Co/Sense-making and Conflict: Lessons Learned from a Teacher Education Curriculum Revisioning

April - June, 2021

Source: The New Educator, 17:2, 157-179

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this case study, the authors explored how one college of education went about revising curricula across several undergraduate programs; thereby disentangling multiple perspectives in order to address the needs of various external drivers as well as meeting faculty-driven needs.
Furthermore, they examined how the process evolved and the lessons learned.

Curricular revisioning
The study was situated in a large state university college of education in the southeastern United States that employs more than 100 full-time faculty.
It serves approximately 750 undergraduate students of which approximately 575 are declared majors.
The three departments that participated in this study are involved directly in teacher education: elementary education, middle and secondary education, and special education.
Participants in the redesign include department chairs, leads, faculty task force members, P12 task force members, and dean’s office administration.

Stages of the curricular revisioning
The revisioning effort consisted of two interrelated stages.
Stage 1 involved establishing departmental task forces to reconceptualize teacher education programs.
The task forces constructed curriculum trajectories driven by the aforementioned internal and external drivers.
Stage 2 required shoulder-to-shoulder work among administrators and faculty to create course content and explicit learning trajectories for teacher candidates.
Finally, these programmatic changes (i.e., revised courses of study and syllabi) were submitted to the university curriculum approval committees.

The authors’ qualitative case study explored the affordances and constraints associated with aforementioned curriculum revisioning processes and products.
Findings offer recommendations for future teacher education programs on how to navigate the unexpected tensions of curricular change in teacher education.

Data sources
Of the 40 faculty members who participated in task forces, 26 involved in the revisioning at the undergraduate level signed consent forms to participate in the study:
11 were assistant professors and three were community partner representatives.
Data were collected in two waves that correspond with the revisioning stages.
At wave one, focus group interviews consisting of questions developed by the research team were asked of consenting participants following stage one of revisioning.
At wave two during phase two of the revisioning, the authors conducted semi-structured interviews with task force members, department chairs, and dean’s office administrators.
In total, they interviewed 16 participants for wave two: faculty from the three departments, members of the Dean’s Office, and one P12 partner.

Findings and discussion
In this study, the authors explored how one college of education undertook an expansive revisioning of their teacher preparation programs.
Conceptually undergirded by sociocultural learning theory and co/sense-making, administration designed the revisioning process to give faculty agency as to program design while also addressing administrative perspectives.
From a product perspective, analysis of materials suggests that faculty task forces used their time to revise curricula into ambitious programs aligned with the pillars of redesign.
Yet, findings also present a complicated view of that process – offering evidence of both success and areas for continued improvement.
While tools for redesign were used, how faculty implemented the tools and to the extent they informed the process, varied substantially.
The variability in how task forces, as organic communities of practice, utilized the various redesign tools and structures required managing risks and barriers through faculty and administration negotiation.
The perceived barriers acknowledged by task force membership and the perceived risks of removing those barriers contributed to both consternation and concession among the participants. Their analysis found that (mis)communication among various participants intersected the work and shaped the perceptions of faculty and administration.
In the following sections, they highlight key recommendations associated with the aforementioned findings that might inform subsequent teacher preparation curriculum work.
In their study of the curriculum revisioning process at their own institution, interviews and focus group data suggest some faculty appreciated protocols and structures, while other participants found the tools cumbersome.
As a counter, educators seeking to revise programs should attend to the flexibility of their curricular tools.
Flexible tools are explicitly outcomes driven and operationally bend to the cultural and programmatic needs of the curricular designers.
Furthermore, safeguarding adaptability acknowledges the contextualized work of curricular construction in teacher education (Matsko & Hammerness, 2013). Avoiding rigidity communicates to faculty that they own the work.
The adherence to a shared vision of the desired product by administration and curriculum developer should outweigh fidelity of process.
To support the concept of a shared vision, administrators explicitly incorporated co/sensing-making as a tenant of curricular revisioning (Datnow & Park, 2009).
They posited that task force engagement rested on transactional interactions.
Consequently, the study offers substantial evidence of negotiation when barriers seemingly impeded task force progress.
Some of these barriers were removed by negotiation (e.g., focus practices for one department), while others remained (e.g., the timeline for curriculum development).
Making these decisions, administration took a calculated risk, offering greater autonomy to one programmatic task force, while simultaneously holding everyone to the same deadlines.
Negotiating the negotiables is the process by which perceived barriers and risks were mediated.
At their institution, infusing focus (i.e., core) practices was a persistent instructional aim.
However, negotiating which focus practices were appropriate for a given program was a space for flexibility (i.e., a negotiable). While determining what is negotiable and what is not ultimately resides under administration, a critique-worthy process outside the scope of this study, those decisions ultimately help shape the process of redesign.
Further, research merits exploring what constitutes negotiables in teacher education and how organizational dynamics within an institution shape those decisions.
As with the various tools for the curriculum revisioning, communication among programmatic task forces and administration was highly formalized.
In practice, however, the formality of the chain frequently led to confusion, while undermining the processes/purposes of the revisioning and sowing frustration as to which parts of the redesign were up for negotiation and why.
This study suggests relying on linear, formal communication does not foster reliable articulation of redesign processes and rationales.
Instead, there is a need to democratize communication.
Democratizing communication consists of shoulder-to-shoulder work among curricular developers and the administration.
This recommendation aligns with organizational theory research suggesting the exchanges between institutional leaders and their colleagues mediates the conditions of the workplace (Dulebohn, Bommer, Liden, Brouer, & Ferris, 2012).
Communicating at street-level allows leadership to directly convey a message to curriculum developers and offers stakeholders the opportunity to share concerns and suggestions.
Further, it might elucidate complications that emerge from the process vis-à-vis product and help clarify which negotiables can and should be negotiated.
This recommendation does not suggest that formal communication is unnecessary.
Having regular meetings with leaders in the change process is essential.
Rather, democratizing discussion should supplement existing communication.

Datnow, A., & Park, V. (2009). Conceptualizing policy implementation: Large-scale reform in an era of complexity. In G. Sykes, B. Schneider, & D. N. Plank (Eds.), Handbook of education policy research (pp. 348–361). New York, NY: Routledge.
Dulebohn, J. H., Bommer, W. H., Liden, R. C., Brouer, R. L., & Ferris, G. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of antecedents and consequences of leader-member exchange: Integrating the past with an eye toward the future. Journal of Management, 38(6), 1715–1759
Matsko, K. K., & Hammerness, K. (2013). Unpacking the “Urban” in urban teacher education: Making a case for context-specific preparation. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(2), 128–144 

Updated: Aug. 10, 2021