Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 79–104 | Cite as

Understanding agency and organization in early career teachers’ professional tie formation

  • John L. LaneEmail author
  • Shannon P. Sweeny


This paper examines the social tie formation of 18 novice teachers in the United States. The authors use a novel interview technique to understand the relationships among organizational structure, individual agency, and experience in how early career teachers (ECTs) construct and maintain their social networks. This analysis yielded several interesting findings. First, ECTs formed moderately larger and more diverse groups of close colleagues over time. While organizational structure remained an important influence on ECT social network ties, ECTs exerted greater agency with experience as they began to seek resources outside their grade-level peer group. Second, ECTs used an increasingly diverse set of weak ties to secure resources for challenges they faced that extended beyond instructional matters (e.g., behavior, meeting diverse student needs). Third, while social networks became larger and more diverse, expansion and diversity had limits. ECTs learned early in their careers to establish bonds with some colleagues while simultaneously buffering from others.


Teacher social networks Sociology of education Teacher learning 


  1. Baker-Doyle, K. J. (2012). First-year teachers’ support networks: Intentional professional networks and diverse professional allies. New Educator, 8(1), 65–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, H. S. (1998). Tricks of the trade: How to think about your research while you’re doing it. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bidwell, C. E., & Yasumoto, J. Y. (1999). The collegial focus: Teaching fields, collegial relationships, and instructional practice in American high schools. Sociology of Education, 72, 234–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. Borgatti, S. P., & Foster, P. C. (2003). The network paradigm in organizational research: A review and typology. Journal of Management, 29(6), 991–1013.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bridwell-Mitchell, E. N., & Cooc, N. (2016). The ties that bind: How social capital is forged and forfeited in teacher communities. Educational Researcher, 45(1), 7–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burt, R. S. (2005). Brokerage and closure: An introduction to social capital. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Coburn, C. E., Mata, W. S., & Choi, L. (2013). The embeddedness of teachers’ social networks: Evidence from a study of mathematics. Sociology of Education, 86(4), 311–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, S95–S120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded (theory ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Daly, A. J., Moolenar, N. M., Bolivar, J. M., & Burke, P. (2010). Relationships in reform: The role of teachers’ social networks. Journal of Educational Administration, 48(3), 359–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Deal, T. E., Purinton, T., & Waetjen, D. C. (2009). Making sense of social networks in schools. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.Google Scholar
  13. Firestone, W. A. (1993). Alternative arguments for generalizing from data as applied to qualitative research. Educational Researcher, 22(4), 16–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Frank, K. A., Kim, C. M., & Belman, D. (2010). Utility theory, social networks, and teacher decision making: Modeling networks’ influences on teacher attitudes and practices. In A. J. Daly (Ed.), Social network theory and educational change. Cambridge: Harvard Educational Press.Google Scholar
  15. Frank, K. A., Sykes, G., Anagnostopoulos, D., Cannata, M., Chard, L., Krause, A., et al. (2008). Does NBPTS certification affect the number of colleagues a teacher helps with instructional matters? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(3), 3–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Frank, K. A., Zhao, Y., Penuel, W. R., Ellefson, N., & Porter, S. (2011). Focus, fiddle, and friends: Experiences that transform knowledge for the implementation of innovations. Sociology of Education, 84(2), 137–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.Google Scholar
  19. Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 36, 1360–1380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Granovetter, M. (1985). Economic action and social structure: The problem of embeddedness. American Journal of Sociology, 91, 481–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hansen, M. T. (1999). The search-transfer problem: The role of weak ties in sharing knowledge across organization subunits. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1), 82–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hollstein, B. (2011). Qualitative approaches. In J. Scott & P. J. Carrington (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social network research. SAGE: Thousand Oaks, CA.Google Scholar
  23. Homans, G. C. (1951). The human group. New York: Routledge & Kegan.Google Scholar
  24. Kennedy, M. M. (1979). Generalizing from single case studies. Evaluation Review, 3(4), 661–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Penuel, W. R., Sun, M., Frank, K. A., & Gallagher, H. A. (2012). Using social network analysis to study how collegial interactions can augment teacher learning from external professional development. American Journal of Education, 119(1), 103–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schatzman, L., & Strauss, A. L. (1973). Field research: Strategies for a natural sociology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  29. Spillane, J. P., Hopkins, M., & Sweet, T. M. (2015). Intra- and interschool interactions about instruction: Exploring the conditions for social capital development. American Journal of Education, 122(1), 71–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Spillane, J. P., Kim, C. M., & Frank, K. A. (2012). Instructional advice and information providing and receiving behavior in elementary schools: Exploring tie formation as a building block in social capital development. American Educational Research Journal, 49(6), 1112–1145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.Google Scholar
  32. Strauss, A. L. (1987). Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sun, M., Frank, K. A., Penuel, W. R., & Kim, C. M. (2013). How external institutions penetrate schools through formal and informal leaders. Educational Administration Quarterly, 49(4), 610–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Szulanski, G. (1996). Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practice within the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17(S2), 27–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wilhelm, A. G., Chen, I., Smith, T. M., & Frank, K. A. (2016). Selecting expertise in context: Middle school mathematics teachers’ selection of new sources of instructional advice. American Educational Research Journal, 53(3), 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wrong, D. H. (1961). The oversocialized conception of man in modern sociology. American Sociological Review, 26(2), 183–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

Personalised recommendations