How to Use Teaching Cases
Teaching cases provide a connection between theory and practice in the analysis of real-world problems. They are most effective when the cases relate closely to situations the participants are likely to encounter, enabling participants to identify with, and develop empathy for, the people and situations described. Participants take on the role of decision-makers, working independently or in groups to develop critical insights, formulate strategies to address problems, and evaluate the practical implications of their decisions (C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning, 2005).
Teaching cases give participants opportunities for active exploration, teamwork, and open-ended consideration of ideas. Use of teaching cases promotes development of personal competencies in
- critical thinking,
- analysis of complex situations,
- dealing with ambiguities, and
The teaching cases presented here derive from case studies of three Ohio school districts that have been actively engaged for a number of years in using the Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) to support district-wide improvement in teaching and learning. Each district has implemented various strategies to address its unique situation and needs. All the districts have seen significant changes and improvements as a result of their efforts, yet none has achieved all its improvement goals. The three districts continue to evaluate and refine their approaches using the OIP.
These teaching cases are especially relevant for persons involved in (or training to become involved in) the enterprise of improving public school education. Effective for use in a variety of settings and applications, the teaching cases foster an understanding of the challenges confronting school systems, the selection of methods to address the challenges, the support structures and materials available through the OIP, and the process of evaluating the effectiveness of improvement initiatives in attaining district goals.
Each teaching case contains open-ended questions to stimulate readers' critical thinking about the specific situations described. Listed in the call-out box are examples of additional questions, as well as activities that promote participants' active engagement with the teaching cases.
Additional Questions that Can Be Applied to the Teaching Cases
- Which Ohio Improvement Process (OIP) initiatives and supports did the districts make use of? In each district, which additional OIP supports would most likely be of benefit, and why?
- How did the districts allocate their resources to address their improvement goals?
- In what ways did a district’s improvement initiatives change the professional duties of its teachers, administrators, and other personnel?
- What effects did each district’s improvement strategies have on academic achievement?
- What effects did the districts’ improvement strategies have on school climate and culture?
- What issues do you feel were not adequately addressed by a district’s efforts?
- What additional strategies or changes should be undertaken to further boost improvement?
- How are these districts’ demographics, challenges, improvement efforts, and outcomes similar to your own district’s? How are they different?
- Which district seems to have been most successful in meeting its improvement goals, and what accounts for that success?
- Other than using accountability scores or state performance ratings, how else might districts determine whether or not their improvement efforts are working?
- How did each district achieve buy-in from stakeholders? How important was buy-in to the district’s success at achieving its improvement goals?
- Which efforts and initiatives undertaken by the respective school districts would be most beneficial for your own district, and why?
- What would be the practical implications of implementing these initiatives?
- What additional changes would be needed in your district in order to prepare for the initiative(s) from the cases that you see as applicable?
Sample Activities that Promote Active Engagement with the Teaching Cases
- Role play—Choose the role of one of the participants in a district’s improvement process. Explain the challenges in “your” particular area of responsibility. How do these challenges contribute to district performance? What strategies have already been put in place to address these challenges? Have the strategies been effective? What additional strategies would you recommend?
- Working with a team, research one area in which one of the three districts has faced persistent challenges and continues to need improvement. Why haven’t improvement strategies been sufficiently successful so far? Prepare a report that might be presented to the district’s DLT on additional strategies that should be undertaken. Prepare a report that might be presented to the School Board informing its members about ongoing challenges and plans for addressing them.
- Compare one (or more) of the problems faced by all three districts, their strategies for addressing those problems, and the results of their respective improvement initiatives. Why might initiatives have been more successful in one district than another? Compare the problems and improvement efforts in these three districts with the issues and improvement strategies in your own district.
- Working alone or with a team, identify a significant improvement initiative you would like to see implemented in one of the teaching case districts, or in your own district? Why do you believe this strategy is important? Prepare a plan for implementing the new strategy, addressing issues such as funding, organizational and structural changes, timeframe for implementation, obtaining buy-in from affected stakeholders, professional development, communication with families, and assessing the effectiveness of the strategy.
Professional Development Facilitators
The teaching cases presented here can be used with groups of teachers, educational administrators, district leadership team (DLT) members, and/or persons involved in school oversight and governance. Use of the cases promotes active exploration and discussion of ideas, enriched by participants' individual backgrounds and experiences. Facilitators should encourage participants to listen actively during discussions, build on others' comments, and contribute their own ideas and analysis. For maximum participant engagement, professional development sessions can be structured to include whole-group activities, team work, peer teaching, role-play, and individual tasks.
Students in the fields of teacher education, educational leadership, and educational administration will find teaching cases to be an effective and engaging instructional strategy. Certain conditions apply when using teaching cases as part of class instruction. Professors should identify key pedagogical issues at the outset and include readings and supplemental materials that provide theoretical context. They should choose (or compose) questions that will best accomplish the learning goals. Professors and instructors should establish a classroom climate and use instructional routines that facilitate participation, discussion, and use of varied groupings, instructional modalities, and tasks. When using teaching cases, a professor should ensure that he or she (or some other facilitator) manages the flow and structure of class activities, responds to student comments, and brings closure to the discussion.
The teaching cases on this site are designed to be accessible and beneficial when used independently. Individual readers can do many of the team and group activities described above. It may be helpful for independent readers to use a journal to record their insights, questions, and other reflections.
For more information on teaching cases, refer to the following resources.
C. Roland Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning. (2005). Characteristics of effective case teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School.
Erskine, J. A., Leenders, M. R., & Mauffette-Leenders, L. A. (1981). Teaching with cases. London, Ontario, Canada: University of Western Ontario.
Sheehan, N. T., Gujarathi, M. R., Jones, J. C., & Phillips, F. (2018). Using design thinking to write and publish novel teaching cases: Tips from experienced case authors. Journal of Management Education, 42-1, 135-160.