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Sisterhood and social capital: Teacher preparation in an order of Catholic teaching nuns, 1920–1970

Kathleen A Lynch, Johnson & Wales University


The No Child Left Behind (NCBL) legislation has sparked increased debate about what characterizes a highly qualified teacher, and the best way to prepare teachers who will have the content knowledge and pedagogical skills necessary to ensure positive outcomes for all of our nation's students (Education Commission for the States, 2003). Research indicates that the Catholic school system has produced positive outcomes for all students, particularly those from ethnic and minority groups (Bempechat, 1999; Bryk, Lee, & Holland, 1993). However, little historical research has focused on the teacher training process used by the orders of teaching sisters who founded and staffed the majority of Catholic schools. This study explored how community structure affected the teacher-training model used by one order of Catholic nuns to prepare members of their community for elementary and secondary school teaching during the period from 1920–1970. Following a historical case study approach, the study gathered data from multiple sources: an analysis of archival documents, a questionnaire completed by 174 current and 33 former members of the community, and interviews with a purposeful sample of 11 current and 2 former members of the community. The study framed the teacher preparation model in its historical context by looking at the conditions that led to the development of a distinct teacher preparation process for Catholic teaching sisters, which included a continuum of formal coursework, on-the-job training, and mentoring, within a community structure (Coburn-Smith, 1999). The research explored in depth the nature of the professional relationships within the community, with particular focus on the mentoring relationships among new and experienced teachers. The study explored the participants' views about how community life contributed to their professional growth, building on the theory that communities generate social capital through networks of shared values and mutual trust (Coleman, & Hoffer, 1987; Putnam, 2000). Findings from the study suggested directions for change in the design of effective teacher pre-service and induction programs, and indicated the need for educational leadership to develop the social capital available within systems, to train and retain quality teachers.

Subject Area

Teacher education|Religious education|Education history

Recommended Citation

Lynch, Kathleen A, "Sisterhood and social capital: Teacher preparation in an order of Catholic teaching nuns, 1920–1970" (2004). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3124562.