The committee was charged with considering the role of preservice and inservice education in responding to changing student demographics and evolving expectations for teaching and learning. However, the committee concluded that programs of teacher preparation and continuing professional development (PD), while important, are insufficient in and of themselves to equip teachers to meet these expectations. Teachers hone their instructional practices and develop their ways of relating to students and families in the context of daily work in schools. Research supplies consistent and compelling evidence that what teachers do in their classrooms, as well as whether teachers stay in their schools and the profession, writ large, is shaped by the nature of the social relations, material resources, and organizational conditions of the schools and districts in which teachers work (Bryk et al., 2010; Cobb et al., 2018; Coburn, 2003; Johnson, 2019; Johnson, Kraft, and Papay, 2012; McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001; Nasir et al., 2014; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2015).
For example, based on analysis of a statewide survey of a representative sample of Massachusetts teachers focused on working conditions, paired with an analysis of student demographic and achievement data, Johnson, Kraft, and Papay (2012) found that “the seeming relationship between student demographics and teacher turnover is driven not by teachers’ responses to their students, but by the conditions in which they must teach and their students are obliged to learn” (p. 1). Johnson, Kraft, and Papay investigated the impact of a number of working conditions, including material resources (e.g., facilities, instructional resources), planning time, and social relationships on teacher satisfaction and intent to remain teaching at
their current school, as well as on growth in student achievement. While all of the working conditions on which teachers were surveyed mattered, it was the social relationships that mattered most in explaining teachers’ satisfaction and intent to remain teaching at their school. Specifically, three elements stood out, in explaining teachers’ satisfaction:
(1) collegial relationships, or the extent to which teachers report having productive working relationships with their colleagues; (2) the principal’s leadership, or the extent to which teachers report that their school leaders are supportive and create school environments conducive to learning; and (3) school culture, or the extent to which school environments are characterized by mutual trust, respect, openness, and commitment to student achievement. (p. 24, italics added)
In fact, as Johnson, Kraft, and Papay (2012) report, the magnitudes of the effects of these social relationships “were almost twice as large as those of school resources and facilities” (p. 24). Further, they found that after teachers’ perception of community support (defined as the extent to which families and the broader community support teachers and students in the school), these same three elements—collegial relationships, principal’s leadership, and school culture—were also most strongly related to growth in student achievement at the school level, including when comparing schools serving similar student populations.
As a second example, in a study employing a large administrative data set spanning 10 years from Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools, Kraft and Papay (2014) pose questions about the relationship between teacher improvement and aspects of a school’s professional environment (order and discipline, principal leadership, peer collaboration, PD, school culture, and teacher evaluation). They conclude that
policies aimed at improving teacher effectiveness that focus on the individual, ignoring the role of the organization, fail to recognize or leverage the potential importance of the school context in promoting teacher development. We show that the degree to which teachers become more effective over time varies substantially by school. In some schools, teachers improve at much greater rates than in others. We find that this improvement is strongly related to the opportunities and supports provided by the professional context in which they work. (p. 494)
In light of these findings, this chapter turns attention to the role of the workplace in supporting individual teachers and in building teachers’ collective capacity to create robust learning opportunities for all the children they serve. It poses the question: In a context of changing demographics and heightened expectations, to what extent are schools and school systems
organized for teachers to learn from and with each other about how to improve instruction and support student learning? For purposes of clarity and focus, this chapter and the preceding chapter distinguish between external PD and internal job-embedded/workplace professional learning opportunities; however, the available research indicates that these various opportunities intersect in the daily lives of teachers with varying degrees of coherence. Research spanning decades points to the gains that follow when schools are organized both to support workplace-based learning and to capitalize on well-designed formal PD (Bryk et al., 2010; Cobb et al., 2018; Horn, 2005; Little, 1984, 2006; Nasir et al., 2014).
This chapter begins by highlighting three strategic investments that school and system leaders have made in recent decades to strengthen the knowledge, skill, and professional identity of teachers: systems of induction and mentoring for beginning teachers, opportunities for teachers to learn from and with colleagues, and the development of instructional coaching roles, relationships, and practices. The chapter concludes by taking up the broader question of how schools as organizations build the capacity to respond to changing conditions and expectations. School-level leadership figures prominently in that discussion.
Over the past several decades, in response to teacher attrition among beginning teachers, there has been a marked increase in the presence of induction programs, whether at the state, district, or school level; national survey data indicate that 90 percent of teachers in 2008 reported having participated in an induction program in their first year of teaching, up from 50 percent in 1990 (Ingersoll and Strong, 2011; Ronfeldt and McQueen, 2017). As Ingersoll and Strong (2011) explain, the goals of induction programs are to “improve the performance and retention of beginning teachers . . . with the ultimate aim of improving the growth and learning of students” (p. 203). What counts as “induction” varies; it can include orientation sessions, time to collaborate with other faculty, workshops, meetings with supervisors, extra assistance in the classroom, reduced workloads, and mentoring (Ingersoll and Strong, 2011). In theory, induction is different from other forms of inservice PD, in that it is targeted only at beginning teachers and is likely to encompass support for new teachers that extends beyond classroom performance (e.g., achieving work-life balance
or navigating the school culture). However, in practice and in research, the lines between induction and other forms of in-service PD are blurry (e.g., provision of common planning time).
