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A Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Collaborative Action Research with Teachers


by Sharon Nodie Oja & Maryellen C. Ham - 1984

A collaborative action research project studied how teachers in groups function at different developmental stages. Implications for staff development are described. (Source: ERIC)

INTRODUCTION


Effective teaching is a most complex form of human behavior. In this context, developmental theory and practice from a variety of perspectives have powerful implications for teacher education. Research by Harvey, Hunt, Joyce, and colleagues and that more recently reported by McNergney and Carrier, Sprinthall and Thies-Sprinthall, and others provides a key empirical and theoretical bridge connecting developmental concepts to classroom teaching.1 They documented through natural-setting research that teachers at higher stages of development function at more complex levels; are more flexible, stress tolerant, and adaptive; assume multiple perspectives; utilize a wider variety of coping behaviors; and employ a broader repertoire of teaching models. These findings may be linked to similar emerging trends in cognitive-developmental research.


Kohlberg and Rest’s research studies, for example, show strong relationships between moral/ethical development and the following teaching behaviors: role-taking, empathy, principled thinking, and the ability to withstand stress.2 Loevinger’s work also strongly supports the idea that interpersonal functioning (ego development) can be represented by a series of stages, and that more advanced stages are characterized by increased flexibility, differentiation, tolerance for conflict/ambiguity, and conceptual complexity.3


Research on effective teaching and effective schools emphasizes the need for involving teachers in investigating the application of research to practice. In addition, recent national reports emphasize the need for site-specific and district-level collaboration between practitioners and researchers.4 The effective school reports do not, however, describe a process for such collaboration in school-based problem solving.


Collaborative action research is one strategy that provides opportunities for translating concepts for educational reform into practice. The research project on which this article is based sought to describe how teachers in groups functioning at different developmental stages viewed issues in collaborative action research. Table 1 suggests a match between an individual’s developmental stage and descriptions of the collaborative action research group, expectations of the group process, and the issues perceived as important.

OVERVIEW OF DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE THEORY


Developmental stage theorists maintain that human development, personality, and character are the result of orderly changes in underlying cognitive and emotional structures. Each of these theorists provides a different framework for describing how individuals progress from simpler to more complex and differentiated modes of functioning: Piaget focuses on cognitive processes or thought patterns;5 Kohlberg on moral reasoning processes;6 Loevinger on ego maturity;7 Hunt on conceptual levels;8 and Selman on interpersonal processes.9 Each of these frameworks is briefly discussed in the following section and their relationship is illustrated in Table 2.

MORAL DEVELOPMENT


Kohlberg’s theory of moral judgment identifies three levels and six stages of moral growth representing qualitatively different systems of thinking that people actually employ in dealing with moral dilemma questions.10 Stages of moral development adhere to the characteristics of stage models listed in the previous paragraph. The preconventional level has two stages, Stage 1 being the punishment-obedience orientation, and Stage 2 having an instrumental hedonism and concrete reciprocity orientation. The conventional level consists of Stage 3, with an orientation to interpersonal relations of mutuality, and Stage 4, oriented to the maintenance of social order, fixed rules, and authority. The postconventional level consists of Stage 5, with a social contract orientation and utilitarian lawmaking perspective, and Stage 6, being the universal ethical principle orientation.

EGO DEVELOPMENT


Loevinger, in her theory of ego development, has conceptualized seven sequential, invariantly ordered, hierarchical stages with three transitional stages.11 Each stage is more complex than the last and none can be skipped in the course of development. However, different individuals may stabilize at certain stages and consequently not develop beyond these stages. The ego stages in this model are titled: I-1 Symbiotic stage; I-2 Impulsive stage; I-Delta Self-Protective; I-3 Conformist stage; I-3/4 Self-Aware Transition; I-4 Conscientious stage: I-4/5 Individualist Transition; I-5 Autonomous stage; and I-6 Integrated stage.


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According to the theorists, the Impulsive and Self-Protective ego stages correspond to the preconventional moral judgment stage. The Conformist, Self-Aware, and Conscientious ego stages correspond to the conventional moral judgment stage and are suggested to be predominant adult ego and moral stages.12 It is the Individualist, Autonomous, and Integrated ego stages, however, that correspond to the postconventional moral development stages and the abstract stages of conceptual development described by Hunt in the next section.

