Teaching culture and professional development: An exploration of high school mathematics departments in Connecticut

Date of Completion

January 2005


Education, Mathematics|Education, Teacher Training|Education, Secondary




Well-publicized reports reveal that public school students' mathematics achievement remains a continuing national concern. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) 2000 Standards document calls for more rigorous, reform-based approaches to mathematics teaching. In tandem with the standards movement has been increased pressure on schools and teachers to improve student performance on high-stakes standardized mathematics tests. ^ Students' learning and achievement is directly related to their teachers' knowledge, skills, and opportunities to continue learning. Teachers' opportunities to learn about curriculum and teaching are embedded within the teaching culture---the attitudes, values, beliefs, habits, assumptions and methods shared within the teacher group and the relationships between them---and are explicitly addressed through formal professional development opportunities provided by the school (Hargreaves, 1992). ^ The purpose of this study was to explore high school mathematics teachers' perceptions of their department's teaching culture and professional development activities. In Phase One, 220 teachers working within 27 CT high schools (3 schools in each of 9 Educational Reference Groups [ERGs]) completed a 26-item, Likert-style survey to gauge teachers' perceptions of these two concepts. In Phase Two, 99 teachers working within 18 Connecticut high schools (i.e., 2 schools from Phase One in each of 9 ERGS) participated in semi-structured focus group interviews to learn more about their perceptions of professional development. ^ Results paint a positive picture of the level of collegiality, mutual support, trust, encouragement, cooperative effort with colleagues, efforts to seek new ideas in the classroom and maintenance of high standards. Teachers indicated little time for professional discourse, no opportunity for peer observation, and they hold neutral perceptions of the reform climate and support for professional development. Teachers identified characteristics of the most effective professional development activities and made specific recommendations for improvement. Finally, this study identified several structures inherent within the schools and departments that appeared to support ongoing, informal professional development of teachers. ^