Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Judith A. Ponticell, Ph.D.
Howard Johnston, Ph.D.
Allan Feldman, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ph.D.
collaboration, school culture, teacher professional growth
There is extensive research indicating the importance of teachers working together in teams and in conjunction with school leadership to improve teaching practice and, ultimately, outcomes for students. However, there is little evidence that collaboration is valued in the American school system. Tension pervades in a system that often prescribes a top-down approach to teacher evaluation, fails to provide sufficient time for teachers to collaborate, and unfairly scapegoats teachers for many challenges both within society and the education system itself. It is not surprising that teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate.
Combine these contextual factors with the increasing demands and expectations for the role of the modern-day principal. It becomes clear that a deeper investigation of how a principal can intentionally foster a collaborative culture is needed. As the role of the principal has evolved over the past 20 years, the principal’s most important role is being an instructional leader. This responsibility is not possible for one individual: how a principal can create conditions where teachers can work collaboratively to improve the outcomes for the students they serve?
This case study used an action research approach to investigate teachers’ perceptions of the impact of three specific interventions: professional learning communities under the guidance of a teacher talent developer, administrator and peer classroom observations and feedback, and comments-only coaching conversations between the principal and teacher following the formal observation process. The study focused on a single, bounded, exemplary unit—a math department at one middle school. Data sources included existing archival documents, focus group interviews for each grade level of math teachers, an individual interview with the teacher talent developer, individual teacher interviews, and my (the principal) research journal and lived experiences. Data were analyzed using the constant comparative method.
The study found that teachers’ perceived value in PLC work; they focused on a continuous improvement process of unpacking standards, reviewing student work products and outcomes, and making real-time adjustments to instruction. Building trust and providing time were important to this process. The teacher talent developer was key in facilitating the work of other teachers—creating a safe and professional environment, allowing for vulnerability, asking quality facilitative questions, tailoring facilitation to meet the needs of teachers, and possessing deep content knowledge.
Teachers also valued walkthroughs and feedback from their peers. Teachers felt, however, the tension between ‘all the other stuff’ they were doing and making the walkthroughs happen. Lastly, providing comments-only feedback and reducing the impact of ratings in formal observations created psychological safety and an atmosphere where teachers felt more comfortable taking risks.
This study has implications for school districts looking to explore creating a teacher evaluation system that serves a more formative function focused on teacher support and growth, as opposed to high-stakes and summative judgment. There are also implications for instructional leadership development at both the administrator and teacher leader level.
Scholar Commons Citation
Olson, Andrew, "Building a Collaborative Culture in a Middle School: A Case Study" (2019). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.