Doctoral Dissertation presentation November 15, 2013
A Voice from the Classroom: An
Autoethnographic Study of a
Development to Teacher Leader
Welcome committee members and guests.
• I’m very happy to have the opportunity to talk about my research.
• My research titled: A Voice from the Classroom: An Autoethnographic Study of a Mathematic Teacher’s Development to Teacher Leader
“Change always involves a dark night when
everything falls apart. Yet if this period of
dissolution is used to create new meaning, then
chaos ends and new order emerges.”
This study is about change. It chronicles my development as a teacher leader—which felt chaotic at time. As I learned, I began to make meaning out of the situations I was in.
Middle school mathematics teacher for 14 years."
Experienced signiﬁcant learning and changed teaching
practices through the Mathematics Leadership Institute (MLI)."
Participated in Studio—an on-going job embedded model of
professional development tightly connected to improving
Received a three-year Master Teacher Fellowship to support
mathematics teaching and leading in the context of Studio.
I have been a middle-school mathematics teacher for 14 years
• I was awakened to a new way of teaching and learning through my participation in the Mathematics Leadership Institute (MLI)—a five year professional development program that included three-3 week summer institutes that
immersed teachers in mathematics content and leadership classes.
• Building on the work done during MLI the Studio model of professional development emerged and my district was fortunate enough to be selected to participate. Studio is an ongoing, job-embedded model of professional
development tightly connected to teaching practice. It has some of the same structures as Lesson Study.
• Just over a year later, I was offered a Master Teacher Fellowship (MTF) that would support the work that was already happing in Studio—but with increased leadership support.
Why Study Teacher Leadership?
Because of a series of intensive and transformational
professional development experiences, I kept ﬁnding
myself in potential leadership situations and although
I was what you could call a “reluctant leader,” I began
to emerge as a teacher leader."
Because of a series of intensive and transformational professional development experiences, I kept finding myself in potential leadership situations and although I was what you could call a reluctant leader, I began to emerge as a
• During this time, I had recently began my doctoral studies and I thought the process of learning about how teacher’s change in leadership roles would be an interesting study. (And it has been)
Why Study Teacher Leadership?
I found there was no consistent or clear understanding
of the practices and purposes of teacher leadership—
how it can be cultivated, why it emerges, or what
inﬂuences it can have on a school (Lambert, 2003;
Murphy, 2005). "
Because leadership that improves teaching and learning
in schools is complex and situational (Lieberman &
Mace, 2009), I believed much could be learned from
studying my leadership context.
As I began to look into the literature, I noticed teacher leadership seemed to be difficult to articulate because teacher leaders develop as leaders in multiple ways and in a multitude of contexts.
• Because leadership that improves teaching and learning in schools is complex and situational, I believed, much could be learned from studying my own leadership context.
• This qualitative study helps fill the gap in the research of the voices of teachers to articulate a clearer understanding of the practices of teacher leadership.
The purpose of this study was to better understand
teacher leadership through the lens of a classroom
Ultimately, I wanted to shed light on the question,
“What does it take to be a teacher leader who remains
steeped in the work of mathematics teaching?”
To understand how teacher leaders affect teacher learning, it must be studied within multiple contexts, taking into account both the learners and the social system in which they are participants.
• Through my research, I carefully examined the process of becoming a teacher leader. Collinson (2012) said “Scholars have rarely investigated how people become informal leaders who ‘walk ahead’ and model learning and
innovation, and develop relationships and networks to extend their own learning and influence others.” In addition, most studies on teacher leadership have focused on the characteristics of teacher leaders (Neumerski, 2012).
• Ultimately, I wanted to shed light on the practical question, “What does it take to be a teacher leader who remains steeped in the work of mathematics teaching?”
1. In what ways did my view of myself as a teacher
leader change over the year?"
2. What dilemmas and feelings arose because of
developing as a teacher leader?"
3. What experiences and factors supported and hindered
the process of becoming a teacher leader?"
4. What did it take to be a teacher leader who remained
steeped in the work of mathematics teaching?
Research Questions. Point to screen as I read these aloud.