CONCEPTUAL DEVELOPMENT


Conceptual systems as defined by Harvey, Hunt, and Schroeder describe four stages of cognitive complexity that characterize the ability of an individual to differentiate and integrate environmental stimuli and relate to the ability of an individual to function adaptively and efficiently in a given environment.13 Hunt built on the original conceptual systems theory and defined Conceptual Level (CL) by degree of abstractness (differentiation, integration, and discrimination) as well as interpersonal maturity (increasing self-responsibility).14 A person scoring at a high conceptual level is more complex, more capable of responsible actions, and, most important, more capable of adapting to a changing environment than is a person with a low conceptual level.


Stage 1 represents responses containing categorical judgments (good-bad, right-wrong), overgeneralized and unqualified acceptance of a single rule, and reliance on external standards. Stage 2 represents responses that begin to show signs of self-delineation, express an awareness of alternatives, and indicate sensitivity to one’s own feelings. The highest stage, Stage 3, represents responses that demonstrate a clear indication of self-delineation and reliance on internal standards, a sense of self in context or relationship with others, and the ability to take two viewpoints into account simultaneously.

INTERPERSONAL DEVELOPMENT


Robert Selman’s theory of interpersonal understanding identifies five levels of social perspective taking based on both the individual’s cognitive capability and the social context.15 The five stages reflect a person’s concepts of persons plus concepts of relations. The five levels move from the undifferentiated egocentric stage 0 to the in-depth societal symbolic stage 4. Level 0 represents undifferentiated concepts of persons and egocentric concepts of relations. Level 1 represents differentiated concepts of persons and unilateral subjective concepts of relations. Level 2 represents self-reflective and second-person concepts of persons combined with bilateral reciprocal relations. Level 3 represents third-person concepts and homogeneous mutual relations. Level 4 represents in-depth concepts of persons and pluralistic societal-symbolic relations.


A recent review of developmental theory by Oja and Johnson suggests the incompleteness of developmental theory in the area of interpersonal competence.16 Since collaborative action research requires team members to take the perspective of others, Selman’s model is helpful in understanding problem-solving activities and in connecting results to developmental theory.

COLLABORATIVE ACTION RESEARCH


Action research in education has often been seen as a way of involving teachers in changes that improve teaching practice: when teachers work together on a common problem, clarifying and negotiating ideas and concerns, they will be more likely to change their attitudes and behaviors if research indicates such change is necessary.17 Collaboration provides teachers with the time and support necessary to make fundamental changes in their practice that endure beyond the research process.18 Action research is also expected to contribute to teachers’ professional growth and to benefit the school or community within which it occurs.19


Collaborative action research suggests that each group represented in the process shares in the planning, implementation, and analysis of the research, and that each contributes different expertise and a unique perspective to the process.20 (Today collaborators often include school district teachers and personnel, university faculty or educational R & D center staff, and federal education agencies, which provide financial support and guidance.)

ARCS (ACTION RESEARCH ON CHANGE IN SCHOOLS PROJECT)


Action Research on Change in Schools (ARCS) is the most recent in a series of NIE-sponsored research activities on collaborative action research. Previous projects include the original Interactive Research and Development on Teaching Study (IR&DT),21 the Interactive Research and Development on Schooling Study (IR&DS),22 and the IR&D projects by Huling.23


In the recent ARCS project, university researchers collaborated with the staffs of two public middle/junior high schools. The Michigan team consisted of five teachers from the same middle school, one university researcher, and a research assistant, who also documented meetings. In the New Hampshire team were four junior high teachers, one part-time teacher/administrator from the same school, a university researcher, and a graduate research assistant/documentor.


Teacher participants in the ARCS study were selected to represent a variety of developmental stages based on scores from the following three empirical measures: The Rest Defining Issues Test of Moral Judgment,24 the Loevinger Sentence Completion Test of Ego Development,25 and the Hunt Paragraph Completion Test of Conceptual Complexity.26


A variety of data sources were used to record and monitor the process of ARCS action research in each team. These included (1) audio recordings of all team meetings and transcripts of selected meeting tapes; (2) written documentation of all team meetings by participant observer (using a method by Schatzman and Strauss27); (3) teacher logs; (4) pre/post questionnaires with participants and other teachers and administrators; and (5) interviews conducted at crucial points in the research process with participants, school administrators, and other school staff members.


