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Learning Opportunities About Teaching Mathematics: A Longitudinal Case Study of School Leaders’ Influence

by Jessica G. Rigby, Christine Andrews-Larson & I-Chien Chen - 2020

Background/Context: When new, rigorous standards are adopted, teachers often need to learn new content and new ways of teaching while concurrently attending to accountability demands. Both formal and informal school structures potentially enable this new learning, and school leaders likely influence the nature of these structures.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: We examine teachers’ learning opportunities in one school by asking the following research questions: (1) What is the nature of changes in teachers’ formal learning opportunities, as seen by changes in teachers’ workgroup conversations about mathematics instruction? (2) In what ways do school leaders shape the nature of instructional conversations, and thus formal learning opportunities, in teacher workgroups? (3) What is the nature of changes in teachers’ informal opportunities to learn, as seen by shifts in informal advice networks?

Research Design: This is a longitudinal case study using mixed methods: qualitative analysis of audio-recorded teacher workgroup meetings and quantitative analysis of informal social networks.

Data Collection and Analysis: This analysis is a part of a larger eight-year longitudinal study, the Middle-school Mathematics and the Institutional Setting of Teaching (MIST). Data used in this analysis were collected over a three-year period in one middle school that was working to improve mathematics instruction by focusing on teaching mathematics conceptually and building procedural fluency. Data used in this analysis include audio-recorded teacher workgroup meetings, informal social network surveys, interview transcripts, and student-level standardized test scores.

Findings/Results: We found that formally, school leaders shifted teachers’ workgroup conversations away from instructional matters to those of standardized tests. Informally, teachers stopped going to each other for instructional advice. Triangulating interview data confirmed that over time, pressure that teachers felt to do well on the standardized tests shifted their attention away from a conceptual approach to instruction and toward an emphasis on test preparation.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our findings suggest that school leaders must be involved in new learning about standards and instruction to appropriately support teachers’ learning opportunities.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 7, 2020, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23329, Date Accessed: 8/11/2020 9:32:18 AM

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About the Author
  • Jessica Rigby
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    JESSICA G. RIGBY, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington. She uses lenses from organizational sociology to understand the role of school and district leaders in the implementation of policy, classroom instruction, and improving teacher practice toward increasing equitable outcomes for historically marginalized communities. She recently published a study of district-level equitable leadership in the Journal of Educational Administration, “A View From the Field: The Process of Improving Equitable Systems Leadership,” and a study of how district leaders and university researchers learned together in a research–practice partnership in the Journal of Research on Leadership Education, “Leadership Development Through Design and Experimentation: Learning in a Research-Practice Partnership.”
  • Christine Andrews-Larson
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE ANDREWS-LARSON, Ph.D., recently earned promotion and tenure to associate professor at Florida State University. Her research coordinates foci on students’ mathematical reasoning, supports for instructor learning, and attention to equity, particularly regarding ways in which varying instructional approaches may provide different kinds of learning experiences and outcomes for different groups of students. She recently coedited a Springer volume entitled Challenges and Strategies in Teaching Linear Algebra and is coauthor of a forthcoming study, “Inquiry and Gender Inequity in the Undergraduate Mathematics Classroom,” which is to appear in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education.
  • I-Chien Chen
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    I-CHIEN CHEN is a research associate in the College of Education at Michigan State University. She uses a sociological lens to understand social contexts and interpersonal relationships in terms of friendship, and help/advice-seeking behavior that creates norms and values for enhancing supports and human and social capital. Her research focuses on how school peers and family resources influence the academic and well-being of adolescents and their transition into adulthood. She recently published a study of mathematics teachers’ advice seeking in the American Educational Research Journal. She also collaborated with researchers to examine the effect of friendship cliques and math help-seeking behavior, resulting in a paper currently in revision, “Overcoming Gender Differences in Mathematics: Help-Seeking Within and Outside of Friendship Cliques.”
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