Channeling your inner science warrior: the nature of teachers’ professional agency in high-needs schools

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Alison K. Mercier (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Hedi Carlone

Abstract: High-needs schools in the United States contend with a disparity in resource allocation, a higher rate of teacher and administrator turnover, an always narrowing curriculum due to increased accountability measures, and a heightened culture of surveillance. These realities shape what has happened and what seems possible for teachers, especially impacting their ability to integrate and enact science and engineering in elementary schools. Increased accountability pressures heighten the culture of surveillance, narrow the curriculum, and reduce teacher autonomy and professionalism. These realities impact science and engineering instruction by dictating how and what teachers teach. Science often gets pushed to the margins in favor of tested subjects and institutional demands constraining teachers’ practice. There are few, if any, accounts of teachers who exercise their professional agency to navigate these tensions productively. The purpose of this study is to raise teachers’ voices, their ideas, the dilemmas they face, and how they navigate those dilemmas with their professional agency. This study employs a narrative inquiry design to explore elementary teachers’ professional visions for science and engineering in high-needs schools, the dilemmas they encounter when working to enact science and engineering, and the nature of teachers’ STEM-linked professional agency as they creatively wrestle with and work through these dilemmas. Data include over 65 interviews and 18 STEM journey maps. Data analysis included coding teachers’ narratives using in vivo codes, construction of themes based on emergent patterns, and cross-narrative analysis. This analysis led to the description of elementary teachers’ professional visions for science and engineering in high-needs schools as ideal images of engagement, instructional and curricular connection, instruction that broaden student pathways, and teaching for altruistic reasons. As teachers worked to enact their professional visions, various sociocultural conditions of their schools and districts facilitate and constrained that work. When teachers experienced conflict between their professional visions and institutional ideals and demands, they encountered dilemmas focused on the roles of teachers and ideal curriculum and pedagogy. As teachers wrestled with dilemmas, they enacted STEM-linked professional agency. Moments of STEM-linked professional agency were visible in moments when teachers described science and engineering as both highly thinkable and doable. This led to the understanding of STEM-linked professional agency as a phenomenon within certain contexts of schooling when teachers created change within their workplace to align practice with vision in ways that were innovative and responsive.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
Elementary, High-Needs Schools, Professional Agency, Science Education, Teacher Agency, Teacher Vision
Science $x Study and teaching (Elementary)
Engineering $x Study and teaching (Elementary)
Teaching, Freedom of

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