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The Drawing Down of Ideas: Analyzing How Images of Teachers Become Embedded in Policy

Sat, April 6, 4:10 to 6:10pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Floor: 200 Level, Room 201B


Purpose. Images of teachers have been at the center of debates about educational policy for decades. People talk about teachers in ways that are rooted in historical discussions about teachers as professionals (or not), autonomous (or not), or skilled (or not). This paper investigates how deliberations about instructional policy pulls in ideas about teachers salient in the broader policy environment. We investigate the degree to which images of teachers shape district-level deliberative processes and have consequences for resulting policies.

Framework. Ideas present in the public sphere - such as pervading perceptions of teacher professionalism, skill, and capacity – are consequential in the decision-making arena. These ideas can influence both policymakers’ agenda setting and policy responses (Kingdon, 1995). More deeply, these images can embed in policy in ways that influence structure, culture, and routines on the ground (Scott, Rueff, Mendel, & Caronna, 2000). While theory suggests that certain actors influence the uptake of some ideas over others (Fligstein, 2001), we know less about the process by which ideas in the environment become embedded in policy. We study the processes of mobilization and persuasion that are set in motion as district staff make curricular decisions.

Methods and data. We drew on 2.5 years of observation data from one urban district related to two strands of mathematics policy deliberation—one which designs curriculum and one which selects curriculum. We employed an iterative coding process by first creating a typology of teacher images based on both existing literature and our data. Next, we identified key decision-points—moments when agreement existed across multiple deliberators either in or outside of the meeting—I n each deliberation. We then analyzed the role (if any) teacher images played in each decision-point by identifying and coding how teachers were invoked leading up to the decision. This coding enabled us to analyze the role of teacher images in the resulting policies.

Results. The typology of teacher images included antagonist, influencer, laborer, martyr, naïve, professional, artisan. District leaders drew on these images as they engaged in discussion across the two deliberations. Applying this typology to the deliberations revealed that while some teacher images were more commonly invoked, they played less of a role in consequential decisions. For instance, the image of teacher as a professional shaped the final policy documents more than the image of teacher as laborer although teacher as laborer was invoked more frequently. Additionally, the type of deliberation influenced the prevalence of certain teacher images. For example, in the designing curriculum deliberation, as deliberators weighed how much teacher guidance they should provide in the math curriculum, images of teachers as laborer vs. professional were often discussed in tension with each other.

Scholarly significance. These findings provide insight into the processes that unfold as district leaders create policy for teachers. They reveal the teacher images that are in play and delineate the more nuanced roles they play in the deliberations. Importantly, these deliberations result in policies that play a role in how teachers carry out their work.


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