The Perceptions of High School Personnel and Their Experiences of Professional Learning Communities

Jun 23rd, 2020 | Category: Research in Education
By James L. Davis III, Paul Sims, L Arthur Safer, Lydia Manning and Rebecca Hornberger

Editor’s Note: This article has its basis in the dissertation in Educational Leadership that the first author completed in 2019. His co-authors also served as his dissertation committee.

Introduction

      Over the last two decades, there has been a tremendous shift toward the professional development of teachers (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008). Consequently, Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) have become a common practice in schools across America. Although there is no collective definition, research has shown extensive international agreement that a PLC is a group of people sharing and critically interrogating their pedagogy in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way, operating as a collective enterprise (King & Newmann, 2001; Mitchell & Sackney, 2000; Toole & Louis, 2002). PLCs, when operated correctly, can increase student achievement and growth (DuFour, 2004, 2007; DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many 2006). However, research is lacking on the perceptions of high school personnel and their experiences of PLCs (Vescio et al., 2008). According to Mullen (2009), a PLC should facilitate a mutually-respectful shared-decision-making process, between administrators and teachers—both seasoned veterans and new hires.

      Pioneer researchers DuFour (2004, 2007), Hord (1997, 2006), and Senge (1990), all of whom are prominent canvassers of PLCs, found that collaboration should be developed to influence professional practice. Very little research has been conducted about the perceptions of high school personnel and their experiences in PLCs. To find out exactly how high school personnel handle themselves within PLCs, this study investigated their perceptions and experiences regarding PLCs.

Purpose of the Study

      The purpose of this study was to investigate how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceive their experiences in PLCs.  Data provided a baseline of teacher perceptions and highlighted areas where improvement can take place.

Research Questions

The following research questions guided this qualitative, grounded-theory study:

R1: How do teachers perceive and experience PLCs in high school contexts?

R2: How are teachers’ practices shaped by PLCs?

R3: What role do PLCs play in shaping teaching culture in a high school setting?

Review of the Literature

      In the United States, school reform efforts have followed a predictable pattern launching various improvement initiatives, only to be overshadowed by criticism, confusion, and complaints (DuFour, 2007). There has been a tremendous shift toward the professional development of teachers over the last twenty years (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2008). Consequently, PLCs have become a common practice in schools across America. It is important to note that PLCs are not all alike, but rather provide suggested approaches or processes intended on improvement. Scholarly definitions do vary from one to another, as a result there is no collective universal definition for a professional learning community (Stoll et al., 2006; Williams, Brien, Sprague, & Sullivan, 2008). There is, however, no shortage of an array of interpretations from scholars in the field and their explanations of a PLC. What researchers can agree upon is that a PLC is a collaborative effort, where personnel can meet and collaborate on their best practices to achieve more than they would have working alone (DuFour & Eaker, 1998).

      More recently, there has been an immense shift toward Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) becoming a common practice in schools across America. Although there is no collective definition within the body of research, there is extensive international agreement that a PLC is a “group of people sharing and critically interrogating their pedagogy in an ongoing, reflective, collaborative, inclusive, learning-oriented, growth-promoting way operating as a collective enterprise” (Toole & Louis, 2002, p. 222-223). Research has found that when operated correctly, PLCs can increase student achievement and growth (DuFour, 2004, 2006 & 2007).

      With this new shift in teacher professional development, Vescio et al. (2008), acknowledged PLCs have “identified the ability to analyze and reflect on practice and to engage in productive discussions of teaching and learning as crucial to the effectiveness of teacher groups” (p. 59). PLCs have an unambiguous purpose in education where groups of teachers meet regularly to review student learning data, collaborate, inquire collectively, complete professional development, modify instruction, and review student results (DuFour et al, 2006). PLCs have a specific purpose, seeking various means of improvement; however, teachers at times may feel isolated due to various school extenuating circumstances such as school culture, schedule, or environment (Hord & Sommers, 2008). Lacking, however, is research on personnel and in what ways they perceive their experiences in PLCs.

      Districts throughout the United States are moving to a more collaborative approach in an effort to impact school and instructional improvement. PLCs have illustrated that they are most effective when they are focused on the advancement of teachers and the overall success of their students (Stoll, et al., 2006). A PLC is a powerful and profound way to affect school change. Initiating and creating the aforementioned concepts requires dedication and hard work. “When educators do the hard work necessary to implement these principles, their collective ability to help all students learn will rise. If they failed to demonstrate the discipline to initiate and sustain this work, then their school is unlikely to become more effective, even if those within it claim to be a professional learning community. The rise or fall of a professional learning community concept depends not on the merits of the concept itself, but on the most important element in the improvement of any school, the commitment and persistence of the educators within it” (DuFour, 2004, p. 6).