The expansion of induction and mentoring programs has prompted a corresponding growth in descriptive studies that characterize the nature of such programs and in evaluative studies that attempt to trace the effects of mentoring and induction on teachers’ confidence, performance, and retention (Evertson and Smithey, 2000; Fletcher, Strong, and Villars, 2008; Ingersoll and Strong, 2011; Kang and Berliner, 2012; Ronfeldt and McQueen, 2017; Schwille, 2008; Smith, Desimone, and Porter, 2012; Stanulis and Floden, 2009). The most ambitious large-scale, experimental design study to date compared a randomly assigned treatment group of beginning elementary school teachers who received “comprehensive” induction supports provided by Educational Testing Services or the New Teacher Center to a control group who received “business as usual” district induction support (Glazerman et al., 2010). Teachers across both groups reported on surveys that they received similar kinds of supports (e.g., PD, mentor); however, teachers in the treatment group reported receiving significantly greater amounts of support. That study found no significant differences between the groups with respect to retention or teachers’ instructional practice in the first year. Other studies, including some with comparison group designs, have found positive effects of induction and mentoring on teachers’ instructional practice (Evertson and Smithey, 2000; Stanulis and Floden, 2009) and on student achievement (Fletcher, Strong, and Villars, 2008).
The most recent comprehensive study of the prevalence of induction programs, including mentoring and its impact on retention of beginning teachers, utilizes data from nationally representative samples of beginning teachers, specifically three administrations of the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and Teacher Follow-Up Survey (2003–2004, 2007–2008, 2011–2012) and the Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study for full- and part-time public school teachers (Ronfeldt and McQueen, 2017). Ronfeldt and McQueen found that the vast majority of teachers in the full sample reported participating in an induction program in their first year.1 The most prevalent form of professional learning support was mentoring (79%), followed by participation in seminars (73%) and common planning time with same-subject teachers (about 62%). In addition, 88 percent of teachers reported supportive communication with leadership.
In the 2011–2012 SASS, comparable percentages of elementary and secondary teachers reported receiving similar first-year supports, with one
1 An induction program was defined on the 2011–2012 SASS as “a program for beginning teachers that may include teacher orientation, mentoring, coaching, demonstrations, and/or assessments aimed at enhancing teachers’ effectiveness” (p. 19).
TABLE 7-1 Percentage of Teachers Reporting Receipt of Induction Supports, by School Setting
|Common Planning Time||49||60||62||59|
SOURCE: 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey.
exception: 65 percent of elementary teachers reported receiving common planning time as compared to 50 percent of secondary teachers. Teachers’ reports about first-year supports varied slightly in relation to their school setting (see Table 7-1): fewer teachers in rural settings reported receiving common planning time with their same-subject teachers, as compared to teachers in a city, setting, or town setting. Teachers’ report of supportive communication from leadership was similar (72–77% of teachers) regardless of school setting.
In terms of teacher migration and attrition, Ronfeldt and McQueen (2017) found that all induction supports reduced the odds that a beginning teacher would move schools the following year. However, certain supports appeared to be more important than others. Namely, receiving supportive communication from school leadership, having a mentor, attending a beginning seminar, and having common time for collaborating/planning significantly reduced the odds that a beginning teacher would move schools the following year. Supportive communication from school leadership was significantly associated with reducing the odds of migrating schools between 43 and 52 percent, depending on the model they ran, across 5 years. In terms of attrition, attending a beginner’s seminar, receiving supportive communication from leadership and having a mentor significantly reduced the odds of teachers leaving the profession after 1 year, as well as up to 5 years later. Moreover, with both teacher migration and with attrition, Ronfeldt and McQueen (2017) found the more supports, the better. Across cohorts of teachers as well as various data sources and models, they found that “teachers who received more extensive induction supports2 were significantly less likely to migrate or leave the profession” (p. 395).
Importantly, the provision of extensive supports did not appear to vary by teacher or school characteristic, with a few exceptions. “Black teachers were significantly more likely than White teachers to receive extensive
2Ronfeldt and McQueen (2017) distinguished between teachers who received zero to three supports, and those who received four to six supports. Fifty-six percent of the sample received four to six supports, or what Ronfeldt and McQueen characterized as “extensive supports.”
induction supports; in fact, the odds of receiving extensive induction supports were between 80% and 100% greater” (p. 402). Ronfeldt and McQueen hypothesize that this may be due to the fact that beginning Black teachers leave teaching at a much faster rate than their peers (see Ingersoll, May, and Collins, 2019). Ronfelt and McQueen also found that the school characteristics significantly related to receiving extensive induction supports were “teachers in schools with (a) higher percentages of LEP students and (b) smaller enrollments (less than 350)” (p. 402).
