Teachers at work: achieving success in our schools susan moore johnson

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Teachers at Work: Achieving Success in Our Schools
Susan Moore Johnson

1. What was the research question?

Should teachers, like preachers, disregard the circumstances of their work; ignore the leaks in school roofs; tolerate salaries that fail to cover their bills; cope with lockstep schedules, large classes, and inadequate supplies; gracefully accept their lack of influence in schoolpolicy and disregard the absence of opportunities to learn, grow, and advance in their work?
Throughout the study, Susan returns to the question: Should schools be redesigned with only very good teachers in mind? The answer is no…schools must surely be redesigned with, at least, these very good teachers in mind.

2. What was the research design?

‘Teachers At Work’ is a study that takesa look at the instructional scene, focusing the context of teaching as it is experienced by teachers – physical setting and resources; organizational structures; relationships among colleagues, clients, and superiors; influence in governance; cultural norms and traditions; opportunities for learning and growth; and the role of pay and incentives. Through an ethnographic research design involvingsemi-structured interviews from March 1986 through June 1987, Susan Moore Johnson sought to learn from “good teachers” how they experience their schools as workplaces, what particular features they think support or compromise their best teaching, and what changes they believe might enable them to be better teachers. She began with the assumption that before embarking on further reform policymakers, school officials, and teachers themselves must better understand how exemplary teachers experience teaching.

3. What was the researchers' identity in this inquiry?

Susan Moore Johnson takes a sympathetic and optimistic stance toward teachers. Many of her own teachers were not particularly engaging, but the best of them changed her life. Her children’s teachers werenot uniformly superb, but many were, and she saw the difference that they made. In nine years of teaching, she came to understand how difficult it was to teach well and constructively influence all students’ lives. A few of her colleagues were simply putting in time, but most worked very hard and often achieved remarkable results. She began this study, therefore, not blind to the existence ofmediocre or incompetent teachers, but committed to promoting policies and practices that would encourage better work by good people rather than simply ensure minimal compliance by weak ones.

4. How did the researcher’s identity impact on the phases of research (design, data collection, analysis, etc.). Did the researcher address these issues?

She chose to examine work in schoolsfrom the perspectives of teachers whose work is valued, whose teaching has been judged by their principals to be “very good,” and who are said to make positive contributions to their schools. She sought to learn from them how they experience their schools as workplaces, what particular features they think support or compromise their best teaching, and what changes they believe might enable themto be better teachers. Her approach was inductive. She did not try to explain what the term “very good” meant to the principals who nominated respondents; their explanations would vary from individual to individual and school to school. She sought only to know who such “valued” teachers were and to ask them how they experienced their schools as workplaces. Then, in interviews, she probed theextent to which the teachers’ perspectives, values and insights were similar.

5. How did the researcher gain access?

Susan began by selecting an economically and demographically diverse group of school districts in eastern Massachusetts and wrote to 95 principals describing the study and asking them to recommend 3 teachers whom they considered to be “very good” teachers....
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