      Collaboration is the fundamental element of what a PLC is founded upon and must include all members of the teaching personnel (Kruse, 1996). Within this collaborative culture, personnel will focus on reflecting and sharing best practices, creating positive and continuous results, and focus on the responsibilities of student learning and success (Vescio et al., 2006; DuFour et al., 2006; Reichstetter, 2006). Hord and Sommers (2008) also added that during collaboration among teaching personnel, shared practices are focused on the overall improvement of the teaching and learning practice among educators. Collectively, teaching personnel who participate in PLCs must be willing to openly reflect on their personal practices for the betterment of their professional development (Kruse, 1996).

 Theoretical and Conceptual Framework

      More recently, there have been many publications written on PLCs as a means to establish collegial change in schools (DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Fullen, 2004; Hord, 2006; Senge, 2000). The theory is that teachers work together in a continuous process of collaborative inquiry and data-driven research to ultimately achieve better results for their students (DuFour et al., 2006). However, with each scholar, there are differing understandings of how PLCs conduct themselves. This study investigated the potential for other factors such as perceptions of high school personnel and their experiences in PLCs. The conceptual framework for this study began with the history of the PLC and its origins and examined how PLCs emerged into what they are today. A specific focus on attributes and structures of a PLC was incorporated, concluding with the overall advantages of PLCs. These characteristics are vital in explaining the PLC process and its functionality.

      This research revolved around two areas: (a) perceptions of high school personnel and their experiences of PLCs, and (b) PLC operational standards/expectations. The conceptual framework identified how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceive their experiences in PLCs. Foundational theories used for this study focused on the underpinning theories of what a PLC is and what characteristics define them to determine a definition of what a PLC is and what its functions actually are. Pioneer researchers DuFour (2004, 2007), Hord (1997, 2006), and Senge (1990), found that collaboration should be developed to influence professional practice. This practice has been implemented throughout schools across America as an improvement initiative, most commonly applied through rubrics, checklists, and district-created diagrams. Although these procedures are relatively common, this brings up a number of questions such as perceptions of personnel and overall staff experiences in relation to PLCs.

 Methodology

      The strategy selected for this research was a qualitative design. Creswell (2012) observed that qualitative research is needed when exploring the phenomenon of perspective. It was not known how and in what ways high school personnel perceive their experiences in PLCs. Implementing a qualitative research design was a valuable strategy in obtaining high school personnel overall perceptions.

      Since it was unknown how and in what ways high school personnel perceived their experiences in PLCs, a grounded theory approach was used to study participants. Grounded theory design “is systematic, qualitative procedures that researchers use to generate a general explanation (grounded in the views of participants, called a grounded theory) that explains a process, action, or interaction among people” (Creswell, 2012, p. 21). For this research, the data were analyzed using Dedoose, a cross-platform app for analyzing qualitative research with text, photos, audio, videos, spreadsheet data, and more to investigate how and in what ways high school personnel perceive their experiences in PLCs. Participants for this study were selected from two Midwestern schools at random with an anticipated sample of 20 participants. Individual interviews were conducted with the participants.

Sample Demographics

      The secondary schools used in this study are located in an urban district in the Midwestern United States. This study was conducted at two midwestern schools. The overall district enrollment is just over 21,000 students and employs just under 3,000 teaching professionals as seen in Tables 1 and 2 below.

Table 1

District Demographics
Number of Students 21,180
Number of Full-Time Personnel  2,799
Number of Schools 45
Elementary Schools 28
Middle Schools 8
High Schools 9

Table 2

Student Demographics
Females 10,379
Males 10,801
Black 46.5%
White 32%
Hispanic 4.5%
Multiracial 8%
Asian 8.4%
American Indian 0.6%

      The district is one of the state’s largest and most diverse, encapsulating over 50 square miles in an urban city, with a population of  21,000 high school and elementary students. Of that population of students, two high schools were selected for this research, with a population of 1,450. These two high schools were referred to as: School A and School B. Likewise, participant names were referred to as: Participant A1, Participant A2, etc., from School A; and Participant B1, Participant B2, etc. from School B. Participation was completely voluntary with an anticipated sample of 20 participants. Upon completion of this research study, 18 individual interviews were conducted due to saturation. A total of ten participants were interviewed at School A and 8 at School B. Participation in this research project was strictly voluntary and participants were able to choose not to participate or withdraw at any time without adverse consequences or concerns for retribution.