Ronfeldt and McQueen’s (2017) study clearly suggests that providing multiple induction supports to first-year teachers, including mentoring, is an important policy lever for retaining teachers and reducing turnover between schools (see Chapter 4) in their early years. However, there has been little research on how the content or quality of induction supports impacts teacher migration and attrition and about the impact of supports on other outcomes, such as the quality of teaching or student learning. Moreover, whereas Ronfeldt and McQueen’s findings suggest that Black teachers receive significantly more extensive supports than their colleagues, little is known about the impact of the quality or quantity of supports on Black teachers or other teachers of color.
The physical and social organization of schools in the United States remains largely akin to what sociologist Dan Lortie (1975, p. 14) characterized as an “egg crate,” with teachers and their students encapsulated in individual classroom spaces. Such an arrangement tends to isolate teachers and to place a premium on learning alone in the confines of the classroom. However, evidence from large-scale survey data (Banilower et al., 2018; Rotermund, DeRoche, and Ottem, 2017) and studies of instructional improvement at scale (Bryk et al., 2010; Cobb et al., 2018; Coburn and Russell, 2008) suggest that school and system leaders increasingly recognize the potential benefit to be realized from opportunities for teachers to collaborate within the workplace and to learn from watching one another teach through voluntary peer observation. In addition, efforts to enrich the academic and social experience for students with disabilities have included co-teaching arrangements in which special education teachers share classroom responsibility with their “general education” colleagues (Friend et al., 2010). Initiatives to establish Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, have become commonplace in recent years, although the term is now so widespread and refers to so many different configurations and purposes as to render comparisons among studies challenging (Vangrieken et al., 2017; Vescio, Ross, and Adams, 2008). Several decades worth of studies point to the variability in teachers’ professional interactions within and across schools.
Research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s highlighted the potential value in teachers’ having regular opportunities to make sense of teaching together, identifying and working to resolve common dilemmas in teaching and patterns of student learning (Little, 1982; McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001; Rosenholtz, 1989; Siskin, 1994). Few of the early workplace studies investigated the relationship between robust professional community and student outcomes. However, a multiyear study of Chicago elementary schools identified “professional capacity”3 as one of five essential elements that accounted for improvements in student achievement and attendance patterns (Bryk et al., 2010). No comparable systemwide studies of school workplace culture and student outcomes exist at the secondary level. However, a longitudinal mixed-methods study of 16 high schools in four metropolitan areas of California and Michigan supplies survey, interview, and observational evidence that consistently points to the influence of nested contexts (department, school, district, and sector) on teachers’ professional orientation and relationships (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001; Talbert and McLaughlin, 1994). That study was among the first in the United States to attend closely to the importance of within-school teacher groupings—especially subject departments—as significant contexts for the formation of teachers’ perspectives, relationships, and practices (Siskin, 1994; Siskin and Little, 1995). Variations both within and across schools led McLaughlin and Talbert (2001) to differentiate weak from strong professional cultures, but also to observe that strong professional ties were not always associated with an improvement stance. Rather, teacher bonds might form either in support of deep questioning and the pursuit of improvement (“teacher learning community”) or to protect traditional forms of instruction and a norm of privacy (“strong traditional community”).
In a smaller-scale multiyear study of mathematics learning and course-taking in three comparison high schools, Boaler and Staples (2008) also attribute the superior outcomes in one school (Railside) to the strength of the department-level teacher community. An in-depth observation and interview study of department-level cultures in the same school helped to further specify the kinds of group-level perspectives and practices that could account for the measured student outcomes (Horn and Little, 2010; Nasir et al., 2014).
Findings from studies such as those described above prompted schools and districts across the country to change the structuring of time during the workday (before, during, and/or after school) so that teachers might engage in “professional learning communities,” “critical friends groups,”
“common planning time,” “teacher communities,” and “study groups.” Teachers may meet in grade-level teams or by disciplines, and the frequency and focus of this time vary widely (Cobb et al., 2018; Curry, 2008). Results of the 2011–2012 SASS show that a large majority (81%) of teachers surveyed reported regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers on issues of instruction, with slightly less collaboration reported by teachers with three or fewer years of experience (76%) and by teachers in high schools (76%). Teachers in elementary schools reported the highest levels of collaboration (85%) (Rotermund et al., 2017).4
Rotermund and colleagues (2017) caution that the SASS data show patterns of participation in collaborative activity but offer no indication of the quality of the experience or its impact on teachers’ perspectives or classroom practices. In an earlier paper based on the 2000 Fast Response Survey System, Parsad and colleagues (2001, p. v) reported, “Teachers who engaged in regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers at least once a week were more likely to believe that participation had improved their teaching a lot (45%), compared with teachers who participated two to three times a month (23%), once a month (15%), or a few times a year (7%).” Of course, it is not possible to establish causal direction in this instance; teachers who are working assiduously to improve their teaching may be more inclined to collaborate frequently.