Over a period of two years, meeting weekly on-site in the schools, the teams identified and developed research questions that were seen to address their concerns most effectively. As a result, teachers developed their own research questions, conducted appropriate studies, and worked toward programmatic school changes. Both teams involved all staff members in their research activities, which focused on evaluation studies of school-based scheduling issues and their impact on curriculum and instruction. The New Hampshire team specifically focused on the relationship between staff morale and job satisfaction and a number of organizational changes and practices occurring at their school. The Michigan team included parents and students as well as staff members in examining their school’s current scheduling practices and middle school philosophy.28


Although previous studies have effectively utilized collaborative action research in which both teachers and university researchers join in defining questions and conducting research, this study was unique. The characteristics of teachers according to their developmental stage scores were used to examine individual teacher participation in and perception of issues related to the collaborative research process.

COMPARISON OF TEACHERS’ STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT

CONVENTIONAL TEACHER


The one conventional teacher in the ARCS project scored at the conformist ego stage, with a moderately high conceptual level. This conventional teacher perceived change as an external process, a simplistic way of solving problems. According to this perspective, change was viewed as a one-shot episode rather than as a process over time with past, present, and future implications. Teachers who exhibit such a conventional perspective seem to be more concerned with issues of authority and control, with minimizing controversy, and with maintaining rules or implementing policies than with questioning the purposes of these rules or policies. While discussing the value of participating in the ARCS project, for example, the conventional teacher said: “Well, just sitting and talking with other people, getting their ideas . . . these are the individual benefits. Even if they’re accidental, they’re still benefits.” Later, when talking about goals for the team’s project, this teacher also suggested that each person should participate for his or her own “personal satisfaction.” Then he added, “It would be ‘fantasy island’ to think that the administration would get involved or support the team.”


The conventional teacher tended to resort to arguments based on his authority, knowledge, and control, which came from his position as a part-time administrator. Consistent with his stage perspective, this teacher also viewed the role of the university researcher as arbitrator and organizer of interests in the group. The researcher, he said, “has more knowledge and expertise . . . must hand guide our team in actually carrying out the research processes and methods.” Although the conventional teacher in the ARCS project left after the first year to assume a principalship in another school district, he continued to stress the team’s need for more direction in his final interview: “As time went on, I think you [university researcher] realized that we weren’t heading in any direction on our own. We needed you to give us more direction and leadership.” However, team meeting transcripts and documentation from the second year of the ARCS project indicate that the conventional teacher’s absence actually enhanced the New Hampshire team’s ability for self-direction and goal achievement.

TRANSITIONAL TEACHERS


Three Michigan teachers and one New Hampshire teacher functioned at the transitional stage of cognitive development.


As their scores indicate, all four of these teachers, in transition between the prior Conformist ego stage and subsequent Conscientious stage, exhibited increased self-awareness and a beginning appreciation and understanding of multiple possibilities or alternatives in problem-solving situations.


Although their feelings were expressed in vague or global terms, these transitional teachers demonstrated a growing awareness of inner emotions and an enhanced capacity for introspection. Characteristic of the Self-aware stage of development, needs for group acceptance continued to supersede individual needs for some of the teachers. For example, two transitional teachers stressed that fulfilling the needs of others was their goal for this project, rather than any personal gains they might earn from participating. However, the two remaining transitional teachers did emphasize career goals and growth that would benefit both themselves and the school as a whole. This difference among perceptions of teachers scoring at the same developmental stage was not surprising given one teacher’s inability to assume team task responsibilities, while the other teachers demonstrated high commitment and involvement in project tasks. Perhaps this difference also reflected the movement of at least two transitional teachers toward the Goal-oriented stage.

GOAL-ORIENTED TEACHERS


Two New Hampshire teachers and one Michigan teacher in the ARCS project functioned at the Goal-oriented developmental stage.