Stories are the way we make sense of the world. They are
essential to understanding and are not unique to
autoethnography. To make sense of the world is the aim of most
research (Ellis, 2004). Writing stories about our own “texts” is a
way of making sense of and changing our lives (Richardson,
Chang (2008) articulated, “Given that culture is a web of self and
others, autoethnography is not a study of self alone” (p. 65). In
other words, autoethnography is not simply focusing on the self,
but about searching for understanding of others—in culture or
society—through the self.
• The intent of autoethnography is to construct learning based on the self and examine the environment through observation and reflection.
• Patton (2004) described autoethnography as a collaborative journey between the author and the reader.
• Autoethnography is not simply focusing on the self, but about searching for understanding of others—in culture or society—through the self. This was my goal.
Master Teacher Fellow (MTF)"
Cloverdale School District"
Green Valley Middle School"
Green Valley Studio "
The Focus Group"
Nine MTFs working in ﬁve different school districts and in
two different states.
The research context was mainly within my middle school and district. Studio was going on in my school and was being facilitated by consultants who had developed the work of MLI and Studio.
• The focus group consisted of 9 MTFs working in 5 school districts and 2 different states.
“Autoethnography shows struggle, passion, embodied life and the
collaborative creation of sense-making situations in which people have to
cope with dire circumstances and loss of meaning … it needs the researcher
to be vulnerable and intimate … it shouldn’t be used as a vehicle to produce
distanced theorizing” (Ellis & Bochner, 2006, p. 433). !
In my journal I wrote that in leading “I needed to expose myself
by exposing my learning. Is this what it means to be an authentic
Perhaps my modeling of “learning about leadership” through the
research process would help others learn about becoming a
In my journal I wrote that in leading “I needed to expose myself by exposing my learning. Is this what it means to be an authentic leader?”
• I considered myself fortunate to have been in the position to blend my professional work with my research study. However, this closeness between my work and my research could be perceived as problematic to readers because it
brings up issues related to bias and objectivity.
• But, an advantage of first person accounts is that they can provide nuanced understandings of significant events and social contexts being studied.
• Perhaps my modeling of “learning about leadership” through the research process would help others learn more about becoming a teacher leader?
Major Literature Categories
Informal and Formal "
Teacher Learning in Communities of Practice"
Teacher Learning in Professional Development"
Challenges of Teacher Leadership
I grounded my study is in the following research:
Leadership - The definitions of leadership are vast and broad. A traditional view of leadership, as in the administrative authority of a principal, remain prevalent. Although, in many places teachers at all levels are assuming greater roles
of responsibility in the process of change (Muijs & Harris, 2003).
• Transformational - Transformation leaders help and develop a collaborative professional school culture, foster leader development, and help teacher solve problems effectively. However, transformational leadership situates
responsibility for the growth of other in a designated leader—it is role specific. This type of leadership can become paternal rather than generative.
• Constructivist - What distinguishes transformational leadership from constructivist leadership is reciprocity. It requires the leader is growing and changing in concert with others. It requires the growth of the entire group. It is the
set of behaviors shared by many rather than a set of behaviors invested in one person.
Teacher Leadership - Lambert stated “The days of the lone instructional leader are over. We no longer believe that one administrator can serve as the instructional leader for the entire school without substantial participation of other
• Informal - Informal TLs often emerge from the ranks and are not always officially selected, but take the initiative to address areas of concern and impact change. They tend to be respected by colleagues becasue of their
• Formal - Teachers who assume responsibilities beyond those outlined in their contractual agreement. Often chosen through a selection process after applying and receiving training.
Learning in COP - Embeds teacher learning within the school community. Community of practices exist because members of the community have common understandings and knowledge to share with one another.
Learning in PD - Professional development models that are collaborative, learning centered, and related to practice are more meaningful to teachers than “one shot PD.” Avalos(2011) suggested that authentic PD is voluntary, inquiry
oriented, pervasive across time and space and based on teacher self-identified needs. It is complex.