Table 3

Interview Totals
Total Participants 18 participants
School A 10 participants
School B 8 participants
Male 4 participants
Female 14 participants
Mean Years of Service 18 years of service
Departments Represented English Language Arts – 4 participants Math – 4 participants Career Education – 3 participants Special Education – 2 participants Science – 2 participants Fine Arts – 1 participant Foreign Language – 1 participant History– 1 participant  

      As illustrated in Table 3 above, there were 18 participants overall, 10 from School A and 8 from School B. Out of the 18 participants, there were 14 females and 4 males. A review of the departments represented shows the wide array of teachers interviewed.

Table 4

Interview Demographics
Location/ Participant Number Gender Subject/Department Taught Years of Service
A1 Female SPED English 12 33
A2 Female English 11 14
A3 Female Career Ed. 20
A4 Female English 12 26
A5 Female English 10 6
A6 Female Environmental Science 6
A7 Female English 9 13
A8 Female Career Ed. 38
A9 Male Math 12 24
A10 Female Math 9 15
B1 Female Math 9 25
B2 Male Math 12 30
B3 Male Fine Arts 1
B4 Female Spanish 5
B5 Female SPED English 9 4
B6 Female Career Ed. 25
B7 Female History 27
B8 Female Chemistry 15

      As seen in Table 4 Interview Demographics, subjects represented include the following: English Language Arts, Math, Career Education, Special Education, Science, and Fine Arts, Foreign Language and History. Overall the 18 participants’ years of service range from one year to 38 years, with a mean of 18 years. On March 14, 2019, a focus group was established. A total of five of the eighteen teachers participated in the focus group as seen in Table 5 Focus Groups Totals.

Table 5

Focus Group Totals
Total Participants: 5 participants (from the original 18 individual interview pool)
School A: 3 participants
School B: 2 participants
Male: 0 participants
Female: 5 participants
Mean Years of Service: 19.5 years of service
Departments Represented Participant A2 – English 11 Participant A5 – English 10 Participant A8 – Career Education Participant B6 – Career Education Participant B8 – Chemistry

Results

      The three research questions selected were answered by high school teachers. An interview schedule was designed to guide the process while providing participants an insight to the questioning. The individual interviews with teachers consisted of 15 semi-structured, open-ended questions and the focus group was comprised of two questions, which aligned to the research theme; the perceptions of high school personnel and their experiences of professional learning communities. The researcher developed three interview questions and one focus group question to answer the study’s first research question, “How do teachers experience high school professional learning communities?” The researcher also created three interview questions and one focus group question to answer the study’s second research question, “How are teacher’s practices shaped by professional learning communities?” To answer the study’s third research question, the researcher created four interview questions to answer, “What role does a professional learning community play in shaping the teaching culture in the high school setting?” The arrangement of these questions in correlation to the research questions outlined a framework for the remaining findings and themes.

Table 6

Research Questions Coupled with Individual and Focus Group Interviews
Research Question #1 How do teachers perceive and experience Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in high school contexts? Interview Question #1: How do teachers perceive and experience PLCs in high school contexts?
Interview Question #2: What is your overall experience with high school PLCs?
Interview Question #6: What are some of the challenges you faced within a PLC?
Focus Group Question #1: How do you experience PLCs overall?
Research Question #2 How are teachers’ practices shaped
by PLCs?
Interview Question #3: How are your practices shaped
by PLCs?
Interview Question #5: Who and what are your greatest resources within a PLC?
Interview Question #7: Who do you turn to in the time
of need?
Focus Group Question #2: Explain how best practices from PLCs shaped your teaching in the classroom?  
Research Questions Coupled with Individual and Focus Group Interviews
Research Question #3 What role do PLCs play in shaping teaching culture in a high
school setting?   
Interview Question #4: What role do PLCs play in shaping the teaching culture in your school?
Interview Question #8: Are the master class schedules created to accommodate common planning to meet amongst grade-level/subject matter teams?
Interview Question #12: Do you consider yourself an active leader within the PLC process?
Focus Group Question #13: Is everyone in your PLC an active participant?