Each of the goal-oriented teachers seemed capable of self-criticism and of internalizing rules. Guilt was the consequence of breaking inner rules, while exceptions or contingencies were recognized in direct relation to a growing awareness of the subtleties of individual differences. These conscientious teachers viewed behavior in terms of feelings, patterns, and motives rather than simply actions. Achievement, especially when measured by self-chosen standards, was crucial. In fact, many of the comments made by these teachers during team meetings illustrated a preoccupation with obligations, rights, traits, ideals, and achievement defined more by inner standards and less by the need for external recognition and acceptance.


One specific value in the ARCS project noted only by the goal-oriented teachers was the use of individual logs to vent anger or record frustrations and hopes. One goal-oriented teacher said: “My log helped me to channel my frustrations and keep them out of the classroom.” Although this same teacher often felt confident and assertive about his opinions, his extreme stability sometimes caused rigidity toward change in general. In order to solve the problems he saw as the team’s goal, this goal-oriented teacher tended to find and use formulas, seeking the rules or laws that governed behavior and interaction in the system. While this allowed him to work on the problems identified by the group and move the team along, it prevented him at times from looking at alternatives or subtleties in problem situations. However, this teacher initiated and completed the school history and became the spokesperson for the New Hampshire team, serving as their liaison to the school and school system administration.


For several reasons, the second goal-oriented teacher manifested the Conscientious stage characteristics quite differently from either of the other two teachers who shared this stage. First, she was in transition to the Individualistic stage in some dimensions of her thinking. Second, she had considerably less experience in this school than had the first goal-oriented teacher. Third, she was a woman, and her interpersonal orientation had not yet provided her with power. However, she initiated to a large extent the team’s concentration on its research questions/design, and she used team meetings as a forum within which her concerns about teaching and work could be voiced. For this goal-oriented teacher, the ARCS project was a set of resources available to help her cope with change. She realized that the issues causing her stress in school were not going to change, so she had to change. This meant moving toward her own system of internal reinforcement. The confidence and skills that this goal-oriented teacher gained from the project, plus her deeper appreciation for individual differences, the contributions of team members, and the principal’s job in the school/district, all helped her define her own self-system more clearly, especially in terms of the reality of school-context issues and decision making.


Although sharing many of the same general stage characteristics, the third goal-oriented teacher’s personal growth and development during the ARCS project was significantly influenced by several school-context issues. For example, at the beginning of the project’s second year, this Michigan goal-oriented teacher felt that her professionalism (self-system) was being challenged when she was mandated to participate in a specific staff-development program. Analysis of team meeting documentation revealed that after this incident this conscientious teacher seemed to withdraw from the group by lowering her expectations and commitment in order to guard against further challenges to her self-system. Another important issue for this teacher was her loss of the self-defining teacher, who left the Michigan team after the first year of the project. In both team meetings and her logs, this goal-oriented teacher said she “had looked to the self-defining teacher as a resource and a catalyst for her own thinking about new perspectives.”

SELF-DEFINING TEACHERS


The two self-defining teachers in the ARCS project scored at the Individualistic stage of ego development, and both achieved high conceptual level scores.


Although the self-defining teacher from Michigan said she left the team after the first year because her perspective was represented by others, team meeting documentation indicated that her perspective on school, classroom, and teaching/learning issues was quite different from that of other team members. For example, she said, “All of us including myself lose sight of the kids because time and production become so important.” It was this self-defining teacher who consistently brought the student perspective to the Michigan team. In addition, she was often concerned with becoming more of her own person with “autonomy and harmony” and less dependent on colleagues, spouse, critics, or mentors. She said, “I’ve been dependent too long.”


Analysis of this teacher’s interpersonal understanding revealed that she saw the group as a homogeneous community, while the New Hampshire self-defining teacher saw the team from a pluralistic perspective. The Michigan teacher, therefore, regarded loyalty to the group and interpersonal relations as based on common ground (homogeneity of values). When her views were different from those of the rest of the group, she had to make a choice in order to remain totally committed to the project. Had she been able to view the group from a pluralistic perspective, she might have been able to remain on the team and find a successful compromise, which would have enabled her to use and enhance her skills and her differences on the team as did the New Hampshire self-defining teacher.


