was not implemented in my school context. Sessions for professional learning were arranged for teachers for a day or two or a week instead of as a continuing process throughout the year. Furthermore, school was provided opportunities to very few teachers for their professional development.

Thus there was a need to build an environment where each individuals could get chance to grow professionally through collaboration and sharing of knowledge. Particularly, teachers of ECD whose interventions towards child’s learning are long lasting could receive more opportunities for their development.

Therefore, this study was particularly designed to describe how professional learning community could be initiated so as to provide continuous support for capacity building of teachers in an ECD setting using appreciative inquiry approach.

Significance of the Study

Professional development of teachers is one of the significant factors for school effectiveness. It requires to create a culture of continuous professional learning that becomes helpful for teachers for their capacity building on regular basis. Though schools in Pakistan are in a process of providing professional learning environment to the teachers on frequent basis, there is a dearth of studies that tell the factors and processes involved for developing continuous professional learning environment in a practice sense.

Therefore, this research study could support to create professional learning community by examining the factors in the school context specifically in ECD through which collaborative environment will be developed. This study is significant as it reviews factors and processes that are required for developing PLC. This study would be beneficial for school management to establish PLC culture in the school. Simultaneously, the findings of this study would be helpful for teachers for gauging their improvement in their teaching and learning process through working in a collaborative environment. In addition, appreciative inquiry approach would become the value added tool for this study in terms of exploring the best practices of schools as well as executing the factors and processes that requires for PLC in an appreciative and positive way. In short, this study provides a practical approach for creating PLC in ECD context through the use of appreciative inquiry approach.

Research Questions

The study guided by the following research questions:

1. How can PLC be created through appreciative inquiry for bringing the effectiveness in teaching and learning process in an ECD context of a private sector school system?

a. What are the key factors involved in creating PLC?
b. What are the processes to initiate and create PLC in ECD section?
c. How can appreciative inquiry support the initiation and creation of PLC?

Definition of Key Terms

1. Professional Learning Community - an ongoing process where people work together through collaboration and sharing of knowledge (Hord, 1997). PLC will also be used in place of professional learning community in this study.
2. Early Childhood Development (ECD) - it stands for Early Childhood Development for the age-group of 0-8 years old (Sindh Education Foundation, 2009). For this study, the age bracket will be used was from 2-3 years old children of the ECD section in a provided school.
3. Appreciative inquiry – is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them. It involves systematic discovery of what gives a system ‘life’... It mobilizes inquiry through crafting an “unconditional positive question’…” (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005). Appreciative inquiry approach was used for this study with the help of 4 D’s steps, such as: (a) discover, (b) dream, (c) design, and (d) destiny.

Organization of this Dissertation

This dissertation consists of the following five chapters:

Chapter one presented the need of capacity building of teachers for school effectiveness by arranging the professional development sessions for teachers. In addition, it explained the importance of professional development of teachers on continuous basis by creating a culture of professional learning community that emphasized collaborative learning and sharing of knowledge. Furthermore, it shed light on appreciative inquiry approach that is helpful for developing PLC environment in the school particularly in the ECD context. This was followed by the statement of problem, significance of this study, research questions and definition of key terms.

Chapter two explores the studies done on PLC and appreciative inquiry as well as ECD context by reviewing the literature intensively. Chapter three highlights the methodology used for this study along with data generation tools and analysis plan. Ethical consideration and limitation of the study are also discussed in chapter three.

Chapter four presents the data gathered and summarizes the findings of the study explored in each stages of appreciative inquiry that are discovery, dream, design and destiny. Finally, chapter five discusses the findings of the study in detail. This chapter also presents the conclusion of this study with recommendations for further studies.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

This chapter presents insights and intensive review of literature to support and rationalize the need for the present research. The review of literature is divided into three sections. The first section unpacks the term PLC by highlighting the importance of capacity building of teachers. The factors that are required for creating PLC in school setting are discussed next. The second section elaborates the appreciative inquiry method with detailed review of the 4-D’s stages. The context for this study is concisely described in the last section, which is followed by a summary of the entire chapter.

