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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Deliberating Instructional Reform: How Teachers Collectively Negotiate Changing Beliefs and Practices

  • Author(s): Lockton, Marie
  • Advisor(s): Datnow, Amanda
  • et al.

Under pressure to continually improve student outcomes, teachers are often asked by their schools, districts, and states to implement reforms aimed at changing their instructional practices. Even when research shows these reforms can benefit students, instructional practices in schools often change very little. The way teachers interpret reforms and decide if they are appropriate and feasible in their context can be influenced by the formal and informal conversations they have with other educators (school administrators, instructional coaches, and other teachers) about the their practice. In these conversations, teachers collectively negotiate beliefs and instructional decisions about their students, their academic subject, and their roles as teachers. The forces at play in these conversations are not completely understood, however.

This comparative case study employs qualitative interview and observation methods combined with social network analysis to examine the content and context of teachers’ deliberations and interactions about reforms and instructional practice. This year-long study followed the math departments at two urban middle schools undergoing reforms aimed at improving instruction in math. Results showed that deliberation was a key element in changing teachers’ beliefs and practices. Teachers experienced more fruitful deliberation when their collaboration time was structured to encourage discussion about student thinking and instructional practices regarding specific math concepts. Opportunities to engage in these discussions with trusted colleagues as well as with schools’ wider math departments were both important for supporting teachers’ efforts to explore conflicting beliefs about the reforms. Some individuals displayed a high degree of deliberation expertise, engineering deliberations toward a collective orientation that supported the feasibility of reforms at their schools. These teachers enjoyed denser social networks with stronger ties, and individuals who worked closely with them were observed recounting their successes with and arguing for reform-aligned instructional practices. Future research might explore the contextual factors that develop teachers’ deliberation expertise over time and the corresponding changes to their social networks and instructional practices.

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