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Analyzing Teachers' Professional Interactions in a School as Social Capital: A Social Network Approach

by William R. Penuel, Margaret Riel, Ann E. Krause & Kenneth A. Frank - 2009

Background/Context: Researchers have proposed a number of lenses for analyzing teacher professional communities in recent years. These lenses have been useful in describing key dynamics of professional communities; however, none provides a compelling approach to how to integrate data from the school as a whole with case study data on individual interactions to create a coherent account of the structure and dynamics of teacher professional communities.

Objective: Our objective was to present and illustrate the application of social capital theory for analyzing the role of formal and informal teacher interactions in helping teachers enact changes to instruction associated with ambitious school reforms. Social capital theory posits that valued resources and expertise are embedded within social networks and that it is through social ties that one gains access to and can make use of resources to effect change. The network perspective directs researchers to focus simultaneously on the overall social structure of a school and on the expertise and resources exchanged through interactions among teachers that take place in meetings, staff rooms, hallways, and classrooms.

Setting: Our illustrations are contrasting cases of teacher communities in two elementary schools in California. In both school communities, the principals were committed to the idea of fostering greater interaction among colleagues as a strategy to improve literacy instruction. Both schools had similar levels of resources to support their goals through external funding from the state, but the schools had had different levels of success in implementing their reforms at the time of the study.

Research Design: We used an explanatory case study methodology that relied on social network, survey, and interview methods as sources of evidence for several alternative hypotheses relating to how the distribution of resources and expertise may have contributed to these schools� different levels of success in implementing their reforms.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The comparative case analysis of the two schools provided evidence that analyzing the internal structure of the school community was necessary to help account for the distribution of access to resources and expertise in these two schools. Moreover, there was some evidence from survey and network data that the distribution of valued resources and expertise was related to the level of change observed in each school.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 1, 2009, p. 124-163
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15174, Date Accessed: 7/30/2021 4:33:45 PM

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About the Author
  • William Penuel
    SRI International
    E-mail Author
    BILL PENUEL is director of evaluation research at the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International. His research focuses on teacher learning in science, technology, and mathematics education. His recent publications include “The ‘New’ Science of Networks and the Challenge of School Change” (2007, Phi Delta Kappan), “Investigating the Potential of Using Social Network Analysis in Educational Evaluation” (2006, American Journal of Evaluation), and “What Makes Professional Development Effective? Strategies That Foster Curriculum Implementation” (in press, American Educational Research Journal).
  • Margaret Riel
    SRI International
    MARGARET RIEL is senior researcher at the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International and visiting professor in education and psychology at Pepperdine University. Her research focuses on the relationship between teacher learning and instructional practices mediated by technology. Her recent publications include “The ‘New’ Science of Networks and the Challenge of School Change” (2007, Phi Delta Kappan), “Technology’s Role in Supporting Learning Communities” (2001, Phi Delta Kappan), and Teacher Professional Engagement and Constructivist-compatible Computer Use (2000, Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations).
  • Ann Krause
    University of Toledo
    ANN KRAUSE is assistant professor of ecology in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo. Her research interests include systems ecology, network theory and methodology, and coupling of human and natural systems for sustainable ecosystems. Recent publications include “Compartments Revealed in Food-Web Structure” (2003, Nature) and “Between Networks of Global Trade and Food Webs: Social Networks of Humans” (2007, in Globalization: Effects on Fisheries Resources).
  • Kenneth Frank
    Michigan State University
    KEN FRANK is an associate professor of Measurement and Quantitative Methods both in the College of Education and in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. His research interests include teachers’ social networks and the diffusion of innovation, models of causal inference in educational research, and applications of ecological theory to the study of schools. Recent publications include “Social Capital and the Diffusion of Innovations Within Organizations: Application to the Implementation of Computer Technology in Schools” (2004, Sociology of Education) and “Identifying Social Contexts in Affiliation Networks: Preserving the Duality of People and Events” (in press, Social Networks).
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