Ronfeldt and colleagues (2015) conducted one of the few district-level, large-scale quantitative studies of the impact of teacher collaboration on student achievement. Drawing on survey and administrative data from more than 9,000 teachers in the Miami-Dade County Schools over 2 years, they found that 84 percent of all teachers reported collaborating with their colleagues on instructional issues, and nearly 90 percent of those teachers reported that the collaboration was “helpful” or “very helpful.” However, there was wide variation in what teachers reported as the focus of their collaboration, namely the extent to which they focused on instructional strategies and curriculum (e.g., coordinating curriculum across classrooms, developing materials), discussing instructional strategies students (e.g., discussing the needs of specific students, reviewing student work, discussing classroom management); and/or assessment (e.g., reviewing test results, reviewing formative assessments). Consistent with a number of qualitative studies, Ronfeldt and colleagues (2015) found that “the vast majority of variation in collaboration is within, not between, schools, suggesting the need for attention to differences in collaboration even among teachers in the same school environment” (p. 479).
4 The SASS results differ somewhat from those resulting from the 2018 NSSME+ survey targeted specifically to STEM teachers. In that survey, between 55–68 percent of secondary teachers, as compared to 43–53 percent of elementary teachers, indicated they participated in teacher collaborative time in the past 3 years (Banilower et al., 2018, p. 50).
Ronfeldt and colleagues found that on the whole, teachers who reported engaging in greater degrees of collaboration and who found it to be helpful, showed greater gains on value-added5 analyses of students’ achievement in reading and in mathematics, and “usually at statistically significant and meaningful levels” (p. 506). In general, they found positive effects of collaboration on student achievement, no matter the focus of the collaboration, although a focus on assessment was “most often significantly predictive of achievement in math and reading” (p. 506). However, Ronfeldt and colleagues caution against taking this finding to suggest that teacher collaboration should exclusively focus on analyzing student assessment data. They write:
Does this mean that building collaboration around assessments is good policy? Not necessarily. It is possible, for example, that test score gains may have resulted from an excessive focus on test preparation, possibly at the expense of focusing on other educationally meaningful topics. Finding collaboration about assessments to predict better performance on assessments is not so surprising. Had our dependent variable been a different educational outcome, for example, teachers’ pedagogy or students’ critical thinking, it is possible that collaboration about assessment would not have been as predictive. Future research should continue to investigate whether different educational outcomes are more responsive to collaboration with different foci. (p. 509)
Qualitative research indicates that workplace conditions shape the extent to which analyzing data is used primarily to target students’ performance on an assessment, and/or to fundamentally improve the quality of instruction and thus students’ learning opportunities. (See Box 7-1 for a discussion of teacher collaboration and data use.)
In addition, the available research also supplies evidence that simply meeting together—even with shared aims of improvement—does not ensure that the group will constitute a PLC (Curry, 2008; Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth, 2001; Horn et al., 2016; Lefstein et al., 2019; McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001). Based on a synthesis of the literature on teacher collaboration in relation to ambitious goals for teacher learning, Horn, Kane, and Garner (2018) write that, “at its best, teacher collaborative time can provide teachers with opportunities to contend with school-level problems of practice and adapt the big ideas of pull-out PD to the complex daily realities of particular classrooms” (p. 96). They argue that a key marker of productive teacher collaborative time is the opportunity to discuss not only how to adapt an idea relative to one’s context, but also why a particular practice or adaptation makes sense. However, this requires not only the
establishment of trust between colleagues to discuss and make sense of the deeply personal accounts of teaching, but also that individuals in the group have the expertise necessary to tackle problems of practice in ways that advance teaching and learning.
Productive collaboration is marked by teachers’ openly sharing their practices and dilemmas, questioning current practice and assumptions in the face of student struggle or failure, and connecting evidence of student learning to instructional decisions. Yet qualitative studies, both large and small scale, indicate that it is rare that the focus, facilitation, and structure of teacher collaborative time in most U.S. schools support
teachers’ development of perspectives and practices in ways that would allow them to productively respond to the expectations described in Chapter 3.
Findings from the Middle School Mathematics and the Institutional Study of Teaching (MIST) study are especially illustrative of the challenges districts and schools face in organizing and implementing teacher collaborative time that supports substantial teacher learning (Horn, Kane, and Garner, 2018). They conducted a qualitative study focused on understanding the learning opportunities across 24 collaborative teacher groups that were nominated by district and school instructional leaders as
functioning well. Each of four districts provided substantial time for teachers to meet with their colleagues during the school day. Based on an analysis of 111 video recordings of meetings from the selected 24 groups of middle-school mathematics teachers, Horn, Kane, and Garner found that “pacing and logistics meetings accounted for more than 40 percent of the meetings in [the] sample” (p. 98). In another 24 percent of meetings, teachers primarily focused on sharing “tips and tricks,” or the “how” of instruction absent a discussion of the “why.” In the remaining third or so of meetings, teachers focused on both the how and why of problems of practice. Teachers likely find it useful to discuss pacing and logistics, as well as to share tips and tricks. However, Horn, Kane, and Garner argue that those kinds of meetings, on their own, are unlikely to support teachers in developing the perspectives and practices necessary for the engagement of a broad set of students—one of the high expectations for teaching (see Chapter 3). Based on these findings, Horn, Kane, and Garner concluded, “Despite [substantial investment in teacher collaborative time] . . . we found that effective teacher collaboration that had the potential to support teachers’ development of ambitious and equitable instructional practices happened relatively infrequently in our partner districts” (p. 94).
