Patricia R. Simpson, St. Cloud State University

George Davis, Minnesota State University Moorhead

Thomas Tommet, University of St. Thomas



This paper addresses the development and functioning of the Minnesota Teacher Research Network (TRN).  The paper focuses on the factors we deem important for developing and maintaining a research network that involves a number of institutions. The key factors are synergistic and complementary but to facilitate discussion they are organized under the headings: Getting Started, Motivation, and Management.



The Teacher Research Network

Since 1993, the state of Minnesota, through SciMathMN, has been involved in  “…. The process of transforming teacher education in mathematics and science so that teachers will be prepared to teach according to the vision of present and future national standards and will be prepared to continue learning new content and new ways of teaching throughout their professional lives” (Simpson and M. Wallace, 1995).  To accomplish this mission, SciMathMN formed a statewide collaborative, called Transforming Teacher Education (TTE), between policymakers, universities and school districts interested in improving teacher education.  TTE worked to make recommendations that shaped new teacher licensure rules, provided professional development programs for all involved in teacher education, and awarded small grants to support individual campus initiatives that would change education programs and courses for K-12 science and mathematics teachers.

            As a logical next step in the process of transforming teacher education, the Teacher Research Network (TRN) was formed in 1998.  TRN, which includes individuals from public and private teacher preparation institutions, was developed to assess the knowledge and practice of Minnesota teachers in their first three years of practice.

Purpose of TRN

             TRN initially attempted to determine the extent to which beginning science and mathematics teachers have beliefs and practices aligned with state and national standards through the use of instruments primarily developed by Salish.  With experience, our research questions evolved to focus on the knowledge of beginning teachers in five areas –  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, knowledge of students, knowledge necessary to establish an environment for learning and knowledge related to a teacher’s professional development. These five categories of knowledge are taken from an earlier SciMathMN document Transforming Teacher Education: A Minnesota Framework for Mathematics and Science. (Simpson and Wallace, 1995)  Data was also collected to determine the status and context of new Minnesota teachers.


Information on the structure and implementation of the organization has been described in a presentation made at the 2002 annual meeting of this organization.  (Davis, Simpson, Johnson, and A. Wallace, 2002 and Simpson, Shume, and Tonnis, 2002)

Eleven institutions and 28 faculty members participated in this project over a five-year period in which 64 first year teachers were investigated. Some were observed for only one year while others were followed for a full three years.  Three years was selected because this was the definition used for beginning teachers in the state policy document that formed the framework for this project. 

TRN is presenting three papers at this conference: our findings, the resulting database, and this paper that provides information on key components of the collaborative. (Koomen, Guckin, Hartshorn and Qson, 2006 and Wallace, Harms, McClure, Reap, and Shume, 2006). It is our hope that others will instigate a project such as ours.  The key factors for starting and sustaining a research network are synergistic and complementary but to facilitate discussion we have organized them under the headings: Getting Started, Motivation, and Management.  The order in which the information is presented is not meant to be hierarchical in nature. And in fact each area must be continually addressed in order for the collaborative to continue functioning.

Getting Started - How do you get there?

            TRN was an extension of an existing network. For several years, individuals interested and involved in science and mathematics teacher preparation had been meeting to develop state policy related to teacher licensure and local licensure programs at each of their institutions.  As policy was set and licensure programs were approved it was time for the group to move onto a new project. State policy documents and the research gathered to create that policy led to the development of a conceptual framework upon which a research program could be established. We now perceive that a conceptual framework is one of four criteria for the creation of a successful research network.  The conceptual framework allowed the group to develop the research questions that provided a focus for the network. The second criterion for the network was having an engaging question to investigate. These research questions need to be engaging for two different audiences. The question must be one that members of the collaborative are interested in answering and it must also be engaging to a funding source since the group needs some financial resources. Information about funding requirements will be addressed in the nuts and bolts section of the presentation.  A third criterion for getting the network started is to involve participants in real work.  There had not been an extensive statewide investigation of the current knowledge of new teachers nor the context in which they teach.  Thus a real need existed to fill this void so that teacher preparation institutions could better prepare new teachers.    As an added benefit, the participants increased their knowledge and awareness of new teachers.  The background of TRN participants varied greatly and some, primarily the scientists and mathematicians, had not had an opportunity to observe their graduates in classrooms.   Others had visited classrooms and many had been teachers themselves but were not familiar with current conditions in Minnesota schools.  Data collection for the project allowed the researchers to visit a variety of classrooms and to develop personal perceptions of teacher practice and the context in which teachers work.   In many instances, this research experience impacted participants teaching goals and practice.  Changes in teaching at the university were an unintended outcome for participants in the project. A fourth criterion for starting a network was the existence of an opportunity.  In our case, the funding organization was looking for a logical next step in its support of standards-based teaching and learning.  The state and national organizations were also looking for evidence of current teacher practice in schools.  We had a well-educated, motivated group looking for a reason to continue to meet and work with each other.

Motivation – Why collaborate?

