Teacher Learning in a School–University Partnership: Exploring the Role of Social Trust and Teaching Efficacy Beliefs
by Jennifer L. Fisler & William A. Firestone - 2006
Teacher learning has been studied in numerous contexts using a variety of theoretical frameworks. Our research examines variation in teacher learning in a school–university partnership. We explore the personal characteristics of social trust and teaching efficacy beliefs in relation to teachers' levels of learning. We classify teachers in the partnership into three categories based on their demonstrated affective and pedagogical learning and discuss how differences among these teachers in terms of social trust and efficacy beliefs may have influenced their learning. Our research demonstrates that although school–university partnerships may hold promise for school improvement efforts, individual teacher factors can mediate the influence of these partnerships on teacher learning and pedagogical change.
A report sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers (1995) stated,
Without professional development, school reform will not happen. . . . The nation can adopt rigorous standards, set forth a visionary scenario, compile the best research about how students learn, change the nature of textbooks and assessment, promote teaching strategies that have been successful with a wide range of students, and change all the other elements involved in systemic reform. But, unless the classroom teacher understands and is committed to the plan and knows how to make it happen, the dream will come to naught. (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 1999, pp. 1-2)
Numerous researchers have explored the relationship between teachers and effective school change and have found professional development for teachers to be a critical component of meaningful school reform (Darling-Hammond & Sykes, 1999; Loucks & Hall, 1979; Smylie, 1995). Further, teachers learning must include more than just content or even pedagogical knowledge; it must also include changes in attitudes and habits of work to allow teachers to be more effective in their classrooms. Teacher learning, therefore, includes both affective and pedagogical learning (Borko & Putnam, 1995).
THE SCHOOL-UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIP
The recognition of the need for teachers with new teaching habits extends the work of school reform beyond the walls of primary and secondary schools to the university level, where teacher preparation takes place (Boles & Troen, 1997). One potential development for reforming schools and developing teachers with new approaches to education is the professional development school (PDS), or university-school collaborative movement (Lieberman & Miller, 1990). The PDS is a collaborative effort of a school district and a graduate school of education to run one or more schools together. The PDS idea received a great deal of attention over a decade ago, but it was neither the first nor the last effort to promote school-university partnerships. Yet, the research on such partnerships remains thin. With the understanding that professional development is critical for improved teaching practice and effective school reform, the current study examines a school-university partnership designed to provide professional development for teachers in an urban K-8 school.
When we originally began this descriptive study of a school-university partnership, our intent was to examine and describe the types and level of adult learning in the school that resulted from the work of the school-university partnership. As we began to collect and analyze data, however, we were struck by the variation in teacher learning. Teachers in this school were all given the same opportunities for professional development. Yet, teachers were notably different in their responses to those opportunities and in the degree of change that we observed in their classrooms. This variation in teacher learning is not unique to this partnership, so we seek to add to the research literature a case study of a school-university partnership whose effectiveness was mediated by characteristics of participating teachers. The research base on social trust among teachers and the importance of teacher efficacy beliefs led us to believe that variation in levels of social trust and efficacy among teachers may contribute to differences in teacher learning.
Two research questions are addressed in this study: (1) What evidence is there of teacher learning in this school-university partnership? (2) What teacher-level explanations can be made for variation in teacher learning?
An earlier paper explored the impact of organizational features and leadership functions on this partnership (Firestone & Fisler, 2002), and other studies have found connections between organizational factors and personal teacher characteristics such as social trust and teacher efficacy (Hoy & Woolfolk, 1993; Tschannen-Moran, Woolfolk Hoy, & Hoy, 1998). Here we focus on the analysis of teacher learning, particularly the question, Why did some teachers learn more than others? When professional development programs for teachers are introduced and evaluated, the responsibility for their success or failure is often placed on factors related to the program itself, organizational factors within the school, or logistic or political factors outside the control of the individual teacher or school (e.g., district curricular constraints, state-mandated testing, budget issues, and so on). Although these factors are certainly important and play a significant role in the outcomes related to the professional development program in question, the role of the individual teacher must not be overlooked. The interaction of personal teacher characteristics, such as efficacy beliefs and social trust with organizational factors within the school or partnership, may also affect what teachers learn (Chester & Beaudin, 1996; Esselman & Moore, 1992; Hoy & Woolfolk, 1993; Rosenholtz, 1989).
Smylie (1988) suggested three categories of interrelated factors influencing change in individual teacher practice as a result of staff development opportunities: teachers pretraining psychological states, characteristics of teachers immediate task environment (the classroom), and dimensions of school context. Teachers personal characteristics impact their receptiveness to teacher development programs. Our analyses, along with a review of the literature on teacher professional development, suggested social trust and teacher efficacy as personal characteristics related to teacher learning outcomes from professional development efforts. Elsewhere, we have also explored the impact of organizational features, program quality, and leadership functions on this partnership (Firestone & Fisler, 2002). Therefore, these factors are not explicitly considered here; rather, we focus on characteristics of individual teachers implicated in both the literature on teacher learning and in the analysis of our own data.
Although the social context of schools has long been recognized as a significant factor in teachers work, increasing attention is being paid to how social relations among teachers and between teachers and school administrators promote or constrain productive teaching (Rosenholtz, 1989; Smylie, 1995). Social trust, a critical element in Colemans (1990) concept of social capital, is confidence in the reliability and integrity of individuals and social relations and involves a calculation whereby a person decides whether to engage in an action with another individual that incorporates some degree of risk (Bryk & Schneider, 1996). [A] group whose members manifest trustworthiness and place extensive trust in one another will be able to accomplish much more than a comparable group lacking trustworthiness and trust (Coleman, 1990, p. 304). Opportunities to observe others successes and failures are important in the development of ones beliefs about relationships between actions and outcomes and self-efficacy, and beliefs in ones own capacity to organize and implement actions necessary to achieve desired outcomes (Smylie & Hart, 1999). However, collaboration, observation, feedback, and discussion of problems and solutions in the classroom all involve risk for teachers, and the sharing of information and the acceptance of anothers information as valid depend on the existence of social trust (Coleman, 1990).
