Examining How School Settings Support Teachers’ Improvement of their Classroom Instruction
Dunlap, Charlotte Jean
Prior research on teacher learning in the context of large-scale instructional reform suggests that it is important to attend to both school and district factors and teacher-level factors when trying to understand variation in the impact of professional development efforts on the quality of teachers’ instruction. This dissertation study sought to answer the following research questions: (1) How do district-organized pull-out professional development, one-on-one instructional coaching, school-based teacher collaborative time, and school leaders’ instructional expectations impact the quality of teachers’ instruction over time? (2) How do teachers’ current instructional expertise (the depth of their mathematical knowledge for teaching, their visions of high-quality instruction, and their views of their struggling students’ mathematical capabilities) mediate the influence of instructional supports and principals’ expectations on their development of ambitious practice? Using data from the Middle School Mathematics and the Institutional Settings of Teaching (MIST) project, this study involved a qualitative, comparative analysis of eleven teachers: eight whose instructional quality improved or declined over time in the context of district-wide reform efforts, and three teachers whose instruction remained procedurally oriented. Drawing on interview and survey data from these teachers and their colleagues, I examined potentially critical between-school and between-teacher differences in teachers’ instructional expertise, the types and quality of district- or school-based supports for their learning, and the instructional expectations of their school leaders. I found that those who improved worked regularly with an instructional coach with substantial expertise in inquiry-oriented math instruction. I also found that three of the four teachers who improved had developed an ambitious vision of instruction and had come to view their own diverse students as capable of engaging in rigorous mathematical activity; this in turn appeared to lead to their identification with their district’s reform efforts. These findings suggest that effecting lasting instructional improvement at scale might involve supporting teachers to (a) develop a sophisticated vision of instruction and (b) come to see their own students as capable of engaging in rigorous mathematics, then (c) navigate the ongoing challenges involved in enacting ambitious instruction with diverse students.