The self-defining teacher on the New Hampshire team demonstrated an increased ability to tolerate paradox and contradiction along with greater conceptual complexity, shown by his awareness of discrepancies between inner reality and outward appearances, between psychological and physiological responses, and between process and outcomes. This individualistic teacher defined group leadership as including multiple functions requiring more than one kind of leader for specific tasks. He saw himself, the university researcher, and other team members assuming various tasks as different needs arose.


The New Hampshire self-defining teacher said he hoped the team would “generate data” and “produce new information.” He became very active in creating computer programs for data analysis, and pushed the team to outline and begin work on its final report. Once the ARCS project ended, this teacher continued to investigate the possibilities of further action research. Not limited by the definitions of duties, performances, or work roles dictated by the school, he has redefined his career. In this respect, the New Hampshire self-defining teacher may be viewed as entering the postconventional system where an interdependent self-definition retains primary focus, and self-actualization becomes the goal.

TEACHERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF COLLABORATIVE ACTION RESEARCH


This article summarizes the effects of the collaborative research activities on the individual teacher participants in the ARCS project, which were presented extensively in the final report.29 The data revealed that the teachers’ different developmental stages were shown to be important in a number of dimensions in the team’s research focus and group process, including (1) teachers’ goals for the project, (2) attitudes toward a change process, (3) authority and group leadership, and (4) teachers’ perceived outcomes from the project.

TEACHER GOALS


In the ARCS project, teachers focused on school-based problems of scheduling and teacher morale. They concentrated on producing research that would be acceptable to others and would contribute to an understanding of the factors involved in teacher morale and school scheduling practices. Although these goals were commonly shared by all team members, teachers at different developmental stages perceived, discussed, and achieved the goals in uniquely individual ways.

TEACHER ATTITUDES TOWARD CHANGE


Similarly, each teacher’s developmental position significantly influenced his or her reactions to change issues in both school context and the collaborative action research process. The following excerpts from the ARCS team meeting documentation illustrate how teachers functioning at different developmental stages defined “change.”


Change is

usually made for financial (external) reasons; it is a one-shot episode.

a process; it starts with a need, but must be based on understanding and caring.

successful if it involves individual growth; it must satisfy the internal needs of teachers and students.

a flexible process involving a lot of alternatives; successful change agents have to view small changes within a broader context.

CONVENTIONAL

TRANSITIONAL

GOAL-ORIENTED

SELF-DEFINING


TEACHER-PERCEIVED OUTCOMES


The teachers on both ARCS teams valued their group process, and perceived growth in themselves as a result of that process. Although their concerns focused on how the action research results would contribute to improved school practice and educational theory, it was their experiences on the team that all teachers said they would transfer into their own classrooms, schools, and districts.


The collaborative action research process contributed to increased confidence in the teachers’ ability to identify, confront, and solve classroom or school-based problems. Through their participation in ARCS, all teachers became more familiar with research language, methodology, and design. Their involvement also made them better consumers of educational research, and stimulated some to become more skilled researchers. During the ARCS project, teachers shared their research methodologies and findings at national, regional, and local conferences in addition to their own school district staff-development committees, school boards, and university faculties. In the year following the ARCS project, two of the Michigan team members were designated by their principal as “collaborative research authorities,” and were appointed to staff-development positions. Likewise, two New Hampshire team members attended and presented the teachers’ perspective on ARCS at national conferences on educational research.

ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY RESEARCHER IN COLLABORATIVE ACTION RESEARCH


Analysis in the ARCS project suggests that the researcher’s most frequently used interventions were questioning, clarifying, summarizing, organizing, focusing group on tasks, explaining, disseminating ideas on research process, facilitating individual teacher roles, linking research to practice, and suggesting alternate approaches and solutions.30 Teachers with different developmental perspectives responded differently to these interventions. The following examples taken from the ARCS project documentation illustrate how both the researcher’s natural style and planned interventions were supportive for some teachers, challenging for others, and sometimes ineffective in meeting an individual teacher’s developmental needs.


