The dissertation selected for this critique was an interpretive phenomenological analysis study. The study investigates the experiences of five principals who were placed in low-performing schools as “turn-around” principals. Mayo (2018) proposed the research question, “how do principals make sense of and explain collective teacher efficacy in a turnaround school?”. The researcher discussed the significance of the study as being a means to eliminate the opportunity gap that currently exists between students in urban districts and students in more affluent districts. Mayo (2018) postulates that “continued educational disparity, combined with technical reforms and legislative mandates that have done little to move the needle on student achievement, suggests a need to gain insight into teacher professional practice as a means to change the course for urban students”. Mayo (2018) identified three key concepts, professional capital, teacher collaboration, and collective teacher efficacy, around which she generated ten semi-structured interview questions. She conducted face-to-face interviews with each of the five principals that lasted from one hour to 90 minutes.
The results of the study indicated that the five turnaround principals “launched systems and structures to build collective teacher efficacy”. The principals all did this by creating opportunities for teachers to collaborate in meaningful ways, which led to improved student achievement and the schools being removed from the low performing schools lists in the state of Massachusetts. Mayo (2018) posits that the results of her study should help policy makers understand that replacing educators as a reform model may not be as effective as adopting structures that build professional practice through building collective teacher efficacy “as an intentional strategy for school turnaround”.
I found this dissertation to be personally inspiring and motivating as an educator. Mayo’s perspective as a scholar-practitioner added credibility and realism to her study. The positionality statement gave a clear representation of Mayo’s personal educational philosophies and why this particular research mattered to her as a superintendent, mother, teacher and policy agent.
The introduction of Mayo’s dissertation provides a clear research question and problem of practice. The author provides great detail on the theoretical framework. She very effectively shows the reader how she came to her research question, not only through her review of current research, but also in her positionality statement where she discusses how her life and professional experiences have influenced her frame of reference. The theoretical framework for the problem of practice provides a clear and easy to understand process that will be explored through the interviews with the five principals selected for the study.
The literature review of this dissertation focused on research of collective teacher efficacy, collective teacher efficacy as a group construct, and the effect of collective teacher efficacy on student achievement and school culture. The second section of the literature review focused on the role that teacher collaboration plays in the development of collective teacher efficacy. The literature review provided cogent and compelling background information for the reader and also provided a section on research problems that have been noted regarding research around teacher self and collective efficacy. The review provided a comprehensive view of the current research regarding collective teacher efficacy, but there was some confusion in the section on teacher collaboration. In the section of the literature review on teacher collaboration and collective efficacy, Mayo (2018) mentions a study by Goddard et al. (2007) that “identified an indirect relationship between teacher collaboration for instructional improvement and student achievement”. This same reference is repeated on page 46 of the review.
The statement seemed to be incongruent with what Mayo was postulating. After it was repeated a second time within two pages, I was compelled to go and read the journal article myself. I did find the portion of the article that Mayo was referencing, but I still felt that her explanation and interpretation of that article in her literature review left the reader perplexed and confused. Upon reading the original research article, I realized that the Goddard et al. (2007) article was not referring to an indirect relationship in the statistical sense of two variables moving in opposite directions. As a student in the very beginning stages of my doctoral journey, I was very interested to read the third chapter of the dissertation, the research design.
After reading Creswell’s (2014) chapter on the selection of a research approach, I immediately knew that I am drawn to the constructivist worldview and would likely be predisposed to qualitative research. Mayo explains the methodology of an interpretative phenomenological analysis very clearly and thoroughly. The manner in which Mayo selected her participants was fair and representative of the target population. The research design of the study appears to be very appropriate to the research question and to the problem of practice. Mayo discusses how she will achieve trustworthiness in her study by utilizing several methods including member checking. In my opinion, utilization of member checking is a means of going the extra mile to ensure that the researcher’s perceptions and interpretations of the interviews accurately portrayed the intentions of the study participants. Later in the study, in the chapter on research results, Mayo (2018) discusses repeatedly reviewing the audiotapes of the interviews in order “to consider tone and inference”. This again signaled to me, the reader, the great care and consideration she was taking to ensure that her research was trustworthy.
In chapter four, Research Results, I was struck by the detail and richness of description in the text. What I had read in Ary’s (2014) section on phenomenological research about horizontalization came to life for me as I studied the tables that included direct quotes from the participants. The methodology of studying the interviews repeatedly to mine for common themes was evident. In the final chapter Mayo (2018) discussed findings, limitations, and implications for educational practice. This section is also filled with rich description and direct quotes from the participants, which provide the supporting evidence necessary to make the conclusions sound. Mayo (2018) discussed the limitations of her study, two being the participants were all female and from the eastern part of the state. While these are reasonable limitations, I did not feel that they were significant enough to truly affect the outcome of the study. However, I must admit that I began to wonder if the gender of the principal might have an effect on how teacher collaboration and collective teacher efficacy are fostered in schools.
In my experience, the differences in how men and women lead populations typically comprised mainly of women, can be quite profound. Mayo leaves the reader with three recommendations derived from the study. The recommendations could realistically happen in a K-12 environment and were clearly based on the findings from the research study. Mayo’s final personal reflection is deeply touching and shows her genuine interest in, and passion for, her research topic. This section ends her dissertation with a true call to arms about the importance of investing in professional practice. It was refreshing to me to be able to actually feel the passion of the researcher. Mayo repeatedly refers to herself as a scholar-practitioner, which I assume means she is a researcher, but also a practicing K-12 educator. Having one foot in both arenas gives her work an extra stamp of credibility from my perspective.
My opinion is that this dissertation is high quality. For a novice in the field of qualitative research, I was able to follow the methodology and even make connections to the scholarly reading that I have done this semester. The literature review and the research results chapters helped me learn a great deal about an area of interest for me, and helped me begin thinking about how I can use what I’ve learned from this research study to improve practice in my role as an educator. I also got a glimpse of the iterative process of combing through qualitative data. Mayo’s work inspired me to follow her on Twitter, and happily, I have already made a connection with her.