Jackie Malloy

Jacquelynn Malloy is part of a team of researchers being honored by the Association for Teacher Educators for its research into educators’ classroom visions.
Image Credit: College of Education

Jacquelynn Malloy, assistant professor in Clemson’s College of Education, and a team of researchers have been awarded for research that examines teachers’ visions for their classrooms and how that vision changes over time. The Association for Teacher Educators has recognized the research with its Distinguished Research in Teacher Education Award.

Malloy said the initial motivation for the 7-year, longitudinal study came from the “vision statements” she and her fellow researchers often asked their students and aspiring teachers to write. The researchers’ study followed nine teachers into classrooms through the first part of their careers to see how they made their visions a reality.

“There are often mandates in schools that can make it difficult for a teacher to achieve the environment for students they initially envision,” Malloy said. “We wanted to follow them to see how successful they were and how that vision might have changed.”

The study followed teachers from two different tracks within one elementary education teacher preparation program. One track was a traditional, university-based preparation program, while the other was provided through a contract with Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits and selects college graduates to serve as teachers. Data was collected through interviews, questionnaires and classroom observations.

The research revealed that circumstances in school systems or individual classrooms often led the teachers being studied—either early or later in their career—to feel empowered enough to do what is best for students regardless of school policies or procedures. Malloy said new educators often feel they should imitate, but teachers who are most satisfied regarding their vision are the ones who eventually break away from usual or commonplace practice.

“At Clemson, we teach our students to ‘be the change’ and not just replicate what they’ve been taught,” Malloy said. “Teachers have to be true to themselves and trust their professional judgment, and sometimes they have to go rogue to do that.”

Malloy said that a situation like this might occur when school administrators institute a new program to improve test scores before vetting it with teachers. Participants in the study were often faced with similar situations, and they found success by taking what worked and leaving out the rest.

The study found that institutional policy mandates and the challenge associated with diverse learners accounted for more than half of obstacles to enacting teacher visions. Complaints of “scripted programs” and pressures to focus on test scores frequently got in the way of the ultimate goal for many of these teachers, which was to produce and encourage lifelong learners.

Malloy and her fellow researchers from George Mason University, the University of Idaho and Grand Valley State University hope that teacher educators can use the study to support robust thought and discussion of effective teaching. They also hope that principals and administrators allow teachers the space to use their visions to guide their instruction.

“The best thing to do is talk about how a vision can be accomplished within the reality of the classroom,” Malloy said. “Students should refine their vision based on what’s doable, but they should never abandon their ideal vision along the way. That ideal vision is what inspires students and causes them to remember a teacher.”

As the recipient of the Distinguished Research in Teacher Education Award, Malloy and the research team will attend and present their work in February at the association’s 2018 annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada.