As a doctoral student in education at Baylor University School of Education, Jennifer Gonzales, EdD ’22, explored deeply the role of data-informed practices in K-12 mathematics education. Simultaneously, in her fulltime career as an instructional specialist for mathematics, curriculum, and instruction in San Antonio’s Northside ISD, Gonzales noticed that evidence-based practices were not always reaching students. Teacher knowledge of best practices was not the problem, she believed, but gaps existed between the knowledge of the teachers and their actual teaching in the classroom.
For her dissertation at Baylor, Gonzales set out to discover the cause of the gaps and remove barriers to student learning. Her dissertation research — a five-phase mixed-methods study titled “Leveraging the Role of an Instructional Coach to Close Middle School Mathematics Teachers’ Knowing-Doing Gap: A Mixed Methods Experimental Study” — earned her the Dissertation Award from the national School Science and Mathematics Association (SSMA). Dr. Brooke Blevins, former Baylor faculty member and now dean of the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences at the University of Idaho, served as chair of Gonzales’ dissertation.
Gonzales follows two previous Baylor Department of Curriculum & Instruction recipients of the SSMA Dissertation Award — Ryann Shelton, PhD ’20, and Kurt Salisbury, MSEd ’03, PhD ’21. SSMA is a national organization, with international members, that was founded in 1901. The Dissertation Award recognizes dissertations related to science education, mathematics education, or integrated science and mathematics education and comes with a cash award and opportunities to share research.
“Dr. Jennifer Gonzales is not only a brilliant emerging scholar, but also a transformational leader who makes a difference every day in her role as a mathematics leader in her school district,” said Dr. Julia Earl, lecturer in Baylor’s EdD in Learning and Organizational Change (EdD-LOC), who served on Gonzales’ dissertation committee. “She cares about teachers and how they help students succeed. Her dissertation is a stellar example of field-based research that impacts practice on a daily basis. She is a shining example of how our EdD-LOC graduates can transform the world around them.”
Earl said that Gonzales’ study resulted in a new and effective program for mathematics teachers in her district.
“The mixed-methods design of her dissertation explored the results of a coaching intervention for mathematics teachers, as well as the effects on teacher behavior,” Earl explained. “Dr. Gonzales looked at data, but she really listened to teacher voices. Dr. Gonzales showed the importance of actually measuring the results of a program through different lenses.”
Gonzales said, “The study identified teachers’ specific concerns regarding the implementation of effective mathematics teaching practices and then used these expressed concerns to develop an instructional coaching cycle that closes the knowing-doing gap.”
For example, Gonzales learned that teachers were keenly aware that students often have a preconceived notion that they are not good at mathematics. And while teachers know that creating productive struggle is an effective teaching practice, they were prone to “tiptoe the line,” in the words of one teacher, to make sure they didn’t reinforce students’ insecurities.
Gonzales explained, “Rather than allowing for productive struggle, participants (teachers) found themselves ‘saving’ students and providing too many scaffolds and supports.”
Gonzales began with a survey of 61 participants, followed by targeted interviews of 12 participants. Through the study, she identified five internal barriers and four external barriers that contributed to teachers’ knowledge-doing gap. She concluded the study with a collection of informed recommendations about how to structure student support to close the teacher knowledge-to-doing gaps when it comes to utilizing mathematics education best practices in the classroom.
In the case of encouraging productive struggle, Gonzales said, “Coaches came into the study in the next phase and worked with that specific barrier by finding solutions that the teachers believed were within their control.”
She noted that the information collected from the teacher interviews allowed both the instructional coach and the teacher to find the right strategies.
Gonzales’ remedies for her school district were based on a shift in perspective. “This study highlights the importance of listening to teachers’ specific implementation barriers as they reflect on their instructional practices,” she said.
This new focus, she said, means that teachers are now receiving differentiated instructional coaching tailored to their specific needs, much like the instructional practices recognized as effective for students.
In the Baylor EdD-LOC program, the final research study is described as a “Problem of Practice Dissertation,” emphasizing the practical application of the research findings to propose improvements to the organizational practices where the doctoral student is working.
Dr. Sandi Cooper, professor and founding graduate program director of the Baylor EdD-LOC, described Gonzales as the ideal “scholar practitioner” that Doctorate of Education programs seek to produce. “She combines methodological precision and rigorous attention to detail to address a concrete problem of professional practice,” Cooper said.
Gonzales has already presented her research at numerous conferences, including the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators in Texas Conference, the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics Research Conference, the Research Council on Mathematics Learning Annual Conference, and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators in National Conference. She has published in the journal of School Science and Mathematics, and Cooper said more publications are undoubtedly on the way.
Gonzales earned a BA in mathematics and MA in educational leadership at St. Mary’s University and a MS in mathematics education from the University of Texas San Antonio. She has been an instructional specialist in Northside ISD since 2014 and was previously an instructional support teacher, middle grades mathematics teacher and department coordinator, and mathematics teacher for middle grades and high school. She is an active member of SSMA, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, among other professional affiliations.
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