Deborah Butler


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Supporting teachers' professional learning through collaborative inquiry : a case study (2023)

Teachers' professional learning is important for optimizing students' learning opportunities in schools. Establishing professional learning that supports improvements in teaching and learning is difficult work, and is enhanced by attending to the experiences, learning needs, and agency of teachers. Collaborative, inquiry-based approaches are promising because, through them, teachers have opportunities to learn in sustained and situated ways which can support them in making connections between current practice, their contexts, and new learning. However, more understanding is needed about how to design and support collaborative inquiry in ways that balance teachers' needs for both agency and support.With the goal of advancing understanding about designing and supporting teachers' professional learning through collaborative inquiry, this study sought to: document how one community of inquiry (CoI) was designed to foster teachers' learning; examine the process of teacher learning; and explore how teachers' learning and practice were impacted through their participation. Using a case study design, I co-facilitated a CoI with eleven educators interested in fostering students' self-regulated learning (SRL). Data collected for the study included: (1) artifacts documenting resources and supports offered through the CoI; (2) assignments educators submitted to represent their learning and practice outcomes; (3) field notes; and (4) interviews with educators.Findings were that the CoI was deliberately structured with attention to key professional learning processes (e.g., collaborative, sustained, situated). Moreover, supports (e.g., resources; guiding tools for inquiry processes; individualized feedback from the facilitator) were offered to participants as they made choices about their learning. Participants engaged in multiple, continuous inquiry cycles. Teachers' monitoring (e.g., observing student responses to new practices) was key for linking inquiry processes and when participants reflected on practice, identified tensions, and brought in new professional learning they most fully engaged in cycles of inquiry. Participants collaborated both within and beyond the CoI and exercised agency for their own learning. They also reported learning about SRL and SRL-promoting practices, benefits for their students, impacts to their process of professional learning, and influencing their colleagues' learning and practice beyond the CoI. Contributions, limitations, and implications are discussed.

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Transforming inclusive education for students with intellectual disabilities in secondary academic classrooms : a case study (2023)

This instrumental case study investigated how collaborative, ongoing, situated, and inquiry-oriented professional development can support teachers to shift towards more inclusive practices in secondary and academic classrooms that include a student with an intellectual disability (SwID). Within a school district in greater Vancouver, British Columbia, this research addressed three research questions: (1) How were teachers in secondary academic classrooms aligned to and/or moving towards guiding conditions of inclusion that increase opportunities for SwIDs to be included?; (2) In this context, how were teachers moving towards planning for and enacting practices for all students in secondary academic classrooms?, and (3) What were the experiences of students, both with and without disabilities, in secondary academic classrooms when teachers were moving towards more inclusive practices? Findings suggested that classroom teachers came to see SwIDs as competent which supported establishing other guiding conditions for inclusion (e.g., including SwID in meaningful learning). They were also able to shift towards more inclusive practices, especially when they collaborated. In addition, collaboration influenced how educational assistants (EAs) were utilized in classrooms, which was important because findings also suggested that students who received one on one support had fewer opportunities to participate with their peers. This study also identified a disconnect between student IEPs and the academic classrooms where students were in enrolled, which became a barrier to navigate, particularly for support teachers. Students in this study shared that they valued inclusive efforts and found practices that teachers were trying to be useful. Most students shared that they felt included, although there were some students who didn’t perceive that their unique needs were being met. Implications for the potential of professional development and collaboration to foster inclusive practices are discussed.

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Collaborating across communities to co-construct supports for Indigenous (and all) students (2020)

Colonialism is a significant problem that impacts how Indigenous (and all) students engage with learning, and how teachers create learning contexts. In this dissertation study, I examined how a Community of Inquiry (CoI), comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators, parents, academics, and community members came together to (re)imagine educational contexts that could better support Indigenous (and all) students. Although much of the research was co-constructed with members of the CoI, the research design, activities, and interpretation were informed by literature discussing colonialism, decolonization, and collaborative inquiry focusing on CoIs. I used a four-dimensional model of colonialism to clarify challenges in the educational system. Decolonizing perspectives were used to critically confront colonialism, and (re)imagine ethical relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples. CoI models offered a way to build on the strength of diverse perspectives. These theoretical considerations were a springboard for investigating how the CoI came together, what they identified as key challenges students and teachers navigated, and the pedagogical principles and practices they co-constructed to support Indigenous (and all) learners in a small school district in British Columbia, Canada. This research was conducted using a critical ethnographic case study methodology, grounded in decolonizing perspectives. Within this approach, research methods were co-constructed with participants to ensure that the research undertaken was situated and responsive to the needs of Indigenous students. Findings from this study highlighted specific CoI structures, such as facilitation, context, communication, and goals that opened possibilities for reflection and transformation among CoI participants. Using these structures, participants co-constructed understandings, grappled with pedagogical questions, and (re)imagined a shared future. Participants built from this foundation to create a set of seven principles and practices that could cultivate supportive learning environments. The principles and practices they co-constructed were designed to inspire educators’ self-reflection, create a space that accepts and builds from the strengths of Indigenous and decolonizing perspectives, and bolster supports for Indigenous (and all) students. Lastly, I discuss how these findings contribute to the literature on CoIs, decolonizing possibilities, and pedagogical practices, and provide suggestions educators may use to open decolonizing possibilities within their own contexts.