Challenges of Teacher Leadership - Peer relationships and the feeling of being “caught in the middle” was cited as a common challenge of teacher leadership.The school context was noted as being critical because teachers need
time and access to their colleagues, and when they do not have this teacher leadership is less effective. Another challenge found in the literature was the time required for TLs to take on additional tasks—when no extra release time is
given these tasks are done during planning time, before, or after the school day. Teachers described anxiety from being out of the classroom or having less time to properly plan for instruction.
Data Collection and Analysis
Researcher’s professional reﬂective journal collected for one school
Master Teacher Fellow focus group interview"
Coding and analysis was done in several ways to identify categories.
Of the three research questions, two were analyzed longitudinally. To
describe the data, codes were sorted into categories and summarized
in a narrative format to enable the reader the opportunity to
visualize the story of my leadership development.
• The journal entries were arranged chronologically in 2 month data sets.
• These data sets were coded and analyzed into categories and categories were compared over time. This provided a picture of how my view of leadership changed during the course of the year. Of the three research questions, Q1
and Q2 were analyzed longitudinally. To describe the data, codes were sorted into categories and summarized in a narrative format to enable the reader the opportunity to visualize the story of my leadership development.
• Question #3 was analyzed somewhat differently. I coded the data using the question as a lens (What supported and hindered the process of becoming a TL). Through this analysis, the data emerged in categories related to self,
others and structural.
First Cycle Coding
This is an example of the first cycle coding process using the modified “longitudinal data summary sheet” from Saldana. I capture codes from my journal and listed the line numbers where those codes were found. When codes came
up multiple times in a data set the line numbers would be recorded for all occurrances.
The analytic memos were thoughts or ideas I was wondering about as I went through my journal and coding. I noted these thoughts or questions as coded each chunk of data.
• As Saldana (2009) put it “analytic memos are sites of conversation with ourselves about our data.”
Second Cycle Analysis
Cross Data Set Analysis"
Used when analyzing data longitudinally (Q1 & Q2)"
Descriptive narratives were written after Cycle 1 and
then reﬁned using the Cycle 2 analysis."
Focus group data were coded and analyzed and then
the two data sources were blended to create the ﬁnal
narratives that were grounded in the assembled texts.
Narrative researchers do not need to claim their interpretation is the only possibility, but they do need to cogently argue theirs is a viable interpretation grounded in the assembled texts.”
• After I went through the narratives written from the first cycle coding process I recoded to find common themes and looked for changes over time. Because I was analyzing the data longitudinally, I went through the second cycle
analysis to find if certain themes were consisted or had changed over time. I have an example on the wall of how I analyzed the data longitudinally.
• The focus group transcript data was also coded and analyzed and then the two data sources were blended to created the final narratives that were grounded in the assembled texts.
Findings for Research Question #1
In What Ways Did My View of Myself as a Teacher
Leader Change Over the Year?!
Advocate for students"
Shared responsibilities for
Used a leadership voice"
Maintained disposition of
Engaged in transparent leadership"
Became a change agent
Support for colleagues"
Facilitated a common vision"
Questioned my leadership abilities"
Became the “go between” person"
Led by example"
At the beginning of the year I was very student and colleague focused and had a hard time viewing my work broadly. Even though my position put me between my colleagues and the administration over time my colleagues
accepted me as a leader. This laid the groundwork for later leadership.
• As the year went on I gained a broader perspective and shared leadership. I thought more about capacity building and creating a shared vision and common goals.
• Eventually, I realized reciprocal learning (learning together) would allow the transformation of all members of the team.
• Although it was not a major focus of my research, I noted the characteristics of leadership included being trustworthy, persistent, and being metacognitive seemed to support my work with colleagues.
• A journal entry I’d like to read highlights being questioning leadership abilities, advocate for students, support for colleagues, used and leadership voice.
• The focus group, while not change over time, the following themes arose: broadened responsibility, facilitated a shared vision, facilitated collegial change and leadership capacity, assumed leadership roles, used a leadership voice,
and modeled characteristics of leadership.
Findings for Research Question #2
What Dilemmas and Feelings Arose Because of
Developing as a Teacher Leader?!