Professional Learning Community

The term professional learning community (PLC) was first used by Hord in the year 1997 where he only mentioned the process that required for creating and sustaining PLC. However, Greer (2012) and Kruze, Louis & Bryk (1994) in their study mentioned that the work on PLC was already done in 1960s. Thus, the ambiguity regarding the term remained debatable and no any concrete evidence is presented in the literature. Though, the detailed understanding about PLC specifically characteristics of PLC was found in the workings of many researchers of 20th century like Kleine-Kracht (1993), Louis & Kruse (1995), Prestine (1993) and so forth. However, the factors that were required for creating and sustaining PLC were profoundly discussed by Hord (1997).

In literature, the basic purpose for creating a PLC is to bring change. Change according to Vescio, Ross & Adams (2008) is elaborated in terms of thinking, practices and pedagogical skills of teachers where teachers receive a collaborative environment for sharing their skills and expertise. Further, Stoll, et al (2006) defined a change in a paradigm of school that shifted from individual to collaborative learning as well as from traditional learning to professional learning. Hence, the notions of PLC come with change from collaborative learning that encourages the teachers to learn from each other rather in comparison to individual learning. However, it is important to consider that if schools are not ready for change then they are not able to apply PLC with its full essence.

The foremost change that PLC brings in the school is in the capacity building of teacher. Capacity building as defined by Fullan (2010) cited in Harris (2011), “…concerns competencies, resources and motivation. Individuals and groups are high in capacity if they possess and continue to develop the knowledge and skills” (p.627). Thus capacity building works to enhance potential of individuals and groups and further strengthens their understanding and expertise. Teachers are also becoming able to bring innovation in their skills and teaching practices by learning and producing new things as emphasized by Harris (2011).

Moreover, capacity building of teachers becomes one of the tools to develop a learning community in school through enhancing the potentials and skills of teachers to bring change in the school (Damani, 2011). Through capacity building, teachers make their teaching and learning process more effective by exploring new and innovative strategies as well as by developing their knowledge and wisdom. This helps to bring change in school and achieve the targets and goals of school. Change is the prime objective for PLC where collaborative learning culture is developed, thus PLC builds the capacity of teachers by preparing them for change that ultimately brings improvement in school.

In this regard, ongoing support system is required for capacity building of teachers as well as for bringing change in the development of schools. Thus many educationalists like Stoll (2007), Stoll & Louis (2007) & Wiseman, Arroyo & Richter (2012) suggest PLC as an ongoing process that makes a difference in the learning of students and brings improvement in teaching practices. Thus, PLC provides ongoing support system to strengthen the teaching and learning process. PLC is sometimes considered as a programme rather than one shot activity as mentioned by Louis (n.d.), citing an example of an elementary school principal who announced the implementation of PLC as a new programme rather than as a set of ideas. According to Louis (n.d.) to consider PLC as a project or programme or one time effort to implement is a biggest misconception. The reason is that PLC creates a culture or environment which is not a day activity or a project or a new programme. To summarize, Hall (2014) mentioned about what PLC is and what it is not that needs to be considered. PLC as a meeting, a committee, a time bound activity and a club is not right, however PLC is an approach that guides and frames our thinking.

Nevertheless, many researchers like Hord (2004) & Stoll et al (2006) explained the notion of PLC in five parts or factors that are required for building the culture or environment of PLC, these factors are succinctly defined as follows:

Shared Vision and Values

The first factor is shared vision and values that become helpful to create and sustain PLC. According to Greer (2012), “PLC members create a shared vision by collaboratively melding individual visions into one vision” (p.33). Thus persons who are involved in creating and developing PLC culture have a common vision with common consensus and acceptability by all members. Commonly, all visions embrace the vision of student’s learning that leads towards shared norms and values which include mutual trust and respect for upgrading learning and understanding of students (Bolam, McMohon, Stoll, Thomas, Wallace, Greenwood, Hawkey Ingram, Atkinson & Smith, 2005; & Stoll, 2007).

Collective Focus on Learning

Dufour (2004) and Bolam et. al, (2005) considered PLC as a learning instead of teaching where the main focus is on collaborative professional learning of teachers as well as pupils learning. The second factor emphasizes the importance of learning which is ongoing in terms of inquiry and a quest that ignites the skill of investigation and research for bringing improvement in schools. This curiosity of learning ultimately helps schools to achieve the goals by improving the teaching practice as well as producing good results.


As defined by Friend and Cook (2010), collaboration is the process in which participants work together in partnership for shared goals and vision. Collaboration helps to further strengthen PLC which becomes helpful for teaching and learning process (Greer, 2012). Thus a shift from individual to collective learning, from traditional to collaborative learning takes place through this factor of collaboration in a PLC environment. Collaboration promotes learning together and learning from each other by sharing each other’s ideas and thoughts.

Reflective Dialogue

Reflective dialogues encourage a talk of teachers on current scenario by emphasizing on strength and challenges which teachers face. This talk of teachers leads towards different action for bringing the effectiveness in school (Kruze, Louis & Bryk, 1994). Therefore, a reflective dialogue supports teachers to minimize their weakness and promotes the skills and expertise of teachers by providing them chance for discussions and deliberation by the schools. In literature, reflective dialogue is considered as one of the significant factors for creating and sustaining PLC that allows teachers to reflect and discuss on their current teaching practices and share their potentials and expertise with each other. Through this way, reflective dialogue helps to develop a professional environment for collaborative sharing and learning

De-Privatized Practices

Kruze, Louis & Bryk (1994) maintained that “teachers share, observe and discuss each other’s teaching method and philosophies…teachers learn new ways to talk about what they do, and the discussion kindle new relationships between the participants” (p.4).

De-privatization commonly allows teachers to engage in conversations on a daily-basis by reflecting on each other’s teaching practice and inviting each other in the classroom for observation and reflection as explained by Dunsmore (2012) in her blog.

All these factors as mentioned above help to build a collaborative culture where sharing of knowledge, improvement in teaching and learning processes and collective decision making become the outcomes of PLC environment.

Many researchers also explored the other factors that help to develop PLC culture. For instance, Bolam, et al (2005) expounded the influence of individual, group and school context as well as external influence on PLC. The development of individual skills and practices through collective learning motivate individuals to create and sustain PLC. This way, a team or a group is developed by providing equal opportunities to each individual to share their ideas and thinking with each other. Lastly, the context of school including the population, location and size has an impact on PLC. Therefore, these internal factors are important for PLC culture that focuses on involving individuals to work as a team for capacity building of each other.

The community in surrounding of school and infrastructure are some external factors that also have some impacts on PLC. In a nutshell, the internal influence such as individual and groups and external influences like school’s surrounding and infrastructures are sometimes also become hindrance for creating and sustaining PLC, such as if collaboration and willingness of each individual to work collectively does not exist, it becomes difficult to create and develop PLC, let alone sustain it (Kilbane, 2009).

However, factors like shared vision and values, collaboration, focus on learning, reflective dialogue, de-privatized practices, context and external factors are some significant ingredients that become helpful for creating PLC culture for teacher capacity building.

In Pakistan, a very little worked has been done for creating PLC environment in the study. However, some of the researches discussed about the factors for creating PLC in Pakistani context. For instance, Jan’s (2014) study explored the aspects of PLC in Gilgit Baltistan region, where his findings revealed that some factors such as shared vision, collaborative learning, continuous support, trust and so forth were supported by the school for developing PLC environment. However Alidad (2012) in her research identified the role of leader for transforming the school into learning organization, where she discussed some of the factors like shared vision, capacity building, reflection, feedback and others as significant for learning organization.

Similarly, Damani (2011) focused on professional capacity building of teachers as a tool for creating learning community in the school. Retallick and Farah (2005) shared their suggestions about how schools in Pakistan can become a learning community. They shared that in learning community school, all stakeholders like management, teachers, students and even parents play their role as learners. This way, improvement can occur in the school which helps to transform the traditional school into a learning community.

Thus the process of creating PLC environment by exploring the factors was not studied earlier, which is the aim of this research.

Appreciative Inquiry

For this research, appreciative inquiry (AI) approach was used for creating PLC as compared to other methods. This reason behind was that it helps to identify best practices, think and predict plans for the future (Shuayb, Sharp, Judkins & Hetherington, 2009) and also provides opportunity to participants to engage in the study.