In schools with weak professional communities, in which teachers report strong norms of privacy, teachers are less likely to use innovations and find support for their own learning. In these settings, teachers persist in prevailing practices despite a lack of student success and their own frustration and discouragement (Smylie & Hart, 1999). Moreover, a norm of noninterference prevents teachers from effectively using their regular interactions to discuss their work or to collaborate on shared problems, thus obstructing the positive learning outcomes that can result from opportunities to observe the performances, successes, and failures of others, which are critical to teacher learning (Boles & Troen, 1997, p. 509). Social trust, therefore, is key to other areas of organizational climate and effectiveness and has important consequences for the functioning of the school and its capacity to engage fundamental change (Bryk & Schneider, 2002, p. 22).
Teacher Efficacy Beliefs
Teaching efficacy has been used in multiple studies with varying definitions. A common finding, however, is that individual change in teaching practice is a direct function of personal teaching efficacy (Chester & Beaudin, 1996; Hoy & Woolfolk, 1993; Smylie, 1988). Personal teaching efficacy, the belief that a teacher holds about his or her ability to make a positive difference in a students ability to learn, affects the amount of effort that a teacher will expend and the persistence that a teacher will show in the face of obstacles. Research has suggested teaching efficacy to be a strong predictor of the continuation of certain professional development projects after the end of the funding (Berman & McLaughlin, 1978). Teaching efficacy has also been linked to teachers instructional experimentation, including the willingness to try a variety of materials and approaches, the desire to find better ways of teaching, and implementation of progressive and innovative methods (Berman & McLaughlin; Guskey, 1988; Smylie, 1988; Stein & Wang, 1988). Bryk and Schneider (2002) indicated a relationship between teachers trust of school leaders and teachers own efficacy beliefs. Positive efficacy beliefs, coupled with high social trust, will lead teachers to support the idea of collective responsibility for student successthe belief that teachers are working toward a common goal for which they are all responsible.
The Little City school district is located in a highly urbanized region of the country and includes eight elementary schools, among them Greater Plains School, where this partnership was located. Almost all the approximately 7,500 students in this school district came from minority groups. At the time of the study, Greater Plains had 400 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade. The students were 90% minority, and two thirds received free or reduced-price lunches. Over 50% of the parents spoke Spanish as a first language. Thus, although relatively small, the citys schools served a classic urban population. When the program began, Greater Plains had about 45 teachers, including 7 in special education, 19 teaching specials (i.e., music, library, ESL), and 19 regular education classroom teachers. These teachers tended to be relatively senior, with over half of the classroom teachers having 10 or more years of teaching experience. In addition to certified teachers, there were about 20 teacher aides in the school.
The partnership included some minor initiatives (e.g., student tutoring, counseling programs, and placement of a few student teachers), but was primarily made up of five study groups led by State University School of Education (SUSE) faculty, which operated at varying levels of intensity over a period of 6 years. Teacher participation in these study groups was voluntary, and level of involvement varied significantly between teachers. Study groups provided both formal and informal opportunities for teachers to talk with SUSE faculty and other teachers within that group about selected study group topics.
Each study group operated differently and established different objectives depending on the philosophy of the SUSE faculty leader and the goals of the participating teachers. Table 1 outlines the learning objectives for these study group projects. Column 1 lists the topics of the study groups. Column 2 indicates both pedagogical (Borko & Putnam, 1995) and affective learning goals. Column 3 cites more specific objectives for the individual projects. These categories were used to assess the extent of teacher learning as it related to the objectives of the partnership.
A team of four researchers, including the current authors, collected data over a 3-year period starting in the fourth year of partnership implementation. We met regularly, usually weekly or biweekly, to discuss data collection efforts, interpretation and analysis of findings, and plans for the focus of future data collection activities. Prior to and throughout the data collection period, we also immersed ourselves in the research literature on school-university partnerships as a means of guiding research questions and data collection strategies (Yin, 1994). Thus, although the study was conducted primarily inductively, review of relevant literature guided some of the data collection efforts.
We conducted interviews with Greater Plains teachers and staff, participating university faculty, the university dean, school and district administration, and the union representative during each of the 3 years of the study. Many of these participants were interviewed on two or three occasions. We used a slightly different set of questions for each of the groups of participants (see the appendix for a sample interview guide). Each year, we conducted preliminary analyses of fieldwork findings to direct the creation of the interview guides for the year. A semistructured open-ended question interview format was used with allowance for additional questions or probes to be used as determined necessary by the interviewer (Patton, 1990). With the interviewees permission, interviews were taped and transcribed to allow the full research team to review participants responses and discuss coding and analysis.
We conducted approximately 50 teacher and teaching assistant interviews over the span of the study. Some teachers were interviewed more than once to monitor possible changes in their experiences and perspectives as the partnership evolved. We used a purposive sampling strategy to provide adequate representation of different groups of teachers. We selected teachers to be interviewed based on grade level, teacher type (special or regular education, specials [i.e., music, library, ESL], and teaching assistants), and level of participation in different partnership activities as determined by our observations and reports from teachers on the Greater Plains school research committee and SUSE faculty. Teachers were asked to describe their participation with the partnership, their reasons for participation or non-participation, and the impact of the partnership on the school and on them as individuals. All the teachers who were asked agreed to participate.
To validate findings from teacher interviews and classroom and meeting observations, in the second year of our study, we created an interview guide for use with each of the active university faculty project leaders (n 5 6), the partnership liaison (also a SUSE faculty member), and the dean of the school of education. In addition to these formal interviews, the senior researcher (also a SUSE faculty member) conducted periodic informal interviews with university participants to get updates on the school, the history of its development, and their interpretation of current partnership events. The principal and vice principal of Greater Plains were each interviewed in the second and third year of our study. The senior member of the research team also interviewed high-level district administrators in the second and third years of our study. The Little City Education Association president was also interviewed in the second year.
We conducted varied observations throughout the 3 years of the study. These included nonparticipant observations in Greater Plains classrooms and partnership study groups, as well as a variety of meetings, including faculty, school management team, partnership steering committee, university partnership advisory committee, and other partnership-related meetings. With all observations, the researcher took field notes during the observations and then transcribed those notes for subsequent analysis. We conducted more than 65 classroom observations, with all teachers being observed at least twice over the 3-year period. Each classroom observation typically lasted between 1 and 1 1/2 hours. Observations in other nonclassroom settings almost always included the entire meeting time.