Everyone knows that it takes more effort to work on a project as a group than it does for an individual. The total amount of work done by each person is lessened but more time must be spent in organizing and attending meetings, coming to consensus on decisions, and communicating. So what made this group come together and continue to function as a group for over five years?

            Members of the collaborative were diverse in almost every way.  They had different types of training, they were in different places in their careers, they were in different departments, their teacher programs differed in size and types of licensure, some taught and others were in administrations and the size and type of institutions they represented also varied.  Actually, this diversity was one reason that people chose to participate.

            Many of the reasons individuals chose to participate are common to any group project.  The members of the group were collegial.  No one tried to push a personal agenda onto the rest of the group.  When mistakes occurred, discussions focused on solutions not blame.  Everyone was willing to take on a part of the project to ensure that the goal of the group would be accomplished. Most individuals in the group had a common vision in the sense that they were committed to the idea of standards-based teaching and learning. Meetings were viewed as an opportunity to spend time with people you liked and those who valued your personal experiences and contributions. No matter where you were in your career or the size of your institution, this collegiality was an important factor in continuing project participation. 

            Newer faculty benefited from professional opportunities.  Participation in the network allowed participants to participate in research with some degree of support.  If you were the only person in your department or school interested in science or mathematics educational research you now had a cadre of people with common interests to discuss your work. The group helped develop research protocol and instruments. The network provided opportunities for presentations and papers as team members and some small amounts of funding as minigrants for research and travel to local meetings was provided.  All of these items gave young faculty opportunities to meet university requirements for tenure and promotion.

            Each member of the collaborative developed ownership of the research.  There were no graduate students collecting data in this project.  Research network members did all observations. They were also in the classroom helping to prepare teacher licensure candidates at their institution. Although no comparisons were made, people were interested in seeing what their former students were doing, how their teachers compared with those profiled by other members of the group and what they could learn about their graduates that could be used to improve their teaching or their institution’s programs. In a sense much of what was done was action research in that answers to the project’s research questions informed individual classroom practice.  A few participants were interested in the instruments and protocol as a mechanism for program evaluation that could be used for future accreditation visits.

Personal professional development was a motivational factor for all participants, though what was learned was not always the same.  Initially professional development was a formal part of meetings.   Speakers and books helped participants learn about specific areas of educational research, qualitative research, and observation instruments.  Responsibility and expertise associated with professional development came from various members of the group and no one person was seen as ‘the expert’ in the group.  Everyone had expertise to share with the rest of the group.  Informal professional development occurred through peer mentoring and a sharing of information among participants.  Network meetings were often the first place someone heard about new changes in licensure, or a new resource for teaching, or an upcoming meeting, or source of funding.  Because of the diversity of the group, members had different sources of information –  science or mathematics organizations, education networks, and policy connections –  all of which resulted in group members having a wider perspective on science and mathematics teaching and learning than they could have developed as members of any other single organization. 

            A fifth motivator for the research network is the scope of the investigation that could be undertaken.  Due to the nature of the teaching assignments of the participants and a lack of full-time graduate students, the scope of this project could never have been undertaken without the participation of the entire group.  Individuals provided research background and skills, instruments were acquired and modified to meet the specific needs of Minnesota’s vision of teaching, and many more teachers were observed over a longer period of time than any one person or institution could have managed on their own.  Each year, each classroom teacher was observed twice. Each visit included pre- and post-observation surveys, and each teacher was interviewed at a later date.  Although this amount of interaction between teacher and research only created a snapshot of teacher knowledge and classroom conditions it was far more than what had been done previously and it was done at a fraction of the cost of many large research projects. Data organization and management were also a much larger task than any one small group could have accomplished alone.  The diverse composition of the network was also important in that it allowed for diverse lenses to be applied to both the classroom and the final data set.  The teachers were viewed through the lenses of scientist, mathematician, education generalist, former teacher, and practioner and researcher in science and mathematics education.

Management – What are the nuts and bolts of the project?

            The above factors are not sufficient; we need also consider the process of collaborative research and the day-to-day operation of the network.  First we consider factors concerning the process of the research.  Every group needs a common vision. Our vision was pretty much in place based on the work done previously for TTE.  Participants agreed that accomplished beginning teachers need more than content knowledge.  Beginning teachers also need knowledge of students, pedagogy, and instructional resources and they need to value continuing professional development in all of these areas.  Even with this common vision there were still huge differences in the meaning that each of us associated with vocabulary we all used.  It was important for the group to develop a common vocabulary.  The first discussions of terms like qualitative and quantitative research were long and sometimes heated.  Terms like inquiry and problem solving needed clarification between the mathematics and science education participants.  This common language developed over the first year as instruments were developed and redesigned to better address the questions we were investigating.

             Another important issue is related to quality control.  The first profiles that were written contained many more inferences about the teachers than actual observations.  It is one thing to direct a graduate student to redo completed work but another to tell a colleague that his/her work is unacceptable and must be redone.  But we did, and the final results reflect the commitment of group members.