This method emerged in late 1980s by David Cooperrider who developed a new model for organizational learning (as cited in Thomas, 2013; Cram, 2010; & Shuayb et. al, 2009). Cooperrider, Whitney and Stavros (2005) defined appreciative inquiry (AI) as a positive approach by illustrating that:

Every organization has something that works right—things that give life when it is most alive, effective, successful, and connected in healthy ways to its stakeholders and communities. AI begins by identifying what is positive and connecting to it in ways that heighten energy and vision for change. (as cited in Thomas, 2013, p. 2)

AI method works for change as it identifies not only the best practices of what is going on but also find the directions for future. Cram (2010) quoted that AI is a strength based approach for organizational change. According to Mohr and Watkins (2002) AI does not bring any change in person’s behavior or habit nor bring any changes in the structure of any organization, “instead it invites people to engage in building the kinds of organizations and communities they want to work and live in” (p.4).

Thus AI encourages the collaborative type of research where a group of people are involved in reflecting on the best part of their organization by discovering the past. In addition, AI allows members to share their expectation about the organization and what they want to be like by envisioning the future.

Therefore, AI considers the best of organizations that will help the organization for further growth. However, AI also provides grounds to members to speak, listen and share each other’s ideas and thoughts and develop and execute a plan for achieving the set targets. (Whitney & Bloom, 2010).

For this aspect, AI approach is based on four stages that is 4-Ds cycle: (a) discover, (b) dream, (c) design, and (d) destiny (Thomas, 2013, Cram, 2010 & Shuayb et. al, 2009).


This phase of AI inquires about the positive aspects of the organization by asking positive and appreciative questions like “best of what is” (Thomas, 2013). In discovery stage, all kinds of good stories, experiences and examples are discussed by highlighting the best practices of organization (Cram, 2010 & & Shuayb et. al, 2009). Thus in this stage, the main purpose is not to derive data but to explore the experiences and relationships that people and organizations have. For this purpose, appreciative interview questions help to identify the best part of the organization to “uncover who and what an organization is when it is at its best” (Whitney & Bloom, 2010).


This phase allows participants to envision the future by thinking about the question “what might be” (Thomas 2013). This stage encourages assumptions and imaginations of each individual for a better future (Thomas, 2013; Cram 2010 & Cooperrider, 2005). This stage actually encourages participants to dream about the organization they want to work in. Thus this stage encourages the participants “to imagine a more inspiring, positive, life-giving world and organization” (Whitney & Bloom, 2010). Hence, the best practices that participants wish to incorporate in organization for their development are explored in this stage. Appreciative interview questions also become one of the tools to envisage the future by appreciating participants to imagine the future.


In this stage, participants explore “what should be” for the best of the organization by aligning the needs and expectations that are derived from the discovering and dreaming phase. For this stage, recreation, co-construction and transformation terms are used that effect on practices, processes and images of organization (Thomas, 2013, Cram, 2010; Shuayb et. al, 2009 & Cooperrider, 2005). Therefore, a plan is designed in this stage that is based on ideas and discussions held between participants. The form of plan can vary depending on the study questions that researchers want to explore.

Destiny or Delivery

This stage leads to finding the way forward for the organization by asking “what will be” by demanding the commitment of individuals and groups. It demands actions, implementation and reflections to achieve the targets that are set in the design stage ((Thomas, 2013 & Shuayb et. al, 2009). This is the most crucial or practical stage where participants execute their plan that they developed in the design phase. The implementation of plan in this stage actually leads researchers to design further plans till the set targets or objectives of the study are not achieved. This stage also provides opportunities to reflect on the action taken based on the plan for developing the way forward.

These four stages are further illustrated in figure 1, presented by Cooperrider, 2005.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1. 4-D’s Stages of Appreciative Inquiry

Strength and Limitations of Appreciative Inquiry Approach

Many researchers present strengths and limitations of appreciative inquiry (AI) method by highlighting the positive points as well as providing their critiques on AI approach. Different phrases are used by various practitioners to define AI. For instance, a phrase like “life-giving properties” (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987) as cited in Bushe 2011; “positive core” (Cooperrider & Whitney, 2005); “give it life” (Bushe, 2011) and so on is used. AI method encourages the positive aspects and best practices of the organization that actually brings life to the organization.

AI is also helpful for problem solving and for bringing change in organizations. AI according to Bushe (2011) is the problem-solving approach that brings changes in the organization by envisaging the future. This method is also helpful in conflict and rift situation by bringing all the members of the team or organization on one platform to discuss and imagine for the best of organization (Whitney & Bloom, 2010). Thus the application of this method reunites the differences that participants have otherwise it cannot be successfully implemented. In addition, this method is purely based on ideas and expectations of people for the benefit of the organization (Bushe, 2011).

In a nutshell, this method is based on positivity by exploring the best practices of the organization as well as envisioning the future by sharing the ideas with each other, this leads to developing and executinge the plan to achieve the goal of the research study.

However, the main critique on AI method is on its positivity as many researchers (Egan & Lancaster, 2005; Miller, Fitzgerald, Murrell, Preston & Ambekar, 2005; Pratt, 2002; Reason, 2000) as cited in Bushe (2011) note that this method only considered positive aspects of the organization however the negativity is also an important part for organization’s development. Further, Oliver (2005) mentioned that “what is positive for some may be negative for others” (as cited in Bushe, 2011, p.18). Oliver & Barge (2002) further state that this method does not encourage the negative experiences that people or organizations have. Frustrations, vulnerability, injustice, regret are some of the voices that are ignored in AI stages. These voices or negative experiences will further lead the organization towards hope and transformation. But unfortunately, this method does not appreciate any negative aspects or grievances of the organization particularly during first and second stages..

Bushe (2011) further elaborates that only positivity or positive aspects are not necessary as a significant mean for bringing positive outcomes at the end. In other words, this method helps to foresee the future by examining the positive aspects of the past and present but it does not explore the negative experience of the past or present. In addition, Bushe (2011) further put forward the argument of many theorists; like Bright et al, (2011) that states “behind every negative image lies the positive”; Fineman (2006) notes that “behind every positive image lies a negative one” (p.18). Thus both positive and negative experiences of the organizations play a significant role simultaneously for the development of organization.

Nevertheless, AI method is still successful for developing the organization and bringing changes in one’s life or organization. The critique on AI method has some importance but discussing the best practices of the organization also brings the improvement in the organization. This method also kindles the spirit of investigating the best by envisioning the future for organizational change.

Early Childhood Development (ECD) context for creating PLC

Early Childhood development (ECD) is the significant field that particularly focuses on holistic development of a child According to Sindh Education Foundation (2009), ECD caters the age-group from conception till the age eight. However, Ministry of Education (2007) defines that ECD starts when mother conceives a baby in her womb and it continues till the age eight. The learning that takes place during early years of life remains forever and long lasting with a child.

ECD particularly focuses on holistic development and well-being of the child through integrating health and nutrition with education (Sindh Education Foundation, 2009). For this aspect, effective programmes of ECD are required such as empowering parents, children and teachers towards health and nutrition respectively. When we look to the context of Pakistan where ECD classes have scarcity of resources and space as well as low enrollment of children, empowering parents and teachers is becoming complicated for school or an organization. In this regard, many initiatives are taken by the Government with the support of NGOs and other academic institutions through public - private partnerships, towards ECD in last few years. However, limited resources have been found in literature that highlight that continuous professional development of teachers in ECD contexts particularly in terms of creating PLC is important. However, the study related to the factors like collaborative learning and reflective practices that helps to create PLC in ECD context were found in literature. Marbina, Church & Tayler (2010) in their reflective paper stressed upon the significance of critical reflections by teachers to enhance the learning of children. In this paper they described that reflection in/on practices by ECD teachers brings positive outcomes in student’s result as well as positive change in the organization. It requires that teachers get enough time and space for discussion and reflection on daily basis.

Similarly, ECD practitioners are also required to integrate collaborative learning in their practice. As defined by Flottman, McKernan & Tayler (2011), collaboration in terms of their working, planning, classroom teaching, developing and designing activities are required. They further explained in their paper that collaboration helps professional development of teachers in terms of enhancing their skills and knowledge. This collaboration helps ECD teachers to address the needs of children together by sharing each other’s ideas and expertise that will not only bring outcomes in student’s learning but also support teachers for their capacity building.

However, literature on creating and developing PLC in ECD context was not explored earlier as compared to other context such as secondary and higher secondary. This might be because educationalist focuses on the child’s development more in ECD instead of developing professional culture of teacher. For this reason, this research actually becomes value-added for ECD practitioners for creating and sustaining PLC culture in their context. Moreover, this study provides a practical approach in terms of defining the processes of creating PLC along with factors that are required for bringing effectiveness in teacher’s learning and children’s development.