An example of a differentiated intervention designed to challenge an individual developmental level occurred when a self-defining teacher asked: “How will we derive our cut-off scores . . . high, medium, and low?” The university researcher discussed this process with the teacher, responding to his question in a highly individualized fashion. Another example illustrates the researcher intervention in a conflict situation. One goal-oriented teacher confronted a transitional teacher regarding his apparent lack of responsibility in assuming and completing tasks. Attempting to defuse the transitional teacher’s defensiveness, the researcher clarified: “I am hearing that you [goal-oriented teacher] feel a sense of responsibility to this task, and that you are receiving no help from one team member [transitional teacher].” It is interesting to note that this intervention caused two quite different responses. The goal-oriented teacher immediately moved forward on task, while the transitional teacher interpreted the researcher’s comment as supportive of only the goal-oriented teacher. At this point, it is also important to consider what alternative interventions might have been introduced to assist both teachers at different developmental levels to resolve their conflict.


Since collaborative action research is itself a developmental process, each intervention facilitates a teacher’s skill in solving his or her own problems. Although the primary focus of both researchers in the ARCS project was the facilitation of group process strategies, individual interventions occurred naturally throughout this process. The following excerpt from a team meeting transcript illustrates how one Michigan teacher (self-defining) required individual interventions aimed at supporting/challenging her own developmental stage. This example illustrates a higher stage teacher needing an individual intervention (see Table 3). The teacher, at the self-defining stage, voiced very different perspectives than did her team members who scored at lower stages of development, three at the transitional stage and one at the goal-oriented stage. Analysis of this excerpt reveals that the university researcher did ask specific questions regarding research tasks, attempt to involve all teachers in the group discussion, and focus the group on the need to involve the principal in their scheduling project. However, the excerpt also suggests that the following possible alternative interventions might have more adequately facilitated the needs of the higher stage, self-defining teacher, who eventually chose to leave the team after the first year.


First, the researcher might have encouraged the team to continue its discussion of the self-defining teacher’s concerns by eliciting comments from her when she entered the meeting. This might have clarified other teachers’ perceptions of her attitude and involvement in the group project. It might also have allowed the self-defining teacher the opportunity to vent her own concerns or frustrations in addition to reiterating her own goals (which were very different from the goals of the others).


Second, the university researcher might have talked individually with this self-defining teacher in a collegial fashion to reinforce the importance of her perspective to the three transitional teachers on the team and especially to the one goal-oriented teacher. Several times in logs and interviews, this goal-oriented teacher had reiterated an appreciation of the self-defining teacher’s alternative approaches, saying that they challenged her to think in new ways.


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Third, the researcher might have suggested that two teachers work together on a given task (e.g., develop a proposal, revise survey questions, generate a process for collating/analyzing data). Such pairing might be supportive for certain teachers, and might also provide the researcher with a great number of opportunities for more individualized interventions.


Finally, the university researcher might have worked with the self-defining teacher to initiate a process designed to encourage the development of higher-stage thinking, and to explore alternative solutions to the team’s proposed research problems.

LINKING TEACHERS’ RESEARCH RECOMMENDATIONS TO SCHOOL CHANGE


The teachers on the New Hampshire team represented four different stages of development and showed a diversity in their perspectives about the role of the principal in relation to issues of change in the school and issues in the collaborative research process. The following excerpts from the ARCS team meeting documentation illustrate how teachers functioning at different developmental stages described the principal’s role as a change agent.


Principals

usually ask teachers for their opinions, then order unilateral changes. It would be better for them just to tell teachers what to do.

have little effect on change. Information flows upward and downward to principal, but other groups set policies and initiate changes.

run schools. They can choose others to assist, but the final decisions are theirs. They can either initiate or support changes or choose not to do so.

are resources, rather than deciding or controlling forces. The principal’s voice is one of many to be considered when initiating changes in a school.

CONVENTIONAL

TRANSITIONAL

GOAL-ORIENTED

SELF-DEFINING


These different developmental perspectives were also evident in the second year of the ARCS project, when the teachers began discussing the issue of how to share their research outcomes with the principal in order to effect school change. Consistent with his description of the principal’s role, for example, the transitional teacher stated: “He has our report and findings . . . he could come to any meeting, but hasn’t. He already knows we’re willing to discuss some changes with him.”


