Understanding tenure reform: An examination of sense-making among school administrators and teachers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Since 2015, 23 states have issued a variety of reforms to the teacher tenure process. Many of these reforms have made it more difficult for teachers to receive tenure, either by extending the pre-tenure probation period or requiring some form of evidence of teacher performance. How educators and school leaders make sense of changes to tenure-granting policies likely transforms their perceptions of the teaching profession and has ramifications for staffing practices in schools. However, little research has sought to understand how states and districts have implemented tenure reform, how educators make sense of these reforms, and how teacher and school leaders' understanding of changes to tenure statutes influence school practice and staff relations. Focus of Study: The purpose of this study is to explore the sensemaking process of school stakeholders most directly affected by changes to teacher tenure policies-teachers and school leaders. To this end, this study examines the referential cues on which school staff tend to rely to understand tenure reform as well as their collective accounts of how reform translates into changes within the context of their work. Setting and Participants: Participants in this study included 30 pre-tenured teachers and 10 school leaders across 10 school sites within a single large, urban district in Tennessee. Research Design: In this qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years. Transcripts of interviews were coded for recurring themes to address the research questions of the study. Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings illustrate how school leaders relied on outdated state and district supports, while teachers referenced peer interactions to make sense of tenure reform. In addition, school leaders considered the enacted reforms an improvement to the previous tenure process, however, few school leaders indicated that tenure reform influenced teacher staffing and professional development within their schools. Teachers suggested tenure reform provided a sensible form of professional accountability in theory but was nevertheless undermined by a lack of communication, administrative support, and conflicting policy aims in practice. Findings highlight the robustness of peer networks in teacher sensemaking. More generally, this research has implications for the implementation of concurrent policy initiatives within schools and future directions for research on distributed and fragmented sensemaking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110312
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding tenure reform: An examination of sense-making among school administrators and teachers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this