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Teacher and Student Reciprocal Agency in Odds-Beating Schools

by Aaron Leo, Kristen C. Wilcox, Catherine Kramer, Hal A. Lawson & Mina Min - 2020

Background/Context: In the field of education, the lens of agency has provided a valuable conceptual alternative to deterministic portrayals of schools as oppressive institutions where teachers and students have little power over the conditions in which they teach and learn. A number of studies have investigated teacher and student agency, but few have explored the relationships between the two, particularly in regard to how teacher and student agency relate in high-need and high-diversity contexts with exemplary student graduation outcomes.

Purpose/Focus of the Study: In an effort to address the paucity of research investigating the relationships of teacher and student agency, this analysis draws on seven qualitative case studies of secondary schools achieving a trend of above-predicted (i.e., odds-beating) graduation outcomes. We pursued the overarching research question: What are the relationships between teacher and student agency in odds-beating schools?

Setting: The study took place in a purposeful sample of odds-beating secondary schools identified through multiple regression analyses. The sample included schools in rural, suburban, and more urban communities and were distributed across various geographic regions in the state of New York. All schools shared a pattern of above-predicted graduation outcomes, taking into account student demographic factors (percentage of students economically disadvantaged, African American/Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and English language learners). All schools met the criteria of being within the normal range for wealth ratio as well.

Research Design: This qualitative multiple case study focused on data generated from interviews and focus groups with 302 participants, including teachers, student support specialists, and school and district leaders, as well as field notes gathered during guided school tours, and documents. These data were analyzed using qualitative comparative analysis methods in multiple phases of deductive and inductive coding.

Conclusions: Study findings indicate that when teachers are offered opportunities to act as agents, they tend to offer opportunities to their students similarly. This research also suggests that affordances for teachers to assert agency can mitigate the constraining effects of state accountability system compliance-oriented practices. We conclude that teacher and student reciprocal agency merits further study and offers theoretical insights of particular import in high-needs and high-diversity school contexts.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 12, 2020, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23504, Date Accessed: 2/25/2021 2:59:58 PM

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About the Author
  • Aaron Leo
    State University of New York at Albany
    E-mail Author
    AARON LEO, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on the education of newly arrived immigrants and refugees. His scholarly interests center on social class disparities among new arrivals and the ways in which newcomers manage pressures to assimilate. Dr. Leo’s work has been featured recently in the American Educational Research Journal and the School Community Journal.
  • Kristen C. Wilcox
    State University of New York at Albany
    E-mail Author
    KRISTEN C. WILCOX, Ph.D., conducts action research, qualitative research, and mixed-method research in service of educational change and school effectiveness and improvement in service of diverse youth. Her research interests also include second-language writing and culturally sustaining pedagogy. Dr. Wilcox’s research has been highlighted in the Journal of Educational Change and The Peabody Journal of Education, among others.
  • Catherine Kramer
    State University of New York at Albany
    E-mail Author
    CATHERINE KRAMER is a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Welfare at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her research interests focus on young people who experience disadvantage and marginalization due to poverty, social isolation, and social exclusion. Catherine’s research takes her across multiple settings—educational, juvenile justice, and child welfare—in pursuit of organizational designs and practices that ensure healthy development and opportunity for young people. Her most recent work on the well-being of children in informal kinship care will appear in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
  • Hal A. Lawson
    State University of New York at Albany
    E-mail Author
    HAL A. LAWSON, Ph.D., is professor of educational policy and leadership, and professor of social welfare. He is an interdisciplinary scholar with expertise in school–family–community–university partnerships and intersectoral public policy. Dr. Lawson’s most recent work on student trauma has been featured in Harvard Educational Review.
  • Mina Min
    Appalachian State University
    E-mail Author
    MINA MIN, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of elementary education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Appalachian State University. Her scholarship focuses on teacher agency, motivation, and change; teaching effectiveness; educational reform; and pre- and in-service teachers’ dispositions and practices for promoting social justice. She approaches these topics from comparative, international, sociocultural, and critical perspectives. Dr. Min’s recent work has been highlighted in Asia Pacific Journal of Education and the Journal of Science Teacher Education.
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