Riel and Hank Becker
and Hank Becker and Hank Becker
and Hank Becker
University of California, Irvine
University of California, IrvineUniversity of California, Irvine
University of California, Irvine
May 2000May 2000
The Beliefs, Practices, and Computer Use of Teacher Leaders1
University of California, Irvine
Models of school reform, professional development programs, state and federal policies
increasingly support teachers in expanded roles, including as Teacher Leaders. Teacher
Leadership involves providing peer guidance through formal and informal professional
discussions, mentoring, university teaching, conference presentations and academic
This research analyzes the responses of 4,000 U. S. teachers concerning their educational
background, teaching philosophy and instructional practices both with and without
computers. We formed 4 groups of teachers based on their reported levels of professional
engagement. At the high end of the continuum of levels of Professional Engagement are
Teacher Leaders–– teachers who place a high value on sharing their knowledge with their
teaching colleagues. At the opposite end of the continuum are Private Practice Teachers
who report little or no engagement in professional dialog or activities beyond those
mandated. Teacher Professionals, similar to Teacher Leaders, were engaged beyond the
classroom but reported less leadership activities. Interactive Teachers were not quite as
disengaged as Private Practice Teachers.
Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals were more likely than Private Practice or
Interactive Teachers to:
1) have made and continue to make higher investments in their own education.
2) promote knowledge construction rather than engage in direct instruction.
3) develop instructional practices, both with and without technology, that are
theoretically tied to their constructivist philosophy.
4) use computer technology for teaching and learning.
5) integrate computer technology into their classrooms in ways that support
meaningful thinking and involve collaborative project work and sharing of ideas
with their peers.
This research adds the voices of Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals to the
ongoing debate over the best instructional practices. The findings are consistent and
strong––Teacher Leaders are better educated teachers, continuous learners, computer
users, and promote constructive problem-based learning over direct instruction. Their
position in the educational community mirrors students' positions in their classrooms.
They use computers to help their students achieve the same level of respect and voice that
these teachers have achieved within their professional educational community.
1 Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, April 26, 2000.
Teacher professional development increasingly recognizes the importance of the
expertise of practicing teachers and of teachers learning from and with one another (e.g.
Acker 1995; Darling-Hammond, 1994; Renyi, 1996). These new roles and support
structures for teachers can work together to establish a professional culture in schools––a
culture of collaboration rather than a culture of individualism (Talbert & McLaughlin,
1994; Schlager, Fusco, & Schank, 1998). This collaborative approach to professional
leadership is viewed as central to school change (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin,
1995; Little, 1993).
The isolation and silence of teachers in the discourses on teaching and learning can be
seen as a “protective response to subordination” (Smyth, 1989). Teachers, without a
sense of agency or authority beyond the classroom, engage in a form of “private practice”
behind closed doors. Closed classroom doors open concerns about maintaining high
standards for both teaching and learning. This research focuses on how these teachers are
similar and different from the group of teacher leaders.
In contrast to this form of private practice, teacher leaders and professionals engage in
collaborative dialog about teaching and learning with a belief that “part of being a teacher
involves grappling with and collectively confronting the contradictory demands of the
educational system," (Smyth 1989:223). The shift from privacy and self-reliance to
collaboration and experimentation or continuous improvement represents a significant
shift in values (Little, 1982). Institutional factors like school culture and organizational
practices help shape the way teachers view their role in the school (Darling-Hammond
and McLaughlin 1995; Fullan, 1991; Guskey and Sparks 1996; Smyley 1995, Becker &
Riel, 1999). Teacher leaders view their relationship to other educators within and beyond
the school as an important determinant of the quality of student learning in the classroom
We begin this paper with a review of the literature in two areas: (1) the rationale for our
choice of teacher leadership dimensions; and (2) a brief discussion of our choice of
dimensions for discussing school philosophy, practice and computer use.
Teacher Leadership Dimensions
Collaborative forms of professional development exist at the school site and beyond the
school and include participation in peer review groups, teacher networks, and
partnerships with universities and organizations, and programs. They involve teachers in
national, state, and local school and curriculum reform activities.
Teacher Leadership in School
Teacher leaders improve classroom practice by engaging other teachers in critical
reflection on their experiences and sharing classroom experiences with other teachers in
formal and informal ways (Little, 1994; Lieberman, 1995; Darling-Hammond & Ball,
1997; Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998).
Teachers working together to explore dimensions of teaching and learning, creating
school improvement plans, and developing school curriculum are directly linked to
effective schools (Johnson 1986; Glatthorn and Fox 1996). Lieberman & McLaughlin
(1995) found that successful teacher school networks unite members who share interests
and concerns around a common goal that the participants themselves believe to be
important. Little (1982) underscores the importance of a school culture "teachers valued
and participated in norms of collegiality and continuous improvement.” Strong networks
also provide participants with an opportunity to interact in a non-threatening environment
where both teaching and learning occur simultaneously.
TEACHER MENTORING AND CLASSROOM VISITS
Teacher mentoring is a school reform strategy that recognizes and rewards the talent and
expertise of master teachers. Teacher leaders work with in one-to-one relationships with
colleagues as peer mentors, providing information and feedback on the implementation of
a new program or on a promising instructional strategy (Elmore & Bierney, 1996). In this
role, teachers are able to use their extensive knowledge of teaching in specific school
contexts to help colleagues who may be new to teaching or new to the school. This peer
teaching and collaboration approach encourages the development of local expertise.
Opportunities to observe others, to model desired behaviors, to benefit from coaching by
colleagues, and to receive meaningful feedback on their progress help create a culture of
collaboration (Lieberman & Miller, 1992).
While recognizing that some mentoring programs can be conservative in nature with
experts transmitting a skill-based culture to a new generation of teachers (Cochran-Smith
& Paris 1995), for many these programs are viewed as catalysts for transformational
change in school culture (Caldwell & Carter 1992; Monahan (1996)). Because mentoring
programs are based on teachers working together, and supporting one another, they can
create a school culture of collaboration. However, the development of these programs
may be an important dimension with mandated mentoring programs leading to "contrived
collegiality" rather than to a culture of collaboration (Hargreaves, 1994).
Professional Teachers and Leadership beyond the School
Professionally engaged teachers see teaching as a process of continual, reflective inquiry
and the exchange of ideas with their peers leading to the development of a shared
technical language and a shared knowledge base (Little, 1994). They value opportunities
to share their expertise with colleagues beyond their schools. Out-of-school experiences--
collaborations with formal and informal networks, partnerships with community groups,
and involvement in district, state, national and international education activities--expand
teachers' understanding of policy and practice in ways that are sometimes unavailable in
school. The recent availability of email and Internet access encourages informal
professional and leadership opportunities.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Teachers are often required to attend workshops given by " outside experts' in teaching
and learning while their knowledge–gained from years of practice–is undervalued
(Lieberman, 1995, Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1990). This encourages a view of "teaching
as technical, learning as packaged, and teachers as passive recipients of "objective
research." (Lieberman, 1995:591).
School district and organizational meetings provide an avenue for teachers to share their
ideas beyond the school. Teachers can voice their need for professional development that
extends far beyond the one-shot workshop toward fulfilling their expressed need for
opportunities to learn how to question, analyze, and change instruction to teach
challenging content development (Darling-Hammond, Lieberman, & McLaughlin, 1995).
Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995) argue for new forms of staff development
which provide "occasions for teachers to reflect critically on their practice and to fashion
new knowledge and beliefs about content, pedagogy, and learners." (1995:597). The goal
is to engage teachers in studying specific aspects of practice, comparing ideas on
implementation, and seeking new ideas or programs. Increasingly teachers are serving as
instructors and participants in new forms of professional development that go beyond
those that impart research results to engaging teachers in active programs that involve
continual partnerships (Wells & Chang-Wells 1992). These district meetings also provide
teachers with the opportunity to review curriculum plans, instructional programs and
student assessment practices. As teachers identify more and more professional
development capacity within their school, they become less dependent on traditional
forms of professional development (Darling-Hammond, et al, 1995).
WORKSHOP AND CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS, UNIVERSITY TEACHING
Teacher leaders often attend conferences and workshops as presenters rather than
participants. Some teachers become involved in trainer of trainers programs where their
presentation is more likely to be constrained within a model or program that supports
teachers teaching teachers (Gray & Sterling, 2000). But often teacher leaders create
presentations about their own innovations. To do this well, teachers need to place
themselves at a distance and view their work from the perspectives of their peers. The
process of extracting elements of their practice and conceptualizing it for others creates
the distributive expertise that is basic to a learning community (Shulman, 1997).
