Book Clubs: Professional Development Among Teachers


Professional development among teachers is one of the most common expectations because this profession requires regular improvements and new opportunities. The sphere of education is not about teaching or sharing information but the enhancement of skills and knowledge that play a critical role in life or job performance. There are many ways to support teachers in their intention to grow and develop their level of professionalism, and book clubs as learning communities may become one of the options for consideration. This research project aims to examine a group of teachers who share their narratives through interactions in book clubs and define the relationship between this intervention and their self-development. The creation of learning communities within book clubs is characterized by certain benefits and challenges. In this section, a literature review will help to identify recent findings (within the last ten years) on the topic, an existing research gap, and a conceptual framework to be followed.

Learning Communities: Creation and Importance

Interactions of people vary, depending on their interests, available resources, goals, and other factors. However, as soon as the intentions of individuals are more or less clarified, they are ready to be gathered and cooperate. In this way, a small group of people may become a community of learning, also known as learning communities. At this moment, there are many interpretations of this term in the literature. According to West and Williams (2017), these communities can mean “a variety of things, which are certainly not limited to face-to-face settings” (p. 1570). Citing DeFour or Hoalund, Brown, Horn, and King (2018) explain professional learning communities (PLCs) as a “conceivable alliance of individuals with a common interest in education” that becomes a “group of committed educators” (p. 54). In Carpenter’s article (2018), a learning community is introduced as a significant part of “a school culture”, the function of which is the promotion of experience and improvement (p. 137). As well as any organization, any learning community has its specific characteristics and impact on society.

The development of communities for learners is a process with a variety of standards to be met. The main elements of PLCs are participants (learners and educators), supportive leadership, shared vision, and cooperation (Carpenter, 2018; Hilliard, 2012; Kearney & Zuber-Skerritt, 2012; Zhang & Pang, 2015). The discussion about learning communities’ characteristics has begun at the end of the 20th century. For example, Bielaczyc and Collins (as cited in Moser, Berlie, Salinitri, McCuistion, & Slaughter, 2015) add to the already mentioned aspects such issues like the promotion of constructive knowledge and expertise diversity. The participation in learning communities contributes to high-level academic performance, increased motivation, shared decision-making, and system improvements (Barton & Stepanek, 2012; Harris & Jones, 2010; van Lare & Brazer, 2013; Wirt & Jaeger, 2014). In general, respect, trust, and support are the expectations of members in such organizations.

Dialogical Interaction in Teachers’ Learning

In the majority of cases, learning communities are created for students to support their intentions to study and develop skills. However, the element of dialogical interaction in such communities makes them interesting to teachers and critical for their learning and development as a part of collective learning (Higgins, 2016; Owen, 2014). Communication of teachers is usually organized in different ways, depending on their goals, audience, and resources, but its essence remains the same – the exchange of relevant information about educational subjects (Prenger, Poortman, & Handelzalts, 2019). In learning communities, dialogues provoke equality and respect for every member because it is not necessary to teach but share opinions and listen to each other.

Dialogical interactions are frequently used in classroom activities to strengthen the relationships between teachers and students. According to Gillies (2016), such activities also influence students’ capacities and stimulate their thinking and learning. In addition to listening and supporting, teachers may use dialogues to probe and challenge students who have to understand their possibilities and make necessary decisions (García-Carrión & Díez-Palomar, 2015). On the one hand, some hints and recommendations may be defined by participants for helping and understanding issues (De Groot, Endedijk, Jaarsma, Simons, & van Beukelen, 2014). On the other hand, new tasks and challenges could be recognized. However, the analysis of the literature within the last ten years shows that dialogue interactions are common in learning communities with students but not for teachers as the only members.

Learning Communities and Self-Development for Teachers

Teachers are responsible for the development of their students, as well as self-development. Therefore, learning communities turn out to be an effective means for achieving their goals. Watson (2012) explains PLCs as a complex phenomenon within the frames of which teacher leadership development and professionalism gain new scales. In the education system, the level of knowledge plays a crucial role because teachers’ awareness determines the way of how students study their subjects and use new information (Ansari, Khan, Ahmad, & Suhail, 2012). Teachers have to choose the methods of how to check their readiness to work with different students, cooperate with colleagues, and meet plans of their academic facilities.