We observed in all the regular and special education classrooms during the first year. When possible, the researcher spoke with the teacher after the observation to get an emic perspective of classroom events. The researcher included this perspective in the field notes and compared or contrasted it with the researchers own interpretations. Discrepancies were noted and discussed in research team meetings.
Conversations with university faculty project leaders and observations of study group sessions provided the basis for our classification of teaching practice that met the objectives of the partnership projects. Classroom observations in the second and third years were more directed as the researchers looked for evidence of the extent of change in the classroom environment, in teaching practice, and in interpersonal interactions that may have resulted from participation in the partnership. For the third year of the study, the research team created a written protocol to focus classroom observations on the impact of specific partnership project interventions.
In the second and third year of our study, teachers were selected for observations based on the partnership project in which they had participated and their level of participation. Teachers from each of the main teacher-focused projectsliteracy, math-technology, science, conflict resolution, and inclusionwere observed. The goal was to see examples of teachers who had made significant changes in their classrooms, and teachers who had made superficial changes or no changes as a result of the partnership. University faculty project leaders and teachers who were members of the Greater Plains research committee provided input into the creation of a list of teachers to observe.
We also conducted observations in partnership-related meetings. Field notes were kept during meeting observations. As with the classroom observations, the researcher included in the observation noted a section on his or her interpretations of the events. Field notes were transcribed as soon as possible after the observation to maintain the integrity of the observation.
We collected relevant documents from the partnership collaboration throughout the 3 years of the study. These included meeting agendas and minutes, e-mail correspondence from the dean and university faculty, grant proposals, project proposals and final reports, and memos to and from partnership participants. We reviewed these documents to complement our understanding of partnership events and participants perceptions of those events.
Items from validated teacher surveys were used along with items that we created with assistance from SUSE faculty who led study groups. Questionnaire topics included participation in partnership activities, views of the partnership, impact of the partnership on the school and on the individual teachers classroom, teacher collaboration, and efficacy. Three Greater Plains teachers who comprised the research committee for the partnership distributed and collected teacher surveys. Teachers returned questionnaires in a sealed envelope to their respective research committee teachers, who then checked off their names, making the respondent as anonymous as possible while also allowing the teacher research committee to follow up with nonrespondents.
Response rates for the 3 years varied (Year 1 5 100%; Year 2 5 60%; Year 3 5 85%). For Year 2 and Year 3, we address the issue of nonrespondents and possible self-selection bias in the data with the following explanations. For the second year, the majority of nonrespondents were those assigned to a teacher who was out with illness for much of the time of the survey administration. Those teachers were randomly assigned to her and did not constitute a particular constituency in the school. Some of her teachers did, however, complete and return the survey despite her absence. It can reasonably be argued that those most interested in expressing their opinions, either negative or positive, would have been more likely than others to respond to the survey. For the third year, a suggestion from a teacher led us to color code surveys to differentiate between regular education, special education, and specials teachers. Teachers on the research committee reported that some of the nonrespondents were those who were most upset by our effort to color code the surveys. These nonrespondent teachers may have been more suspicious and negative about the partnership than were their colleagues.
Each year, we shared teacher survey data with the teacher research committee who provided their interpretations of the data and suggestions as to how to present data to the schools faculty. We presented the data at regular faculty meetings with a time for discussion with teachers. During the third year, a more extensive presentation of the second years data was provided for the school management team. After each presentation, teachers and administrators provided feedback on their perceptions of the validity of the findings. This feedback was taken into account when deciding how much importance and credibility to give particular findings from the surveys.
QUALITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS
Interviews, observation field notes, and relevant documents were imported into NUD*IST, a qualitative software analysis package. The research literature on school-university partnerships guided some of the coding and analysis of these documents, but codes primarily emerged from the data (Patton, 1990). The coding scheme for observations overlapped somewhat with that of the interviews, with additional codes added for evidence of teaching practice that aligned with or contradicted partnership project objectives. Data were initially coded according to the type (observation, interview, document), classification of teacher (regular, special education, specials), and partnership project(s) represented (e.g., math, literacy, conflict resolution). We then used the software to code data according to themes we gleaned from the research literature (e.g., teacher learning outcomes, leadership issues, group dynamics). After reading through the data for the initial coding processes, we developed themes from the data. These emerged primarily through our discussions of our findings and recurrent messages, particularly in teacher observations, interviews, and survey responses. These themes were explicated in written memos throughout the research period. The data were then coded using theme-driven codes (e.g., organizational trust, affective learning, beliefs about teaching, attitudes toward the partnership). This final coding process led to the classification of teachers into three categories: restructurers, reviewers, and resisters. Teachers whose interviews and observations were coded consistently with high levels of trust, learning, and positive attitudes toward the partnership were labeled restructurers. Teachers whose interviews and observations were coded with a mix of trust and distrust, learning and nonlearning, and varied views of the value of the partnership were labeled reviewers. Resisters were those teachers whose data showed a consistent pattern of distrust, non-learning, and antagonism toward the partnership. These categories of teachers will be explicated further later in this article.
QUANTITATIVE DATA ANALYSIS
We analyzed teacher survey results statistically. Means calculated for each item were compared across years to create trend data to monitor change in teacher attitudes and participation. Findings from statistical analyses of survey data must be tempered by the fact that teacher response rates varied from year to year. Further, no effort was made to track individuals survey responses over time, and all responses were collected anonymously as an aggregate of teachers.
In this section, we describe examples of teacher pedagogical and affective learning and then explore explanations for variations in teacher learning within the school.
PARTNERSHIP LEARNING GOALS
Each of the study groups initiated through this school-university partnership sought primarily to increase teachers pedagogical or subject matter knowledge. Although SUSE faculty members also wanted to change teachers beliefs about how to define effective teaching, they did not focus explicitly on changing the ways in which teachers or administrators interacted with each other. That is to say, the emphasis of professional development in this partnership was on changing teaching practice in the classroom, not changing the affective climate in the school.