Other leadership opportunities are available by formal relationships with universities
where teacher leaders spend some of their time teaching either pre-service or in-service
teachers. Increasingly, there is a call for professional development schools where expert
teachers serve as instructional leaders for new teachers (Holmes Group, 1990, Levine,
1992, Darling-Hammond, 1994, Sandholtz & Dadlez 2000). Teaching in professional
development schools revitalizes and veteran teachers for their contribution to the
education beyond their classroom teaching (Sandholtz & Merseth, 1992).
In communities around the country, teachers--either alone or in groups--are gathering
information, analyzing experiences and events, and writing about the issues and problems
they confront in schools and classrooms. By publishing their work, teacher leaders share
their ideas and strategies with the larger profession. There are at least four reasons for
why publishing for teachers is so important. The first is that the process of knowledge
construction involves critical thinking and reflection that leads to deeper knowledge
(Woodruff, Macdonald & Nason, 1998). The second is the experience can lead to a
deeper understanding of how to guide novice writers (Gray & Sterling, 2000). Third,
teachers who are authors are more likely to be participants in a academic discourse
closing the gap between teaching and research (Berieter, 2000). Fourth, teacher
knowledge on how programmatic and organizational changes might be effective in their
school or districts can be a valuable resource for school reform.
Dimensions of Teaching Philosophy, Practice, and Computer Use
To understand how teacher leaders differ from other teachers, we examine their
philosophy, practice and use of computer technology in terms of current theories of
teaching and learning. Teachers today are expected to prepare all students to reach
significantly higher academic standards than have previously been attempted in this
country (Murnane & Levy, 1996). The student populations that teachers are asked to
work with are diverse and have complex learning needs (Mehan, et, al. 1996). The range
of methods and approaches and the theories of teaching and learning demand extensive
intellectual preparation and continual learning on the part of teachers (Wiske, 1998). The
rapid speed of technological development brings new computer mediated tools to the
classroom door each year. Teachers have to make continual decisions about how to best
utilize these tools in teaching, learning and assessment.
School reform programs are efforts to solve a range of educational problems, however,
our examination of the discourse of reform suggests that many of them either explicitly or
implicitly derive from theories of learning that can be grouped under the rubric of
constructivism (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). These include cognitive constructivism
(Piaget, 1952, Papert, 1980), inquiry learning theories (Dewey, 1916, Sizer, 1984), socio-
historical activity theories (Vygotsky, 1978; Newman et, al, 1989; Wertsch, 1997), social
constructivism (Garfinkel, 1967; Cicourel, 1973; Mehan, 1983, Lave, 1988; Pea, 1996),
meta-cognitive theories (Brown & Campaine, 1994, Bereiter, 2000), and recent brain-
based learning (Sylwester, 1995; Renate & Caine, 1997).
These constructivist-compatible instructional activities are quite distinct from a cultural
or knowledge transmission view of learning (Hirsch, 1996; Adams, & Engelmann, 1996)
that emphasizes teacher-centered whole-class explanation and closely scripted student
Dimension of Educational
Philosophy Knowledge Transmission Co-Construction of Knowledge
Role of Teacher Delivers information in a
structured coherent order Coach, guide, Learning Community
Role of learner Passive reception of information Group responsible to share interests,
learning and knowledge with others
Conception of Knowledge Accumulation of information in
discipline structures. Cognitive, social and socio-cultural
structures that organize information in
the mind and in the world
Teaching/learning Process Association, memorization,
Problem solving, inquiry argumentation,
dialog and debate
Process Tests of retention of information,
psychometric tests Portfolios, exhibitions, Performance
This same distinction is used to understand teacher responses about their classroom
practices. Classroom teachers who define instruction as the transmission of knowledge
have students learn concepts and skills through listening, copying text, and practicing sets
of similar problems. Classroom teachers who define instruction as the co-construction of
knowledge focus on project activities that expect students to display understanding,
interpretation, and original thought. The questions about practices asked teachers to
describe classroom activities in a current on-going classroom unit. The questions were
posed so that teachers frequently had to make a choice among options that were closer to
one of these two contrasting approaches to classroom instruction.
Computers can be defined in similar ways to convey information, for practicing
responses or for tutorials. These are all knowledge transmission uses. Computers can
also be used for student inquiry and presentation of students' work. These are co-
Our study examines how pedagogical beliefs, practices and computer use of teacher
leaders compare to other teachers. In particular, we explore the following questions:
1) How do teacher leaders and other professionally engaged teachers compare to other teachers with
respect to personal and professional characteristics?
2) How does the philosophy of professionally engaged teachers compare to that of other teachers?
3) How does the pedagogy of professionally engaged teachers differ from that of other teachers?
4) Is the use of computers by professionally engaged teachers different from other teachers' use of
5) How do the most active computer-users among professionally engaged teachers differ from other
equally engaged teachers but for whom computers are a less central part of their teaching practice?
Data and Methods
Source of Data, Sampling, and Weighting
This study of teacher professionalism, pedagogy, and computer use is drawn from data
collected in 1998 as part of a national survey. "Teaching, Learning, and
Computing–1998" surveyed teachers from a national probability sample of schools–898
schools stratified by school level (elementary, middle, high school). It also includes a
sample of 718 schools selected either because of the presence of substantial computer
technology in the school or because of the involvement of at least one teacher, if not the
whole school, in instructional reform activities.2 In both the probability sample of schools
and the specially selected schools (we refer to the latter as the "purposive" sample), most
of the teachers were selected using probability sampling methods from among all
teachers of grades 4-12. About one-sixth of the teachers were selected because of their
participation in reform programs or their principal’s designation of them as exemplary
users of constructivist/cognitive approaches.3
Seventy-five percent of schools (N=1215) participated to the point of rostering their
teachers for sampling. Among the teachers sampled or selected with certainty, 4,083
provided completed useable surveys, 67% of those rostered and sampled. This includes
2,251 teachers from the probability sample, 1,236 from reform-involved schools, and 596
from the high technology-presence schools. The analysis for this paper combines the
probability and the purposive sample in such a way as to take account of the sampling
weights of different schools and different teachers in the same school. We also maintain
the balance in total numbers between the probability sample (55% of the total sample)
and the purposive sample.4
The teacher respondents were asked to complete a survey booklet about their teaching
practice, teaching beliefs, and their work environment that was 21 pages in length and
required approximately 60-75 minutes. Four different versions of the teacher survey
booklet were used, with overlapping sets of questions.
Many of the survey questions about instructional practice and teaching philosophy were
validated by a prior study (Becker & Anderson, 1998). That research compared teacher
questionnaire responses to field-researcher-team judgments based on three in-depth
interviews and three hour-long classroom observations. Those items for which teacher
responses most closely matched those made by the interviewer-observers were included
in (or adapted for) the final versions of the questionnaires.
2 The probability sample was a weighted sample with selection probabilities related to school size and the
amount of computer technology present. Selection of the additional "purposive" sample schools was based
upon extensive data gathering, including tabulation of schools participating in more than 50 reform
programs and development of a “technology presence index” for all public schools in the United States,
using data from Quality Education Data, Inc.
3 Again, weights were used that were inversely proportional to selection probabilities of different teachers.
[Further information about the sampling design can be found at http://www.crito.uci.edu/TLC. Principals
and school technology coordinators also supplied information for the study.
4 Teachers are weighted inversely to their probability of selection within their school, and for the
probability sample, schools themselves are weighted inversely to their probability of selection.
Operationalization of Constructs
DEFINING TEACHER LEADERS
We define Teacher Leaders as teachers in our sample who were actively engaged with
their peers both at their own school and beyond their school and who indicated that they
were engaged in mentoring other teachers, presenting at workshops, university teaching,
or publishing (Becker & Riel, 1999). At the other end of our continuum were those
teachers who we call Private Practice Teachers. Those were teachers who, by indicating
relatively little professional interaction with peers, could be inferred were either
implementing mandated policies or found themselves to be both self-sufficient in their
teaching practice and uninterested in assisting others in their field. We also labeled
teachers in two intermediate categories: Teacher Professionals were closer to Teacher
Leaders, while Interactive Teachers were closer to Private Practice Teachers. The
placement of teachers into these categories was determined by three multi-part survey
questions, each of which was used to form an index which in turn contributed to the
overall measure of professional engagement from which the four categories were formed.
Within-School Teacher Interaction. From the first question set, we formed an index of
“Within-School Teacher Interaction.” This was the average frequency that the teacher
reported having six types of interactions with other teachers at their own school. Those
interactions included discussions about teaching methods, project ideas, subject-matter
issues, and technology (Table 1a) as well as reports of informal observations of another
or ones own teaching (Table 1b). Informal interactions averaging halfway between
"several per month" and "one to three times per week" was one of the three criteria used
to define Teacher Leaders. To be a Teacher Professional, an average answer of "several
per month" was needed.