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Supporting all learners' engagement in a multicultural classroom using a culturally responsive self-regulated learning framework (2019)

No abstract available.

Collaborative inquiry: teacher professional development as situated, responsive co-construction of practice and learning (2011)

The research reported here grappled with the challenge of designing and facilitating teacher professional development that bridges theory and practice so as to enhance teacher practice and learning and student learning outcomes. A case study design was employed to study a community of inquiry (CoI) located within a Southern Arctic school district within which classroom teachers and special education teachers worked as partners to improve their writing instruction and increase access to learning and outcomes for students in inclusive classrooms. This research addressed three questions: (1) what practices did educators engage in as co-teachers within a CoI to consider, explore, and construct more inclusive writing instruction?; (2) how and why did collaborative, action-oriented inquiry cycles help teachers to develop understandings and practices that addressed, nurtured and supported diverse students’ literacy learning?; and (3) what conditions and qualities within professional development activities supported teacher learning and development of practice?. Findings suggested that teachers can make situated changes to practice that increase diverse students’ access to curriculum and learning when they: (1) set, enact, monitor and adapt context-specific goals for both students and themselves; (2) work collaboratively and problem-solve with others while trying to make shifts in practice; and (3) draw in resources as supports that can be adapted within their inquiries. In addition, co-teaching was found to be an approach that not only increased student access to curriculum and learning but had significant potential to support teacher learning and sustained shifts in practice. Implications for teachers’ learning, changes to practice, collaboration and professional development are discussed.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Seeking alternative pathways: an exploration of school engagement from the perspectives of marginalized youth (2019)

Education in British Columbia is intended to be inclusive, however there are students who slip through the cracks. These marginalized students are often found to be struggling with challenges outside of and within school that complicate their educational journeys. According to Self-Determination Theory (SDT), one possible reason for their disengagement is that these students do not perceive their psychological needs for autonomy, belonging and competence as met, which may lead to reduced motivation, and therefore reduced engagement. Informed by feminist, trauma-informed and youth-centered perspectives, this study explored what motivated six marginalized youth to attend school, how they experienced school engagement, and how their experiences of school influenced their school engagement. Six youth enrolled in alternative secondary education programs participated in semi-structured interviews. The data collected from the interviews was analyzed according to SDT, which revealed that in general participants did not perceive schools as meeting their basic psychological needs for autonomy, belonging and competence. Findings from the study indicate that participants were motivated to attend school due to opportunities to develop employment skills, as well as increased access to social networks, resources and supports. The study found that participants found emotional, cognitive and agentic engagement desirable, while behavioural engagement was more often an inauthentic performance idealized in classrooms. Participants’ experiences of school were found to influence their engagement in a variety of ways. This study concluded that in order to increase student motivation to attend, schools might work toward fostering strong student connections, supporting access to employment skills training, reducing barriers to education, and building empathy and understanding for marginalized youth. In order to increase student engagement, schools might focus on increasing student perceptions of autonomy, belonging and competence in their learning environments, as well as work to reduce barriers such as learning challenges and the effects of outside factors on learning. Finally, viewing school engagement as collection of nested, or ecological, social processes that are influenced by factors beyond school walls, as well as by the bidirectional relationships within schools, may help to increase marginalized student engagement.

