Collaborative Practices through Curriculum Development and Implementation: A Multiple Descriptive Case Study of Rural Texas Secondary STEM Educators
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a federal agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has directed grant monies for programs incorporating agriscience learning into U.S. K-12 education, specifically in school districts serving underrepresented minorities in rural areas. The term agriscience is a portmanteau of the interdisciplinary social and scientific fields that integrate their practices into agriculture, the latter of which is defined as the production of plants and animals. This educational investment by the USDA is part of its suite of strategies to address the Grand Challenges facing the domestic food supply, such as soil testing, water security, and climate change. The authors indicate that the end result of this type of case analysis is a rich description. Specifically, the USDA created the Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Fields program (WAMS) to develop and deliver agriscience curriculum and instruction (C&I) to rural and historically underrepresented in STEM K-12 students while educating them about extant and emerging agriscience careers. To that end, funding priority would be given (as directed by NIFA) to entities that employ teachers in the secondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas to co-develop curricula that can be ready-to-use and portable to serve large rural areas. At present, there is a dearth of professional development (PD) opportunities for rural teachers, therefore, an opportunity to develop and implement agriscience C&I modules has been understudied. Rigorous and relevant PD has been empirically shown to improve teachers’ self-efficacy, which not only improves teachers’ abilities to teach, but also to remain and lead in the classroom. Consequently, the present study was guided by Teaching Self-Efficacy (TSE) Theory and the Classroom and School Context (CSC) Framework to explore how an experience in developing agriscience C&I influenced participating teacher’s perceptions of TSE situated to agriscience at the secondary (6-12 grade) level. Being rural teachers, the present study also sought to understand participant’s experiences at their rural school and model how C&I development influenced their classroom and organizational efficacy as well as teacher leadership perceptions and activities. A multiple descriptive case study, with each teacher serving as their own case (i.e., Neva, Jimena, and Ross, pseudonyms), explored the perceptions of three rural secondary STEM educators when developing agriscience curriculum via traveling lab kits (TLKs) collaboratively with peers and university-based agriscience faculty as content experts (phase I - development) and later when the same three rural educators implemented the TLKs in their classroom (phase II - implementation). Herein referred to as the WAMS PD, phase I data was collected through reflective journals (n=7), weekly audio recorded meetings with agriscience faculty (n=3), and a focus group (n=1) was held after the curriculum was completed. Phase II data was collected through reflective journals (n=3), a semi-structured interview (n=1) with triangulation using a review of updated resumes post participation. Case analysis was performed by within-case and cross-case analysis. Each case (i.e., teacher) was analyzed both individually and collectively through multiple streams of data to holistically understand the experience of the educator’s interactions with TLKs and impacts on their TSE. Phase I data (i.e., development of TLKs curriculum) revealed that strong evidence of mastery experiences was obtained most frequently and consistently across different data collection and participants. However, the remaining three self-efficacy constructs (i.e., vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological states) varied in frequency strength depending on the type of collected data and participant. Phase II data (i.e., implementing TLKs in classroom) revealed the strong impact the TLKs had on the teachers’ classroom context (i.e., classroom efficacy) within the CSC Framework. However, further investigation (i.e., individual interviews, resume) into the school context (i.e., organizational efficacy) suggested that each participant’s rural school impacts their culture, day-to-day curricula decision-making, overall TSE, and how they pursue teacher leadership. Further, the relationship between classroom and school contexts warrants a further content, the in-between context. The in-between context suggests the relationship that exists between the school and classroom context and the transitions between the two. Within case findings suggest that each educator displayed different outcomes in terms of collaborative practices, educational practices, and implications on leadership. For example, Neva has shown growth in her collaborative practices within her school since the TLK experience; Jimena had existing collaborative relationships established at her school and is student-centered (e.g., creating the first Science Club) and further pursuing relations with Texas Tech University (TTU) faculty; Ross has primarily remained within the classroom with his leadership, which includes creating curriculum for new courses to be shared with colleagues at school. Cross-case findings suggested that participating teachers felt the most valuable aspect of the TLK development was interacting with agriscience faculty. When implementing TLKs, all teachers reported perceptions of success in all four TSE constructs. Bounded by the WAMS PD experience, teachers reported more than half within the mastery experiences construct in phase I and a greater diversity of TSE sources in phase II. One such example was the emergence of in-between codes, such as school administration providing teachers with curricular autonomy, or instances where teachers were pursuing leadership opportunities that influenced both the school and their classroom. Further, when collaborative practices were established (e.g., weekly scheduled meetings with faculty, working with a teacher peer to develop curriculum) or the teacher sought out collaborative practices with colleagues (e.g., working cross-curricular, sharing resources), organizational efficacy was modeled as positively versus teachers at schools that did not value collaboration as highly, which is an indirect reflection of their perceptions of leadership. The participants demonstrated their leadership gained since the intervention in various ways, yet school culture and years of experience appeared to influence leadership. For example, teachers with more experiences (i.e., Neva and Jimena) had established themselves in their collaborative school culture whereas the teacher with less experiences (i.e., Ross) was mostly isolated from collaborative school practices and worked alone. In sum, TLK development of agriscience kits with university faculty was a generative PD experience for rural teachers, individually and collectively, to build TSE and engage in collaborative practices, but only when their rural school supported the leadership activities of collaboration during implementation. Further research is needed in further different factors (years of classroom experience, grade level, geography, and content area) relate to teachers’ experiences developing and implementing TLKs. Design of PD programs should consider enhancing teachers’ opportunity for positive mastery experiences, lessening avenues for negative physiological states, and the contextual aspects (classroom and school) of TSE.