TABLE 1A: FREQUENCY OF TEACHER INFORMAL DISCUSSIONS
WITH OTHER TEACHERS AT THEIR OWN SCHOOL
How often do you have the following types of
interactions with other teachers at your school? Seldom/
month 1-3/ week Almost
Discussions about how to teacher a particular
concept to the a class 21% 44% 22% 13%
Discussions about ideas for student or group projects 20% 45% 23% 12%
Discussions of different views about an issue within
our common subject area (e.g. science) 23% 44% 21% 12%
Discussions about computer software or the Internet 26% 41% 23% 10%
Discussions on any of the above topics 6% 37% 32% 23%
Sample: TLC Probability Sample
TABLE 1B: FREQUENCY OF CLASSROOM VISITATIONS AT THEIR OWN SCHOOL
How often do you have the following types of interactions
with other teachers at your school? Seldom/
/month 1-3/ week Almost
Visits to another teacher's classroom to observe teaching 78% 16% 4% 1%
Informal observations of MY classroom by another teacher 79% 17% 2% 2%
Sample: TLC Probability Sample
Beyond-School Teacher Contact. A second survey question dealt with similar
interactions—but with teachers at other schools (Table 2). "Beyond-School Teacher
Contact" was defined as how many of the following three criteria the teachers met:
attending workshops with teachers from other schools at least 3 times since September;
going to 3 or more committee meetings with teachers from other schools; and using
electronic mail with teachers at other schools at least a half-dozen times. To be
considered a Teacher Leader, two of these criteria needed to be met; Teacher
Professionals had to meet only one of these criteria of Beyond-School Teacher Contact.
TABLE 2: FREQUENCY OF PROFESSIONAL CONTACT
WITH TEACHERS AT OTHER SCHOOLS
Not so far
this yeara1-2 times 3-5 times More Often
A workshop or conference with teacher
from other schools 14% 44% 29% 13%
A committee meeting with teachers
from other schools 45% 27% 20% 8%
Electronic mail with teachers from
other places 61% 14% 9% 16%
Sample: TLC Probability Sample
a The time period represented is most of a school year. Teachers completed surveys between March and June of 1998.
Leadership. The third survey question asked about the teacher’s involvement over the
past three years in six types of leadership activities within the profession, including
mentoring other teachers (2 measures), giving workshop presentations (2 measures),
teaching college-level courses, and publishing (Table 3). The number among these six
activities reported by the teacher formed the teacher's “Leadership Activity” score.
Teacher Leaders engaged in at least three of these six activities; Teacher Professionals
did at least two.
TABLE 3: PERCENT OF TEACHERS INVOLVED
IN PROFESSIONAL LEADERSHIP ACTIVITIES
In the past three years, which of these experiences have you had? Yes
I have informally mentored another teacher 38%
I have been formally assigned to mentor another teacher 23%
I have given a workshop or talk for at least 25 teachers 35%
I have given workshops for teachers on at least 5 occasions 15%
I have taught a college-level course for credit 10%
I have published an article for professional educators 5%
Four or more of the above 7%
Three or more of the above 20%
None of the above 40%
Sample: TLC Probability Sample
As indicated above, Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals had to meet standards
deriving from each of the three survey questions. The standards for Teacher Leaders
were simply more rigorous. Among those who did not meet standards on within-school
interactions, between-school contacts, and leadership activities, we distinguished between
teachers who were generally interactive with other teachers, having at least a mean score
on an index combining answers to all three survey questions, from those who had a score
below the mean, overall. The former we titled Interactive Teachers; the latter, Private
Practice Teachers. The numbers and percents of teachers so classified are shown in
Table 4. Although this paper focuses on the Teacher Leaders, we present data on all four
groups to provide a context for understanding the survey responses of the Teacher
TABLE 4: CATEGORIES OF PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Engagement Description of Professional Engagement Weighted Percent & Raw N*
Sample Only Full TLC
Leaders Teachers meeting the highest standards on within-
school informal interactions, between-school contact,
and leadership activities.
Professionals Teachers meeting somewhat more modest standards
on all three dimensions of Professional Engagement. 10%
Teachers Teachers who spent some time interacting with their
peers but did not meet standards on all three
Practice Teachers who do not interact substantially with their
colleagues near or far. 58%
* The number of teachers shown is the actual number of teachers surveyed who placed into that category. The percent
shown is the weighted percentage of all studied teachers, taking into account the sampling probabilities for each teacher
and each school. The rightmost column combines teachers from the probability sample of schools and the selected
reform-involved and high-technology schools in proportion to their relative sample size.
PEDAGOGY: DIRECT INSTRUCTION VS. KNOWLEDGE CONSTRUCTION
To measure instructional practice, teachers were asked a set of questions that focused on
how frequently they employed specific instructional strategies in the one class in which
they felt most accomplished as a teacher. An index was constructed based on the mean
scores of 27 item prompts from five survey questions:5
Methods used to introduce the current unit to the class included introductory drills (coded
in the direction of “Direct Instruction”), small group discussions, making conjectures, and
raising truly problematic questions ("questions…that I did not know the answers to").
The last three were coded in the direction of "Knowledge Construction."
Reasons given for asking students questions included eliciting student opinion, getting
students to justify their reasoning, and relating issues to students’ experiences (all coded
How the most recent five hours of class time had been spent, including teacher-led
whole-class discussion (coded "Direct Instruction"), student presentations and student led
discussion, and student small group work ("Knowledge Construction").
Frequency of various types of assignments and class activities (2 questions) included
individual seatwork ("direct instruction"), hands-on activities, weeklong projects, journal-
writing, planning classroom activities, problem-solving in small groups, working on
problems with no obvious method for solving, explaining their reasoning by writing,
holding formal debates, designing their own problems to solve, small group discussions
of procedures for solving problems, doing oral or written reflection on their own work,
5 For more information on this scale and responses of the sample see Ravitz, Becker, and Wong (2000),
available on www.crito.uci.edu/tlc
tasks involving multiple representations of the same idea, making a product to be used by
someone else, demonstrating work to an audience (other than their class or parents), and
undertaking tasks without clear correct answers (all “Knowledge Construction” items).
The alpha reliability for this index was .86. For this paper, the index was divided roughly
into quartiles, with teachers in the lowest quartile classified as “direct instruction-
oriented” and those in the highest quartile as “knowledge construction-oriented” in terms
EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY: TRADITIONAL BELIEFS VS. CONSTRUCTIVIST
In our model, teacher beliefs about good practice--their educational philosophy--is a
control variable in the main analysis. Beliefs about teaching that derive from
constructivist learning theory represent a potential for implementing a constructivist-
compatible teaching practice. Yet, it is well understood that implementing many of these
practices is hard work. One question we address in this paper is whether leaders are more
able to implement a constructivist pedagogy than are other teachers, even when they hold
essentially similar teaching philosophies. Our measure of teaching philosophy comes
from three survey questions, incorporating 13 individual prompts.6 In one question,
teachers were asked to compare two teachers’ approaches to classroom discussion, one
approach representing traditional teacher-directed questioning based on prior reading, the
other representing teacher-led discussion that provoked questions from the students
themselves which the teacher then reflected back to them for further research. A second
set of questions presented paired comparisons of contrasting teaching philosophies, each
item presented as a hypothetical personal statement of beliefs.7 The third question
involved a set of six agree vs. disagree statements (6-point scales) including statements
about the importance of background knowledge as a rationale for , the value of building
instruction around problems with “clear, correct answers” and ideas “that most students
can grasp quickly,” and the need to postpone “meaningful learning” until basic skills
have been acquired.
6 For more detailed information on teachers’ responses with respect to teacher philosophy and practice see
Ravitz & Becker, (1999).
7 The first item contrasted the role of the teacher as learning facilitator in inquiry-based learning versus
transmitter of information and procedural directions. A second item contrasted the primacy of “sense-
making” with importance of transmitting the required curriculum. A third item presented the choice
between believing that motivation and student interest were more important than specific subject-matter
versus believing that the textbook content in history, science, math, and language skills should “drive what
students study.” A fourth item contrasted a teaching style with multiple activities incorporating the
integration of diverse skills occurring simultaneously in the classroom with a whole-class model with short
time-span tasks that “match students’ attention spans and the daily class schedule.”
An index was created by taking the mean of these 13 prompts, after equalizing item
standard deviations (effectively creating standard scores for items). The alpha reliability
for this index was .84.
