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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Influence of Teacher Collaboration on Perceptions of Normative Culture: A Network Analysis of Site-Managed High Schools

  • Author(s): Waite, Anisah
  • Advisor(s): Fuller, Bruce
  • et al.

The decentralization of school governance—often blended with market dynamics—has become a prominent strategy for lifting the performance of urban schools. This approach rests upon several assumptions, primarily that freedom from bureaucratic regulation will strengthen teacher community and result in more effective allocation of instructional resources. But do small autonomous high schools host such favorable social-organizational features? What drives collaborative relationships among teachers in decentralized schools? And do these relations help to account for between-school and between-teacher variation in teacher trust and shared responsibility for student learning?

To examine these core questions I draw on social network theory as a theoretical frame and build from the literature on the social organization of efficacious schools. Survey data were collected from 392 teachers in 20 small site-managed charter and pilot high schools located in Los Angeles. First, I used p2 network modeling to determine the extent to which a teacher’s position in the school organization and personal characteristics predicted their instructional support relationships. Second, to examine the influence of these instructional support relationships on a teacher’s perceptions of normative culture in their schools, I estimated hierarchical linear models (HLM) estimating collective responsibility and relational trust as functions of teacher position in the school organization, teacher personal characteristics, and teacher- and school-level network measures of the instructional support relationships.

Teachers’ choice of colleagues to whom they turn for support to improve their teaching practice reflected not only leaders’ efforts to shape teacher collaboration, but also preferences for forming ties with a colleague based on their personal characteristics. Teachers were more likely to seek advice to improve their teaching practice from colleagues who taught the same subject. However, teachers were less likely to seek advice from the more experienced teachers in the school. The likelihood of an instructional advice relationship was greater when teachers were of the same race.

Teachers’ perceptions of normative culture were influenced by the distribution of these social resources in the school, in that uneven distribution of advice and support relationships was detrimental for a sense of shared responsibility for student learning but conducive to a high level of trust in the group. For individual teachers, their collaborative activity conditioned the perceptions further: those teachers most often approached for support by colleagues held weaker perceptions of the group’s overall shared responsibility.

This approach advances the study of teacher professional community to incorporate the “dyad” as a focus, honing in on an essential building block of cohesive social organizations. The study also demonstrates meaningful variation among teachers within the same school in how they perceive normative culture. The findings contribute to the literature on teacher professional community and have implications for policymakers, districts and school leaders.

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