Learning communities and teachers’ self-development are two closely related concepts because of their mutual dependence. Wichadee (2011) defines participation in communities as one of the methods of professional development among teachers. Many researchers support the same position and use this activity to possess necessary strengths, define the meaning of teaching practice, and choose life skills for their professional success. According to Kooy (2015b), teachers are in need of fixing, and learning communities focus on development through collaboration and an understanding of “time, meaningful work, opportunity, relationship building, flexibility, and sustainability” (p. 18). Being central in the improvement of academic facilities and student performance, teachers should think about their independent progress, the level of knowledge, and the importance of skills that are critical in classroom activities.

Challenges in Teachers’ Professional Development

Professional development of teachers depends on a variety of factors, and some of them are explained by the necessity to follow personal needs and demands, and some aspects are determined by communities. For example, new problems occur on the basis of social justice and the progress of student culture (Kooy, 2015a). In addition, many issues and goals are developed in regard to the subject teachers have to deal with and the resources they must use. Literature is one of the subjects where many challenges are discovered because of the combination of meaningful literary text interpretation and constructive interaction (Groenendijk, Kooy, Coppen, Imants, & Van de Ven, 2013). Digital progress and technology integration change the way of how teachers introduce their subjects to students, communicate within their preferred communities, and find answers to their questions (Thoma, Hutchison, Johnson, Johnson, & Stromer, 2017). The success of lessons and the exchange of knowledge lies in the possibility of making correct decisions, set clear purposes, and give explanations. The main challenge for teachers in their development and work with students is to take the first step and understand why it is taken.

Other barriers to professional development among teachers are based on the lack of effective policy-making or poor leadership and management. Nowadays, it is sometimes expected the government to control teachers’ activities and ways of communication (Aubusson & Schuck, 2013). If there are no clearly identified strategies and standards, teachers cannot continue their development and have to search for additional help, examples, and clarifications. Teachers are challenged to decide if it is their responsibility to do what they think they have to do or to wait for a recommendation from a leading body (the government or other specific organizations). In Kooy’s research (2015b), external agencies must understand teachers’ needs lived realities and context, which provoke new criteria for teaching practice. As a result, teachers try to find out new sources for their self-improvement and self-development, where their voices are recognized and taken into consideration.

Book Clubs: Essence and Worth

In modern society, book clubs are frequently used to support individuals and promote their development in different spheres. In addition to Kooy and Colarusso (2013), book clubs are frequently investigated by Petrich (2015) or Childress and Friedkin (2012) from a variety of perspectives. These clubs are defined as examples of professional development for teachers with opportunities to discuss, interact, reflect, and evaluate personal skills (Burbank, Kauchak, & Bates, 2010). Kooy (2015a) is one of the leading figures who promote the development of book clubs as role models for teachers to enhance learning and create enough space for educative activities. A book club is not only a group created by people and for people with specific needs and expectations. It is a community where teachers could be prepared for exploring their beliefs within linguistically diverse academic environments (Jacobs, Assaf, & Lee, 2011; Medina, Garrison, & Brazeau, 2010). Regarding the goals and methods applied to book clubs, they may be called as effective learning communities for teachers to support their development and professional growth.

The essence of book clubs is the creation of specific learning conditions under which educators are able to improve their knowledge and share their experiences. These communities promote intellectual discussions and social relationships in terms of which it is possible to exchange thoughts and ideas on how to improve practices (Lyons & Ray, 2014). These clubs are usually self- or group-directed organizations because examination and learning are promoted as regular activities. This tool is essential in building learning communities for teachers who want to be self-developed and ready for new, improved environments (McCaughey, 2017). Andrei, Ellerbe, and Cherner (2015) explain book clubs as a professional development framework for teachers to engage professionals and focus on particular tasks (writing or teaching). Rolfe (2017) focuses on professional mentorship and indicates book clubs as one of the methods or mastermind concepts to find people with common interests. To stay successful, book club members have to identify their goals and make sure to follow them all the time, enriching their teaching experiences.

Narrations in Book Clubs

Regardless of the criteria for membership in book clubs, the goal of these communities is the promotion of new knowledge. Social action, the engagement of all the participants, and leadership are the characteristics of book clubs (Jocius & Shealy, 2017). However, special attention should be paid to a narrative perspective as an inquiry to flourish in professional development and the improvement of writing and retelling skills (Golombek & Johnson, 2017; Martin, Tarnanen, & Tynjälä, 2018). Teachers find it interesting and educative to introduce their narratives, describe their past work with children, and specify problems or achievements (Kooy, 2015). At the same time, the fact that they are the members of a book club as a learning community provides them with an opportunity of leaving comments and sharing feedback about the information obtained. Then, revisions and discussions help understand how it is possible to better express personal emotions and ideas and touch upon the reader’s mind (Carroll, 2015). The creation of narration is a challenging task because it involves not only some personal experience but also the examples of different authors of the books gathered in the club.

