Dr. James M. Noonan

Noonan, J., Submitted. An affinity for learning: Teacher identity and powerful professional development. Journal of Teacher Education.Abstract
Professional development (PD) for teachers is widely variable in its effectiveness. Efforts to improve PD at scale are complicated by the tremendous heterogeneity among teachers: what works for one teacher may work not at all for another. Using the lens of professional identity to analyze teachers’ perceptions of PD, I present and discuss five in-depth teacher accounts of their most powerful professional learning experiences, concluding that professional identity is a durable (but malleable) filter through which teachers interpret professional learning. I offer implications for how a better understanding of professional identity could be used to improve PD design and policy.
Johnson, S.M., et al., 2013. Career pathways, performance pay, and peer-review in the Baltimore City Public Schools, Harvard Business School. Full TextAbstract

In the fall of 2012, Dr. Andres Alonso had much to celebrate about in his five-year tenure as CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, including the approval and implementation of an innovative teachers' contract with a jointly-governed four-tier career pathway that tied teacher pay and promotion to performance and peer review. Nonetheless, Alonso was concerned about the future of the contract and the reforms it introduced. It took two votes before the teachers ratified the contract in November 2010. Since then, implementation had been laborious, complicated, and uncertain. Many questions would have to be answered in the coming months. Was the district making the transition to a contract that rewarded "engagement" in a career pathway rather than passive reliance on steps and lanes? Were the processes for earning Achievement Units and progressing through the pathways rigorous enough so that the contract wouldn't default to the past practice where everyone moves up and earns more money? Were the joint governance structures established to direct and manage the career pathways, pay system, and peer-review process working effectively? How did the new system support the district's underlying theory of change? This is a Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) case study.

Noonan, J., Submitted. The tacit assumptions of teaching and learning: Using deliberative democratic theory to improve professional development. Professional Development in Education.Abstract

For decades, researchers and policymakers have looked to professional development (PD) as a promising tool to improve teacher practice and student learning. However, despite its promise, PD is widely perceived as being unable to realize its potential. In this conceptual paper, the author suggests that one reason for this gap between PD's potential and its perceived ineffectiveness is its alignment with a sociopolitical framework that prioritizes efficiency. Numerous past attempts to improve PD have failed to address underlying assumptions about teaching, learning, and human relationships embedded in this efficiency framework. As an alternative, the author proposes a new deliberative framework that is more compatible with learning principles and thus more likely to improve learning across contexts and at scale.

Mapp, K.L. & Noonan, J., 2015. Organizing for Family and Community Engagement in the Baltimore City Public Schools, Harvard Business School. Full TextAbstract

Looking back on the tenure of Andrés Alonso as CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools and Michael Sarbanes as executive director of the district's new Office of Engagement, this teaching case examines the district's unique approach to family and community engagement. By drawing on an organizing frame that viewed community groups and families as partners rather than clients, City Schools was able to successfully pair community groups with schools, position schools as neighborhood hubs for reinvestment, and leverage a coalition of community groups to pass a $1.1 billion bond bill aimed at overhauling school facilities in varying states of disrepair. Using interviews and primary source data, the case reviews key milestones in the development and deployment of the strategy and poses questions about the sustainability of a community organizing approach within a bureaucratic system.

Noonan, J., 2015. When soda is a social justice issue: Design and documentation of a participatory action research project with youth. Educational Action Research. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Schools are increasingly seen as having a promising role to play in reducing adverse health and wellness outcomes among young people.  This paper uses a collaborative action research approach to examine the effects of one school’s efforts to change its students eating habits by implementing a “junk food free campus.”  By engaging school administrators and students in a six-month long process of joint research design and analysis, the author found that students understood but did not necessarily support the policy.  Despite students’ uneven support of the policy, however, there was some evidence that some students were developing healthier eating habits.  Moreover, student researchers reported developing greater perspective and respect for the policy as a result of studying it.