The Studio Role"
Leadership Issues as a Team Member"
This question resulted in feelings and dilemmas around my leadership identity, my studio role, leadership issues as a team member, and structural issues.
• Feelings and dilemmas related to leadership identity were: feelings of uncertainty, feeling overworked, feeling ineffectual, feeling alone, feeling ineffectual on the SLT, and self doubt when working beyond the school
• The Studio Role: being judged and hopefulness.
• Leadership Issues as a team member: negotiating two worlds, feeling like an imposter, disappointment, discouraged by slow change, loneliness, jealousy, feeling uncomfortable, and uncertainty.
• A journal entry highlights my struggles negotiating two worlds, my disappointment, and loneliness, and feeling ineffectual.
• Structural issues. The opinion of some of the teacher leaders in the focus group was that being a full-time classroom teacher limited what you could do as a teacher leader. They believed that one of the major limitations to their
leadership was having limited access to other teachers’ classrooms. The limited access they referred to was “time” and “administrative support.”
• The focus groups major themes were: feelings of being an imposter, uncomfortable feelings, structural limitations, and leadership identity issues.
Findings for Research Question #3
What Experiences and Factors Supported and
Hindered the Process of Becoming a Teacher Leader?!
Creating a supportive environment"
No clearly deﬁned role"
Developing a community of practice"
Facilitated a common vision"
Lack of communication with
Focusing on collective goals"
Lack of colleague buy-in"
Opportunities for visiting classrooms
The following ideas emerged from my data - related to supporting leadership: (read slide)
• Hindered (Read journal entry), Supported (#1) (#2)
• The focus group……my work in the MTF is helping my classroom teaching, sharing practices, learning together, changing school culture, collective goals
Conclusion - Question #4
What Did it Take to be a Teacher Leader who Remained
Steeped in the Work of Mathematics Teaching?!
My data sorted into four major areas: "
1. factors in which one has control over and are directly related
2. factors directly related to one’s work with colleagues"
3. factors involving administration"
4. factors that were structural in nature
Here’s what I learned about how to become a teacher leader within my cultural context. These ideas sorted into four categories: self, colleagues, administration, and structural.
• Even though these findings resulted from my study and the focus group interview in the area of mathematics, I believe these findings could represent a wider audience (I think you will notice the findings are broad enough to apply
to other content areas).
Factors Related to Self
becoming comfortable with ambiguity and loneliness around the
dual roles of teacher and teacher leader"
overcoming feelings of doubt about new leadership roles"
leading by example to provide a vision of reﬂective teaching practice"
recognizing and trying to equalize status issues with new colleagues
in your role"
believing in and modeling continuous learning"
embracing the idea that you have to experience leadership to become
developing and using one’s leadership voice as an advocate for
students, colleagues, and administration
At every turn I felt I should know more, but this is what I know now—at the end of this process. I believe I have some insights about being a teacher leader.
• I was most surprised by the loneliness around the role of teacher leader. This I had not anticipated, but I found this was fairly typical in the literature. In fact, all of the factors related to self were found in the research literature.
• Many of these factors were also seen in the focus group interview (overcoming doubt, lead by example, model continuous learning, leadership voice).
negotiating complex relationships with colleagues and
building trustworthy and authentic relationships with
engaging in reciprocal learning with colleagues in the
context of a community of practice"
growing leadership capacity by sharing leadership
responsibilities and being transparent
The key to being an effective teacher leader lies within your relationship with your colleagues. I learned about the complex culture that was my mathematics team. Learning with my colleague supported my leadership efforts and
allowed capacity building and shared leadership.
• Teacher leaders need to be able to…..read slide
• Factors seen in the focus group data were trustworthy and authentic relationships, engage in reciprocal learning, growing leadership capacity.
pressing for administrative support—ﬁnancially,
structurally, and emotionally"
maintaining open communication with administration"
developing clear guidelines regarding expectations
around one’s leadership roles"
partnering with one’s principal in all aspects
appropriate to the leadership role
From my research I learned that the lack of communication with the administration hindered my leadership efforts. Through this struggle I was able to better understand what was necessary to support teacher leadership.
