Toward Transparency: Competing Discourses of Teacher Educators and Teachers

Apr. 03, 2011

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 7, No. 1, April 2011, 93–104
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes a school-based professional development project.
This project established collaboration between two teacher educators and a group of elementary public school teachers in the Rocky Mountains region of the United States.

Context of the study
The school requested that the authors work with 15 kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers to infuse social studies content into classroom literacy routines already in place.
The teachers were interested in replicating a tool the authors had previously developed, and implementing it in their classrooms.
This collaborative project was called “Book in a Bag” (BIB), which was launched this project as a way to promote curriculum integration in classrooms and at the same time to provide a venue for research.
The BIB project would support teachers as they created materials for teaching the content, thereby providing them with opportunities to enhance their skills in integrating curriculum.

The authors decided to use self-study to collect data in order to focus their attention on themselves in order to make sense of tensions they had experienced.
This led them to a new line of inquiry focused on the competing discourses evident in their relationships with the teachers and the shifting dominance of one discourse over another.


The authors learned that collaborative efforts between teacher educators and teachers position all participants within a discourse of partnership.
The authors also came to understand that the tensions they experienced in the BIB project were evidence of real differences between the discourses of teacher educators and teachers.

Discourse of Partnership
In the BIB project, the teacher educators’ and teachers’ mutual concern for the well-being of students and the growth of both teacher educators and teachers grounded the discourse of their collaboration.

Teachers agreed to implement a different BIB into their instructional routine each week.
The pace of the study was collaboratively established, giving careful attention to the school calendar and the teachers’ input.
Nonetheless, as the authors systematically executed their research focused on the teachers’ use of the BIBs, tensions increased.
The pacing schedule of the research came into conflict with other demands on the teachers’ instructional time – demands inherent in their own discourse.

Discourse of Teachers
The discourse of the teachers in this project appeared to be governed largely by the familiar within their classrooms.
A key feature of the teachers’ discourse was evident in their struggle to balance the many complex and competing demands of teaching.
Internally generated pressures of daily classroom life and external district, state, and federal mandates dictated how the teachers in our project planned and allocated their time.
As the school year came to an end, the pressures mounted, talk of accountability and high-stakes testing escalated, and time became an increasingly precious commodity.

Competing Discourses
Much of what the authors did in the BIB project allowed teacher educators and teachers alike to comfortably enact their distinct discourses, and at the same time, engage fully in the discourse of partnership.
The authors' mutually held values and aspirations about children and their learning drew them together in pursuit of the project goals.
Nevertheless, as end-of-year testing approached, teachers expressed their frustration about demands on their time.

Discourse-related Paradoxes
Analyzing the competing discourses of teacher educators and teachers opened the authors' understanding to paradoxes inherent in partnership relationships that we had not considered before.

Discourse-bound Knowledge
Teacher educators need to recognize multiple ways of knowing that are valued outside the academy.
In this case, the discourse of teaching, including a quest for “what works” in teachers’ classrooms, represented ways of knowing that merited consideration.

Discourse-driven Motivations
The desire to improve the quality of integrated instruction in elementary classrooms was common in the authors' discourse and that of the teachers.
However, the teacher educators' agendas and the teachers' agendas about how that would happen were quite different.

The paradox lies in the fact that in the discourse of teacher educators, the authors are rewarded by their institutions for the acquisition, publication, and communication of new knowledge, while their teacher colleagues are motivated by their responsibility for individual student growth and learning.
Each motivation, driven by the home discourse of teacher educators or teachers, shapes not only the participation in collaborative endeavors, but also the satisfaction they experience as they work alongside one another.

Discourse-limited Aspirations
Participation in educational partnerships brings teachers and teacher educators together for the mutual benefit of children and educators.
The intent of these mutual collaborations is to provide opportunities for greater understanding, professional growth, and the generation of new ideas.

Yet for either teacher educators or teachers, worthy aspirations may need to give way to conflicting obligations that arise out of our primary discourses.
The authors' recognition of the primacy of such obligations will most certainly impact their future collaborations with teachers.


The authors conclude that they have learned that regardless of the intended outcomes or products of collaborative projects, discourse transparency from the outset of their associations with teachers will increase the likelihood that all parties will enter into a process of collaboration on equal footing.

Updated: Nov. 25, 2013