Teacher involvement in using computers involves having students use a variety of
software as part of their classroom instructional practice as well as using computers for
their own professional work. In addition, a strong computer-use practice would seem to
involve reasonably substantial expertise in using basic computer applications and having
adequate resources available for professional and student use. The survey contained
several measures of computer access and use that we placed into a broader operational
definition of teacher involvement with computers:
1) The extent to which teachers had students use each of 10 different types of software
(the Web, spreadsheets and databases, multimedia authoring software, word
processing, games for practicing skills, simulations, presentation software, e-mail,
programs for printing graphics, and CD-ROM reference software)
2) The variety of ways they themselves used computers professionally (e.g.,
corresponding with parents, getting information or pictures for the Web for use in
lessons, and exchanging computer files with other teachers)
3) The extent of their technical expertise (e.g., knowing how to make and present a slide
show, develop a multimedia document, create a new database, etc.)
4) Their experience and felt expertise with Windows and Macintosh platforms
5) How many computers they had in their classroom
6) The variety of other technology resources which their schools gave them access to
(e.g., classroom telephone, easy access to a fax machine, Internet access and
electronic mail from their classroom, access to the school's computer network from
7) How long they had had a home computer and Internet access
8) Whether their students had ever used computers for complex, integrative projects
(several examples shown and asked about)
9) The extent that their use of computers had increased in several ways over the past five
years (e.g., for class preparation, for student projects)
Factor analysis of all of the different indicators of computer use produced three
dimensions of teacher computer involvement, which we labeled "Student Tool Use,"
"Frequent (relatively simple) Uses," and "Teacher Use and Expertise." These three
dimensions were combined, and, using a judgmental process, cutoff points were chosen
that, in combination, selected 10% of all teachers as Highly Active Computer Users.8
8 To operationalize the dichotomous construct "Highly Active Computer User," we employed a cutoff
score for each of the three dimensions, setting the cutoff point according to a judgment of how important
each dimension was for the underlying construct. Specifically, teachers were judged to be Highly Active
Computer Users if they were .25 standard deviations above the mean on Student Tool Use, .25 standard
deviations above the mean on Teacher Use and Expertise, and no lower than .25 standard deviations below
the mean on Frequent Simple Uses. These cutoff points represented the top 24% of teachers on Student
Tool Use, the top 41% on Teacher Use and Expertise, and the upper 54% on Frequent Simple Uses. To
(Computer education teachers and business education teachers were excluded from the
factor analysis and subsequent categorizations because computer use was essentially
defined as essential elements of their courses.)
Between 9% and 10% of teachers of each school level passed these cutoff points to be
designated as Highly Active Computer Users. Teachers of most subject-areas were in the
range of 9% to 12%, with only foreign language (3%) and mathematics teachers (4%)
below that point and vocational education teachers (16%) above (Figure 1).
FIGURE 1: PERCENT OF ALL TEACHERS CLASSED AS
HIGHLY ACTIVE COMPUTER-USING TEACHERS
Our contrast of Teacher Leaders with other categories of teacher Professional
Engagement will be reported in three major sections, (1) descriptions of personal and
educational backgrounds, teaching responsibilities, and participation in staff development
activities (2) teaching philosophies related to pedagogical practices and (3) computer use.
Throughout, we contrast the Teacher Leaders with the other categories of teacher
meet the criterion for being labeled a "Highly Active Computer User," a teacher needed to pass all three
Professional and Personal Characteristics
We use personal and professional characteristics including information on teachers'
educational background experiences and current participation in learning to provide an
image of Teacher Leaders.
PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS AND TEACHING EXPERIENCE
Teacher Leaders, on the average, are about 5 years older and have had 5 years more
teaching experience than the other teachers in the sample. While it makes sense that
veteran teachers should be providing leadership, this finding runs contrary to assertions
often made about teachers, such as that older teachers, educated at a time when teaching
was seen as a more solitary activity, might be less likely to be involved in professional
activities. Clearly, that is not the case. (See Table 5.)
In the overall sample, 66% of the respondents were female. Private Practice Teachers
were 65% female which is very similar. However the Teacher Leaders were more likely
to be female with 74% female.
TABLE 5: PERSONAL BACKGROUND DATA
Engagement Mean Age
Mean Years of
Experience % Female
Teacher Leaders 48.0 19.5 74
Teacher Professionals 44.9 15.9 70
Interactive Teachers 43.5 15.2 65
Private Practice 42.6 13.7 65
Total 43.3 14.6 66
Sample: Probability and purposive samples.
The Teacher Leaders came from more selective schools, maintained higher grade point
averages, and were more likely to have graduate degrees than the rest of the teachers in
the sample. When we combine the educational background information into an index,
and compare Teacher Leaders' to the total sample, their average "Educational
Investment" places them in 69th percentile nationally (See Table 6, Z scores). Teacher
Professionals are also more educated than typical teachers in the sample (60th percentile).
The Private Practice Teachers are, in contrast, less well educated (45th percentile).
Although there are likely to be many very good teachers who are isolated in their
classrooms, this data suggests that those who close the door are teachers with less
academic preparation than those who are engage in professional activities.
TABLE 6: PERSONAL BACKGROUND DATA
% Arts and
college % Undergrad
GPA 3.5+ % MA or
% took credit
past 2 yrs
Teacher Leaders 48 13 50 64 50 0.49
Teacher Professionals 50 8 39 59 60 0.26
Interactive Teachers 53 7 34 50 54 0.07
Private Practice 52 8 28 42 49 -0.12
Total 52 8 32 47 52 0.00
Sample: Probability and purposive samples.
* Not part of Educational Investment Index.
Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals were distributed proportionally across subject
areas and grade levels in the national probability sample–selected to represent the nation
–with one exception: Proportionately more computer education teachers were included in
these two categories of the more professionally engaged teachers (see Table 7). Thus, it
appears that teachers who teach computer classes, as a whole, are more engaged in a
collaborative culture than teachers from other subject areas.
The Teacher Leaders and Professionals who were identified from the purposive sample--
the reform programs schools and schools with very high levels of technology--showed
more variation by subject area. These schools appear to have proportionally more
professional leadership in interdisciplinary subjects, in applied secondary subjects, and in
elementary self-contained classrooms.
TABLE 7: PERCENT TEACHER LEADERS AND TEACHER PROFESSIONALS
BY SAMPLE TYPE AND SUBJECT TAUGHT
% Teacher Leaders
% Teacher Leaders
% Teacher Leaders and
Computer Education 22 24 23
Business Education 13 34 19
Vocational 11 30 18
Social Studies 13 13 13
Science 11 18 15
English 12 13 12
Other Secondary 13 22 17
Math 12 11 11
Self-contained classrooms 13 25 17
Other Elementary 12 19 13
All Teachers 12 18 15
STAFF DEVELOPMENT PARTICIPATION
Teacher Leaders spend, on the average, 6 more days than other teachers in staff
development activities. If we contrast Teacher Leaders with those teachers who are
isolated in their classrooms, the Teacher Leaders are spending twice as much time in
professional development activities (see Table 8). When looking at the content of these
sessions, the Teacher Leaders were more likely to be engaged in professional
development activities which focused on technology and instructional strategies than the
teachers in the other groups.
TABLE 8: TOTAL # OF STAFF DEVELOPMENT DAYS ATTENDED IN PAST YEAR
Professional Engagement Mean
Teacher Leaders 15.2
Professional Teachers 11.4
Interactive Teachers 10.4
Private Practice 7.5
Philosophy and Pedagogy and Professional Engagement
Using the complex of questions that formed our Philosophy Index, we arranged the
teachers by quartiles from those who see the aim of education as knowledge transmission
to those who hold that knowledge construction is the basic aim. Table 9 shows the
percent of Teacher Leaders and the other three categories who fall into each of those
quartiles. Only 3% of the Teacher Leaders fall in the knowledge transmission quartile
compared to 32% of the Private Practice Teachers, while 58% define their overall goals
in educational as consistent with a constructivist philosophy (compared to only 20% of
Private Practice Teachers).
TABLE 9: TEACHING PHILOSOPHY BY PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Engagement % Knowledge
Transmission % 2nd Quartile % 3rd. Quartile % Knowledge
Construction % Total
Teacher Leaders 39 30 58 100
Teacher Professionals 14 20 26 40 100
Interactive Teachers 19 24 24 32 100
Private Practice 32 25 23 20 100
All teachers 25 24 24 27 100
Sample: Probability and purposive samples.
The Private Practice Teachers are the only group to have a higher percent of teachers who
hold the more traditional views of knowledge transmission than hold knowledge
construction viewpoints. This difference is clearly visible in Figure 2.
However, it is important to remember that Private Practice Teachers are also the largest
group in the sample and represent half of the teaching population.
