“Changing the Way I Teach”: Building Teacher Knowledge, Confidence, and Autonomy

Apr. 15, 2013

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 64(2), (2013), p. 129-144.
(reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines the effect of a National Writing Project professional development model on a group of middle school writing teachers.
Specifically, the authors examine how contact with other professionals in intensive week-long sessions as well as mentoring from the professional development coach affected the teachers’ concept of themselves as professionals, as writers, and as colleagues, as well as how this attitudinal change affected their classrooms and students.

The data for this article derive from a 2-year study of the Missouri Literacy Academy, professional development sessions.
The authors focused on the 8 teachers who participated both years of the study.
All participants were middle school teachers from across the state, teaching in Grade 5 through 9, in Missouri public schools.

Data included surveys, interviews, observations, and the informal communications between the researchers and the academies’ coaches.


The findings reveal that through participating in the literacy academies, these teachers appear to have revived their interest in teaching and gained confidence in their expertise. Teachers’ increased knowledge may be the foundation for this change in attitude: The teachers have learned new theories and strategies that may make them feel more self-assured as professionals. As a community within the academies, they may also feel more supported, which may further enhance their self-confidence as a writing instructor.
The gains in new knowledge, expressed in confident voices and within a supportive social context, appear to not only present independently but also work collectively for teachers within this study.
The authors find that activities with more positive structural features tend to provide professional development with more positive core features, which in turn tend of produce more positive teacher outcomes. In particular, activities of longer duration, both in time span and in contact hours, tend to place more emphasis on content than shorter activities, provide more opportunities for active learning, and provide more coherent professional development. Activities with more collective participation also tend to provide more opportunities for active learning and offer more coherent professional development.

In addition, this study finds that duration is an implicit factor in the academies: To create a community of support and trust within the academies, the participants must have time to form those relationships, to test their trustworthiness, and to cement the bonds of collegiality. Although having support within their department, school, or district certainly is a factor, an even greater one could be the collegiality developed within the academies themselves, especially when teachers—or administrators from the same department/school/district—participated together in the academies.

The authors believe knowledge can enhance feelings of power. However, this study suggests that knowledge itself is not enough to build power. Rather, they suggest that enhanced teacher knowledge in concert with support from various levels within the social context can create teachers with stronger voices, indicating an increased feeling of autonomy and power in their classrooms and possibly in other areas of education. They suggest that the new trend in education should be sustained professional development creating communities of experts working together to improve their own teaching skills and, in the process, enhancing education at other levels. With more professional development like the literacy academies, teachers may set the course for others to follow.

Updated: Jun. 15, 2016