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Exploring Colleagues’ Professional Influence on Mathematics Teachers’ Learning

by Min Sun, Anne Garrison Wilhelm, Christine J. Larson & Kenneth A. Frank - 2014

Background/Context: This article contributes to the literature on how teachers learn on the job and how schools and districts can support teacher learning to improve student learning and incorporate changing standards and curricular materials into instructional practices. The findings in this study are relevant to the implementation of ambitious mathematics instruction reform through changing teachers’ knowledge and instructional practices.

Focus of Study: This study examines how middle school teachers’ networks influence their mathematical knowledge for teaching (MKT) and instructional practices. We also examined how mathematics coaches’ expertise, in the form of MKT, plays a role in augmenting the extent to which teachers learn through interacting with close colleagues.

Research Design: The article draws on data from a larger NSF-funded study in four large, urban districts that responded to accountability pressures by attempting to implement ambitious mathematics instruction aligned with the recommendations of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and by supporting implementation with a significant investment in teacher learning. The analysis in this paper involves 89 focal participants who were middle school mathematics teachers in 29 schools, the focal participants’ close colleagues, and their instructional coaches. Measures include mathematics teachers’ professional networks, MKT, classroom practices, individual background characteristics, and school factors. We used hierarchical linear models with cross-level interaction effects and in-depth sensitivity analyses of the effects of close colleagues and coaches.

Findings/Results: Our results show that changes in teachers’ instructional practice were positively related to their access to instructional expertise through interactions with close colleagues. But, we did not find a similar significant relationship between changes in teachers’ MKT and access to their close colleagues’ MKT expertise. Rather, coaches’ MKT expertise positively moderated the extent to which teachers learned MKT from their close colleagues through seeking advice on teaching mathematics; that is, having an expert coach in the school enhanced the MKT learning opportunities that teachers had from interacting with close colleagues.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Results from this study shed light on how to support teachers’ on-the-job learning and successfully implement ambitious instructional reforms in schools. It is important for schools and districts to consider ways to encourage the development of teacher networks that can promote instructional changes. For example, schools and districts can purposely provide common planning time and common workspaces that facilitate sharing expertise among teachers. They can also support teachers with instructional coaches who have content expertise and know how to facilitate interactions among teachers.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. 1-30
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17461, Date Accessed: 5/29/2020 11:35:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Min Sun
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    MIN SUN is an assistant professor in quantitative policy research in the College of Education at University of Washington. Her research focuses on policy issues relevant to develop, assess, and retain effective teachers and principals, school and district supports for instruction and learning, and quantitative methods (e.g., social network analysis and causal inference). Her recent publications appear at Teachers College Record, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Educational Administration Quarterly, American Journal of Education, and Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, etc.
  • Anne Garrison Wilhelm
    Southern Methodist University
    E-mail Author
    ANNE GARRISON WILHELM is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. She is interested in understanding how to measure and support mathematics teachers’ development of high–quality instructional practices. She recently coauthored an article published in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education exploring relationships between how teachers set up complex tasks and students’ opportunities to learn in the concluding whole class discussion.
  • Christine Larson
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE J. LARSON is an assistant professor in the Florida State University School of Education. She is interested in understanding ways of supporting teacher learning through collaborative conversations and professional networks at the K–12 and tertiary levels.
  • Kenneth Frank
    Michigan State University
    KENNETH A. FRANK received his PhD in measurement, evaluation, and statistical analysis from the School of Education at the University of Chicago in 1993. He is currently a professor in counseling, educational psychology, and special education as well as in fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University. His substantive interests include the study of schools as organizations, social structures of students and teachers and school decision making, and social capital. His substantive areas are linked to several methodological interests: social network analysis, causal inference, and multilevel models. His publications include quantitative methods for representing relations among actors in a social network, robustness indices for inferences, and the effects of social capital in schools and other social contexts.
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