FIGURE 2: CONSTRUCTIVISM OF TEACHING PHILOSOPHY
BY LEVEL OF PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT (Z-SCORES)
As discussed earlier, we asked teachers to select one class period in which they were
most satisfied with their teaching, the one in which they felt that they were closest to
accomplishing their educational goals. All the questions about teacher pedagogy (i.e.,
their actual teaching practice) were about this particular class.
The 27 items from the Pedagogy Index were divided into quartiles, similar to how the
Philosophy Index was handled. In Table 10, it is apparent that most of the Teacher
Leaders fall in the quartile that most supports a knowledge construction approach to
education. Conversely, only 2% of the Leaders are located in the direct instruction
TABLE 10: CONSTRUCTIVIST PEDAGOGY BY PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Engagement % Direct
Instruction % 2nd
Quartile % 3rd
Quartile % Knowledge
Construction % Total
Teacher Leaders 2 16 25 57 100
Teacher Professionals 11 20 23 47 100
Interactive Teachers 16 22 29 33 100
Private Practice 33 28 23 16 100
All Teachers 24 25 25 26 100
Sample: Probability and purposive samples.
FIGURE 3: CONSTRUCTIVISM OF TEACHING PEDAGOGY (INCLUDING SUBSCALES)
BY LEVEL OF PROFESIONAL ENGAGEMENT (Z-SCORES)
A series of exploratory factor analyses of the 27 survey prompts that comprised the
Pedagogy Index revealed that the items can be reasonably assigned to four different sub-
components: (1) the use of student projects; (2) small group work; (3) tasks involving
cognitive challenge; and (4) presence or absence of direct instruction. Figure 3 shows
that on all four of these sub-indices, as with the full index as a whole, Teacher Leaders
demonstrate the most constructivist pedagogies; Teacher Professionals, the next most;
and Private Practice Teachers, the least. Teacher Leaders differ most from the other three
categories of teachers on items measuring student project work, where they are nearly
one full standard deviation above the mean for all teachers in the TLC sample.
PEDAGOGY, PHILOSOPHY, AND SUBJECT TAUGHT
Subject-matter teaching responsibilities was a principal determinant of how constructivist
a teacher appears to be, both in philosophy and pedagogy (Ravitz, Becker, and Wong,
2000).9 However, within each group of subject-matter specialists, Teacher Leaders and
Teacher Professionals are far more constructivist in practice than Interactive Teachers or
Private Practice Teachers. Figure 4 shows this for three measures—the overall Pedagogy
Index and sub-indices for two of its primary components—Projects and Cognitive
Challenge. The figure shows differences in z-scores (essentially effect sizes) between
9 Of course, it is also true that many of the specific prompts used in the Pedagogy Index, in particular, are
more relevant to the teaching of some subjects than others. So some of the differences between teachers by
subject is artificial. Both "true" and "error" between-subject variance is handled by using within-subject-
matter z-scores, as discussed in the text.
Teacher Leaders and Professionals, considered together, versus Private Practice Teachers
of the same subject.
FIGURE 4: PEDAGOGY OF TEACHER LEADERS AND PROFESSIONALS VERSUS PRIVATE
PRACTICE TEACHERS, BY SUBJECT (DIFFERENCE IN Z-SCORES)
Sample: Probability and purposive samples.
In addition to subject-matter, teachers' pedagogy is affected by their teaching philosophy.
Because we have seen that Teacher Leaders and Professionals have much more
constructivist-oriented teaching philosophies than Private Practice Teachers, it is not
clear whether the differences in pedagogy shown above in Figure 4 are merely the result
of Leaders having more constructivist teaching philosophies. However, implementing a
constructivist philosophy is quite difficult (Becker and Riel, 1999). If Teacher Leaders
are actually more successful teachers (that is, not only more professionally engaged, but
actually more able to implement difficult teaching practices), we would need to control
on philosophy in order to see whether the average Teacher Leader's pedagogy is more
constructivist than other teachers who happen to hold similarly constructivist teaching
philosophies as the Teacher Leader.
Controlling for philosophy makes it possible for us to match Teacher Leaders with other
teachers in the sample who expressed similar philosophical beliefs about the best
teaching and learning strategies. We then look at how they describe their classroom
practices to see if they employ the strategies they believe are most effective in similar
FIGURE 5: CONSTRUCTIVISM OF TEACHING PEDAGOGY,
CONTROLLING ON PHILOSOPHY AND SUBJECT TAUGHT,
BY LEVEL OF PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMET (Z-SCORES)
We find that Teacher Leaders as well as Teacher Professionals were more likely to have
constructivist pedagogy even when philosophy was controlled (Figure 5). Moreover, this
was true for every subject-area separately, as shown in Figure 6. The difference between
Leaders/Professionals and Private Practice Teachers in terms of constructivist practice
was greatest in social studies, where it reached nearly a full standard deviation; and it was
smallest among science teachers, although even there it was more than one-half a
FIGURE 6: CONSTRUCTIVISM OF TEACHING PEDAGOGY, CONTROLLING ON
PHILOSOPHY, BY PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT AND SUBJECT TAUGHT
Thus, it appears from these results that Teacher Leaders and Professionals are more
successful in implementing their educational beliefs in the classroom. There are a
number of possible explanations for this. One is that with their better educational
preparation and their more regular participation in intellectual exchanges with adults,
they have learned the skills and strategies that make this translation possible. It is also
possible that it is, in some ways, a reflection of their greater institutional power. That is,
their identification as mentor teachers, conference presenters, or university instructors has
given them more institutional power to enact their views of good education. They are less
subject to the will of administrators pressured by parents and school boards to
demonstrate student learning in terms of higher test scores.
Professional Engagement and Computer Use
In this final section, we compare the frequency of computer use as well as differences in
computer use by teachers who are more and less professionally engaged. Our principal
focus is on instructional use by students during class time—how frequently teachers give
students the opportunity to use computers, what types of software they have students use,
and what their objectives for student computer use are. In addition, we employ a more
comprehensive measure of teacher involvement with computers, one that incorporates
teacher professional uses and their expertise. With this more comprehensive measure, we
examine differences among the Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals between
those who are Highly Active Computer Users and those for whom computers play a less
central role in their teaching lives. In all of these comparisons, we are trying to
understand the role that computer use plays with respect to the constructivist orientation
of Teacher Leaders. Does computer use shape beliefs and practices or is it shaped by
teachers' beliefs and practices?
PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT AND COMPUTER USE
In nearly every subject-area of instruction, Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals
are more likely to have their students use computers on a regular basis during class time
than are Private Practice Teachers. For most subjects, they are also more likely than
"Interactive Teachers" (the intermediate category of Professional Engagement) to give
students regular (i.e., weekly) computer activities. Figure 7 shows that the small number
of Teacher Leaders and Professionals who teach Mathematics (11% of all math teachers
in the sample) are more than five times as likely to assign computer work weekly as
Private Practice math teachers and about four times as likely to do so as Interactive math
teachers. The differences for the other academic subjects are smaller, but Professionally
Engaged English teachers are half-again as likely as Interactive English Teachers to
assign computer work on a frequent basis.
FIGURE 7: PERCENT OF TEACHERS WHO USE COMPUTERS
WITH STUDENTS WEEKLY, BY SUBJECT
Professionally Engaged Teachers use every type of software more than Private Practice
Teachers. Even when only computer-assigning teachers are considered, the greater the
level of professional engagement, the more frequently students of that teacher use a given
type of software. Figure 8 shows the pattern for World Wide Web use. Among
computer-assigning teachers, students of Teacher Leaders average about 3.5 lessons
using the Web while students of Private Practice Teachers average 1.75 lessons, a ratio of
two to one.
FIGURE 8: AVERAGE WORLD WIDE WEB USE BY STUDENTS
OF COMPUTER-ASSIGNING TEACHERS
Figure 9 shows similar ratios for all ten types of software studied. (In this case, the
comparison is between both groups of professionally engaged teachers
together—Teacher Leaders plus Teacher Professionals—versus Private Practice
Teachers.) Figure 9 shows that the greatest differences between Professionally Engaged
Teachers and Private Practice Teachers in how frequently they have students use software
is for electronic mail, multimedia authoring software, and presentation software. Those
types of software are used primarily to communicate with other people and to produce
products for an audience—activities closely associated with constructivist pedagogy.
FIGURE 9: RATIO OF (STUDENT) SOFTWARE USE BY PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGED
TEACHERS TO USE BY PRIVATE PRACTICE TEACHERS,
AMONG COMPUTER-ASSIGNING TEACHERS
Note: Probability and purposive samples
Note: Excludes computer and business teachers.
