Embedded, Emboldened, and (Net)Working for Change: Support-Seeking and Teacher Agency in Urban, High-Needs Schools

From Section:
Theories & Approaches
Jan. 02, 2010
Winter 2010

Source:  Harvard Educational Review, 80(4) (Winter 2010): 541-572
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article hones in on one teacher's case in order to explore in depth the potential contributions of support networks to teachers' development, retention, and participation in school change.

This research takes a more inductive and proactive perspective on teacher support; it considers teachers' support-seeking as a manifestation of teacher agency and explores how the resources teachers acquire through their support networks contribute to their development, retention, and participation in school change.

This article draws from a larger project intended to explore teachers' social networks in the context of urban, high-needs schools.
The project combined a network survey of teachers at a large, comprehensive high school undergoing a restructuring reform and four purposefully selected longitudinal case studies of teachers .

At the start of the study, these four individuals, and the larger group of survey respondents from which they were selected, worked in one of the country's largest and lowest performing high schools.
Then, the author focused in a case study of an early-career teacher, named Liz.

Data collection took place over two calendar years (part of three academic years) and included repeated social network survey measures, participant observation, interviewing, and document/ artifact collection.


In Liz's case, as in others, support was something teachers sought and leveraged in relation to particular features of their workplace contexts, as much as it was something offered to them.
Indeed, Liz's commitment to her school deepened alongside the development of a support network that helped her meet school-specific challenges and goals.

Support-Seeking as a Resource for Teacher Retention
Liz's case highlights the potential for support networks to provide resources that help counter forces (e.g., poor instructional quality and feelings of inefficacy) that might otherwise conspire to push teachers out of urban, high-needs schools.

Conclusions and Implications

Findings from Liz's case and from comparisons drawn between her case and others in the larger study suggest that teachers' participation in school change and career decisions are the product of complex processes that span school and network boundaries.

For Policy
In Liz's case, findings suggest the role of community-based, beyond-school ties in shaping teachers' workplace satisfaction and their career decisions.

To this end, local leaders might make concerted efforts to earmark resources and provide opportunities for teachers to develop ties within and beyond school and professional boundaries.
Liz's case also suggests that her network's power took shape in relation to the size and structure of her school.

For Practice
If networks of diverse, resource-rich supportive ties expand opportunities to teach and learn, and enact equity-minded school change, then teacher educators would do well to support teachers in developing them.
Teacher educators might also consider simulations based on authentic problems of practice faced by teachers struggling to change real schools.

Updated: Jan. 17, 2017
Case studies | Disadvantaged environment | Educational change | Social networks | Social support groups | Teacher persistence | Urban schools