Deborah Buchanan
EDU 713
October 13, 2010

Stephenson, H.J., (2008). To adapt or subscribe: Teachers’ informal collaboration and view of mandated curricula. Issues in Teacher Education 17(1), 75-95.

Much of the research to date has been on practical theory use by teachers to understand students, content, classrooms, teaching, and their conduct in a classroom setting. Practical theory is the set of beliefs that a teacher has developed through teacher education and on-the-job training. There have been few studies on using practical theory in relation to teachers’ thoughts about informal collaboration. While this study was originally intended to determine the factors that influence elementary school teachers’ informal collaboration when using technology, it was broadened to extend beyond the scope of technology to teachers’ practical theory in regards to informal collaboration (Stephenson, 2008). In looking at the California state mandates and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards, the researcher conducted a study about teachers’ beliefs and how they affect their collaboration with others and their practice while working within these mandates. The researcher also wanted to explore how their beliefs concerning implementation of mandated curriculum, academic expectations for students, and how it influences with whom they will informally collaborate. This study is important because it explores the practical theory that has not been previously studied; teachers’ thoughts about their informal collaboration and how it impacts students’ achievement.

The Project
The researcher collaborated with teachers in second to sixth grades from three schools. These schools were chosen because of their high Latino population, low-income, equal access to technology, willingness to participate, and close proximity to each other. An initial survey was given to all teachers at three schools. The survey asked about the frequency of informal collaboration and with whom and was technology used once or more a month during these meetings. They were also asked the number of times they willingly sought out a colleague to informally collaborate. Twenty-one people took the original survey. Of those, fourteen were identified as persons who fit the criteria of using informal collaboration consistently each month (high and low collaboration). The researcher contacted these participants and asked if they would be interested in being involved in the study. Eight teachers agreed to participate in the study. They were asked to identify colleagues with whom they regularly collaborate. Six of the people identified as collaborators, also agreed to participate. The final total of participants was fourteen (3 males, 11 females). They were then asked individual questions about their collaboration with others, their beliefs about the curriculum and the impact on student achievement.
An interview was conducted with each participant to determine teachers’ beliefs about informal collaboration. They identified colleagues they had frequent collaboration with, told of conversations with those persons, and explained reasons for choosing these colleagues. They were asked in the interview if these colleagues shared similar views of curriculum (district and state mandated), and academic expectations for students. The interviews were transcribed and a constant comparative analysis was used to find common themes and patterns between the participants. The main themes found were: personality factors, sharing common curriculum/same subject or grade level, similar views of curriculum, and higher and lower thinking based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. They were then put into two categories: subscribers and adapters. The subscribers were teachers who adhere strictly to the district mandated curricula and materials. The adapters were teachers who modified the district prescribed curricula in ways they believe best meet needs of the students. They still feel obligated to meet state content standards while valuing creativity, and student choice. The researcher looked at their beliefs of each other and how it affected informal collaboration between the two groups and if there was an impact on student learning.
“A key characteristic of informal collaboration is that teachers voluntarily choose with whom and under what circumstances they will informally collaborate,” (p.79). These personality factors and friendship play a role in this study as it was found that teachers were more likely to interact with friends than acquaintances when choosing others for informal collaboration. All but one of the fourteen participants stated they found it important to have at least one person at their grade level with whom they could informally collaborate. Their most productive collaboration occurred when they worked with other experienced teachers at the same grade level that they had a long term relationship with and shared a similar view of the curriculum. Throughout the data, the adapters had a difficult time understanding why the subscribers strictly follow the district prescribed curriculum and materials. Subscribers were concerned whether students of adapters were actually being taught the standards. Adapters believe that other adapters are meeting the standards in their own way. Participants mentioned they often did not have anyone who shared their views and did not have anyone to collaborate about technology or other materials. From the study it appears that teachers mainly want to collaborate with people who have a similar stance towards their way of implementing the curriculum. All of the participants said they believed that high academic expectations are desirable and low academic standard are unacceptable regardless of one’s stance towards the implementation of the district curriculum.
Discussion, Implications and Recommendations
The researcher states that further research should be done to confirm if a certain stance or belief leads to student outcomes and how they may differ by the teacher’s stance. Other questions were raised about the stance (being an adapter or a subscriber) and does it need to be taken into consideration when hiring teachers, preparing pre-service teachers, and implementing curriculum. Also, does professional development need to be prescribed to a certain stance for implementing the curriculum? Since there is some disconnect between teachers’ practical theories and beliefs and the NCLB mandates, this study forces teachers to evaluate their beliefs and with whom they will collaborate.
My Thoughts
I believe that this study has many valid points to consider about informal collaboration among teachers. It would be interesting to see the results if the research continued to follow adapters and subscribers with regard to how their collaboration both with each other and with the like group impacted student performance. I know I personally feel more comfortable collaborating within my grade level and with others who have similar curriculum views. I do gain much information from collaborating with other grade levels during vertical planning meetings so I think the idea of only working with people from the same grade level or those having a similar stance is limiting to teachers and to student outcomes. Although the vertical planning groups are not by choice, they do allow teachers to informally collaborate with others.

Connections to Course Material
Friend and Cook (2010) describe informal collaboration as a direct interaction between at least two people who voluntarily engage in a process of working toward a goal of their choice. In the study, teachers discussed how they worked with a person of their choosing. One reason for the choice of whom to work with was based on the teacher’s frame of reference or what that person believes, their past and present feelings about teaching and the curriculum, and their expectations of other teachers. Also, in working with a person of their choosing which many times was someone at their grade level or subject area, there was a shared pool of meaning about the curricula, and district and state mandates. Even though these factors may make informal collaboration easier and very productive, there is still the thought that further research is needed to bring in differing ideas. As stated earlier, professional development in the area of informal collaboration would be beneficial when working to improve student outcomes. The teachers’ practical theories must be taken into account and personally evaluated to broaden with whom they will seek out to informally collaborate.