Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spillane (1999): The mediating role of teachers’ zones of enactment

Spillane, J. P. (1999). External reform initiatives and teachers’ efforts to reconstruct their practice: The mediating role of teachers’ zones of enactment. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31(2), 143–175.

[Summary by David Strahan & Melissa Hedt (2009) from Teaching and Teaming More Responsively: Case Studies in Professional Growth at the Middle Level]

Spillane conducted systematic observations with 25 elementary and middle grades math teachers who had participated in districtwide reform initiatives and reported high levels of implementation on surveys. Over time, only four of these teachers demonstrated teaching practices consistent with the reform. In contrast to their colleagues who tended to work individually, these four had created functional “enactment zones” which Spillane defined as “the spaces where the world of policy meet the world of practice.”  Enactment zones featured ongoing deliberations with colleagues and facilitators, reading and discussing documents related to the reforms, and watching and discussing videotapes.

Spillane's account suggests three important characteristics of the enactment zones of those teachers who had changed the core of their practice. First, their enactment zones extended beyond their individual classrooms to include fellow teachers and local and external `experts’ on the reforms. Second, their enactment zones involved both deliberations on the reform ideas and teachers’ efforts to put these ideas into practice. Third, their enactment zones included a variety of material resources that were used to support learning about the enactment of these reform ideas.

Whether teachers who do not have the requisite individual capacity enact reforms in ways that revise the core of their practice will depend on the extent to which their enactment zones are
  • social rather than individualistic;
  • involve rich deliberations about the substance of the reforms and the practicing of these reform ideas with other teachers and reform experts;
  • include material resources or artifacts that support deliberations about instruction and its improvement.
If this conjecture turns out to be roughly right, it suggests that an exclusive focus on creating opportunities and incentives that target the individual teacher may be misguided. Further, viewing the policy challenge in terms of teachers’ zones of enactment suggests some cause for optimism, at least more optimism than if we conclude that a prerequisite for the successful implementation of recent instructional reforms is a population of teachers who have deep subject matter and pedagogical knowledge.

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