Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Commonplace Intersections within a High School Mathematics Leadership Institute

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Commonplace Intersections within a High School Mathematics Leadership Institute

Article excerpt

   The task is not to traverse a marked route but to determine a route
   and a destination and to do so with uncertainty as a conspicuous
   factor at each step.

Schwab (1960, p. 21)

When a projected trajectory for teacher development does not go according to plan, goals and pathways may change. This narrative inquiry shows how careful attention to conceptualizations about teaching can impede or enhance learning experiences when unanticipated events arise. Situated among two urban public school districts and a partnering university in the mid-Southwestern United States, this narrative inquiry is staged within a mathematics leadership institute, a federally funded program whose goal is to develop sustaining mathematics teacher communities within high schools. Thirty participating high school lead teachers attended two consecutive summer leadership institutes, each running for 4 weeks, managed and supported during the summers and subsequent academic years by a partnering university. During these summer institutes, the educational focus is the development of teachers' mathematics content knowledge for teaching, leadership capacity, and diversity. During the second summer leadership institute, I interacted with a consultant-professional developer ("Val") with whom I share a close professional and personal relationship dating back to our doctoral studies.


This narrative inquiry builds on three theoretical foundations. Schwab's curriculum commonplaces (1973) served to redirect Val's pathway from one that teetered on participant mutiny. The commonplaces of narrative inquiry (Clandinin, Pushor, & Murray Orr, 2007; Connelly & Clandinin, 2006) situate the narrative's players in terms of place and relationships established before and during the period storied in this narrative. Finally, the teachers' knowledge-landscape metaphor of Clandinin and Connelly (1995, 1996) and Olson and Craig (2001, 2005) provides a theoretical orientation that focuses on teachers' positions and tensions that arise within educational settings.

Schwab's Four Commonplaces of Curriculum

Schwab views curriculum as lived learning experiences; others' prevailing views see curriculum as an end product of that which must be taught without regard for the teacher, learners, and classroom context (Clandinin & Connelly, 1992; Craig & Ross, in press). In his series of essays on "the practical," Schwab (1969, 1971, 1973, 1983) advocates a theoretical framework for curriculum in practice. In his 1973 essay, he emphasizes the need for explicit interaction among four commonplaces that translate theoretical ideas into curriculum as it emerges in practice. Schwab considers the commonplaces to be pluralities, with each retaining its unique theoretical foundations but influencing the others with equal emphasis. Production of curricular material is performed by specialists. However, its emergence within instructional practice equally depends on the interaction among the four commonplaces-namely, the subject matter, the learner, the teacher, and the milieu.

The subject matter commonplace should be deeply understood by the teacher. For example, a mathematics teacher should know what it is to be a mathematician and what it means to explain and justify one's mathematical conclusions. With respect to the learner commonplace, the teacher should know what his or her learners already know, what each will find easy or difficult to learn, and what motivates each learner or creates anxiety in him or her. The uniqueness of each group of learners brings a set of attentions to the evolution of curriculum, ensuring the attainment of conceptual or cognitive components of its goals. The milieu commonplace represents the learning environments that influence the affective aspects of learning: How do learners relate to one another? What kind of interactive structure does the teacher favor? How does this structure interface with the translation of the curriculum? …

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