Academic journal article High School Journal

The Choreography of Conversation: An Exploration of Collaboration and Difficult Discussions in Cross Disciplinary Teacher Discourse Communities

Academic journal article High School Journal

The Choreography of Conversation: An Exploration of Collaboration and Difficult Discussions in Cross Disciplinary Teacher Discourse Communities

Article excerpt

This qualitative study explores three years of data from an ongoing professional development program for alumni of one university's varied teacher education programs. Participants cross secondary grade levels and disciplines. Researchers examine what transpires when controversial topics are raised within this diverse teacher discourse community. Findings across the data suggest that when faced with more difficult topics such as race and sexual orientation, participants engage in comfortable collaboration rather than critical colleagueship, preferring to provide uncritical, though helpful, support rather than challenge one another. Implications for current teacher education programs include encouraging more open and analytical dialogue that moves students beyond their comfort zones, both inside and outside of their respective grades and disciplines.

Keywords: Professional development; discourse analysis; multicultural teacher education; race; sexual orientation


The current social context in the United States is one of growing political turmoil and racial unrest. In the wake of recent controversial grand jury rulings in cases of police officers' culpability in the deaths of several African American males and subsequent public protests, some educators advocate bringing these discussions into our classrooms (for example, see Teaching About Race, 2016). Since matters of racism, sexism, and classism are at the forefront of public discourse, curriculum advisors posit it is imperative that those who work in education assist students in processing and responding to these national events and in becoming active participants in society. In order to better equip them to have such conversations with students, however, it is critical that we first find ways to provide educators themselves with the discursive spaces needed to grapple with these topics. As Darden (2009) writes, "If teachers can't have the race talk with each other, how can schools effectively educate their students about difference?" (para. 8). What professional spaces are offered for teachers themselves to wrestle with controversy? How do they respond in these spaces to subjects such as racism and homophobia? When and how do they consider how they will address these topics with students? Although we agree that it is imperative that teachers are prepared to respond to these issues, little is known about how they actually engage with one another or with students on matters oft-considered controversial.

The research described here begins to probe these questions by considering how a specific model of professional development might be a space for critical colleagueship (Lord, 1994), a type of collaboration characterized by dialogue that pushes the boundaries of social norms and goes beyond surface-level solutions. We explore how teachers engage with one another around dilemmas of practice that bring to the forefront distinct "hot lava" (Glazier, 2003) topics, issues labeled as such because they solicit reactions comparable to the "the children's playground game where the goal is to avoid stepping on spots that represent 'hot lava'" (p. 76). These include topics such as race and social class which are historically challenging to the typical White, female population of teachers that comprise 82.5% of the educator workforce (NCES, 2012). Specifically, we investigated what the experience of participating in a series of discourse-based professional development seminars was like for a group of secondary teachers, all alumni of the various teacher education programs at the university where the study occurred. We examined their involvement in the professional community as they engaged in talk explicitly about sexual orientation and race that stemmed from their experiences in classrooms.

Teacher Professional Development and the Potential of Discourse Communities

The shortcomings of conventional professional development formats are well documented (Borko, 2004, Clark & Florio Ruane, 2001; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Suk Yoon, 2001; Little, 1993; Wilson & Berne, 1999). …

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