• Teacher leaders need to…..Read slide and point.
• The focus group data reinforced the need to partner and communicate with your principal.
a school culture that shares a common vision and goal
and is a learning organization. (If one does not have
this, help make it happen). "
time and structure that allows one to work with
colleagues and administration
The structural factors are…..
Recommendations for professional development leaders,
administrators, teaching colleagues, and teacher leaders: !
PD leaders should be realistic about the hinderances and constraints
placed on novice teacher leaders. Thought should be given to the
school context—especially considering the necessary development
of both the teacher leader and the principal."
Principals need to develop the knowledge and expertise to support
developing levels of teacher leadership. They also need to identify
supports and structures that support teacher leadership—
scheduling release time, developing communities of practice,
creating shared vision and goals school wide, and teaming with
teacher leaders. "
In order for teacher leadership to be a positive, viable, and reliable force in schools, educational leaders must more fully understand teacher leadership and how to harness its potential.
• The ﬁndings in this study offer considerations for professional development leaders, administrators, teaching colleagues, and teacher leaders working in the context of an informal or formal leadership role.
• PD leaders need to…..
• Principals need to….
Teaching colleagues should work together to continuously improve
teaching practices—this one action has the potential to positively
affect the school culture and student learning. This can be
accomplished through full participation in communities of practice
and sharing leadership responsibilities. "
Teacher leaders should recognize the conﬂicted feelings that will
occur because of working in between teaching colleagues and
administrators. Reluctant teacher leaders can informally lead by: 1)
adopting an attitude of continuous learning, 2) enlisting colleagues
to learn together, 3) partnering with the principal, 4) ﬁnding their
voice, and 5) understanding it will not be easy.
• Teaching colleagues should work together to continuously improve teaching practices—this one action has the potential to positively affect the school culture and student learning. This can be accomplished through full participation
in communities of practice and sharing leadership responsibilities.
• Teacher leaders should recognize he conflicted feelings that will occur because of working in between teaching colleagues and administrators. Reluctant teachers leaders can informally lead by: adopting an attitude of continuous
learning, enlist colleagues to learn together, partner with your principal, find your voice, and understand it will not be easy.
Study the role long-term professional development plays on
generative leadership. What is the connection between long-term
professional learning and the development of leading capacities and
what are the conditions that support that development?"
How does teacher leadership develop similarly or differently at the
elementary level or the high school level? "
Study principal perspectives on teacher leadership within
communities of practice. What speciﬁc learning does a principal
need to encourage and support emerging teacher leadership? And
once teacher leadership is established, how should principals
support high levels of teacher leadership?
• I also thought an interesting study would further study the group of MTFs by looking at the different roles of full time teaching, 1/2 time teaching and 1/2 time coaching, and full time coaching and which was more effective for
teacher change and supporting student learning?
• Or what is the long term impact of the MTFs? Do they stay in the classroom, why or why not?
Although I started the process as a reluctant leader, I now
see myself as a capable empowered mathematics teacher
leader. Through the process of engaging in leadership,
journaling about my experiences, and then analyzing the
journal I kept, I came to truly “know” leadership.
Chang, H. (2008). Autoethnography as method. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press."
Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. "
Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press."
Ellis, C., & Bochner, A., (2006). Analyzing analytic autoethnography—an autopsy.
Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35(4), 429-449."
Lambert, L. (2003). Leadership redeﬁned: An evocative context for teacher
leadership. School Leadership & Management, 23(4), 421–430."
Lieberman, A., & Mace, D. H. P. (2009). The role of “accomplished teachers” in
professional learning communities: Uncovering practice and enabling leadership.
Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15(4), 459–470."
Murphy, J. (Ed.). (2005). Connecting teacher leadership and school improvement.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press."
A special thanks to my doctoral committee:"
Dr. Sue Ann Bottoms"
Dr. Tom Dick"
Dr. Barbara Edwards"
Dr. Bill Rhoades"
Dr. karen higgins
A big thanks to the my doctoral all of whom I respect immensely. And a special thank to Dr. higgins who supported me along this journey of learning.