Book Clubs for Teachers

Investigating the worth of book clubs for teachers, one should underline the impact of several researchers. Kooy (2015a) develops the study where an invitation to a book club was a chance for a teacher to select, discuss, and determine texts for their classes. The creation of a professional learning community around books and stories follows a free, countercultural format (Smith & Galraith, 2011). However, nowadays, it is high time to step aside from traditional images of book clubs where people gather in circles, read books, drink coffee, and talk. Porath (2018) suggests the application to continuous technological progress and cyber communities as examples (Twitter or Google+) to improve book clubs online. Traditional and online book clubs remain credible sources of information for many teachers who strive for diverse membership and theme discussions (Fajardo, 2010). As soon as a community is established, and participants are invited, a book club becomes a forum for teachers to develop their unique thoughts about the stories they read or create (Kooy & Colarusso, 2013). If teachers are united to learn but not to study, it is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

Professional Development in Book Clubs

Many teachers strive for professional development and concentrate on such qualities as communication, confidence, teamwork, and mentoring. They use professional learning communities to set new goals and understand what methods associated with the best outcomes are available to them (Barton & Stepanek, 2012). However, according to Smith and Galbraith (2011), book clubs are hardly associated with professional development, and the task of modern researchers is to find out why these groups must be recognized as effective training tools. Therefore, the authors recommend considering the characteristics of book clubs through the prism of professional development. For example, an informal atmosphere and diverse membership contribute to the possibility of learning about personal experiences and gaining insights into colleagues and friends (Smith & Galbraith, 2011). In West and Williams’ (2012) study, learning communities’ features include access, function, relationship, and vision and enhance professional development. Book clubs meet the same criteria; thus, they can also support teachers in their desire to develop and grow as professionals and individuals.

General Impact of Book Clubs in Teaching Practice

In teaching practice, the application of book clubs is a relatively new activity. In the majority of cases, people like to think that teachers create these organizations for students to support their learning activities and strengthen their skills (Brown et al., 2018). In today’s society, teachers may also become the participants of book clubs not only as mentors and leaders but as its equal members, who narrate, reflect, cooperate, and communicate at different levels (Kooy, 2015a). Therefore, the overall impact of book clubs as a learning community for teachers cannot be neglected because it touches upon personal and professional skills, knowledge, and experiences. As well as teachers need to motivate students and make them study and use information, they should also have some sources of inspiration for their own work. Book clubs are usually informal but with clearly defined goals, methods (narrations), and members, which makes them dignified tools for professional development among teachers.

Conceptual Framework

The purpose of this study is to discuss how a group of teachers who share their narratives in a book club could contribute to their self-development. There are four main research questions to be answered within the frames of this project. They include the transition of a small group into a learning community, the discussion of social dialogical interactions, the contributions to professional development, and the identification of major challenges for teachers in book clubs. In modern academic facilities, it is normal to observe people who are united in regard to their interests, problems, intentions, and other mutual goals and expectations. As a rule, students create communities and discuss a list of burning questions. In this project, teachers are the major participants of a learning community that is known as a book club. To explain the factors that may influence teachers’ professional and self-development within book clubs, the conceptual framework has to be developed.

As it is shown in Figure 1, there are four major issues for discussion. First, it is necessary to understand the essence of the creation of small groups. Teachers with similar interests are united into small groups to solve their problems, clarify how to achieve their purposes, and know how to deal with their expectations and intentions to improve teaching practice. Then, a small group turns into a learning community where a number of participants should identity their mission, vision, and goals, choose a leader, and cooperate. The next aspect is based on the discussion of a book club as the form of a learning community. At this stage, teachers identify themselves as participants, find necessary reading materials, share experiences, and develop narrations along with dialogical interactions. Finally, professional development is assessed by means of context relevancy, the effectiveness of classroom strategies and active learning, coherence, and increased academic performance.


The results of this literature review explain the potential impact of using book clubs among teachers on their intention to be professionally developed. A path between the creation of a small group of people with similar interests and needs and self-development is long and includes a variety of tasks and resources. Book clubs continue gaining popularity in modern society, and teachers should use this opportunity for their self-development and professional growth. Taking into consideration the characteristics of learning communities and book clubs, as one of its forms, teachers have good chances to benefit from their narrations and dialogical interactions and deal with challenges in teaching practice. This qualitative study has a solid background to answer the main research question about the use of book clubs by teachers to build learning for improved academic performance.


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