Those findings about which types of software most distinguish Professionally Engaged
Teachers and Private Practice Teachers are confirmed by findings concerning the three
"objectives" for students' computer use which they felt were most important in their own
teaching. (See Figure 10.)
FIGURE 10: COMPARING OBJECTIVES FOR COMPUTER USE OF TEACHER
PROFESSIONALS AND TEACHERS LEADERS TO OBJECTIVES OF PRIVATE PRACTICE
TEACHERS (RATIOS OF PERCENTAGES OF TEACHERS SELECTING THAT OBJECTIVE)
FIGURE 11: PERCENT HIGHLY ACTIVE COMPUTER-USING TEACHERS,
BY LEVEL OF PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT
Frequent student use of constructivist software like multimedia authoring programs is one
indicator of a sophisticated computer-using teacher—a teacher who has substantial
computer competence. Our comprehensive measure of Teacher Computer Involvement
incorporates frequent use of diverse software along with other measures of professional
utilization and computer expertise. (See Operationalization of Constructs, above, p. 13,
for more details on this measure's construction.) Overall, 10% of our sample's teachers
passed the factor-analysis-derived criteria for being a Highly Active Computer User.
One of the most remarkable findings in this analysis is that Teacher Leaders were 10
times as likely as Private Practice Teachers to be designated a Highly Active Computer
User (See Figure 11.) Forty percent of Teacher Leaders were compared to only 4% of
Private Practice Teachers. About one-fourth of Teacher Professionals were Highly
Active, six times as many as among Private Practice Teachers.
Of all of the dimensions of background, teaching responsibility, teaching philosophy, and
teaching practice on which we have compared teachers in terms of their professional
engagement, from Teacher Leaders to Private Practice Teachers, none of them has
produced differences on the order of magnitude of this measure of Highly Active
Computer Use. Of the three component factors comprising the overall Teacher Computer
Involvement index, Teacher Leaders are most different from other teachers in having
students use "tool" software (mean z-score of +.88), and least different from other
teachers in terms of frequent use of simple software (still more than one-half standard
deviation higher than average, z=+.52). On Professional Computer Uses and Teacher
Computer Expertise, their superiority was extremely high (+.67), but not as high as on
Student Tool Uses.
DIFFERENCES IN COMPUTER USE AMONG PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGED
Our results have demonstrated so far that, as a group, teachers who are professionally
oriented—that is, who are involved in the teaching lives of their peers both at their own
school and elsewhere—are much more likely than other teachers to be constructivists in
beliefs, practice and computer use. Their objectives for using computers in their teaching
are consistent with constructivist teaching philosophies, and in the last section, we
demonstrated that they are more likely be Highly Active Computer Users overall.
However, not all Teacher Leaders are constructivists and not all Teacher Leaders are
active users of computers in their teaching. Are there systematic patterns within the
group of teachers identified as professionally engaged? Do computer-active Teacher
Leaders and Teacher Leaders who don't use computers very much in their practice
themselves differ in terms of their educational backgrounds, teaching philosophies and
practices, and in how they use computers (when they do use them)? In other words, are
the relatively few Leaders who are transmission-oriented in their teaching also those who
don't use computers very much or is there a substantial group of Teacher Leaders who are
as constructivist as the others, but who choose not to use computers in their practice?
First, it should be noted that Professionally Engaged Teachers who are Highly Active
Computer Users and their similarly-involved peers who do use computers less (or not at
all) are fairly similar in terms of personal background characteristics. The two groups
have identical average years of teaching experience and similar overall levels of
Second, when examining the relationship between pedagogy and computer use across
teachers in different subject areas, it is important to control on subject matter taught.
This is because teachers of some subjects are more likely to be Highly Active Computer
Users than others (i.e., vocational education more than math teachers), and teachers of
those same subjects are more likely to be constructivist in practice (see Ravitz, Becker,
and Wong, 2000).
To do this analysis, we employed "within-subject-matter z-scores" to measure aspects of
teaching philosophy and practice. These are standardized scores where the mean value
for teachers of each subject is set to zero (with a standard deviation of 1.0), so we can
look at differences, say between Highly Active Computer Users and other teachers,
without worrying that one group may contain teachers of subjects with a greater
propensity to be constructivist.
FIGURE 12: CONSTRUCTIVIST TEACHING PHILOSOPHY AND PEDAGOGY OF
PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGED TEACHERS, BY COMPUTER USE (Z-SCORES)
Figure 12 shows that for both Teacher Professionals and Teacher Leaders, the highly
active computer users among them are much more constructivist in philosophy and in
practice than are their lesser computer-using peers. The difference in pedagogy is true
even when controlling on philosophy—i.e., among professionally-involved teachers in
the same subject-areas and with similar teaching philosophies, the Highly Active
Computer Users are more constructivist in practice than the ones who use computers less.
Most of the differences between highly active computer users and others are at least one-
fourth of a standard deviation. The two computer use categories (Highly Active vs. all
others) differ in philosophy and pedagogy nearly as much as do the two categories of
Professional Engagement—Teacher Professionals and Teacher Leaders.
Overall, the most constructivist category of teacher identified—the Highly Active
Computer-Using Teacher Leader--is more than a full standard deviation more
constructivist than the average teacher of the same subject, placing her roughly at the 87th
percentile on that dimension. This is true for pedagogy overall and for both the
"Projects" and "Meaningful Thinking" components of pedagogy, as shown in Figure 13.
The difference is not as great for the "Group Work" component, nor when philosophy is
controlled; however, even for those, the typical Computer-Using Teacher Leader is .75
standard deviations more constructivist than the average teacher of the same subject,
putting her at the 77th percentile.
FIGURE 13: CONSTRUCTIVIST PEDAGOGY COMPONENTS OF
PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGED TEACHERS, BY COMPUTER USE
The final area on which we compared Professionally Engaged Teachers according to the
depth of their involvement in computer use was in terms of the objectives that they had
for student computer use. Here, we omit the few Teacher Professionals and Teacher
Leaders who did not have students use computers at all. Among the remaining
Professionally Engaged Teachers, though, there were substantial differences between the
Highly Active Computer Users and the remaining Professionally Engaged Teachers in
the objectives that they held for students when computers were in use. Figure 14 shows
the percentage of each group of teachers that selected each objective as being among their
three most important ones. The objectives are shown in order from the ones chosen
proportionally more often by less-active computer-using professionals to the objectives
chosen proportionally more often by the Highly Active Computer-Using professionals
(Teacher Leader and Teacher Professional categories combined for this analysis).
The less active computer-users chose skills-oriented objectives (e.g., remediation and
skills mastery) and collaboration objectives more than those Teacher Professionals who
were Highly Active Computer Users. In contrast, Teacher Leaders and Professionals
who fell into the high computer use category were more likely to select communications,
presentation, and information gathering as their most important educational objectives for
This suggests that even among and Teacher Leaders, depth of involvement with
computers translates into a more constructivist exploitation of computer resources.
FIGURE 14: OBJECTIVES FOR COMPUTER USE AMONG PROFESSIONALLY ENGAGED
TEACHERS: HIGHLY ACTIVE COMPUTER USERS VS. MEDIUM TO LOW USERS
Summary and Discussion
In this paper we have contrasted Teacher Leaders––teacher who are involved in teaching
their peers through mentoring, partnerships, teaching and publishing––with teachers who
are disengaged from the professional community working in a “private practice.” We
want to end with a summary of the findings as well as some of the implications that we
draw from this research.
Expert Students make Expert Teachers
The first point we want to underscore is that prior educational experience of teachers is
linked with later expertise in teaching. What is evident from comparing the educational
background of professionally engaged and disengaged teachers is that Teacher Leaders
have made and are continuing to make a substantial investment in their own education.
50% of Teacher Leaders report a GPA of 3. 5 or higher. They were more likely to be
educated at selective schools, and 64% have earned graduate degrees.
Teacher Leaders report spending twice the amount of time in professional development
as Private Practice Teachers. In short, good students from good schools become Teacher
Leaders. Given the continual learning experiences of the teachers, it is likely that
individuals who enjoy learning, who excel led at school develop expertise in teaching.
These teacher characteristics--their education, ability, and experience--have been strongly
associated with significant increases in student achievement (Fergueson, 1991;
Greenwald, Hedges & Laine, 1996; William & Rivers, 1996).
