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

by Dan Berebitsky & Christine Andrews-Larson

Background/Context: Teachers’ 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 teachers’ 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 teachers’ 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, teachers’ 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 teachers’ informal advice-seeking as well as how advice-seeking patterns are likely to shift if a teacher is made a coach.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 10, 2017, p. 1-40 ID Number: 21841, Date Accessed: 11/22/2018 6:04:17 AM

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