Our observations, surveys, and interviews with partnership revealed some limited but positive changes in pedagogical learning. Teachers consistently responded favorably to the following survey item asking them about the partnerships impact on their knowledge: The partnership has helped me to become a more knowledgeable teacher. Our observations revealed some increases in teacher pedagogical and subject matter knowledge. For example, some teachers increased the frequency and quality of science lessons as a result of exposure to the science study group. In a survey conducted with teachers in the science group at the end of the year-long course, respondents reported that they changed the way they taught science, but they were still not comfortable enough to completely abandon a didactic and scripted recipe approach. Science group teachers, however, did make some changes in their teaching. They were asked to rate the change in their teaching practice on a scale of 0 (not changed) to 5 (changed a lot). Items related to comfort level, expectations of students ability to learn science, use of constructivist questioning techniques, and approach to encouraging student reflection all yielded means of 4.1 or higher. One teacher who had participated in the science group remarked,
We learned how to present science to kids. There was a lot of subject material on physics. We also did lesson plans. I didnt get into it as much as those who were taking it for credit. But, it was a mind opening experience for me as far as the science. Learning that there is science everywhere.
Survey and interview data indicating increased and improved science instruction are supported by observations conducted by the SUSE science faculty member and her graduate assistant in individual classrooms, and by posttest results indicating that teachers in the science study group did learn multiple new concepts in physics by the end of the study group course.
We also observed increased teacher use of the school computer lab after the initiation of the partnership. More teachers were using the sign-up sheet to schedule time in the lab, and at a teachers request, time was spent in at least one faculty meeting discussing more equitable arrangements for sharing the lab. Observations in the lab, however, found teachers using traditional teaching techniques, struggling with classroom management issues, and displaying only low levels of comfort and familiarity with the technology they were using.
Despite some advances, teacher learning was limited in some important ways. At the end of the third year of this study, one SUSE professor summarized her perspective of the overall state of teaching in Greater Plains School:
Its not that these arent fine teachers, but they tend to be traditional teachers. You dont see, in general, the student-centered, activity-oriented, inquiry-oriented. . . . One thing [another professor] complains about is that teachers she worked with a lot have to fit her stuff in on the fringes of their traditional reading instruction that they have to do. They dont make her approach the heart and soul. They cant; theyre constrained by district mandates. My sense is that manipulatives might be used in math to foster conceptual understanding, but by and large the emphasis is on algorithmic, rote approaches to teaching mathematics. Ive worked most closely with a small subset of teachers, and when Im in their classes, the instruction tends not to be engaging. They dont know much about cooperative learning, dont use it to any large extent. You see a tremendous amount of ditto sheets. Huge number of work sheets. Emphasis on drill.
Several classroom observations reinforced this professors synopsis of teaching in Greater Plains. For example, in one special education classroom, the teacher used math workbooks and flashcards throughout the entire 1 1/2-hour observation. Students were told to fill in the blanks without any explanation of thought processes that would go into answering the questions. Students were encouraged to use a type of manipulative, but none seemed clear as to how the manipulatives were to be used. The teacher was unable to remediate; instead, she repeated the same directions when students would get the wrong answer.
Repeated observations in the classroom of a teacher who considered herself very active in the partnership found numerous examples of traditional teaching. Students were given spelling tests and then worksheets to complete throughout the lesson time and as homework. The teacher regularly required students to respond to rote memorization questions with few higher level questions. This teacher did not demonstrate partnership-related innovations in her classroom despite her perceived activity in the partnership.
Although change did occur in some individual classrooms, it is clear from our interview and observational data that the changes individual teachers made as a result of their involvement with partnership projects are not part of systemic schoolwide change. For example, one teacher stated that although the conflict resolution group impacted the way that she and her students resolve problems, the impact on the policies in the school is minimal because conflict resolution has not become a schoolwide practice. Eight of 13 teachers surveyed in the conflict resolution study group in our first year agreed that for the ideas of conflict resolution to have their maximum impact, the whole school would have to be more actively involved. Teachers in other groups echoed the idea that only the classrooms of those who are directly involved with a particular study group are affected by the partnership projects.
In addition to pedagogical learning, some teachers demonstrated affective learning through improvements in their attitudes about teaching and learning and in their interactions with other adults in the school. One of the clearest examples of affective learning in the partnership occurred with the inclusion project as regular and special education teachers worked to resolve their own interpersonal conflicts. These teachers overcame early disputes over territory, pedagogy, and philosophy, and then established positive working relationships as early as the start of the second marking period. Teachers in the inclusion project noted their progress in working together for the benefit of all students. Additionally, the SUSE faculty member described one of the major adjustments that regular education teachers had to make in their beliefs about assessing students:
That whole sense of one standard-one way [for all students] changed. [The regular education teachers had to learn] the ways to get to the standard can be different, and if need be, they can change the standard. Theyve come a long way. They proudly told me today none of the children failed. They were able to set goals so children could see some mastery. They are accommodating much more; everyone doesnt have to look the same way.
By the end of the first year of the inclusion project, attitudes of the teachers involved had changed dramatically. A SUSE faculty member observed teachers attitudes and stated,
Overall they were positive. Ill never be able to separate how much its because its the current [fad] of the school, versus being truly deep-down committed. Im not so sure it matters. Their commitment is by now apparent and they are spokespersons for promoting inclusion in the school, in the district, to the board, to the State Department of Education. That week, they were explaining what they were doing to school board. With the special education staff, I spoke to the converted. It was the regular teachers that required more of a change in philosophy.
Changes in relationships with both the school administration and university faculty provided further evidence of teachers affective learning. At one time, these relationships had been primarily antagonistic. Teachers mistrusted the principals or the SUSE project leaders and therefore acted suspiciously when working with them. Over the period of the study, however, some teachers attitudes changed. Several teachers said that they began to see the principal as an ally who wanted to share authority. They also recognized the benefits of interacting with SUSE faculty. Attitudes about the partnership in general also improved over the period of this study. From 1998 to 2000, the mean for teacher responses to two statements about the benefits of the partnership and relationships with university faculty improved. These represent important changes from the start of the partnership (before our data collection began) when teachers, administrators, and SUSE faculty all remembered high levels of distrust and negative working relationships between and among groups in the partnership.
The conflict resolution group, which eventually brought training to all teachers and staff during our studys third year, addressed both pedagogical and affective learning by focusing on classroom management and teachers beliefs about students and teaching. Several teachers indicated that prior to the conflict resolution training, their approach to teaching and handling student conflicts in the classroom had been very hands-on, with teachers quickly and strictly intervening in student interpersonal conflicts. Although some teachers still struggled with conflicts in their classrooms, many indicated that the conflict resolution training substantially improved their approach.