Findings from this and other studies point to the challenge of developing a robust teacher community where it does not already exist, yet there remain few studies that trace the formation of such relationships over time. In one widely cited example, Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth (2001) followed a group of high school English and history teachers as they gradually came to terms with the differences and disagreements (e.g., about the nature of “evidence” in literary versus historical texts) that limited their ability to forge an interdisciplinary curriculum. The authors characterize the group’s development over 2 years as a move from “pseudo-community” to “authentic” community (p. 989).
In another example, participants in a long-term department-initiated process of mathematics reform supply accounts of how the department’s leaders and teachers forged agreements, developed new knowledge and practices, and tracked their progress by attending closely to evidence of student learning. Tsu, Lotan, and Cossey (2014) describe the impetus for the department’s collective endeavor (an accreditation site visit that confronted the department with its record of student failure and students’ expressed frustration), and the teachers’ subsequent efforts to work and learn together as they made changes. A key contributor to the department’s success was its partnership with the PD program Complex Instruction, based at Stanford University. Cabana, Shreve, and Woodbury (2014) supply an additional account of the same group’s evolution as a teacher community, focusing on the group’s decisions, routines, and practices: detracking Algebra I, doing mathematics together, building a curriculum consistent with Complex
Instruction pedagogy, developing an approach to hiring and induction, and cultivating distributed leadership.
One potential benefit of increased time to collaborate with peers is the development of teacher networks, whereby teachers increasingly turn to one another to garner new ideas or ask for advice about their practice. In the past two decades, there has been increasing research on the development and maintenance of teacher networks, especially in relation to the implementation of ambitious instructional initiatives—both within and across schools and districts (Daly, 2015; Moolenaar, 2012). Evidence indicates that networks in which teachers see one another as resources, turn to others with relevant expertise, and interact in robust as opposed to superficial ways, can serve as important supports for teachers as they implement new forms of practice, including after formal supports such as PD or coaching are phased out (Coburn, Mata, and Choi, 2013; Lieberman and Wood, 2003; Penuel et al., 2012).
However, research is less clear on why some teachers develop networks characterized by depth and support for instructional improvement whereas others do not. A study of a 3-year districtwide implementation of an ambitious elementary mathematics curriculum indicates that school and district context and policy matter in the formation of networks (Coburn, Mata, and Choi, 2013). Coburn, Mata, and Choi studied the formation of teacher networks in relationship to changes in district policy regarding the use of the new curriculum and the provision of supports. Teachers were initially provided with time to collaborate with colleagues and coaches, as well as districtwide PD; however, these supports were reduced by the third year. Teachers’ social networks reflected these changes; social networks initially expanded as teachers were provided increasing time to collaborate with colleagues, including those outside their own schools, and then networks contracted as that collaboration time was removed. However, even though the district retracted supports in the third year, Coburn, Mata, and Choi also found that because of the robust nature of the supports initially provided, teachers increasingly sought out others whom they viewed as having relevant expertise over the 3 years, and that they increasingly viewed other teachers as having relevant expertise and sources for guidance alongside coaches. Coburn, Mata, and Choi performed their own assessment of teachers’ expertise in relation to the mathematics reform initiative and found that their own assessment matched with teachers’ assessment. Coburn, Mata, and Choi write, “Teachers not only developed an appetite for expertise, driving their reasons for seeking out others, but also improved in their ability to identify those in the school with expertise” (p. 322). This study indicates that it is possible to design the conditions under which teacher networks are likely to flourish and continue even when those supports are removed, and thus provide an important support to teachers.
The model of one-on-one instructional coaching as a component of teachers’ PD originated in the 1980s (Joyce and Showers, 1982; Showers, 1984) but has become a more commonplace and visible feature of the workplace over the past two decades, yielding both practical guides (West and Staub, 2003) and a body of research (Baldinger, 2018; Campbell and Malkus, 2011; Coburn and Woulfin, 2012; Gibbons and Cobb, 2017; Lockwood, McCombs, and Marsh, 2010; Woulfin, 2015). As with the other forms of PD, the frequency and focus of coaching varies. According to results of the 2015–2016 National Teacher and Principal Survey, 66 percent of all schools had specialist or coaching positions, although such roles were less common in small town and rural schools, and other evidence suggests that few teachers may experience one-on-one coaching. Banilower et al. (2018), drawing on the 2018 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (NSSME+), write: “Across subject areas and grade ranges, one-on-one coaching is relatively rare except in elementary school mathematics, where over 4 in 10 schools offer coaching” (p. 66). Moreover, they found that the “proportion of teachers who are coached is small,” with about 10 percent of science teachers and 13–18 percent of math teachers (depending on the grade level) reporting having been provided with coaching (p. 67). Cost is a likely factor in accounting for the variable availability of instructional coaches across subject areas, in rural areas, and at the level of the individual classroom; however, the committee is not aware of studies focused on the cost structure of coaching and on related system-level decisions about resource allocation.