In a previous analysis of relationships between school culture and leadership (Becker &
Riel, 1999) we found a correlation between schools that had a highly collaborative school
culture and Teacher Leaders. This raised the following question: Do better teachers
create collaborative teaching contexts or do the collaborative contexts promote teacher
excellence? The formation of an Educational Investment Index for this analysis provides
some clues, although not a definitive answer. We can see from this data that higher
educational investment results in Teacher Leaders who have substantially different
philosophy and practice and who use computers regularly with students in ways that
support constructivist learning. Teacher Leaders have a strong commitment to their own
The Voice of Experience Defines Teaching and Learning as Co-
A clear and consistent finding is that Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals share
constructivist philosophy and practice. They view teaching and learning as a co-
constructive process in which students are asked to think deeply about issues, generate
their own ideas, work collaboratively in projects, and share and evaluate their work
within a public classroom forum.
The survey we analyzed contained 40 separate items concerning teachers' beliefs and
practices. This made it possible to characterize, with a great deal of reliability, teachers'
philosophy and their reported day-to-day practice as either closer to a knowledge
construction or instruction––one that emphasizes transmission of information or one that
places an emphasizes on a co-construction of ideas. When we examined the pedagogy of
the Teacher Leaders we obtained two important results. One was expected, that the
pedagogy of the Leaders was closely tied to their constructivist philosophy. This was true
for the overall scale and for each of the sub-indices that we used. The teachers classroom
activities as described by the teacher supported more cognitive challenges, encouraged
project work that was extended through time, and encouraged students to work together
and to share what they had learned with one another.
The second finding is one that we want to underscore. Even when teachers shared similar
beliefs concerning an active student role in constructing deep knowledge through
collaborative project-based work, Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals were more
effective than Private Practice or Interactive Teachers in translating these beliefs into
practice. Teachers everyday are faced with many small decisions that construct
classroom learning. Quality teaching requires thoughtful reflection on theory and practice
to make principled decisions. This is a conceptually difficult task, but one that the
Teacher Leaders were most likely to show an alignment between the ways that they think
that students learn best and their own teaching practices. Perhaps because these teachers
have invested heavily in their own education, and did well as students in school
themselves, they have a deeper understanding of the importance of intellectual
investment in teaching and may have greater skill in being able to help students learn.
Teacher Leaders can accomplish instruction of students in ways that are difficult, but
consistent with a philosophy in which they believe.
Although many leaders in the field of education argue persuasively for the need to engage
practicing teachers towards a collaborative culture, educational decision making is often
made by people who have no field experience. Decisions are often made by politicians,
legislators and school administrators who are committed to fixing the problems that they
see facing American education. Their solutions, while sometimes research-based, often
focus on single issues which fail to deal with the complexity of challenges that face
This research gives voice to the beliefs and practices of over 800 Teacher Leaders and
Teacher Professionals from across the country. They are teachers who have been actively
engaged among their peers, selected to mentor other teachers, share their wisdom through
conference presentations, teach in universities and write for publication. It is our goal to
add their voices to national debate about best practices and overall goals for education.
They are framing education in terms that are consistent with inquiry learning (Dewey),
teaching for understanding, conceptual problem-solving, activity theory, reciprocal
teaching and collaborative learning. The findings are quite clear. The more markers of
collaborative, professional engagement, the more likely a teacher is to display and to act
from a conception of knowledge that is consistent with constructivism
Teacher Leadership and the Use of Computers
Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals were much more likely to be frequent users
of technology than were the other teachers in the sample. In fact, Teacher Leaders were
10 times more likely to be highly active computer users when compared to Private
Practice teachers. The way in which they used computer technology was consistent with
their philosophy. They view computers as tools to help students to research, understand,
and explain their ideas through text and graphics.
A central issue raised by this research is the relationship between teacher use of
computers and their beliefs and practices. To explore this issue, we used only the group
of Teacher Leaders and Teacher Professionals in our survey (excluding the computer and
business education teachers because they use computers as part of their discipline). We
then separated them into two groups-- Highly Active Computer Users in one and medium
to low computer users in the other. Then we examined the philosophy and pedagogy of
these two groups. The Highly Active Computer User-Leaders were the most
constructivist. What does this tell us about computer use? One account for this finding is
that the most talented Leaders with a strong constructivist orientation could not possibly
ignore one of the most powerful tools for constructivist learning, and so they would
naturally invest their time and energy in learning how to use them. The other reverses the
causality relationship. Teacher Leaders who become involved in using computers become
more constructivist as a result of seeing what their students are able to accomplish
through computer mediated learning.
Closed Classroom Doors Should Open Concerns about Quality of Teaching
This research also shows that teachers who earned lower grades in school, who spent less
time in previous years in school and who now spend less time in professional
development are more likely to be what we have called Private Practice Teachers. They
have an educational philosophy and practice that is opposite from that of the Teacher
Leaders. They support direct instruction tied closely to textbook materials with a high
value on convergent thinking and view tests as a valuable strategy for assessing this
content accumulation. They engage in a practice dominated by knowledge transmission
where students are rewarded for acquiring factual information.
This research indicates that there are huge differences between professionally engaged
teachers and "Private Practice" teachers in both the frequency and method of how they
use computers. Only 4% of the Private Practice Teachers fall in the category of Highly
Active Computer Users. Out of all of the data we report, this difference is the strongest
and most consistent. Again, it is the isolated teachers, a majority of the teachers in
classrooms today, who are less likely to use the intellectual resource that is transforming
many teachers' practices in this new century—the networked personal computer. Their
isolation is both physical and intellectual.
The current institutional structure of schools supports private practice teaching providing
minimal incentives to reward teachers who invest heavily in their continual learning.
Yet, this data suggest that behind closed doors, everyday, children are being denied
access to the quality of teaching that is the promise of free public education. We have
dramatically altered the "grammar" of schooling in the past when we moved from one
room school houses to graded elementary students and subject periods for high school
students (Tyack, & Tobin, 1995). Perhaps it is time to rethink the current structure that
provides so little opportunity for teachers to share their knowledge with one another and
to provide for the diffusion of teaching expertise.10
Classroom Practice Mirrors Professional Engagement
The final point is an observation that is relevant to programmatic policy decisions
concerning professional development of teachers. Across all of this data what we find is
that the role of a teacher in the larger educational community mirrors the role of students
in that teacher's classroom.
On one hand we have teachers who participate in collaborative project-based efforts and
activities to help shape education. They have a voice in constructing meaningful
understandings of their practice and are respected for their innovative contribution to the
field. They work with other experts building new knowledge.
These teachers were found to create within their classroom a similar environment for
their students. They engage their students in collaborative projects, expect their students
to contribute new insights and provide an atmosphere of respect for divergent innovative
thinking. They teach students in ways that support their understanding of learning.
On the other hand, teachers isolated in classrooms with no sense of agency or authority in
the larger field of education, appear to teach in ways that reflect this position. The
education structure provides a set of directives, mandated procedures and policies and
textbook materials. They test to assure compliance and threaten sanctions to teachers
who are not successful. These teachers, either by indifference, lack of time, acceptance
of an implementation role of teaching, or lack of intellectual competence or authority
play little or no role in making these decisions. Professional development is delivered to
the teachers by outside experts who come and leave explicit directives for classroom
teaching. However, inside the classroom the Private Practice Teachers assume a position
of power and authority. They are less focussed on giving students a sense of agency or
authority in their learning. They mandate policies and expect compliance from the
students. Their teaching practice leaves little room for student voice or authority in the
learning process. They teach in ways that support their understanding of learning.
To summarize, teachers who assume a professional orientation to teaching are far more
likely to have made high investments in their own education, to have constructivist-
compatible philosophical beliefs about education to develop the instructional practices
that are related to their beliefs and to integrate computers into their classrooms in ways
that support meaningful thinking and the sharing of ideas with their peers—professional
behavior! The social structure that teachers create for student learning in their classroom
mirrors their own relationship to their colleagues in the larger educational community.
10 For an alternative structure that encourages both the diffusion of good teacher practices and a form of
accountability, see Riel, M., (1995). The future of teaching. In Education and Technology: Future
Visions, Commissioned Paper by the U.S. Congress, Office of Technology (Eds.) OTA-BP-EHR-
169 Washington, D.C. Printing Office. Available online: (www.wws.princeton.cgi-
bin/byteserv.prl~ota/disk1/1995/9522/952206.PDF) U.S. Con-gress Office of Technology
Assessment alphabetic listing of OTA reports (www.wws. princeton.edu:80/~ota/
Acker, S. (1995) Gender and teachers’ work, in M. Apple ed, Review of Research in
Education, 21, AERA, Washington D.C.
Adams, G., & Engelmann, S. (1996). Research on Direct Instruction: 20 years beyond
DISTAR. Seattle, WA: Educational Achievement Systems.
Becker, H. J. (1999). Internet use by teachers (Report No. 1). Irvine, CA: Teaching
Learning & Computing.