As the amount of data increased, we needed to address the organization of the data. We needed to make the data accessible to all of the researchers without betraying the confidentiality promised to new teacher participants.  An organizational schema was developed to facilitate access to the data.   Much data was converted to electronic format and the remaining original data will be archived at a single site. The process continues as we decide to whom and how the data should be made available to a larger audience.  

Day-to-day operation includes both financial factors and organizational management factors.  The chief financial factor is funding to cover group-meeting expenses, including food, lodging, and travel expenses.  The goal was to minimize personal expenses, not to supplement personal income.  The work of TRN consists of three somewhat overlapping, phases.  During the first phase the instruments and protocols were developed, tested and rewritten, and during the second phase the data regarding new teachers was collected.  Project cost for these two phases included stipends to the researchers, honoraria to the participating new teachers, and some purchased staff time, besides the group-meeting expenses.  During phase two, TRN participant stipends were phased out due to financial constraints, but the honoraria to the participating new teachers were continued. The third phase of the project (2003 to present) is bringing closure to the project, including the dissemination of the knowledge gained.  Minnesota Department of Education is covering meeting expenses and handles group meeting arrangement details.

Support staff were useful to set up network communication, reserve hotels and select food and take care of the paperwork associated with reimbursement but often group members did this work as well.  More important is the organizational management style.  Three persons served as project director for periods of time during the seven years of the project, but all three shared certain traits.  Shared government was norm.  As many decisions as possible were made by the group and everyone pitched in to help.  Directors did make sure that certain tasks were done to ensure efficient group functioning.  Also the directors established a model for group functioning.   The group meetings were used to accomplish much of the collaborative work.  Each meeting had a variety of tasks to complete – discussion and decisions related to research had to be made, decisions regarding group function such as task assignments also took place, some time was spent on professional development, and the remaining time was used by the group to complete as much work as possible knowing that once the meeting ended, the responsibilities of everyday life would return.  Between meetings the directors worked to keep the collaborative informed while the participants had the primary responsibilities data collection, analysis, and other assigned tasks.  Without the Internet and email, communication could not have been accomplished.  With limited staff support and participants spread throughout the state, online work became essential for such tasks as data analysis, presentations and publication.

            Project activity as described above broke down into two funding cycles. For the 1998-2003 portion of the project (instruments and protocols were developed, tested and rewritten plus the study data were collected of new teachers) the project funders provided about $340,000.  For the 2003-2005  portion of the project (follow-up surveys, collection of questions to ask the data from end user groups, development of data matrix and website as well as archiving print material) the Minnesota Department of Education provided about $............       Note: Tom you and Clark can estimate this.



The information presented here gives the reader an overview of what we consider the essential factors needed for a successful collaborative. Although individual situations will result in different research questions, methods of funding and combinations of participants, it is our firm belief that the factors of all three groups (getting started, motivation, management) must be continually addressed throughout the existence of the project.


            We gratefully acknowledge the encouragement and financial support of SciMathMN, and especially its then director, Bill Linder-Scholer, during the initial phases of the Teacher Research Network.  We thank the ADC Foundation and again Bill Linder-Scholer during our transition to phase three.  And finally, we thank the Minnesota Department of Education and especially Beth Aune and Clark Erickson for their continuing encouragement and financial support.

TRN Membership       

            George Davis, Minnesota State University Moorhead

            Clark Erickson, Minnesota Department of Education

            Alice Guckin, College of St. Scholastica

            Timothy Harms, Minnesota State University Moorhead

            Lynn Hartshorn, University of St. Thomas

            Michele Koomen, Gustavus Adolphus College

            Robert McClure, St. Olaf College

            Luther Qson, College of St. Scholastica

            Melanie Reap, Winona State University

            Gillian Roehrig, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

            Teresa Shume, Minnesota State University Moorhead

            Patricia Simpson, St. Cloud State University

            Thomas Tommet, University of St. Thomas

            Alison Wallace, Minnesota State University Moorhead



Davis, G., Simpson P., Johnson B., & Wallace A. (2002). Getting to the Fourth Year: The


instruments and protocols used to study the practice of beginning K-12 science teachers.


Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in


Science, Charlotte, NC.


Koomen, M., Guckin A., Hartshorn L., & Qson L. (2006). Longitudinal study of beginning


teachers: emerging themes. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for


Science Teacher Education, Portland, OR.


Simpson, P., Shume T., & Tonnis D. (2002). Getting to the Fourth Year: Preliminary findings


regarding the practice of beginning K-12 science teachers. Paper presented at the annual


meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, Charlotte, NC.


Simpson, P. & Wallace M. (1995). Transforming Teacher Education: A Minnesota Framework


for Mathematics and Science. SciMathMN: Roseville, MN.


Wallace, A., Harms T., McClure R., Reap M., & Shume T. (2006). The TRN Profile Matrix: an


accessible dataset on beginning math and science teachers. Paper presented at the annual


meeting of the Association for Science Teacher Education, Portland, OR.