Summary of this Chapter

This chapter highlighted the literature available related to PLC and factors required for its development. The factors like collaboration, de-privatized practice, reflective dialogue, shared value and visions were explored. Literature related to appreciative inquiry method and its 4 D’s stages that are discovery, dream, design and destiny have also been discussed, and the context of ECD for creating and developing PLC has also been reviewed to rationalize the present study.

Chapter Three: Research Methodology

This chapter outlines the study design and research setting and location. This is followed by sample size and procedure for sampling. In addition, the data generation process along with the tools and the data synthesis plan are also discussed. At the end, ethical consideration and limitation of this study are presented followed by a summary of the chapter.

Study Design

For this study, a qualitative research design was adopted and appreciative inquiry approach for creating PLC in ECD was used. Since this study explored the factors required for creating PLC as well as described the processes involved for creating PLC, thus the qualitative approach was the best approach for this study. Qualitative research is more dealt with words and images as well as focus on description, exploration and explanation of social experiences in text instead of numbers, figures and quantity (Hancock, Ockleford & Windridge, 2009 & Bayman, 2004).

In addition, appreciative inquiry was used for creating PLC as a approach. The reason for selecting this AI approach was that it helped to explore the positive aspects of school as well as envision the future that is helpful for creating PLC environment in the school. Thus, the four D’s stages of appreciative inquiry which are Discover, Dream, Design and Destiny became worthwhile for this study in order to initiate PLC setup in the school as these stages helped to explore the best practices of organization and also supported to design and execute a plan for creating PLC. For this purpose, teachers who are engaged with the age group of two or three year’s old children were involved in this study as participants for creating PLC environment in the ECD.

Research Setting and Location

One of the Schools located in F.B. area was selected for this research. The school has three different sections that are ECD, Junior and secondary with the population of around 3000 students. The aim of the school is to provide quality education to children of different ages (from year two till 16). School has huge and spacious classrooms with lot of human, materials and natural resources. This research was done in setting of ECD classroom that particularly focused the age group of two to three years old children. Following are the three basic reasons for selecting this location and the setting:

1. Researcher is working in the same school and felt more comfortable to initiate the PLC environment there.
2. The ECD context focuses on holistic development of children, in this regard, effectiveness of teachers is mandatory. There was a need for school management to create PLC setup for making the teaching and learning process more effective.
3. The reason for selecting the classes of two to three years old children was that these classes was initiated few years back, thus it required to develop a professional environment that become helpful for capacity building of teachers.

The permission for conducting this research was taken from principal and research participants by sharing the brief information of this study.

Population and Sample

For this study, only teachers were targeted for their continuous professional development. The total population of personnel within the school is approximately 170 teachers, only 60 teachers from the ECD context were selected as a targeted population. However, eight teachers were picked through purposive sampling such as by the choice of researcher as primary participants for this study. The reason for limiting the size of sample was that the culture of PLC was created or initiated as a pilot to explore the factors and processes for creating PLC in details. Further, the researcher felt that it was more convenient to work with small group of teachers in order to create PLC environment with ease As a pilot project.

Sampling Procedure

For this study, purposive sampling was used to select the research participants. Purposive sampling is particularly encourages the judgments and choices of researcher for selecting the sample for the study (Zikmund, Babin, Carr & Griffin, 2012). Thus, the researcher selected the research participants who are teaching the two to three years old children in the school.

Role of Researcher

Though researcher was working in the same setup and played different roles throughout the process of creating PLC. For example, in the first stage, the researcher played the role of the interviewer who asked appreciative interview questions. At the same time, the researcher led the focus group discussions by probing questions and exploring the best practices of school. This role of interviewer continued in second stage of AI method that is dream.

In the designing stage, the researcher worked closely with each groups to develop the action plan that to be executed in stage four. In stage four, researcher became observer who observed the classroom practices and also shared reflections and feedbacks to the participants during reflective dialogue sessions. Thus, researcher played active role throughout the research process. However, researcher also acknowledged the involvement of power while gathering the data for this study as researcher is working in the management position in the school, but it was not affected in data gathering process.