Moreover, classroom observations in the third year showed several examples of classrooms in which the win-win guidelines advocated by the training were prominently displayed and frequently referred to in the classroom. Teachers cited examples of times when they restrained their impulse to intervene immediately in student conflicts; instead, as the training suggested, they promoted an environment in which students could positively solve their own disagreements. These changes in teaching practice required a shift in teachers beliefs and also in teachers knowledge and skills.
Further, teachers in the school expressed some increased interest in teacher collaboration. Although the actual practice of collaboration did not increase substantially, some teachers were talking about how they might benefit from opportunities to coteach, plan lessons or curricula collaboratively, or even just discuss educational matters. This contemplation of working together reflects a level of a transformation in some teachers beliefs about teaching and in teachers relationships with one another. As with pedagogical learning, however, teachers affective learning was limited in scope. For example, one teacher who wanted to see more collaboration in the school expressed her frustration with some other teachers responses to her desire for collaboration:
And I said, Well, how would you like to team-teach? And most of them dont want to give up their own turf. Peoplewhat happens is they become very self-conscious of team-teaching type thing. And I really dont believe that a lot of people in the school have been trained or have truly experimented with team-teaching and working collaboratively with one another. So everybody worksand then the only time you semi-collaboratively work or I call it sharing, is with those teachers who are friendly amongst themselves. All right? But it isnt like a wide open thing. In other words, Youre my friend. You know, I speak to you all the time. So I go, Oh hey, how would you likecould you bail me out? I need this and this and this. Could we do this or work this together? But if youre not part of that team, forget it. Youre out there in left field. So its an unfortunate thing.
VARIANCE IN TEACHER LEARNING
In spite of these general patterns in the school, learning varied substantially between teachers. A SUSE faculty member remarked on the variation in amounts of teacher learning as a result of her partnership study group:
The level of achievement on the part of teachers differed tremendously. I was concerned at first. [My partnership project] was intense staff development of every kind you could think of: dog-and-pony shows; monthly discussions; in-class visits to each other; visits to other schools; teachers from other schools coming to discuss; and in-class support. Change [in teachers practices] ranged from significant to minimal. Implementation ranged from misinterpretation to elaboration on the theme. My conclusion is that teachers are all very different and at very different stage of lives, intellect, willingness to work. So they take staff development and do with it what they will.
Others also noted the diversity of teachers reactions. When asked about the impact that the partnership had on teaching, the principal explained her interpretation of variations in teacher responses:
Yes, [the partnership] has [had an impact] on those teachers that were receptive to it. Ive had some teachers that have gone to see [the university professor] and talk about her literacy center for three years that I know of, and it has had little change in the classroom. Ive seen other teachers that it has, you know, totally revamped their approach to the delivery of instruction, by using level books, by using small-group instruction, regrouping within a subject area, to meet the individual needs of the students. Thats why I say if theyre receptive.
Many teachers made modifications to their teaching practices, a few made very consequential changes, and a small group made little or no change. We categorized teachers into one of three groups based on their demonstrated learning as a result of the partnership. Individual teachers were classified based on multiple criteria, including our observations in their classrooms, our interviews with individual teachers, observations conducted by other SUSE faculty, and comments made in informal and formal interviews by administrators, SUSE faculty, or other teachers. Categories were derived from a detailed taxonomy of learning outcomes for adults that was presented by Jarvis (1987), which includes nine outcomes that can be grouped into three categories. The first three outcomes represent nonlearning. The second three outcomes represent nonreflective learning. The final three outcomes represent higher order reflective learning. We aligned these categories with those used by a participant in a professional development school who described three classifications of teachers at her school: restructurers, reviewers, and resisters.
Restructurers are really doing things differently, some are doing profoundly different things with kids. Reviewers watch and sit on the fence before they decide what they want to do. Sometimes, depending on the issue, reviewers become restructurers and the reverse. Resisters keep us on track. They keep us honest and balanced and dont let us think we know everything. (Whitford, 1994)
Not all teachers could be categorically assigned to one group or another; for the purposes of analysis, we categorized those who truly fit into the resister and restructurers groups first and then assigned all remaining teachers who may have held mixed attitudes toward the partnership to the reviewers group.
We categorized 5 teachers (11%) at Greater Plains as restructurers. Restructurers held increasingly positive beliefs and attitudes about teaching and learning. They experienced extensive affective learning in addition to their pedagogical learning. Restructurers recognized the importance of their role beyond the walls of their individual classroomsfor example, through spreading the inclusion model or by participating in newly created governance structures. The changes they made in their classrooms and their desire to continue to improve their teaching illustrated their openness to new methods and strategies. They also established positive relationships with university faculty and sought out opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues.
One restructurer stated,
[The literacy project] . . . has a direct impact on my teaching because it gives me concrete things that I can use. And reading is a major focus [with young children], [so] literacy development is so important. And [the project] gives such wonderful resources, ideas. The class that I took in the fall was great because it gives you real things to use in the classroom. So its not just getting all ideas in the research; it also gives you the nuts and bolts. . . . [T]heyve given me, the study groups have given me ideas . . . the current research, like whats the buzz about reading . . . .You know, keep up with whats the current buzz. [The professor] is like, I know trends come and go, but you need to know about all of them so that you can modify it and pick your own.
We observed several times in this teachers classroom and found examples of innovative literacy instruction and effective use of literacy centers as indicated by the study group goals. This teacher was also actively involved in school governance, particularly the partnership leadership team. The school principal also cited this teacher as being one who had embraced the ideals of the partnership.
A second restructurer commented,
I think the groups really stimulated me. I really enjoyed talking with my peers about the class and several times informally I talked to people about the ideas.
It has affected me almost entirely, almost completely in terms of how I examine my practice and I reflect on it and I think about it and how I prioritize, what goes on in my classroom. Especially when I think about conflict resolution, I think of it as a classroom management technique. Its something that I constantly internalize and am getting better at in terms of how I manage a classroom. I think about the science training that I did last year with [the science professor] and the constructivist approach that she bases her science on. I have used it in almost every area and every content area as a way of getting the students involved. Its just a very, very professional way of teaching.
