Teacher leadership in the balance: a phenomenological study

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Christina Koelb O'Connor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Barbara Levin

Abstract: Accountability policies constitute a form of surveillance that in many cases serve to suppress teachers' leadership from within the classroom for the benefit of students. However, some teachers working in schools that are operating under surveillance from accountability policies successfully practice this type of teacher leadership. The Theory of the U (Scharmer, 2009b; Senge et al., 2005), may explain why some teachers succeed in exhibiting leadership under conditions of accountability. In order to explore the theory of the U as a theoretical basis for teacher leadership, this study employed phenomenology as both philosophical approach and method to uncover the lived experiences of teacher leaders in low-performing and underperforming schools in order to answer these research questions: * How do teacher leaders (TLs) perceive and describe their experience of teacher leadership? * How do the pressures of accountability policies such as NCLB or Race to the Top figure in teacher leaders' lived experiences? * What constraints on their leadership do teacher leaders perceive? * What are teacher leaders' perceptions of supports/mediating factors that enable them to demonstrate leadership? * What strategies do teacher leaders employ to negotiate structural constraints on teacher leadership? * What similarities and/or differences are there in the experiences of TL's who have left the classroom versus those who have stayed? Three interviews were conducted with each of eight participants who were recognized by others as teachers who led from within the classroom for the benefit of students following the procedure for phenomenological interviewing advocated by Seidman (1991). Half of the participants continued to teach in low-performing schools and half had left the classroom and were working as new teacher coaches. Data were analyzed using the method of phenomenological analysis presented by Moustakas (1994). Analysis occurred in four stages: 1) open, descriptive coding; 2) identifying invariant constituents by eliminating codes that are not necessary and sufficient to understanding the experience; 3) clustering invariant constituents into themes; and 4) checking the themes against the participant's entire case file. Profiles of each participant's experience of the research questions were developed. Themes were developed and articulated across all participants as well as for each group, teachers who stayed in the classroom and those who left. Common themes that emerged across the research questions included support from collaboration and from colleagues and support from administration. All of the teacher leaders experienced conflicting values as a constraint. Overall, the teacher leaders shared an overriding sense of personal responsibility and an intense focus on meeting the needs of their students. Study findings suggested that the successful exercise of teacher leadership from within the classroom for the benefit of students under the constraints of accountability policies depended upon a delicate balance between living within structural constraints and challenging those constraints. The support of colleagues and principals was critical in developing and sustaining leadership for all participants. Inner sources (Scharmer et al., 2002) of a sense of personal responsibility and a focus on meeting the needs of students appeared to help teachers negotiate constraints on their leadership that resulted from accountability policies. Tapping into inner sources (Scharmer et al., 2002) of leadership allowed the teacher leaders in this study to find ways to enact outcomes for their students that were different from the status quo, in spite of technologies of surveillance (Bushnell, 2003) and other structural forces that might discourage such agency. The results of the study led to several implications for teacher educators, administrators, and policy makers.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Accountability, Foucault, Phenomenology, Teacher leadership, Theory U
Educational leadership $z United States $v Case studies
Teaching $z United States $v Case studies

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