Diazgranados, S. & Noonan, J., 2015. The Relationship of Safe and Participatory Environments and Children’s Supportive Attitudes Toward Violence: Evidence from the Saber Test of Citizenship Competencies . Education, Citizenship, and Social Justice , 10 (1) , pp. 79-94. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In Colombia, reducing levels of interpersonal and community violence is a key component of the country’s approach to citizenship education.  In this study, we use data collected during the 2005 Saber test of Citizenship Competencies to examine the relationship of school environments and individual students’ supportive attitudes toward violence among 97,971 students in 1,649 schools.  Using multi-level Tobit analysis with school random intercepts and regional fixed effects, we find that children taught in safe and participatory climates endorse attitudes less supportive of violence, with the effect of participatory climates almost double that of safe climates. Constructing a typology of four classroom environments, by crossing the two dimensions of safety and participation, we conclude that school environments that are safe and participatory lead to the least supportive attitudes toward violence, more than one standard deviation lower than unsafe and non-participatory school environments.  Implications, limitations and areas for future research are discussed.

Noonan, J., 2014. In here, out there: Professional learning and the process of improvement. Harvard Educational Review , 84 (2) , pp. 145-161. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In this article, James Noonan uses the methodology of portraiture to examine how the administrative team and the teachers at a small, urban middle school approach school improvement. He illustrates the ways in which the pressures associated with attempting school reform in our current high-accountability environment make it difficult for school personnel to engage in the deep learning that transformative change requires. Using observational data and semi-structured interviews, Noonan finds that at Fields Middle School district-initiated redesign is built around an expansive view of learning that embraces uncertainty, collaboration, and reflection as catalysts for broad and sustained school improvement. He illuminates school transformation efforts that hinge on the learning of adults and an understanding of schools as learning organizations, in contrast to reform efforts that adopt linear and hierarchical views of teaching and learning.

Diazgranados, S., et al., 2014. Transformative peace education with teachers: Lessons from Juegos de Paz in rural Colombia. Journal of Peace Education. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Effective peace education helps to create a transformation in the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and relationships of its students. Drawing on their experiences training teachers as part of Juegos de Paz, an education for peace program that received support from the Colombian National Program for Citizenship Competencies, the authors explore transformative peace education and identify four key lessons for practitioners. Data from focus groups, interviews, and personal reflections are used to illustrate these principles and lessons. Additionally, it is suggested that there may be some transferability of these principles across contexts, since the program studied was originally developed in North America for use in urban elementary schools and was successfully adapted for use in rural Colombia.

Creative artists and creative scientists: Where does the buck stop?
Noonan, J. & Gardner, H., 2014. Creative artists and creative scientists: Where does the buck stop?. In S. Moran, D. Cropley, & J. Kaufman, ed. The Ethics of Creativity. New York. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 92-115. Google BooksAbstract

Noonan and Gardner suggest there are consequences to creative activity, which they call “post-creative developments.” They describe four types of post-creative-development roles: the Opportunist, portrayed through artist Shepard Fairey's famous Obama poster; the Reluctant Winner, exemplified by songwriter Gretchen Peters’ passive benefits from others’ misuse of her hit song “Independence Day”; the Unlucky Gambler, characterized by how Nazi-era German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl's distortion of Nazi influence on her work undermined her own reputation; and theHostage, represented by how Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front went from instant international sensation to banned book. Noonan and Gardner conclude that creative individuals are not responsible solely for ideas, but are also responsible to ideas. This responsibility extends well beyond the moment at which individuals put their ideas into the world.

James M. Noonan

Dr. James M. Noonan

Project Director, Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment
Research Affiliate, Justice in Schools
Ed.D (2017), Culture, Communities, and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

James Noonan (Ed.D. '17) is a research affiliate with the Justice In Schools project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he pursues questions related to teacher identity and agency as well as school and district quality.... Read more about James M. Noonan