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  Instructional Coherence: The Changing Role of the Teacher
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Teachers and New Ideas about Instruction Curriculum, not instruction, was the focus of attention of educators until the 1970s (Marzano, 2000). During the 1980s and 1990s, the emphasis moved from

  1. teaching behaviors, such as questioning students, organizing groups, assigning homework, to

  2. learning strategies, such as the K-W-L strategy which involves having students identify what they know about a topic, what they want to know, and what they learned, to

  3. instructional models, such as mastery learning, cooperative learning, direct instruction, and, most recently, and finally to

  4. conceptions of instruction informed by constructivist learning theory or brain research. (Marzano)

Teachers tend to have a good understanding of many aspects of the first three areas of emphasis, but often poorly understand constructivist learning theory and brain research. However, books on these subjects seemed to have become "popular" reading for practitioners during the late 1990s. In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms (Brooks & Brooks, 1993), A Different Kind of Classroom: Teaching with Dimensions of Learning (Marzano, 1992), A Celebration of Neurons (Sylwester, 1995), and Teaching with the Brain in Mind (Jensen, 1998) are just a few of the books that could be mentioned. Their popularity indicates teacher interest and, when combined with teacher learning strategies such as study groups and book study, these books may help teachers improve instruction.

The academic standards created by professional organizations and states not only provide information on what students should learn, but also illustrate instructional approaches that have proven to be most successful in supporting their learning. These approaches are student-centered and reflect new views of learning and of teaching. The teacher is cast as an instructional coach, a co-learner, or a facilitator, rather than as a conduit of knowledge in a teacher-centered classroom. For example, NCTM released its Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics in 1989 that described what students should know and be able to do. This was followed in 1991 with the Professional Standards for Teaching Mathematics. This document illuminated a shift in the vision of mathematical instruction. It specifically addressed the decisions a teacher makes around setting goals and selecting or creating mathematical tasks; stimulating and managing classroom discourse; creating a classroom environment; and analyzing student learning, the mathematical tasks, and the environment in order to make ongoing instructional decisions. Standards for other subjects released by professional organizations and many states also include standards for teaching which describe new views of instruction.

Cohen and Ball (1999) present a comprehensive analysis of instructional capacity. According to their analysis, school reform intervention "includes extensive work on two fronts: reconfiguring instruction and its environments" (p. 17). The interventions that are more likely to succeed are those that best deploy the elements conventionally associated with instruction. The list of elements is rather long and includes teachers; learners; curriculum; framing of the curriculum in light of an understanding of the learners and what they bring; opportunities to learn, practice, revise, and reflect; examples of successful performance; support of peers; and more. Understanding what is involved in improving instruction is a first step for reformers, but changing instruction remains a complex issue. Cohen and Ball express the notion that intervention (be it a new instructional strategy, curriculum, standards, assessment, or policy) is a form of instruction for teachers. If teachers are to make use of the resources and ideas that reformers bring, then reformers must help the teachers understand the innovation by working with them.

Teachers' Agency

The word "agency" is used to bring together the ideas of power and action—teachers must believe that they have the power to take action and that their action will impact student learning before they are likely to make significant changes to their practice (Finley, Marble, Copeland, & Ferguson, 2000). Power can be thought of in two very different ways. On the one hand, power is described as the possession of control or authority over others, as is typical in hierarchical organizations including most schools. Teacher empowerment is a top-down process where power is granted by the administration. On the other hand, power can also mean the ability to act or produce an effect (Spielmann & Radnofsky, 1997). The latter definition is more useful in the understanding of agency.

The empowerment literature includes many references to the conditions of schooling that deny teachers a sense of efficacy, success, and self-worth (Terry, 1995). Many reports have documented the inadequacy of hierarchical, top-down organizational structure in the corporate world and in the world of public education, and have described characteristics of school principals who have successfully transformed their schools to a flatter organizational structure. Teacher empowerment has been described as the development of an environment in which teachers act as professionals and are treated as professionals, where they have the power to make decisions that were made for them in traditional systems (Terry). This view indicates the complexity inherent in moving more decision-making responsibility into the hands of teachers. Empowerment of teachers, in the sense of creating a specific kind of working environment, may be necessary for teachers to develop a sense of agency, but it is not sufficient.

Spielmann and Radnofsky (1997) studied a school reform program intended to empower teachers to make choices about their own development, evaluation, and working relationships. The premise of the program was that giving teachers more power could induce professionalism, and more professional teachers would take on new responsibilities and improve instruction. The authors found that the program developers had made some false assumptions: neglecting to distinguish between having power over someone and having the power to act; treating power quantitatively as a one-dimensional commodity; and equating empowerment with professionalism without establishing a correlation between power and responsibility. Teachers who are "given" power (being-able-to-do) often respond by exercising independence (being-able-not-to-do) rather than carrying out the intentions of the reform. The developers had established procedures to foster a goal of more democratic decision-making, but they had assumed that this was what the teachers wanted and had not taken concrete measures to foster the development of a new professional and democratic school culture. The teachers had not been involved in open, reflective dialogue about what it meant to be a professional, to take responsibility, and to have power to act.

  Instructional Coherence: The Changing Role of the Teacher
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