For the science, I felt that the whole constructivist approach affected me the most. It impacted not only teaching science, but also teaching in general. It was pretty profound initially when I saw it and it has really influenced all of the teaching that I do.
Our observations in this teachers classroom substantiate her claims. The study groups Win-Win guidelines were prominently displayed and referred to by the teacher in class. We also saw thoughtful implementation of a science lesson, which this teacher had learned in the science study group. In interviews, two other teachers agreed that this teacher had embodied the goals of the partnership in her teaching and interactions with others in the school.
A third restructurer demonstrated her belief in the need for ongoing teacher development. Some teachers attended a study group for a year or two and then stopped, believing that they had learned what was to be learned. This teacher, however, continued to strive for improvement in her teaching, even after 3 years in partnership literacy groups. I am fine-tuning what I do in small groups, but there is still much I have to learn. Thats why Ill be working with [the literacy professor] next year. As corroborated by the SUSE faculty member, she was reflective about her practice in order to continue to improve it.
Most Greater Plains teachers were reviewers, making more incremental changes, sometimes only superficial ones, in their teaching strategies. These teachers recognized the value of new ideas and strategies for their classrooms but did not fully embrace the partnership ideal. These teachers were less likely to participate in partnership governance, choosing instead to focus on the immediate benefits of a particular study group for their own classrooms. These teachers had more focused motivation than the restructurers, such as the solution to a distinct classroom issue or the need for access to additional classroom resources. One reviewer said,
Both [study] groups have definitely been a positive impact on my involvement with the partnership. But my teaching style, I wouldnt say has changed that much. I am the same as how I thought I would be and nothing has really affected what I would be doing in the inclusion classroom. With respect to content, I thought in the beginning that the groups would change my idea of what level I should teach at, but really that has not been affected.
Despite her direct involvement with the inclusion project, a second reviewer admitted her hesitancy to accept the inclusion idea, wondering if it would really work. She stated that her participation in the inclusion project changed her perspective on teaching, while her participation in the math-technology group improved her use of the available computers in the school.
With the inclusion Im completely different than I would have been. Just the experience I get from a special education teacher and the workshops weve been sent to, has changed my teaching, definitely for the better. I think Im just more aware of the levels and accommodations to make for the students.
With the math tech, Im more able to use the computer labs in a more productive way than just you know, play a game here. Now theres a purpose in the computer lab and then to bring into the classroom, and shes helped me connect the two things.
However, this teacher explained her inconsistent participation in the math-technology group by saying that she was more concerned about day-to-day survival as a new teacher than she was about being involved in partnership groups. She was not ready to commit too much time or energy to partnership activities, nor would she make what she considered to be drastic changes in her approach to teaching. Observations in this teachers classroom revealed several examples of traditional teaching. Students were required to do a lot of seatwork, use worksheets, and work independently. For example, during one observation, she directed students, Youre going to read those pages and complete a worksheet. There shouldnt be any talking. This common lesson example contradicts the cooperative learning and inquiry-based approach advocated by partnership programs and illustrates the limited changes made by this particular reviewer.
A third reviewer was involved in multiple partnership projects, and we observed some changes in his classroom. For example, he was asked by the literacy professor to videotape students in his classroom using literacy centers. The video would be shown at a literacy conference at the university. He also regularly used computer software that he had learned about through the math-technology program. Centers and guided reading had changed some of his approaches to teaching, and he was enthusiastic about the opportunities that the partnership offered for him to improve his teaching, saying, I really wasnt concerned as a new teacher about getting paid for this. I was thinking, Wow I get to learn more for free.
This teacher was not interested, however, in making schoolwide changes or participating in partnership governance efforts. He said that he learned about partnership decision making through faculty meetings, but he did not really pay attention to memos or minutes put in his mailbox. Moreover, this reviewer illustrated nonreflective learning. He had acquired new information and ideas for teaching and used them in his classroom, and faithfully implemented lessons learned in study groups. Observations in his classroom, however, showed only basic implementation of project ideas without modification to adapt them to his classroom situation. He did not go beyond the confines of the study group to delve further into project innovations.
Finally, one teacher whom we classified as a reviewer because of her participation in some partnership leadership activities actually demonstrated a negative stance toward the value of the partnership for her classroom. Her negative assessment of the impact of the partnership was a result of her belief that she did not need additional professional development to improve her classroom. She stated,
I can say that really all that Ive done in my classroom is not because of [the partnership] or has been helped by [the partnership] because Im not involved in any of the groups. I have had a couple of students: a student teacher and preservice teacher. My work with them has been more to attend to their needs. I dont mean this to sound elitist, but I have a good sense of what inclusion is and literacy and the other groups that have been going on here. I dont feel that they have contributed or taken away what I think an effective teacher is. It just hasnt affected me directly.
Not surprisingly, our observations in her classroom did not reveal any study group-related innovations.
At least 4 teachers (9%) actively resisted change; they elected to maintain the status quo in their classrooms and sought the same for the school. At times, these teachers overtly opposed the partnership and pushed for others to do the same. We observed only superficial physical changes in the classroom (e.g., literacy centers), and only as a result of materials purchased through partnership funds and distributed throughout the school. The instructional changes anticipated by the SUSE project leaders rarely accompanied these cosmetic changes. These resisters expressed frustration, along with a sense of being disenfranchised by the administration and other teachers more favorable to the administration. In interviews, they described themselves and were described by others (teachers, administrators, and SUSE faculty) as a kind of counterculture, an out group of teachers who were likely to resist participation in activities that were supported by in group teachers and the school administration. These activities, of course, included the partnership.
One resister stated,
The partnership has some great ideas, but too many things are being thrown at the staff at once. Unfortunately, there is not the full impact or focus that really could benefit the school. Too many ideas and projects make the staff feel extremely overwhelmed. The programs cannot be implemented without cutting corners on some of the other academics. Teachers are pulled out more from their classrooms and many have less time to spend on their planning or classroom activities. For those of us with families, partnership prevents us from actually spending more time with themand in feeling good about spending any time with them.
Over the 3 years of this study, a second resister gave several reasons for her lack of involvement in the partnership. In the first year she explained, I have not been involved in any partnership projects this year. I have my own project going: an afterschool program for kids who are not reading at grade level.
