Graduation Year

2016

Degree

Ed.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Major Professor

Judith A. Ponticell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Steve Permuth, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Ann Cranston-Gingras, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joyce G. Haines, Ph.D.

Keywords

Educational Change, Educational Reform, Small Learning Communities

Abstract

Educational reform is vital to meet the educational, social, and personal needs of an ever-changing student population. Many attempts at educational reform have been made over the past century. A number of reforms were originated and directed by policy at the Federal, State and regional levels, and others were developed at the district or school level. Demands for educational change are ever-present, and the acceptance of or resistance to change continues to be a topic of discussion and focus of research.

The purpose of this study was to understand change in the implementation of small learning communities (SLCs) at a single high school by examining six years of grade level SLC meeting minutes to explore how the implementation of SLCs influenced teacher collegiality, student-teacher relationships, and instructional practices related to improving student academic outcomes.

The primary research question was: How do teachers at a high school focus their efforts to improve student achievement through SLC reform? Three sub-questions guided exploration of the primary question:

1. In what ways did teachers discuss teacher collegiality in their SLC meetings?

2. In what ways did teachers discuss teacher-student relationships in their SLC meetings?

3. In what ways did teachers discuss instructional strategies and practices to improve student academic performance in their SLC meetings?

The literature review for this study included an overview of the historical perspective on educational change and reform. As a school-based practitioner, the researcher experienced educational change more locally than globally, so various forms of local organizational change were examined, including charter schools, school-within-a-school, and SLCs. More specifically, literature was explored in relation to SLCs and their influence on collegiality, relationships, and improved student academic performance.

This was a case study examining one depository of documents. Qualitative content analysis was used to examine the SLC meeting minutes, in relation to three categories of review: teacher collegiality, teacher-student relationships, and instructional strategies and practices.

How a reform gets implemented through ordinary, everyday practices is not always clear. In the case school it was expected that teachers would meet regularly in their SLCs, talk about their students and their instructional practices, and make decisions about what is best practice to support student academic success. Teachers’ reactions to the District’s announcements of the implementation of other reform initiatives on top of the SLC initiative were often less than supportive. Conversations that gained momentum in SLC meetings might be side-stepped or delayed as teachers worked through the implications of a new District initiative, thus delaying the implementation of the SLC model.

Initially, it appeared that the three major themes – teacher collegiality, teacher-student relationships, and instructional practices – would drive the process, dialogue, and decisions of the SLCs. Findings of the study suggest that the process, dialogue, and decisions of the SLCs shaped the three major themes and their interactions, providing greater insight into how all three themes resulted in teacher perspectives, decisions, and actions aimed at influencing student achievement.

This study offered valuable insights into one aspect of implementation – the nature of the process, dialogue, and decisions that emerge in conversations in SLC meetings and their influence on teachers’ perspectives, decisions, and actions aimed at influencing student achievement.

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