      The research uncovered four emergent themes: Directional, Relational, Procedural, and Structural in relation to high school personnel and their perceptions and experiences of professional learning communities. Within these themes a great amount of information emerged which thoroughly explained both the perceptions and experiences of the PLC process. A brief synopsis of these themes as well as their findings are highlighted below:

Theme One: Directional

      Teachers’ shared their personal perceptions of the directional leadership of their PLCs. These experiences came from weekly PLC meetings and included perceptions of PLCs, the general leadership within their PLCs, the administrator’s role, and the overall effectiveness of the PLC. The interviews exposed positive perceptions concerning PLCs working best when facilitated by teachers and being useful when run correctly. The Five-Step process, or form, was perceived as an accountability piece but often times with a negative connotation. Negative perceptions included inconsistency within PLCs, overwhelming data expectations and requirements within the Five-Step. At times, perceptions indicated the belief that PLCs were being used as an evaluative tool. Leadership within the PLC among fellow teachers included a lack of direction and/or understanding of their role within the PLC. Teachers also reported that they collaborate collectively as a team when participating in PLC and work best when there is a facilitator or teacher leading the meeting. The administrator’s role appeared to have transmogrified from a leadership role to a more observant or supportive role over the years, whereas the Five-Step took the place of accountability. Teachers did experience administrators more as in an evaluative role within this process, noting they feel that they are being watched/observed by the administration when they are present in PLC meetings. As evidenced in Table 7 Theme One: Directional Synopsis.

Table 7

Theme One: Directional Synopsis
Perceptions of PLCs Useful when run correctlyBest when facilitated by a teacherFive-step serves as an accountable pieceInconsistent direction from upper administrationOverwhelming data requirements (Five-step)Used an evaluative tool
Leadership within PLCs Lack of direction or role in PLC (restrictions)Collaborates collectively as a teamWorks best with team facilitator or team led
Administrators Role Serves an observation roleAccountability piece to the Five-stepEvaluative tool

Theme Two: Relational

       The second theme that emerged was a relational component. Participants shared their experiences within collaboration, communication and collegiality. Interviews revealed that when collaborating sharing commonalities, formative assessments and feedback enhanced the teaching practices by creating a cohesive teaching environment. Additionally, reflecting on one another’s work made change for the better. Within communication, it was most effective when there was a facilitator and those who participated regularly communicated most effectively. Building relationships with fellow colleagues also enhanced communication. Mixed messages and inconsistencies also surfaced, due in large part to directives from upper administration, to building administration, to the academic coach and then to the PLC team. Excessive paperwork required by the Five-Step also was expressed and called for an agenda to be more effective. Collegiality revealed numerous personality clashes and differences in ideologies due in most part to mixed subject and grade levels in PLCs. Table 8 – Theme Two: Relational Synopsis provides a complete summary of Theme Two below.

Table 8

Theme Two: Relational Synopsis
Collaboration Share commonaltiesPre/post assessmentsFormative/Summative assessments  Feedback ReflectionCohesive teaching/best practices
Communication Best with facilitator or teacher leader Build relationships with colleagues  Mixed messages Inconsistencies Five-step too much paperworkNeed an agenda
Collegiality Clash in personalities Differing ideologies Mixed subject and grade levels

Theme Three: Procedural

      The third emergent theme was procedural. Participants shared the operational experiences of PLCs and the Five-step form and how they perceived them to be time consuming, while at the same time affecting their pedagogy within the classroom. Interview data revealed numerous inconsistencies with the Five-Step form, beginning with varying forms and mixed messages as to what needs to be completed, resulting in continual change. Procedurally, the Five-Step is the governing document and a requirement within PLCs. however it is referred to by teachers as irrelevant and not beneficial. The Five-Step has been alluded to as subjective and convoluted – easily mistaken with multiple interpretations. Furthermore, the Five-Step has been described as tedious and time consuming – taking additional time before and after school, as well as over the weekends to keep up to date. Pedagogically speaking, teachers shared pre and post assessments, formative and summative assessments and reviewed mastery goals and targets. Their experiences included sharing strategies from the classroom and assessments to enhance their overall teaching practices. Table 9 Theme Three: Procedural Synopsis below provides a synopsis of Theme Three.

