Ideas from a balanced "family": the founding and practice of a teacher collaboration

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Therrell, James Alan

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Teachers practicing their profession in isolation, rather than in collaboration, remains a powerful, embedded tradition in American education. Researchers, also under the presumption of teachers isolated in classrooms, have directed few studies that develop or understand teacher collaboration, especially among general education teachers. In response to these circumstances, this study examined the context, content, characteristics, roles, challenges, and patterns, including time usage, of how three teachers founded and practiced their collaboration. The central participants in this case study were three teachers at a public charter school in central Texas, each teaching a K-1 class within the same specially designed classroom. From a constructivist perspective, I focused on how these teachers conducted their collaborative endeavors. Accordingly, I used naturalistic inquiry (Erlandson, et al., 1993) aimed at capturing the current and retrospective perspectives of the participants (via interviews), and which included participant-observation (fieldnotes and digital recordings of the teachers’ discussions) and relevant documents to augment data generation and triangulation procedures. I analyzed data inductively using mostly constant comparison and an interactive, iterative, and recursive consideration of data. My process with participants was collaborative, fostering substantive participant input and decisions from start to finish of the study. My portrayal of this teacher collaboration and its context followed Foley’s (2002) eclectic approach for producing “realist narratives” (p. 487). The chief findings from this study included how the three teachers: (1) practiced an unequal, yet balanced and satisfactory (to the teachers) exercise of power in their decision-making related to their collaborative endeavors; (2) created and employed a foundation of “familial collegiality” to support their generation and planning of ideas in relation to their curriculum and instruction, (3) the teachers established and developed complementary roles from the outset that helped them to sustain their long-term collaboration, (4) as they discussed ideas, the teachers conducted a modified version of a “reach-test” cycle, and (5) apportioned their time between collaborative tasks and relational activities in a ratio of five-to-one.