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Teacher Advice-Seeking: Relating Centrality and Expertise in Middle School Mathematics Social Networks

by Dan Berebitsky & Christine Andrews-Larson - 2017

Background/Context: Teachersí relationships with principals, instructional coaches, and other teachers have important implications for the improvement of their instructional practice and student learning. In particular, teachers who access content-specific instructional expertise through their social networks are more likely to exhibit and sustain evidence of instructional improvement; teachers who seek advice from colleagues with knowledge of both content and pedagogy have evidenced growth in their own knowledge and improved classroom instructional practice.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this paper, we extend the literature by examining how formal role relates to the relationship between expertise and advice-seeking in the context of urban middle school mathematics teachersí social networks. Specifically, we first explore how network centrality varies across formal role group (i.e., teacher, instructional coach, and principal/assistant principal), and second, we investigate how centrality relates to expertise within each formal role group.

Research Design: We draw on a variety of data sources taken from a 4-year observational study of a sample of 30 schools and 533 teachers, coaches, and administrators in four large urban school districts. In particular, we rely on data from a network survey to document teachersí advice-seeking behaviors, and we draw on the broader data set to document formal role and measures of expertise within each role group.

Findings/Results: The main findings are: (1) coaches were significantly more central than teachers, who are significantly more central than administrators; (2) teachers with greater expertise were more central; (3) while coach expertise was not related to centrality, teachers were more likely to nominate a coach if they perceived the coach to have expertise and be evaluative; and (4) administrators were rarely nominated.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings indicate that teachers are accessing information from those with expertise and experience, which suggests that advice-seeking among teachers may be self optimizing. Furthermore, teachersí advice-seeking seems to be shaped both by their efforts to access expertise and in response to accountability pressures. This calls for caution against the misalignment of formal role and expertise. Our findings suggest that those in a social network whose social status is elevated to the formal role of coach are more sought out for advice, particularly if they are perceived to have evaluative power. This can inform what administrators can expect of teachersí informal advice-seeking as well as how advice-seeking patterns are likely to shift if a teacher is made a coach.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 10, 2017, p. 1-40
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21841, Date Accessed: 9/19/2021 12:26:51 PM

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About the Author
  • Dan Berebitsky
    Southern Methodist University
    E-mail Author
    DAN BEREBITSKY is an assistant professor in the Educational Policy and Leadership department in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. His research focuses on the connections between organizational culture and the work of teachers. Recent research has appeared in Elementary School Journal, Journal of Research on Leadership Education, and Educational Administration Quarterly.
  • Christine Andrews-Larson
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE ANDREWS-LARSON is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the School of Teacher Education, situated within the College of Education at Florida State University. She is interested in the reasoning of mathematics instructors at the secondary and tertiary levels, with an emphasis on identifying mechanisms that can support instructors to elicit and build upon studentsí mathematical reasoning in equitable ways. Her work has recently appeared in AERA-Open, Teachers College Record, and PRIMUS (Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies).
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