Mathematics Teachers and Professional Learning Communities: Understanding Professional Development in Collaborative Settings

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Title: Mathematics Teachers and Professional Learning Communities: Understanding Professional Development in Collaborative Settings
Author: Campbell, Matthew Paul
Advisors: Dr. Paola Sztajn, Committee Member
Dr. Jeff Thompson, Committee Member
Dr. Hollylynne Stohl Lee, Committee Chair
Dr. Allison W. McCulloch, Committee Member
Abstract: As a result of the recent increased emphasis on mathematics professional development (MPD), studies have attempted to identify a set of features that are commonly part of successful MPD programs. While recommendations that professional development should be collaborative, sustained, and practice-based are common across all subjects, MPD is often highlighted by activities that address the specific needs of mathematics teachers. Professional learning communities (PLC) are also considered valuable for the growth of teachers. However, PLCs only provide a general guideline for how teachers can make meaningful changes to instruction, regardless of subject. In order for PLCs to be used as a form of MPD, more work needs to be done to identify the extent to which mathematics teachers in PLCs engage in the activities that improve their content and pedagogical knowledge and, ultimately, improve student achievement. Based on literature on teacher collaboration, PLCs, and MPD initiatives, a conceptual framework was developed to describe the collaborative work of mathematics teachers. This framework was used to guide the design of this study and the analysis of data. The study described here employed case study methodology to investigate two teams of teachers attempting to implement principles of PLCs as part of a district-wide intervention. The goal of this study was to discover both teams’ success in implementing these principles and to what extent they engage in activities that are commonly found in effective MPD. To do this, the teams were observed during their set meeting time and individual teachers took part in interviews and surveys to further explicate the team dynamic as well as individual’s dispositions and values. The teams provided two distinct cases of the collaborative work of mathematics teachers. One team had strong collaborative norms yet did not engage in the activities commonly found in effective MPD programs while the other team struggled with implementing the principles of PLCs but were able to focus more on mathematical content and pedagogy. Based on the findings, the role of PLCs as the sole source of professional development for mathematics teachers is questioned. Additionally, other factors that could be attributed to a group of teachers’ inclination to engage in activities found in effective MPD are highlighted. These factors contributed to a refinement of the conceptual framework that classifies the growth of mathematics teachers in collaborative settings. From this, suggestions for future research on collaborative MPD are presented as well as how findings from such research could be used to inform the development and replication of MPD.
Date: 2009-04-21
Degree: MS
Discipline: Mathematics Education

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