In the mind of a teacher: An examination of the role of reflection and collaboration in decision-making

Janice Marie Volpe, Fordham University


This research sought to explore the bases for the decisions classroom teachers make while in the act of teaching and the relationship, if any, that long-term collaboration on a problem of practice has on those decisions. Related research indicates that, while many teachers still view themselves as autonomous, autonomy must be balanced with collaboration and collegiality if reforms are to become effective in improving academic performance for a diverse student population. Two groups of elementary teachers were asked to participate in this study. The first group was selected from approximately 115 teachers engaged in a 3-year collaborative project to design student literacy portfolios. For comparison, a second group was randomly selected from a list of teachers in the same geographical area but who have not been engaged in a similar project. The investigation consisted of in-depth interviews, observations of the teachers, and the review of documents, such as student writing portfolios and rubrics. Teacher "artifacts", such as classroom writing centers, teaching materials, and other evidence linked to the teaching of writing skills were also examined. The interview data were transcribed and coded to determine categories of the teachers' reflections about their decision-making. Each of these categories is described in detail in the study. The observations and artifact reviews were used to help draw conclusions about the beliefs, knowledge base, and teaching styles of each of the participants. The central finding of this study was that school reform in the implementation of initiatives to improve student achievement is most effective when teachers are able to work collegially within their setting. However, while the collaborative teachers implemented major changes in their practice, they were no better able than the second group of teachers at rationalizing their in-action decisions. Tacit knowledge remained the primary source of in-action decisions. A second finding disputes the literature on teacher isolation by indicating that both groups of participants have created opportunities to share their knowledge with colleagues. Recommendations growing out of this research relate to restructuring school time to allow for sustained teacher collaboration; providing preservice and inservice teacher training and a school culture that promotes collaboration around specific problems of practice; and, the need for additional research in the area of teacher cognition and tacit knowledge.

Subject Area

School administration|Teacher education

Recommended Citation

Volpe, Janice Marie, "In the mind of a teacher: An examination of the role of reflection and collaboration in decision-making" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9839521.