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ERIC Number: EJ1056676
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 17
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: EISSN-1946-7109
Teacher Networks in Philadelphia: Landscape, Engagement, and Value
Schiff, Daniel; Herzog, Liza; Farley-Ripple, Elizabeth; Iannuccilli, Lauren Thum
Penn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, v12 n1 Spr 2015
Teacher collaboration has become an increasingly important lever for school improvement efforts. This is especially true in high need urban districts, which struggle with capacity building in the face of significant teacher turnover, major shifts in curriculum and instruction, and scarce resources. This paper employs a mixed methods approach to analyze the landscape of teacher networks in a sample of district and charter schools in Philadelphia. Hierarchical linear modeling, social network analysis, and qualitative analysis are used to evaluate the types and functions of networks, school and teacher characteristics associated with participation in networks, and the value teachers associate with networks. The findings support previous research on the role of networks in improving school climate, broadening teacher expertise, and increasing job satisfaction and persistence in the field. Policy and research recommendations are offered to districts and schools. The most effective teachers do not work in isolation. Instead, they foster collaboration and teamwork in order to continually improve their craft and deliver their expertise to ultimately impact the students they teach. Individual teachers working by themselves can result in a flattening of professional growth (Leana, 2011). In contrast, a growing body of research provides strong support for the importance of social capital--relationships among teachers--for improving public schools (Johnson, Lustick, & Kim, 2011; Leana & Pil, 2006; Leana & Pil, 2009). Various terms have been used to describe social capital among teachers: "collaboration," "social networks," "professional learning communities (PLCs)," "teacher networks," "teacher professional community," "teacher teams," "collegial foci," and similar terminology (Coburn & Russell, 2008; Yasumoto, 2001). For the purposes of this research, we use teacher networks, broadly defined as "groups of teachers, organized both formally and informally inside and outside the school building/day, related teacher learning, support, or school improvement" (Niesz, 2007). As such, teacher network opportunities take many different forms. Formal in-school teacher networks, such as teacher teams with structured meeting times, can be set up by grade level or discipline and across instructional or non-instructional building-wide issues (Liberman, 1995; Penuel et al., 2010; Spillane et al., 2007). Teachers also take advantage of out-of-school networks, whether through a university, district, or non-profit-sponsored group, for forming relationships and acquiring new ideas with others experiencing different school environments with their own challenges and strengths (Niesz, 2007). These associations outside the school can be especially powerful for teachers who feel isolated within their school (Niesz, 2007). At the same time, informal networks within a school building are multitudinous and organic, taking place in hallways and during lunch (Baker-Doyle & Yoon, 2011; Penuel, Riel, Krause, & Frank, 2009). Virtual teacher networks are also growing in popularity (De John, 2013; Quentin & Bruillard, 2013; Schlager, Farooq, Fusco, Schank, & Dwyer, 2009). The purpose of this research is to better understand the landscape of teacher network participation, broadly construed. We explore the networks of 183 teachers in Philadelphia in order to understand the range of network opportunities in which teachers engage, perceptions of network value, and factors that influence participation and value. Using a mixed methods approach, we find that teachers engage with a broad range of networks, both internal to and outside of the school, formal or informal in nature, and conducted online or in person. While these networks have unique values and benefits, we find that they are also interdependent, indicating that teachers' engagement in networks for professional support is complex and driven by a wide range of factors, including school context, content area, and professional goals. This "bigger picture" of teacher network participation is instructive for both policy and future research.
University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. 3700 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Pennsylvania
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A