Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Encountering New Spaces: Teachers Developing Voice within a Professional Development School

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Encountering New Spaces: Teachers Developing Voice within a Professional Development School

Article excerpt

Over the past 6 years, the Mountainside Elementary School in conjunction with a Research One Institution's Elementary Education Program has been coconstructing a school-university partnership based on building strong relationships between the participants. As a result of these relationships, in 1998 all the teachers in this small, six-classroom, kindergarten through second-grade school officially agreed to become a Professional Development School (PDS) targeted at actualizing the rhetoric of national PDS talk of simultaneous renewal and reform (see, for example, Bullough, Kauchak, Crow, Hobbs, & Stokes, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1994; Levine, 1997; Sirotnik & Goodlad, 1998).

As university personnel working to create and study this new institution, we soon realized that in all the rhetoric of PDS discourse across the nation, we had little insight into what this experience would mean for the participants of our PDS. Specifically, we wondered about classroom teachers and what the PDS would mean to their already full daily work. Similarly, these six teachers also shared this wondering and voiced an interest in having their journey documented to share with other teachers who might eventually be interested in engaging in partnership work. As a result, we embarked on an 18-month ethnographic study of their work in an effort to better understand how these teachers experienced the new roles created for them in the PDS.

Frankes, Valli, and Cooper (1998) stated that PDSs encourage classroom teachers to assume four new responsibilities: teacher as decision maker, teacher as teacher educator, teacher as researcher, and teacher as political advocate. They further concluded in an extensive review of PDS literature that the roles of teacher as decision maker and teacher as teacher educator are the most developed. Yet although we know these roles are the most developed across the nation, we have little insight into how these roles develop and what these roles mean for the work lives of mentor teachers.

From the outset of our PDS, we believed that gaining insight during our early work into how the roles of teacher as decision maker and teacher as teacher educator develop might be critical to understanding how to nurture these roles as our partnership expanded. In addition, understanding how these roles develop could give us insights into why the two other roles of teacher as researcher and political advocate are underdeveloped across the nation and spur the development of later PDS years. Hence, to gain insights into the teacher-as-decision-maker and teacher-educator role development, we conducted an in-depth, member-checked ethnographic study of the six teachers at Mountainside Elementary School.

METHOD

Because relationships are central to PDS work, understanding our unique ties to this group of teachers provided insight into how the story was constructed and shared. The first author was a former teacher in the district, had previously taught with three of the six teachers in the school, and had well-developed relationships with these teachers and the school principal. The second author was the PDS director and had spent 4 years working with these teachers designing and piloting the central PDS components. These strong ties facilitated the making and the sharing of this story.

The methods employed for this ethnographic study involved the collection and interpretation of qualitative data over an 18-month period (6 months of PDS planning and 12 months of the 1st year of PDS operation) (Erickson, 1986). Data were collected through (a) journal entries written by mentors, interns, and the researchers; (b) field notes taken by the researchers as they worked at the school site daily; (c) e-mail correspondence between researchers and between mentor teachers on a PDS listserver; (d) meeting minutes reconstructed after each meeting by one of the researchers; (e) verbatim transcribed audiotape recordings of PDS meetings; (f) mentor teacher end-of-the-year questionnaires; and (g) informal and formal interviews with the mentor teachers. …

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