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Experiences of responsibility and professionalism in an educational accountability context (2013)

This research project sought to explore how individuals working within a particular accountability context perceived their roles and responsibilities related to their participation in an educational change initiative. Accountability policies are often invoked in order to achieve desired improvements across educational systems, but managerial accountability in particular too often fails to effect the change it is intended to promote. Professional accountability has been called for in response to the shortcomings of managerial accountability. However, solely relying on professional accountability may inadequately address the complexities of change, and has led some to call for a combination of managerial and professional accountability. Secondary analysis of interview data from a larger, existing, longitudinal case study was employed to investigate educators’ experiences of accountability in educational change. In the larger project, a case study design was used to examine how members of a professional learning community (PLC) in one urban, inclusive, and multicultural school district in British Columbia made changes to practice in support of students’ learning through reading (LTR). In a secondary analysis of interviews from that study, conducted with 40 participants ranging from classroom teachers, teacher consultants, school- and district- level administrators regarding their experiences related to the change initiative, the present study addressed the following two research questions. From stakeholders’ perspectives: (1) How was professional responsibility evidenced within a professional learning community? (2) What conditions supported teachers to build from, and act upon, their sense of professional responsibility within the context of a larger accountability structure? Findings suggested that (1) participants evidenced professional responsibility in the ways they committed to continuous learning/improvement and focused on student needs; and (2) conditions supportive of professional responsibility were related to working in trusting relationships; availability of needed supports (e.g., from others, structures, resources, from different levels in the system); shared goals; and experiences of formalized accountability structures.

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How instruction supportive of self-regulated learning might foster self-efficacy for students with and without learning disabilities during literacy tasks (2011)

While self-efficacy (SE) and self-regulated learning (SRL) are key processes that are related to successful literacy performance, these are two areas where students often struggle, particularly students with learning disabilities (LD). Fortunately, research has identified instructional features that can be embedded in classrooms to support SRL. This study built from that research to investigate whether those SRL-supportive instructional features might also support students’ SE while working on literacy tasks in different kinds of classroom placements (inclusive, support, or pull-out). An instrumental qualitative case study design was used to examine the SE of seven intermediate students at different achievement levels, including three students with learning disabilities. Results revealed: (a) similarities across teachers working in different kinds of placements in their use of SRL-supportive instructional features, with some features being implemented with greater frequency and consistency, (b) relationships between environmental conditions and SE, such as the provision of choices, but also (c) the ways in which SE perceptions were mediated by students' perceptions of environmental conditions. Overall, cross-case analyses highlighted the complex, dynamic, and situated nature of SE, and identified ways in which environmental and personal factors interacted in students’ SE attributions. In closing the thesis, these results are considered in the context of previous research, and theoretical, methodological, and practical limitations, contributions and implications are outlined.

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ESL Students' Academic Help Seeking and Help Avoidance: An Exploratory Multiple-case Study in Secondary Classrooms (2010)

Help seeking (HS) is an important resource-management strategy in self-regulated learning (SRL). Although investigations on HS and help avoidance (HA) by first-language or fluent speakers in a single context have been plentiful, not enough is known about the impact of language and culture on second-language learners’ HS/HA across contexts. This study aimed to fill this knowledge gap by employing a case study design to produce holistic understanding about the dynamic and complex HS phenomenon in natural settings. The study was grounded in a sociocultural model of strategic HS in context within an SRL model. I adopted a comparative multiple-case design to examine the HS/HA of 9 secondary ESL students simultaneously enrolled in ESL and Humanities classes. Multiple sources of data were collected to construct rich profiles of individuals’ HS across classrooms. Cross-case patterns suggested important implications for practice and theory. For example, to facilitate student use of adaptive HS strategies, teachers need to foster students’ perceptions of HS benefits, diminish HS deterrents in classrooms, establish classroom norms favorable for HS, and provide help in ways that scaffold learning based on students’ current levels of knowledge and understanding. Theoretically, this study evidenced the potential utility of a sociocultural model that represents the complexity of factors involved in self-regulated learning and HS by students who are situated within socioculturally- and historically-delimited settings.

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Mathematical Flexibility (2010)

Mathematicians, mathematics researchers and educators are now arguing that an essential aim of mathematics education should be to equip students so they can adapt to new mathematical situations and use mathematics to solve authentic problems that arise in day-to-day life. This, mathematical flexibility – defined here as adaptation when dealing with number, magnitude or form – is important to mathematics researchers and educators, but the classroom context may not always promote flexibility. Building across converging lines of cognitive, social-psychological, and neuro-biological research, this study investigated whether mathematical flexibility might be profitably understood as a network of functional components. This study was designed to: 1) investigate the functional components of mathematical flexibility and contrast them with functional components of mathematical competence; and 2) evaluate the effectiveness of a network approach for understanding the relationship between environmental and individual components of mathematical flexibility. Results indicated that flexibility appeared to be associated with network activity which co-activated two or more other networks, while competence appeared to be characterized by a series of network activations which occurred individually and in sequence. Further, results suggested that the case study approach used here to identify network activity could reveal meaningful dynamics in network activity, and these dynamics could be related to flexible or competent performance. Implications for researchers and practitioners are identified in the discussion. However, because this study was constrained by the ways in which flexibility was conceptualized and features of the methodology, limitations and directions for future research are also suggested.

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