Professional learning communities (PLCs) have become commonplace in K-12 schools for helping teachers collaborate to build their professional capacities and address school-based problems. However, rigorous research on the key components, mechanisms, and impact of PLCs has been limited overall, with virtually no research conducted on PLCs with school social workers (SSW). This article examines the first-year experiences of school mental health professionals (SMHP) in a two-year PLC made up largely of SSW from an array of schools and districts throughout metropolitan Chicago. Drawing on qualitative data gathered from three rounds of in-depth interviews with participants during the first year of the PLC, we find that the PLC drew participants who sought specific opportunities through the PLC to improve their knowledge and skills to lead their schools in advancing social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) services and supports in their schools. Through the professional camaraderie they quickly found among their PLC colleagues, participants engaged collaboratively to develop an array of interventions for their schools, strengthened their professional capacities, and enhanced their sense of professional self-efficacy. By the end of the first year, participants overwhelmingly cited their PLC experiences as beneficial to reducing SMHP professional isolation, creating a supportive, resource-rich group of SMHP colleagues, and rejuvenating their commitment to the profession and their ability to lead their schools in advancing SEMH services and supports. Implications for further research on PLCs and advancing the professional development of SSW are discussed.
School Social Work, Professional Learning Communities, School Mental Health Practice, Professional Development, Generic Qualitative Research
The authors wish to thank all those who participated in the School Social Work Professional Learning Community Project. Without your commitment to improving your practice and our profession this study would have never been possible.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.
Recommended APA Citation
Brake, A., & Kelly, M. S. (2019). Camaraderie, Collaboration, and Capacity Building: A Qualitative Examination of School Social Workers in a Year Long Professional Learning Community. The Qualitative Report, 24(4), 667-692. https://doi.org/10.46743/2160-3715/2019.3779