Table 9

Theme Three: Procedural Synopsis
Five-step Process (form) Varying forms Continual change Mixed messages Serves as a guideCompliance piece Subjective and convoluted Limits meaningful discussion (due to paperwork)
Time Consuming Five-step is tediousRequires excessive data compilationUpdating of the form requires time spent before and after school and on the weekend
Pedagogy  Pre/post assessments Formative and summative assessments Shared strategies from the classroom Enhances teaching practices

Theme Four: Structural

      The final theme that emerged was a structural component. Participants shared their feelings on PLC meeting times, the Five-Step form, contractual responsibilities and upper administrative directives. In the previous three themes, both School A and School B comparably aligned themselves. However, in theme four, School A and School B differed in PLC meeting times. Participants at School A indicated that they meet weekly for one class period, approximately 25-50 minutes. Whereas those at School B meet biweekly, alternating between PLC time and team time for 50 minutes. Participants shared their experiences with the Five-Step and said that it served as an accountability piece that assists the team in meeting their goals. The interviews also revealed that meeting weekly in PLCs is a contractual requirement. However, some believe there is considerable impetus from upper administration on the directive and implementation of PLCs. It is also important to note that the participants who were observed reported receiving numerous mixed messages from upper administration on down, which, in turn, translated to multiple interpretations of the actual PLC process and its expectations. Table 10 Theme Four: Structural Synopsis below highlights a complete summary of Theme Four.

Table 10

Theme Four: Structural Synopsis
PLC Meeting Times School A: weekly for approximately 25-50 minutesSchool B: biweekly for 50 minutes – alternating between PLC time and team time
Five-step Accountability Leads to goals and bigger picture Compliance pieceCan be competitive and judgy among fellow colleagues
Contractual Administrative Direction     Contractual requirement Push from upper administration Mixed messagesMultiple interpretations form upper administration, building administration, and coach

Conclusions

      The purpose of this study was to investigate how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceived their experiences in PLCs.  How do teachers experience high school PLCs? How are teachers’ practices shaped by PLCs? How, and in what ways, do high school personnel perceive their experiences in PLCs? PLCs have received credibility within the scope of supporting and improving teacher awareness and competencies leading to greater teacher efficacy for meeting students’ requisites (Rosenholtz 1989, Hord 1997, Donaldson 2008, Cohen et al. 2009, Drago-Severson 2012). The research was crafted to provide a baseline of teacher perceptions and to highlight areas where improvement could take place by using a purposeful convenience sampling to obtain the best insight and understanding of how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceived their experiences in PLCs.

      Interview questions implemented for this study were originated and supported by the literature on Professional Learning Communities associated with teacher perceptions and experiences. In total, fifteen interview questions were created. Six introductory questions focused on research question one, and how teachers perceived and experienced PLCs in their high school contexts. Four questions investigated research question two, to explore how teachers’ practices were shaped by PLCs. Five questions on how PLCs shape teaching culture in the high school setting investigated research question three. Collectively, the fifteen questions for teachers were harmonious with the three research questions created by the researcher and implemented during the one-on-one interviews. All questions supported the findings of this study on how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceive their experiences in PLCs.

      Results of this study revealed that teachers are torn between their overall perceptions of PLCs, finding them both positive and negative. Seven of the eighteen teachers interviewed identified PLCs, as an effective means to collaboration, where, when run correctly (specifically teacher driven), they can produce positive outcomes. On the contrary, eleven teachers found PLCs to be negative, citing that they were a waste of time and convoluted, with endless paperwork. Leadership within PLCs was perceived by teachers as positive overall where teachers take on a leadership role in facilitating the meeting.

      The research study revealed teachers’ operational experiences of PLCs, the Five-Step form, meeting times, contractual responsibilities and directive from upper administration. Interview data overwhelmingly revealed numerous inconsistencies with the Five-Step form. Furthermore the study revealed teachers’ relational experiences of PLCs, sharing experiences of collaboration, communication and collegiality. Research has exposed that participant experiences with collaborating, sharing commonalities, formative assessments and feedback enriched their overall teaching practices, producing a cohesive teaching environment. Communication was also an area of concern of those teachers interviewed. Teachers reported receiving mixed messages and inconsistencies in large part due to directives filtered down from upper administration, to building administration, to the academic coach, and then to the PLC team.

      In conclusion, all the research questions supported the findings of this study on how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceived their experiences in PLCs.