A recent meta-analysis demonstrates the potential of instructional coaching to yield improvements in teachers’ instructional practice and in students’ measured achievement. Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan (2018) combined results from 60 rigorous studies of coaching in the United States and other developed countries: the studies focus primarily on literacy coaching in pre-K and elementary settings but include a few at the high school level and a few in math and science. The authors define coaching programs as “all in-service PD programs where coaches or peers observe teachers’ instruction and provide feedback to help them improve” (p. 548). In contrast to conventional PD, “coaching is intended to be individualized, time-intensive, sustained over the course of a semester or year, context specific, and focused on discrete skills” (p. 548). They note that nearly all the coaching models in the selected studies (90%) were joined to other forms of PD such as summer workshops, group PD events during the academic year, or the provision of new curricular and instructional materials.
Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan (2018) attribute their ability to conduct such a meta-analysis to substantial improvements in research design over the past decade, spurred by the Education Sciences Reform Act in 2002. With respect
to effects on instruction measured in 43 studies, results show large positive effects of coaching, with a pooled effect size of 0.49 SD.6 The meta-analysis also shows a general positive effect of coaching on student achievement. In the 31 studies that included achievement measures, they estimate that coaching raised student performance on standardized tests by 0.18 SD; however, Kraft, Blazar, and Hogan caution that their ability to gauge achievement effects across coaching models is limited by the fact that most of the achievement effect sizes relied on reading assessments as the outcome measure. In a finding that parallels other recent reviews and meta-analyses (Kennedy, 2016; Lynch et al., 2019), Kraft et al. find no evidence that dosage matters. They conclude, “The lack of evidence supporting dosage effects suggests that the quality and focus of coaching may be more important than the actual number of contact hours” (p. 565). On a sobering note, but one that invites future research, the authors indicate that the effect sizes for both instructional outcomes and achievement outcomes diminish as teacher sample size increases. Using sample size as a proxy for scale of implementation, they urge attention to what it will require to build “a corps of capable coaches whose expertise is well matched to the diverse needs of teachers in a school or district” (p. 571; on this point, see Coburn and Russell, 2008).
Each of the arrangements highlighted above—induction support and mentoring for new teachers, time and structures for teacher collaboration, and instructional coaching—may supply teachers with opportunities to meet heightened expectations for “deeper learning” and for working successfully with a diverse population of students (as described in Chapter 3). However, the effectiveness of such arrangements likely depends on the degree to which they constitute part of an integrated system of supports for teacher learning and school improvement.
Responding productively and on a large scale to new demographics and new expectations for teaching and learning will require not only a workforce of well-prepared individuals but also schools with the collective capacity for continuous improvement. The significance of a school’s collective capacity forms the central argument of two major bodies of research conducted since the 1990s and published in recent volumes.
Over two decades, the Next Generation of Teachers Project at Harvard engaged in a series of studies of elementary, middle, and high schools to
6 The associated standard deviation of the estimated random effect (0.33 SD) nonetheless points to considerable variability across programs.
investigate the school-level and system policies and practices related to hiring, induction, curriculum, teacher collaboration, and teacher evaluation that contributed (or not) to teachers’ commitment and supported their learning. In the recent volume Where Teachers Thrive: Organizing Schools for Success, Johnson (2019) draws on studies conducted between 2008 and 2015 to argue that the prevailing policy logic—the notion that schools can be improved through a singular focus on human capital, or the knowledge and skill of individual teachers—is fundamentally flawed. Without denying the importance of teachers’ knowledge, skill, and judgment, Johnson argues that relying primarily on individual teacher qualities will prove insufficient to support effective teaching, deepen teacher commitment, or stimulate and sustain school improvement. Each of the book’s eight chapters illuminates the contrasts between an individualistic perspective and a collective perspective on selected levers on teacher quality (including teacher collaboration, teacher leadership, and teacher evaluation), and how those contrasts play out with respect to outcomes of interest.
A second major set of multiyear studies, situated in Chicago’s elementary schools, identified “professional capacity” as one of five core elements characteristic of schools that recorded improvements in student achievement and attendance (Bryk et al., 2010). As defined by the researchers, professional capacity encompassed an improvement orientation, professional community marked by relational trust, and access to high-quality professional development. In a volume summarizing the cumulative results of the research, Bryk and colleagues (2010) argue that effective school-level leadership constitutes the most crucial of the five elements—the primary driver of a school’s organizational capacity, with well substantiated consequences for teacher commitment and retention as well as for schools’ measured student achievement and other outcomes.7
Although school-level leadership in the Chicago studies reported by Bryk and colleagues (2010) referred specifically to the elementary school principal, other studies adopt a distributed leadership perspective (Spillane, 2006) to examine the practice and perspectives of teacher (Mangin, 2007; Spillane, Hallett, and Diamond, 2003). Such studies illuminate variations in the work teacher leaders are engaged in doing and how (or whether) they are positioned to support fellow teachers in meeting new expectations. In some instances, studies point to the role of the district in supporting principals and other school-level leaders in building a productive school culture (Coburn and Russell, 2008; Honig, 2008, 2012; Johnson, 2019).