Pressing for ways to include the principal, the goal-oriented teachers made the following comments:


“Personally I feel we should invite the principal to a meeting . . . share with him what we’ve found, and let him react. . . . I’d be willing to speak with him, and then let him decide whether he’d be willing to meet with us.”


Finally, the self-defining teacher, representing the highest developmental stage on the ARCS team, suggested some possible causes/solutions to the principal’s lack of involvement: “Maybe he is reacting to some of the conclusions in our report. Perhaps we could change our last paragraph . . . make some editorial changes.”


Throughout the team’s discussions of both the principal’s role and his reactions to the teacher’s recommended changes, the university researcher demonstrated several different developmental interventions. For example, probing questions were asked to stimulate further discussion; negotiation was stressed; teachers were encouraged to learn to use the channels of power in the school; alternative solutions to the dilemma of the principal’s reaction were supported; and the researcher summarized the consensus of the group regarding both changes in their report and the invitation to meet with the principal.


Analysis of the university researcher’s role in these discussions also suggests other possible alternative interventions that might have additionally challenged teachers at different stages to think in broader terms by reflecting on their own perceptions and their experiences thus far in the project. For instance, discussing the principal as a “channel of power,” the researcher could have addressed the team’s needs for including the administrator in a significant way earlier in the project. Such a discussion could focus on how the principal’s early inclusion (which all team members had vehemently rejected at the beginning of the project) could have influenced the team’s ability to transfer their research into practice, an objective the two goal-oriented teachers wanted very much.


An additional alternative intervention in this example would have the researcher responding more specifically to the transitional teacher’s feelings and reactions to including the principal. Characteristic of his developmental stage, the transitional teacher tried to pass the decision and responsibility for involvement on to the principal because of his higher status just as in other times this transitional teacher tried to pass team decisions on to the university researcher because of her “superior knowledge.”


The transitional teacher had several needs that are not being met through the group process on this team in which other teachers are at higher developmental stages (two at the goal-oriented stage and one at the self-defining stage). The transitional teacher needed encouragement to assert his opinions and help to take the perspective of others to think in terms of alternative solutions to the issue of principal involvement. These alternative interventions might have been done individually, as an example of a differentiated intervention designed to challenge the developmental level of the transitional teacher and facilitate his understanding of issues of conflict, which generally worry him.

SUMMARY AND IMPLICATION FOR STAFF DEVELOPMENT


To function at higher stages of development, teachers must be supported and challenged according to the characteristic needs of their developmental stages. Staff development has generally failed to simultaneously address the dual needs to challenge and to support learners. If growth is to occur, a person needs both a challenging learning task and intensive personal support for the requisite risk-taking. Furthermore, challenges and supports to new learning differ at each stage. Often the supports to new learning at one stage are, in fact, the challenges to learning at a previous stage. Because new learning and change are conceptualized differently at different stages of development, the probability of success is increased when the challenge and support factors in the environment are matched with the challenge and support needed by the individual at a certain stage of development.31


In this study, the university professors served as both researchers and staff developers, providing research skills and group-maintenance functions. This project has found that the teachers on the teams valued the process of the team itself most highly and perceived change and growth in themselves as a result of that process. Although their concerns also focused on how the action research results would contribute to improved school practice and to educational theory, it was their experiences on the team that all say they will take back with them into the everyday workings of their classrooms, schools, and districts.


The importance of this finding should not be minimized. On the contrary, the importance of the team’s experiences leads to even more crucial questions to be asked of the research process and group dynamics, in particular, a new role for the university researcher on the team. It is suggested that the university researchers/staff developers consider issues of adult development as they work with teachers.


Knowledge of the characteristics of teachers’ perspectives at each developmental stage can help a university researcher on a collaborative research team to recognize the assets/limitations of teachers’ attitudes and the consistency/inconsistency in functioning as it affects the collaborative research tasks, process, and group dynamics. Awareness of teachers’ stages of cognitive development can help university professors to understand the teachers’ decision making on the team and recognize the dimensions of individual teacher change within the context of the school and the collaborative action research team.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 86 Number 1, 1984, p. 171-192
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 905, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 2:10:29 AM

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About the Author
  • Sharon Oja
    University of New Hampshire

  • Maryellen Ham
    Peabody College of Vanderbilt University

 
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