Learner engagement and motivation are essential for deep and sustained learning. And yet, they are seldom included in frameworks for effective professional development. In this critical case study, I explore this gap by applying the lens of self-determination theory (SDT) to analyze in-depth a transformative professional learning experience. Noting the ways in which learner motivation and pedagogical strategies combine to satisfy the basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness and to transform teaching practice, I offer theoretical and practical implications for the design and study of professional development.
Professional development (PD) for teachers is widely variable in its effectiveness. Efforts to improve PD at scale are complicated by the tremendous heterogeneity among teachers: what works for one teacher may work not at all for another. Using the lens of professional identity to analyze teachers’ perceptions of PD, I present and discuss five in-depth teacher accounts of their most powerful professional learning experiences, concluding that professional identity is a durable (but malleable) filter through which teachers interpret professional learning. I offer implications for how a better understanding of professional identity could be used to improve PD design and policy.
Professional development (PD) is seen by a broad cross-section of stakeholders — teachers, principals, policymakers — as essential for instructional improvement and student learning. And yet, despite deep investments of time and money in its design and implementation, the return on investment and subjective assessments about PD’s effectiveness remain uneven. In this thesis, I focus in-depth on professional development experiences that teachers identify as their most powerful and ask what these experiences could suggest toward improving PD design, policy, and research.
Specifically, drawing on 25 in-depth accounts of powerful professional learning, I analyze PD across three papers, each of which applies a distinct analytical lens. First, using self-determination theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985, 2000), I explore the extent to which powerful learning experiences help to satisfy the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Second, using the growing body literature on professional identity (e.g., Beijaard et al., 2004), I posit that teachers may be motivated to pursue professional learning experiences that align with their core beliefs and identity. Extending this literature, I elaborate three distinct conceptions of how identity interacts with PD: an affinity for the what (content), the who (facilitation), and the with whom (community). I similarly discuss ways that powerful learning may help to form or transform teacher identity. Third, observing a pattern in the data and drawing on emerging literature on teacher agency (e.g., Priestley et al., 2015), I define teacher agency in professional learning as a multi-dimensional construct – agency over, during, and emerging from PD – and analyze the extent to which each dimension was evident in powerful and contrastingly negative professional learning experiences. I conclude that increasing dimensions of agency may be a promising lever for improving professional learning at both an individual and system level.
Finally, by privileging teachers’ unique perspectives and emphasizing the deeply subjective nature of learning, this thesis aims both to complement and complicate the existing research on PD design and effectiveness and the policy imperative for scale.
Looking back on the tenure of Andrés Alonso as CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools and Michael Sarbanes as executive director of the district's new Office of Engagement, this teaching case examines the district's unique approach to family and community engagement. By drawing on an organizing frame that viewed community groups and families as partners rather than clients, City Schools was able to successfully pair community groups with schools, position schools as neighborhood hubs for reinvestment, and leverage a coalition of community groups to pass a $1.1 billion bond bill aimed at overhauling school facilities in varying states of disrepair. Using interviews and primary source data, the case reviews key milestones in the development and deployment of the strategy and poses questions about the sustainability of a community organizing approach within a bureaucratic system.
In Colombia, reducing levels of interpersonal and community violence is a key component of the country’s approach to citizenship education. In this study, we use data collected during the 2005 Saber test of Citizenship Competencies to examine the relationship of school environments and individual students’ supportive attitudes toward violence among 97,971 students in 1,649 schools. Using multi-level Tobit analysis with school random intercepts and regional fixed effects, we find that children taught in safe and participatory climates endorse attitudes less supportive of violence, with the effect of participatory climates almost double that of safe climates. Constructing a typology of four classroom environments, by crossing the two dimensions of safety and participation, we conclude that school environments that are safe and participatory lead to the least supportive attitudes toward violence, more than one standard deviation lower than unsafe and non-participatory school environments. Implications, limitations and areas for future research are discussed.
Schools are increasingly seen as having a promising role to play in reducing adverse health and wellness outcomes among young people. This paper uses a collaborative action research approach to examine the effects of one school’s efforts to change its students eating habits by implementing a “junk food free campus.” By engaging school administrators and students in a six-month long process of joint research design and analysis, the author found that students understood but did not necessarily support the policy. Despite students’ uneven support of the policy, however, there was some evidence that some students were developing healthier eating habits. Moreover, student researchers reported developing greater perspective and respect for the policy as a result of studying it.
Effective peace education helps to create a transformation in the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and relationships of its students. Drawing on their experiences training teachers as part of Juegos de Paz, an education for peace program that received support from the Colombian National Program for Citizenship Competencies, the authors explore transformative peace education and identify four key lessons for practitioners. Data from focus groups, interviews, and personal reflections are used to illustrate these principles and lessons. Additionally, it is suggested that there may be some transferability of these principles across contexts, since the program studied was originally developed in North America for use in urban elementary schools and was successfully adapted for use in rural Colombia.
In this article, James Noonan uses portraiture to examine how the administrative team and the teachers at a small, urban middle school approach school improvement. He illustrates the ways in which the pressures associated with attempting school reform in our current high-accountability environment make it difficult for school personnel to engage in the deep learning that transformative change requires. Noonan finds that at Fields Middle School, district-initiated redesign is built around an expansive view of learning that embraces uncertainty, collaboration, and reflection as catalysts for broad and sustained school improvement. He illuminates school transformation efforts that hinge on adult learning and an understanding of schools as learning organizations, in contrast to reform efforts that adopt linear and hierarchical views of teaching and learning.
For decades, researchers and policymakers have looked to professional development (PD) as a promising tool to improve teacher practice and student learning. However, despite its potential, PD is widely considered pathologically unable to realize its potential. In this conceptual paper, the author suggests that the problem of PD’s persistent ineffectiveness is attributable to its alignment with a sociopolitical framework that prioritizes efficiency. Numerous past attempts to improve PD have failed to address underlying assumptions about teaching, learning, and human relationships embedded in this efficiency framework. As an alternative, the author proposes a new deliberative framework that is more compatible with learning principles and thus more likely to improve learning across contexts and at scale.
Noonan and Gardner suggest there are consequences to creative activity, which they call “post-creative developments.” They describe four types of post-creative-development roles: the Opportunist,portrayed through artist Shepard Fairey's famous Obama poster; the Reluctant Winner,exemplified by songwriter Gretchen Peters’ passive benefits from others’ misuse of her hit song “Independence Day”; the Unlucky Gambler,characterized by how Nazi-era German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's distortion of Nazi influence on her work undermined her own reputation; and theHostage,represented by how Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front went from instant international sensation to banned book. Noonan and Gardner conclude that creative individuals are not responsible solely for ideas, but are also responsible to ideas. This responsibility extends well beyond the moment at which individuals put their ideas into the world.
In the fall of 2012, Dr. Andres Alonso had much to celebrate about in his five-year tenure as CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, including the approval and implementation of an innovative teachers' contract with a jointly-governed four-tier career pathway that tied teacher pay and promotion to performance and peer review. Nonetheless, Alonso was concerned about the future of the contract and the reforms it introduced. It took two votes before the teachers ratified the contract in November 2010. Since then, implementation had been laborious, complicated, and uncertain. Many questions would have to be answered in the coming months. Was the district making the transition to a contract that rewarded "engagement" in a career pathway rather than passive reliance on steps and lanes? Were the processes for earning Achievement Units and progressing through the pathways rigorous enough so that the contract wouldn't default to the past practice where everyone moves up and earns more money? Were the joint governance structures established to direct and manage the career pathways, pay system, and peer-review process working effectively? How did the new system support the district's underlying theory of change? This is a Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) case study.