7 Other key elements included parent-community ties, a student-centered learning climate, and a system of instructional guidance.
Studies spanning several decades suggest the potentially synergistic relationship between teachers’ collective participation in PD and improvements at the classroom, department, or school level (Bryk et al., 2010; Desimone, 2009; Franke et al., 1998, 2001; Horn, 2005; Little, 1993, 2006; Nasir et al., 2014). In one widely cited study of PD implementation, teachers who had participated in the mathematics PD program Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) reported that collegial support was a significant factor in their implementation and sustained use of the ideas and practices introduced by the PD. “Each teacher began the project in a school where the majority of teachers were participating in the professional development program. Many teachers reported that that level of support from colleagues was critical, in that it made the reform a school endeavor rather than a single teacher’s endeavor” (Franke et al., 2001, p. 679).
However, the CGI researchers also reported that the nature and intensity of teachers’ collaborative interactions varied both within and across schools. In some groups, teachers “questioned each other, shared articles with each other, talked about tasks, and talked about students, all focused on learning more about children’s mathematical thinking in their classrooms. The teachers in these collaborative groups felt that continuing the reform without this level of support would be difficult” (p. 679). However, “other teachers in these same schools did not develop the same level or type of collegial support” (p. 680). Teachers with the highest levels of implementation, sustained over time, tended to be those with the most intensive forms of collaboration.
Examining factors specifically at the secondary school level, intensive teacher collaboration linked to participation in PD (when found at all) appears more common at the department level than at the whole-school level, especially in large comprehensive high schools (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2001; Siskin, 1994). One compelling example is the mathematics department in an urban high school with an ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse student population. Over the course of two decades, teachers were aided by a succession of skilled department leaders, intensive teacher collaboration focused on student learning, collective participation in Stanford’s Complex Instruction program of PD, and participation in various reform-oriented mathematics teacher networks. These conditions enabled a series of progressive accomplishments, which were the focus of complementary sets of studies at Stanford and Berkeley, reported in a series of published works (among them, Boaler and Staples, 2008; Horn, 2005; Nasir et al., 2014).
In the past decade, studies employing social network theory and methods of social network analysis have provided a conceptual, methodological, and empirical bridge between what has long been rather separate lines of research on teacher learning in PD and teacher learning in the workplace (Penuel et al., 2012; Sun et al., 2013). Penuel and colleagues (2012) write, “It is a relatively recent development within studies of teacher networks to consider simultaneously the effects of formal professional development and collegial interactions” (p. 110). In a longitudinal (3-year) study conducted in 20 schools serving as local partnership sites of the National Writing Project,8 they employ PD participation data (contact hours) and social network data to help account for variations in teachers’ reported changes in writing instruction by year 3. The analysis, which controlled for prior instructional practice and for teacher background characteristics (including years of teaching experience, gender, and subject taught), was designed to estimate the direct effect of PD participation and any added indirect effects of collegial interaction on year 3 instructional practice.
Penuel and colleagues (2012) report significant positive effects of participation in PD and of informal interaction with peers who had gained expertise through their participation in the PD. However, the contribution made by participation in the PD and by interaction with colleagues varied in relationship to teachers’ self-reported prior instructional practice; teachers with the lowest prior level of writing process instruction benefitted significantly from both the PD and peer interactions, while those reporting intermediate levels of prior instruction were significantly influenced by the PD and less by colleague interactions, and teachers with the highest levels of prior writing instruction were influenced primarily by peer interaction.
In a related analysis, Sun and colleagues (2013) investigate the “spillover effects” of PD “in which the provision of professional development to some teachers shapes the practices of other teachers in the school who may or may not directly participate in professional development” (p. 347). The researchers ask how the duration, focus, and strategies of writing-related PD may affect the number of colleagues whom a participating teacher subsequently helps with writing instruction, and how the teachers being helped make changes in their writing instruction. Annual schoolwide surveys in 39 schools supplied data on teachers’ background, writing-related PD experience, professional networks, practices of writing instruction, and school contexts. The surveys also asked respondents to name up to five colleagues
8 This large-scale NWP evaluation study entailed random assignment of 39 middle schools to a treatment (partnership) or control (delayed partnership) condition. The analysis in Penuel et al.’s (2012) paper relies on data collected in the 20 partnership schools; the related analysis reported by Sun et al. (2013) paper employs data from all 39 schools.
who had helped them with writing instruction, and to report both the frequency and type of help offered. Sun and colleagues (2013) find that:
teachers were more likely to provide help to others with teaching writing if they had intensively participated in professional development of longer duration, with a broader range of writing-related content, and that employed a larger number of active learning strategies. . . . Moreover, we found that the expertise that teachers gained from Year 2 professional development spread to other teachers as they offered professional help. In some cases, the spillover effects on the improvement of instructional practices were almost equal to the direct effects of teachers’ participation in professional development. (pp. 359–360)
Overall, the available research points to an association between teacher workgroup capacity (professional community) and effective use of PD, with demonstrated impact on classroom practice and student learning. Further, it suggests a set of propositions about the interaction of external PD and opportunities for workplace-embedded learning. First, the greater the demands on teachers for deep understanding of content, instructional planning and design, and conceptually oriented and equity-driven pedagogical practice, the more teachers are likely to need implementation support and collaborative problem-solving to make good on the promise of PD.