In the second year, her justification changed. I have a minimal level of involvement. The reason is that I teach two evening classes and I have to leave right after school to get there. In a later interview, both time and discontent with leadership were factors or justifications in her noninvolvement.
Because I have to spend so much time preparing the activities for the students, and because I have to teach two college classes at the end of the day each week, I am not very involved with any partnership activities. Another reason that Im not involved as much is because the leadership is only shared by a few teachers, and if any ideas disagree with them, they are usually ignored.
A third resister complained that the partnership was not having a positive impact on her classroom. She attributed the partnerships shortcomings to issues that she had with the school and district leadership. She felt powerless to initiate positive change given the constraints placed on her by the districts curriculum.
I wish I could say that [the partnership] has somehow affected my ability, but really I dont feel it has. We have so many requirements and objectives that I really cant teach the way I want. In the first quarter, I had a few students who needed extra help in reading; but because the curriculum doesnt make time for it, Im not supposed to do it. I do it anyway because the kids need it. So, a lot of new ideas are talked about, but Central Command doesnt make allowances for them. We are always told to do the same thing and we dont have the freedom to change.
EXPLANATIONS OF VARIANCE IN TEACHER LEARNING
Some studies of teacher learning have focused on institutional constraints on teacher change. Although our earlier research identified how such organizational variables as leadership and resources for teacher learning limit change (Firestone & Fisler, 2002), these factors do not fully explain the variation that we found in teacher learning in this school. Rather, characteristics of individual teachers must be examined to understand why, within the same location, some teachers made significant changes in their teaching practice while others actively resisted change. Teachers in this school held a complex of beliefs, of which two stand out for explaining variance in their learningtrust and efficacy.
Trust was an issue throughout the partnership as teachers and university faculty needed to learn to interact more productively, and district and university administrators opened new means of communication and collaboration. The most critical trust issue, however, surfaced within the school and district. Unfortunately, this partnership largely ignored the social climate of the school. The partnerships leaders had focused on developing relationships between the school and the university and overcoming perceived interorganizational barriers rather than developing relationships within either organization. Yet, the primary enduring relationship between the district administration and the teachers, and even among teachers, exemplified a lack of trust. The partnership included several professional development experts but lacked an organizational development person who could intervene to try to improve relations between and among teachers and the administration.
Our data indicate a lack of social trust among teachers, which created an environment in which many Greater Plains teachers held tightly to norms of privacy and teacher autonomy in the classroom. Teachers did not go into each others classrooms to observe or coteach unless they had specific assignment to do so. Further, teachers did not make it a habit to share their ideas, instructional strategies, or teaching struggles with one another beyond the usual commiserating about students misbehavior or failure to grasp concepts. Teacher responses to the statement, The partnership has helped me learn more about what my colleagues are doing over the three years averaged 2.7 on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 is strongly disagree and 4 is strongly agree. Moreover, in interviews, when asked specifically about opportunities for and levels of teacher collaboration in the school, almost all teachers indicated that meaningful collaboration was lacking. Our observations in faculty meetings and of informal teacher interactions in classrooms and the faculty room also revealed minimal pedagogically focused interaction among teachers.
Within the overall climate of distrust, teachers in the school differed significantly in their levels of trust of others in the partnership. Restructurers exhibited the highest levels of social trust. They perceived the motives of those involved with the partnership as admirable and attributed shortcomings in the completion of role obligations as unintentional and therefore forgivable (Bryk & Schneider, 2002). They trusted that other restructurers, the school administration, and the SUSE faculty were in the partnership to improve teaching and learning and that each participant was actively seeking to improve the school community. Reviewers trusted some people some of the time. They did not fully trust the administration to make the changes needed to improve teaching and learning conditions in the school, but they were not wholly cynical about the school leadership. They trusted other teachers who did not push partnership participation or try to restructure school norms. They came to trust SUSE faculty, with whom they interacted in study groups. Resisters did not trust most other teachers, school administrators, or SUSE faculty to meet their role obligations. Earlier violations of relational trust were remembered and grudges nurtured. They also did not trust other teachers motives for participating in the partnership. Active teachers were accused of trying to gain favor with the school administration.
One resister explained her perspective on teachers in partnership leadership positions:
[Decision-making] is all tied up in the hands of a select few. They say we want your input, but they end up making the choices and the decisions. Yes, we have a [school] management team and we have all these good teams. As I said, in practice it sounds wonderful; on paper it looks beautiful; it sounds very democratic. And then, surprise, surprise, these same people get in the upper positions and the other people still remain where they are.
A second resister explained that with the partnership, You are either in or out and if you are out, you dont know what is really going on.
Teaching Efficacy Beliefs
The three groups of teachers also differed on the important personal characteristic of teaching efficacy. At the start of the partnership, most teachers expectations for student achievement were low, and teachers often attributed student failure to external factors such as language barriers, home background, and district constraints on teaching. Guskey (1987) found that teachers exhibited greater efficacy for positive results than for negative results, that is, they were more confident in their ability to influence positive outcomes than in their ability to prevent negative ones (p. 207). This tendency in Greater Plains teachers was reflected in the results from repeated needs assessment surveys in which teachers consistently rated external programssuch as counseling for students, increased parental involvement, and stronger discipline in the schoolas higher priorities than professional development for teachers in areas such as mathematics, literacy, or science.
For restructurers, the partnership improved efficacy beliefs even while the external conditions of the students and the school remained largely unchanged. Showing positive personal teaching efficacy, one restructurer stated,
My desire to teach reading to all of my students and make them all good readers is my ideal. It is a little ambitious, I know, especially considering my lowest level students who cant even make out their alphabets. So, participation in [the literacy] group has allowed me to get closer to my ideal because Im improving the way that Im teaching reading, and in that way, Im coming closer to my ideal.
A second restructurer said,
Participation has affected my teaching in a positive way. This guided reading has allowed me to really work more with smaller reading groups. I feel I can really meet the needs better of my lower level group and I can work more with my higher level group. It has had a positive impact on the reading level on my [students]; its amazing how much more the students are doing this year. Ive been doing this 4 years and this group is the most advanced that I had. I can see more of how the individual students are doing and really work on improving their reading.