Data Generation Process and Tools

The appreciative inquiry approach was used to create PLC in ECD setup. The reason for using this method was that it promotes positive change in the organization as suggested by Whitney & Bloom (2010). This research study was also about change in culture; therefore appreciative inquiry method became value added for this study for creating PLC environment in the school. Before producing the data, researcher explained the focused group about the purpose of doing this research which is to create and develop PLC for bringing the effectiveness in teaching and learning process. Further, appreciative inquiry approach and its stages also discussed with participants by the researcher.

The procedures and tools for generating the data for creating PLC in each stage are presented in below headings.

Stage One: Discovery

This phase explored the best stories and experiences of school by using appreciative interview questions in focused group discussion. At this stage, researcher asked the appreciative questions about the existing practices of the school to the participants which they considered as best. For this purpose, appreciative interview questionnaire and focused group discussion were used as a tool for generating the data from participants.

Appreciative interview questions: Appreciative inquiry encourages the positive questions that highlight the best practices of the organization. It also stimulates reflection of positive experiences that has value and meaning in an individual life (Browne, 2008). However, appreciative interview questionnaire tool was adopted throughout the data generation process and in all stages where researcher asked the questions in a group and encouraged all participants to response. The researcher also appreciated the participants to probe the questions with each other related to best practices of the organization.

Focused group discussion: Discussion in focused group was done for gathering the data of this research instead of individual or one to one discussion. Focused group discussions as defined by Krueger & Casey (2000) are “carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment” (as cited by Masadeh, 2012, p. 63). The reason for selecting the focused group discussions as a tool was that it saves the time where all participants share their responses at the same time rather than to consume more time for individual discussion. Further, all participants were from same organization and was similar kind of experiences, thus they explored the best practices of organization together in a better way. Hence, the appreciative interview questionnaire was applied for focused group discussion, which was followed in all stages of data generation. The focused group discussions were noted down by the researcher.

Phase Two: Dreaming

Appreciative interview questions were asked in focused group discussions at this stage as well. However, the researcher probed the questions related to the expectation of participants which they want in the school and assume as best practices of school. Thus, in this stage, the expectation of participants was carried forward which they expect from the school management for their professional development.This phase was quite different from phase one as in this phase participants explored their expectations by envisioning the future of organization. The focused group discussions were noted down by the researcher in this stage also.

Phase Three: Designing

In this stage, the plan was designed on the basis of questions like what should be. The needs and expectations that emerge from discovery and dreaming phase were considered. Here, researcher discussed the factors and processes that are required for creating PLC with the participants which is already available in the literature at this stage.

On the basis of the findings, collaborative learning environment through sharing their plan and teaching skills with each other as well as reflective dialogue sessions were considered as significant factors by the participants and researcher. Thus a comprehensive action plan was developed which demonstrated the schedule for lesson planning, classroom teaching and observations; and for reflective dialogue sessions, which were required for creating PLC environment. At this stage, the action plan became a tool that helped for PLC development.

Phase Four: Destiny

The destiny phase helped to execute the plan developed in the design phase for developing professional learning community in ECD context. The process at this stage was that participants were divided in two groups such as group Sun and group Moon. Four teachers worked in each group in pairs, where each pair delivered the lesson and the other pair observed and gave feedback on the lesson. Though, participants prepared three lesson plans but it was delivered four times by each pair. After each classroom teaching and observation, participants shared their feedbacks in group. At the end, both groups sat together for reflective dialogue to reflect on the lesson and develop the second plan which continued with the same process. The anecdotes and vignettes of classroom observations and documentation of reflective discussions were done by researcher and resesearch participants. The process and tools used in each stage are further presented in table 1.

Table 1

Data generation tools and process in Each Stages of Appreciative Inquiry

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Data analysis procedures

The data was produced through appreciative interview questions, focused group discussions, classroom observations and reflective dialogue sessions. Thus the analysis was done manually by gathering all the notes, anecdotes, vignettes and handouts together. Then the data was divided into themes or subthemes that were derived from each stage. The findings in each stages and analysis of each category are discussed in next chapters.


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Creating a Professional Learning Community Through Appreciative Inquiry in an Early Childhood Context
Aga Khan University
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creating, professional, learning, community, through, appreciative, inquiry, early, childhood, context
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Hina Khowaja (Author), 2015, Creating a Professional Learning Community Through Appreciative Inquiry in an Early Childhood Context, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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