Becker, H. J. & Anderson, R. E. (1998, April). Validating Self-Reports Of The
‘Constructivism’ Of Teachers’ Beliefs And Practices. Paper presented at the
American Education Research Assocation, San Diego, CA.
Becker, H. J. and Riel, M. M. (1999). Teacher Professionalism and the Emergence of
Constructivist-Compatible Pedagogies. University of California, Irvine. Revised
version of a paper presented at the 1999 meetings of the American Educational
Research Association (September).
Bereiter, C. (2000). Education and Mind in the Knowledge Age. Available online at
Brooks, J. G. & Brooks, M. G. (1993). In Search of Understanding: The Case for
Constructivist Classrooms Alexandria, VA: Association for the Supervision and
Brown, A. L. & Campione, J. C. (1994). Guided discovery in a community of learners. In
K. McGilly (Ed.) Classroom lessons: Integrating cognitive theory and classroom
practice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books.
Caldwell, B. and Carter, E.(1992) (Eds,) The return of the mentor, The Falmer Press,
Cicourel, A. (1973) Cognitive Sociology: Language and meaning in social interaction.
Cochran-Smith, M. & Paris, C. L. (1995) Mentor and mentoring: did Homer have it
right?, in J. Smyth, Critical discourses in teacher development, Cassell, London.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1993) Reframing the school reform agenda, Phi Delta Kappan,
vol. 57, no. 10, pp. 752-761.
Darling-Hammond, L. (1994). Professional development schools. New York: Teachers
Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The right to learn: A blueprint for creating schools that
work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Darling-Hammond, L. & McLaughlin, M. W. (1995, April). Policies that support
professional development in an era of reform. Phi Delta Kappan, 76(8), pp. 597-604.
Darling-Hammond, L., Lieberman, A., & McLaughlin, M. (1995). Practices and policies
to support teacher development in an era of reform. New York: NCREST.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Ball D. L. (1997). Teaching for high standards: What
policymakers need to know and be able to do. National Educational Goals Panel.
Available at http://www.negp.gov/Reports/highstds.htm.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. London: Macmillan. Published online at
Ferguson, R. (1991)"Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why
Money Matters," Harvard Journal of Legislation, Vol. 28 (Summer: 465-98.
Fullan, M. (1991) The new meaning of educational change, Teachers College Press, New
Garfinkel, H. (1967). Students in Ethnomethhology. New York: Prentice-Hall.
Glatthorn, Allan A. and Linda E. Fox. 1996. Quality Teaching through Professional
Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Glazer, J. (1999). Considering The Professional Community: An Analysis Of Key Ideas,
Intellectual Roots, And Future Challenges. Paper presented at the American
Education Research Association, Montreal, Canada, April, 1999.
Greenwald, R. Larry V. Hedges, Richard D. Laine, "The effect of school resources on
student achievement," Review of Educational Research, Vol. 66 (Fall 1996): 361-396.
Gray, J. & Sterling, R. (2000) The National Writing Project: A University-Based,
Teacher-Centered Partnership Program. Available online at The National Writing
Guskey, T.R. and Sparks, D. (1996) Exploring the relationship between staff
development and improvements in student learning, Journal of staff development, vol.
17, no. 4, pp.34-38.
Hargreaves, A. (1994) Changing work cultures of teaching, in F. Crowther, B. Caldwell,
J. Chapman, G. Lakomski, & D. Ogilvie, eds, The workplace in education: Australian
perspectives – First Yearbook of the Australian Council for Educational
Administration. Edward Arnold, Sydney.
Hirsch, E.D (1996). The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them. New York:
Holmes, Group (1990) (Eds), Mentoring: developing successful new teachers,
Association of Teacher Educators, Reston Va.
Johnson, Susan Moore. 1986. "Incentives for Teachers: What Motivates, What Matters."
Educational Administration Quarterly Vol. 22, No. 3 (Summer 1986): 54-79.
Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Levine, M. (1992) (Ed.) Professional practice schools: Linking Teacher education and
school reform, New York: Teachers College Press.
Lieberman, A. (1995) Practices that support teacher development, Phi Delta Kappan,
April 1995, pp.591-596.
Lieberman, A. & McLaughlin, M. (1995)"Networks for educational change: Powerful
and problematic. "In McLaughlin, M. & Oberman, I., Professional Development in
the Reform Era. New York: Teachers College Press.
Lieberman, A. & Miller, L. (1992) Teacher development in professional schools. In M.
Levine (Ed.) Professional practice schools: Linking Teacher education and school
reform, 105-123. New York: Teachers College Press.
Little, J.W. (1982) Norms of collegiality and experimentation: workplace conditions of
school success American Educational Research Journal, vol. 19, pp. 325-340.
Little, J. W. (1994, September). Teachers' professional development in a climate of
educational reform. In Systemic Reform: Perspectives on Personalizing Education,
U.S. Department of Education report [On-line]. Available:
Lortie D (1975) Schoolteacher, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Loucks-Horsley, S., Hewson, P. W., Love, N., & Stiles, K. E. (1998). Designing
professional development for teachers of science and mathematics education.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self, and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social
Behaviorist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mehan, H. (1983) Social constructivism in psychology and sociology. Sociologie et
Mehan, H., Villanueva, I., Hubbard, L. & Linz, A. (1996). Constructing school success:
The consequences of untracking low-achieving students. Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press.
Monahan, Thomas C. 1996. "Do Contemporary Incentives and Rewards Perpetuate
Outdated Forms of Professional Development?" Journal of Staff Development Vol.
17. No I (Winter 1996): 44-47.
Murnane, R. & Levy, F. (1996). Teaching the new basic skills: Principles for
educational change to thrive in a changing economy. New York: The Free Press.
Newman, D., Griffin, P., and Cole, M. (1989). The Construction Zone: Working for
Cognitive Change in Schools. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Pea, R. (1996). Seeing what we build together: Distributed multimedia learning
environments for transformative communications. In T. Koschmann (Ed.), CSCL:
Theory and practice of an emerging paradigm (pp.171-186). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: Norton.
Ravitz, J. L., Becker, H. J., and Wong, Y-T (2000). Constructivist-Compatible Beliefs
and Practices Among U.S. Teachers. Teaching, Learning, and Computing—1998
National Survey, Report 4. Center for Research on Information Technology and
Organizations, University of California, Irvine (May).
Renate N., & Caine, G. (1997) Education on the Edge of Possibility. Association for
Supervision & Curriculum Development; ISBN: 0871202824.
Renyi, J. (1996). Teachers take charge of their learning: Transforming professional
development for student success. National Foundation for the Improvement of
Education. Available at http://www.nfie.org/takechar.htm
Schlager, M., Fusco, J., & Schank, P. (1998). Cornerstones for an on-line community of
education professionals. IEEE Technology and Society, 17(4), 15-21,40
Shulman, L.(1997) Professional Development: Learning from experience. In Barry
Kogan, (Ed.) Common Schools, Uncommon futures. Columbia University: Teachers
Sandholtz & Dadlez (2000). Professional development school trade-offs in teacher
preparation and renewal. Teacher Education Quarterly, in press.
Sandholtz & Merseth, (1992) Collaborating teachers in professional development school:
inducements and contributions. Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4).
Sizer, T. (1984). Horace’s compromise: The dilemma of the American high school.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Sylwester R., (1995). A Celebration of Neurons: An Educator's Guide to the Human
Brain; Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development; ISBN: 0871202433.
Smylie, M. A. (1995) Teacher learning in the workplace, in T. R. Guskey and M.
Huberman (Eds). Professional Development in Education: New Paradigms and
Practices. New York: Teachers College Press.
Smyth, W. J. (1989) Administrative leadership in the intellectual transformation of
schooling, in M. L. Holly and C. S. Mcloughlin (eds), Perspectives on teacher
development, London: The Falmer Press.
Stringfield, S., Ross, S. M. & Smith, L. (1996). Bold plans for school restructuring: The
new American schools designs. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Hirsch,
E. D. (1996) The schools we need and why we don't have them. New York:
Talbert, J.E. and McLaughlin, M.W. (1994) Teacher professionalism in local school
contexts, American Journal of Education, vol. 102, (February 1994), p.123-153.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological
processes. In M. Cole, B. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (Eds. and
Trans.), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wells, G. and Chang-Wells, G.L. (1992) Constructing knowledge together. Portsmouth,
NH: Heinemann Educational Books.
Wertsch, J. (1997) Mind As Action. London: Oxford University Press.
Wiske, M. (Ed.) (1998). Teaching for understanding: Linking research with practice. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Woodruff, E., Brett, C., Macdonald, R., and Nason, R. (1998) Participation in
knowledge-building communities to promote teaching competency in mathematics.
Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Studies in
Education, Ottawa, May. Available electronically