A third restructurer explained how she changed her beliefs about students abilities and was able to improve her classroom management as a result of participation in the conflict resolution group:
I was able to reflect more on my own philosophy and methods of teaching and classroom management. I was quite surprised when I found myself wanting to intervene all of the time with the students when they had even petty disputes. As I let go a little and stopped the whole control thingblaming, pointing, and interruptingI found that the kids usually were able to arrive at more permanent solutions. As they solved more problems, I found that I had more self-confidence in their ability to deal with some situations in class.
For reviewers, efficacy beliefs were also somewhat improved, but only in isolated areas in which they chose to participate in the partnership. One reviewer demonstrated a sense of positive teaching efficacy through her participation in the literacy group. She said, I wanted to improve my literacy center to make it more appealing. I also wanted to meet individual needs better. The kids are so diverse with their abilities and experiences. Another reviewer expressed pleasant surprise at how the conflict management training offered practical and effective strategies for improving student behavior in the classroom. A few reviewers in the science group indicated that they had seen an increase in student questioning techniques and higher order thinking as a result of their use of a more constructivist approach in the classroom. This represented a change in their beliefs about the value of such questioning techniques to improve student learning. These teachers did not, however, transfer the idea that improving their instruction would improve student learning to other areas in the curriculum. Furthermore, in survey data from the science study group, a number of teachers expressed a belief that low-income, low-achieving students would not be able to learn the required material through a discovery approach. A reviewer stated her beliefs about the value of the partnership for improving teaching: The mixture of the kids really makes or breaks the intentions of the teacher. The [partnership] really cant help that mixture to be working or not. [The partnership] is not as relevant to what occurs in the classroom as some would like to believe.
For resisters, efficacy beliefs were negative and strongly ingrained. They either believed that it did not matter what they did in the classroom or that they were already using sound practices, and students who were not currently learning would probably never learn. Resisters were unlikely to participate in a study group because they did not believe that the groups could offer them helpful suggestions for improving their teaching. One resister stated, I wanted to be involved with the literacy project [with the SUSE professor], but I dont think she could handle [my students] very well. Another resister believed that teachers were powerless to make a difference in the lives of students who came from difficult home situations. Conflict management training, therefore, would not make any difference in
Table 2. Social trust and teaching efficacy beliefs among Greater Plains teachers
Teaching Efficacy Beliefs
Increased level of trust for leadership, university faculty, and other teachers
Sought to create internal and external networks for teachers
Wanted to see greater levels of teacher collaboration Moderate level of trust for leadership and like-minded teachers, increased trust for university faculty
Utilitarian approach to
Held to norms of autonomy
Did not trust school
leadership or even most
Did not seek to join internal
or external networks
Reinforced norms of autonomy and privacy
Believed that changes in their instructional approaches would result in improved learning and behavioral outcomes for students Positive efficacy beliefs were reinforced as they saw students in their classrooms learn more effectively and behave more positively than before
Held some positive teaching efficacy beliefs but did not believe that all students would learn even if teachers improved their instructional effectiveness
Attributed low student
achievement to external
Did not believe that their
teaching would make a
difference for difficult
teaching and learning in the school: Social problem-solving was here years ago and the Conflict Resolution [group] is much like it. Yet, in both, the advantages were undone by the students homes because the practices are not done at home. In this way, the program hasnt really changed in methodology or in outcome.
Table 2 contrasts the three groups of teachers in the areas of social trust and teaching efficacy beliefs.
An effective school-university partnership requires extensive teacher learning, with teachers changing their pedagogy and the way that they view their roles in the school. Partnership advocates call for teachers increased participation in school decision-making processes, openness to new instructional and school structuring ideas, and willingness to work collaboratively with colleagues and university faculty to develop new approaches to teaching. Such collaboration requires social trust and positive efficacy beliefs about the value of teaching innovations.
Educational researchers have acknowledged a positive relationship between social trust and teaching success. It may be that social trust fosters an environment of improved teaching efficacy, which in turn makes teachers more effective (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2004). Teachers who collaborate with other teachers, who feel supported by school administrators, and who seek to challenge norms of isolation and autonomy experience higher levels of success in their classroom and therefore have higher efficacy beliefs. These two attributes may establish a positively reinforcing cycle in which teachers are rewarded for higher and higher levels of trust when they encounter higher and higher levels of teaching success. This partnership, however, illustrates how distrust, disrespect, and dissension can undermine the social support required for productive interaction, discourage open exchange and cooperation, and thwart opportunities for teacher learning and change (Smylie & Hart, 1999).
This study used a case study of a school-university partnership to explore variation in teacher learning. Additional qualitative studies of individual schools (either in school-university partnerships or not), along with quantitative studies of teachers and schools, should be conducted to assess the external validity of our findings regarding the importance of social trust and positive teaching efficacy for teacher learning. These studies may also employ validated or newly created instruments specifically designed to measure social trust and efficacy among teachers.
PDS INTERVIEW GUIDE GREATER PLAINS TEACHING STAFF
1. How would you characterize your level of involvement with the PDS this year? What general activities have you been involved in?
2. What input have you had in shaping the direction of the PDS this year? Who is making governance decisions?
3. What are the advantages/disadvantages of the PDS going district-wide?
4. With which PDS groups have you been involved in the past? How does that participation affect your current teaching?
5. How has being part of a PDS affected your ability to establish your ideal classroom this year?
6. What kind of impact has the PDS had in Greater Plains this year? How has it changed from last year?
7. What has been the impact of Second Step on students? Teachers? The climate of the school?
8. What other PDS programs do you see that are having an impact on students and/or staff at Greater Plains?
9. How has the PDS contributed to Greater Plains and Little Citys Whole School Reform efforts?
10. [Show teacher survey data on program emphases.] What is your interpretation of why teachers ranked these programs as they did? What do these data have to say about what the PDS should be doing at Greater Plains?
11. How would you characterize your interactions with students and faculty from Rutgers this year?
12. What examples of teachers working together to solve problems or plan curricula do you see at Greater Plains? Are you involved in collaboration with other teachers? Why or why not?
13. What are the impediments to teacher collaboration at Greater Plains? Has the PDS helped with any of these?
14. What are the impediments to student learning at Greater Plains?
This research was conducted with support from the Spencer Foundation. Neither the Foundation nor Rutgers University is responsible for any of the opinions expressed here.
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