Second, if new ideas and practices introduced by PD are to have meaningful and measurable impact on students and schools, they must be implemented in more than isolated classrooms. And, third, the greater the collective capacity of teachers in a grade level, department, or school, the better positioned they are to judge the relevance and worth of particular PD and to exploit the benefits of PD, even if that PD may be short or episodic. Together, these research-based propositions point to the significance of the larger school systems in which individual schools are embedded.
Research indicates that the broader system in which schools are located shapes the impact of workplace-embedded learning opportunities and formal PD on teachers’ perspectives and practice (Cobb et al., 2018; Coburn, 2003; Coburn and Russell, 2008). Districts emerged as both consumers and providers of PD by the 1970s, but little research focused specifically on the district role until around 1990 (Honig, 2008; Little, 1989; Spillane, 2002).9 Two prominent examples of research conducted since 2000 center
9 In recent years, school systems have come to include charter management organizations, but the available system-level research focuses principally on districts.
around efforts to promote more conceptually rich and equitable mathematics instruction.
Coburn and Russell’s (2008) study of the scale-up of innovative mathematics curricula and instructional practices compares the system of instructional coaching and network formation established in two districts. The study points to the influence of district-level conceptions of teacher learning opportunity and strategies for supporting it. Both districts introduced instructional coaching to promote teachers’ use of new curricula and instructional practices but contrasted in the degree to which they systematically prepared and supported coaches in doing that work. Coaches were more effective and teacher networks more firmly established where the district invested in the professional development of the coaches themselves.
A second example is the previously described MIST study (Cobb et al., 2018). Across each of four districts, the researchers found that there was no shortage of professional learning opportunities. Districts provided mandatory pull-out PD in summer and across the year. District-based or school-based coaches worked in most schools. And, across the districts, teachers were provided with consistent time to collaborate with their colleagues. However, rarely were these various forms of professional learning connected and coordinated. Jackson, Horn, and Cobb (2018) wrote:
Most often . . . one-on-one coaching does not directly build on either the district-wide PD in which the teachers have participated or their work during teacher collaborative meetings. Additionally, what happens in teacher collaborative time remains disconnected from what happens in . . . PD. This makes for an incoherent set of supports that implicitly communicates to teachers that they should select the practices that best suit them, thereby undermining the potential of any one form of support to have any lasting impact. (pp. 68–69)
So, although teachers reported participating in a great deal of PD, they were often not provided opportunities to work consistently and deliberately on improving specific aspects of their practice. In response, researchers have argued for the importance of conceptualizing professional learning in terms of a system in which the various supports for teachers’ learning (e.g., districtwide PD, coaching, teacher collaborative time) are deliberately coordinated, “so that the goals for improving classroom practice in one type of support are built on and elaborated in other types of support” (Jackson, Horn, and Cobb, 2018, p. 69). However, the field has yet to conduct research that evaluates the impact of systems of supports for teacher learning on teacher practice and student learning.
Together, this chapter and the preceding chapter respond to changing student demographics and to heightened expectations for student learning by highlighting two fundamental resources for teachers’ professional work and development: (1) the ideas, materials, and guidance offered through structured PD and (2) the social and material fabric of the workplace, including teachers’ professional relationships and networks in and beyond the school.
Workplace opportunities for teacher learning now commonly include induction and mentoring for new teachers, time to collaborate with peers, and instructional coaching in key subject areas and for purposes of data-driven decision making. However, decades of research on the school workplace confirms that schools vary widely in the tenor of the workplace culture, the vision and skill of school leadership, the availability of high-quality PD, the norms and routines that mark teachers’ professional relationships, and the systems that provide structure and guidance for teachers’ work with students. Empirical research on the three specific strategic interventions of induction and mentoring, collaborative time, and instructional coaching has yielded mixed results, suggesting that a fruitful question is under what conditions each of these interventions proves effective in retaining teachers, stimulating instructional improvement, and boosting student learning.
Overall, there are a number of important players to consider when ensuring teachers are able to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented in the classroom. For practicing teachers, responding to these circumstances and meeting these expectations will require both the disposition and the opportunity for continuous learning. For schools, achieving success will require building the collective capacity for innovation and improvement. Districts and other systems in which schools are embedded (e.g., charter management organizations) play an important role in creating the conditions for schools to develop the capacity to respond productively to these changes.
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