Implications of the Research

      From this study the following practical implications have emerged and are hereafter summarized. The first and foremost implication is that there needs to be a clear and concise directive communicating from the top down to address the misconceptions and expectations of a PLC within the district. Participants shared that they are not sure if they were on the same page or clearly knew what was expected from the district or administration.

      Presently, teachers are overwhelmed and have expressed their concern with numerous initiatives that involve countless hours before and after work involving the PLC process. According to teachers interviewed, the Five-Step form created by the district to record progress in PLCs was convoluted, citing differing Five-Step forms with various interpretations making it unclear as to which one to use. The Five-Step form as a compliance piece was often times referred to with a negative connotation including inconsistency within PLCs, overwhelming data expectations, and overall requirements within the Five-step.

      A second implication for this study is the need for a single Five-Step form that is uniform and tailored to incorporate the directive of the administration. A single streamlined document would create a more unified staff working toward a common goal, while at the same time working together to close the achievement gap and address priority school designation from the state. Pedagogically speaking, teachers share pre and post assessments, formative and summative assessments, and review mastery goals and targets. Their experiences included sharing strategies from the classroom and assessments to enhance their overall teaching practices. Incorporating a streamlined Five-Step to further enhance this process would only continue to benefit the teachers with whom they work. 

      In order to increase student achievement and staff collaboration through PLCs, implementing a clear and concise communication directive and a streamlined Five-Step form throughout the district is essential. DuFour et al. (2008) underscored that “educators must acknowledge that often, the primary cause for our inaction has been conflict from within rather than the opposition of external forces” (p. 429). Specifically focusing on communication and a streamlined Five-Step process can assist on keeping teachers and administrators on the same page. As a result, PLCs will produce the results that both parties strive for, and together their aspirations, experiences, and motivations will prosper according to transformational leadership theory.

Recommendations for Future Research

      The research design incorporated a qualitative study that explored how, and in what ways, high school personnel perceive and experience PLCs. Implementing a phenomenological methodology and using basic grounded theory, the researcher was able to explore participant perceptions and overall experiences of PLCs. Data collected from this study can further assist school districts and administrators who have a vested interest in PLCs as part of their school improvement process and universities that study or focus on professional learning communities. The researcher felt participants were vigilant in their reactions, perhaps in fear that the district would retaliate or know who said what. As a result of the researcher’s observation, this study should be replicated in urban high schools outside of the district, where the researcher is not employed to eliminate any underlying fears of retribution.

      Additional research on the PLC process concerning the four emergent themes of this study: directional, relational, procedural and structural in relationship to high school personnel and their perceptions and experiences of PLCs would also provide valuable information. Continued research in these four themes could cohesively detail the perceptions of high school teachers and their experiences in PLCs and continue to explain these observations and understandings of the PLC process. These new findings could also help in further assisting universities, administrators, and participants of PLCs in working seamlessly toward one collaborative effort.

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James L. Davis III, Ed.D. is an educator in Akron Public Schools in Ohio and serves as the Special Education Department Chair. James received his Ed.D. from the Department of Educational Leadership at Concordia University Chicago. His expertise lies in school leadership, federal budget oversight and allocation, special education law, school improvement and intervention assistance team experience, and testing coordinator.

Paul Sims, Ph.D. is the chairperson of the Department of Leadership at Concordia University Chicago. At the master’s and doctoral levels, he has taught courses on Supervision and Leadership. Dr. Sims has also served as a chairperson and reader on over a hundred doctoral dissertations. Previous to working at the university level, he was a high school teacher, dean of students, director of student activities, and principal.

L. Arthur Safer, Ph.D. is Professor of Leadership in the Department of Leadership, College of Graduate Studies, Concordia University Chicago. He is also Professor Emeritus, Loyola University Chicago. His area of specialization is policy analysis and organizational behavior. Safer received his B.A. from Miami University of Ohio, his MPA from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

Lydia K. Manning, Ph.D. is a gerontologist, educator, and entrepreneur with a wide range of experience in the field of aging. She is a Professor of Gerontology at Concordia University Chicago in the College of Graduate Studies. Lydia received her Ph.D. in social gerontology from the Department of Sociology and Gerontology at Miami University. Her expertise lies in complex issues related to aging and well-being.  Her research focuses on resilience with additional interests in religion and gender. 

Rebecca Hornberger, PhD, is an assistant professor of leadership and chair of SAIL in the Department of Leadership at Concordia University Chicago. She has more than 23 years of experience as an educator and educational leader serving students and other educators throughout the state of Ohio.