Assembling policy dilemmas: Science teacher responses to educational policy

Open Access
Bateman, Kathryn
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 15, 2019
Committee Members:
  • Dr. Scott McDonald, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dr. Scott McDonald, Committee Chair
  • Dr. Gregory Kelly, Committee Member
  • Dr. Richard Duschl, Committee Member
  • Dr. Tanya Furman, Outside Member
  • educational policy
  • science education
  • communities of practice
  • dilemmas
  • sense-making
  • teacher learning
Educational policies are found at every level of the educational system, influencing what teachers do in their classrooms. This study examines how teachers in two middle schools, who participate in multiple communities of practice, negotiated the meaning of policies from multiple levels of the educational system and translated the policies into practice. The study explores the dilemmas teachers face during sense-making and translation of policy into practice and the cultural features that serve as affordances and constraints on this process. This dissertation follows in the ethnographic tradition, in that eight teachers (four science, four non-science) participated in observations and interviews that also produced artifacts over an eighteen-month study. Principals, district and state level administrators, and other district teachers also participated in interviews throughout the study. Grounded theory was used to analyze the data, complemented by MacLure’s (2010) concept of “glowing data” to generate the claims about the community. This study found that teachers responded to policy in four main ways: adapt, adopt, combine, or reject (Coburn, 2005). These responses were tied to conceptual, pedagogical, and political dilemmas (Windschitl, 2002) teachers faced as they negotiated meaning in their network of communities of practice. Communities of practice both supported and limited teachers’ sense-making. When policies and espoused practices misaligned, teachers were less productive in their policy play and more likely to reject a policy. Principals, who served as boundary agents, could also serve as an affordance if teachers had a collegial and collaborative relationship. When teachers viewed their principals’ actions as managerial or authoritative, principals became a constraint on teachers’ productive policy play. This study has implications as a framework to examine teacher learning about policy, as well as for practice in designing policies and opportunities for teachers to make sense of policies.