Teacher Face-Work in Discussions of Video-Recorded Classroom Practice: Constraining or Catalyzing Opportunities to Learn?

November 1, 2019

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 70 issue: 5, page(s): 538-551

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Although numerous studies have indirectly acknowledged the importance of face issues in video-based teacher learning (e.g., Borko, Jacobs, Eiteljorg, & Pittman, 2008; Zhang, Lundeberg, & Eberhardt, 2011), this article is the first to directly focus on the issue.
The authors investigate the role of face threat and its management in 16 cases of video-based discussions in six school-based teacher teams.
The investigation offers a nuanced account of the extent and forms of teacher face management in these discussions, highlighting the need to consider face-work, and both the potential contribution and methodological challenges of its investigation.

Research Questions
The research questions that guide this study are the following:
1: To what extent are teachers oriented toward face concerns in video-based discussions of practice?
2: What face-work strategies are evident in teacher video-based discussions?
3: What is the role of face-work in shaping teacher learning opportunities in video-based discussions?

Context and Data Collection
This study is part of a design-based implementation research project aiming to foster pedagogical discourse and leadership (Lefstein, Vedder-Weiss, Tabak, & Segal, 2018; Segal, Lefstein, & Vedder-Weiss, 2018; Vedder-Weiss et al., 2018). In this project, the authors collaborate with two Israeli school districts to develop teacher leadership and team discourse.
Leading teachers in this program are team coordinators, responsible for facilitating weekly 90-min in-school meetings with their teams.
They participate in a biweekly PD workshop in which they are introduced to tools to facilitate productive pedagogical discourse, such as a video discussion protocol.
Team coordinators are encouraged to use these tools in their team meetings, but are under no obligation to do so, and are autonomous in how they implement and adapt them to meet their teams’ needs (Segal et al., 2018)
The data for this extended case study (Burawoy, 1998) were collected during the first year of the project (2014- 2015), in which four schools (10 teams) participated.
The authors observed and audio-recorded 118 team meetings as well as all PD workshops (75 hr).
They also interviewed 12 participating teachers twice (2 months after the beginning of the year and at its end), about their overall experience in the program, the PD workshops, and their in-school team meetings.
Members of the research team led the development and facilitation of the PD workshops and visited each school weekly, observing team meetings and informally interacting with teachers.
The authors supported the coordinators in preparing video-based discussions:
When requested, they video-recorded lessons and edited 3- to 8-min video clips, in dialogue with the recorded teachers.
However, planning the team meetings was the responsibility of the team coordinators, with guidance from district coaches.
The authors observed and audio-recorded all of the video-based meetings but were typically not active participants in them.
They analyzed six teams’ discussions —16 in total.

In total, the authors estimate that participants attended to face concerns in about 60% of video discussion time, including direct face-work (37%), talking about face threat and face-work (12%), and circumventing face-work (11%). While of course 60% of video discussion time was not devoted exclusively to face management (e.g., teachers were learning while also engaged in face-work), these findings do indicate that face is highly salient in video-based discussions of problems of practice.
Concerns about face were also expressed in the interviews, although interviewees were not directly asked about face.

Meta Face-Work

In total, teachers spent about 12% of total video-based discussion time talking about face threats and face-work, including the following:
•• Reviewing ethical guidelines, such as “It’s forbidden to be critical”, and “only productive critique”.
•• Giving conversation instructions, such as “each one will say a positive sentence. Before we start going at her ((laughing))”.
•• Reflecting on the discussion, such as “I can finally breathe. The longest six minutes of my life”.

Circumventing Face-Work
In total, teachers spent about 11% of total video-based discussion time engaged in talk that appears at least partially motivated by an attempt to avoid or minimize face threat and face-work.

Direct face-work strategies
The authors’ analysis indicates that teacher teams were engaged in direct face-work for an average of about 37% of their videobased discussion time.

Face-work strategies video-recorded teachers use to defend their own face: In eight meetings, the authors identified episodes of preemption, in which the video-recorded teacher mitigated anticipated critique by justifying her practice, highlighting students’ characteristics, organizational constraints, the setting, curriculum, and so on.
Another face-work strategy enacted exclusively by the video-recorded teachers was dominating the floor, speaking for longer than is customary, and presenting their professional philosophy, values, dilemmas, and so on in a way that excludes other voices and prevents others from raising doubts or critique.
Similarly, face-work was evident when video-recorded teachers self-criticized their own practice and suggested solutions before others did.

Face-work strategies used by both video-recorded teacher and other participants: In 15 of the analyzed cases, either the video-recorded teacher or her colleagues positioned her professionally as a competent practitioner, an expert in her unique field (e.g., art), and caring, motivated, thoughtful, and successful over and above the practice represented in the video.
Such positioning typically bolsters the teacher’s face and mitigates future threat.

Face-work strategies other teachers use to protect the videorecorded teacher’s face: In 14 out of the 16 cases, teachers engaged in face-work through praising or complimenting, addressing both the video-recorded teacher’s practice and her willingness to share it, as in “you’re amazing,” “a role model,” or “inspiring.”
Compliments often compensated for an apparent face threat.

Discussion and Conclusions
The authors have systematically analyzed 16 teacher video-based discussions and presented detailed analysis of one case.
The analysis offers a nuanced account of various face-work strategies, affording a deeper understanding of the phenomenon, the recognition of its multiple variants, and an estimation of its scope.
It demonstrates how critical it is to consider facework, the potential contribution of detecting and examining it, and the feasibility of doing so.
In accordance with what others have previously argued (Borko et al., 2008; Sherin & van Es, 2009), the authors have found that video of classroom practice may facilitate productive pedagogical discourse.
However, their analysis also shows that video-based discussions involve a great deal of face concern.
In all of the cases they analyzed, teachers engaged (for a considerable amount of time) in
(a) metapragmatic discourse vis-a-vis face concerns and ways to mitigate them or
(b) circumventing face threats, thus obviating the need for facework, and
(c) face-work protecting the video-recorded teacher’s face when threatened.

Not only was the videorecorded teacher invested in defending her own face, but so were her colleagues (cf. Goffman, 1955).
At times, participants appeared to engage intentionally and strategically in face-work, while at other times, they seemed to stumble into it unawares.
Either way, face-work was intertwined with other interactions, some of which opened up learning opportunities (e.g., leading to pedagogical investigation and reasoning) while others closed them down (e.g., discussions that avoided problems of practice).

Although the magnitude of face threat and face-work in video-based learning likely vary between groups (and cultures), the authors argue that they are inevitable and they have the potential to both afford and constrain productive pedagogical discourse.
The analysis suggests that the need to protect face is conducive to opening learning opportunities when it drives the consideration of various interpretations of the represented interaction, arguing and reasoning, contrasting diverse perspectives, connecting instructional practice with learning, and weighing alternatives.
However, face-work limits learning opportunities when it involves silencing critical voices, avoiding problematization and confrontation, and diverting attention away from practice.
Thus, reminding teachers to be sensitive when critiquing other teacher’s videos (Zhang et al., 2011) or to avoid critique altogether (Dobie & Anderson, 2015) may help to establish a “supportive” collegial environment, which may in some respects be conducive for learning (van Es et al., 2014), but it may also impede critical colleagueship (Lord, 1994).

The authors argue that moving past the usual peer support and sharing of practices to productive, critical discussion of teaching requires that participants acknowledge and accept face threat and facework as an inherent aspect of their learning.
Furthermore, they suggest that conducive management of face threat may more effectively construct face than avoiding face threats.
Such an approach can lead to greater trust between participants, which may gradually help teachers overcome norms of privacy and fear of judgment.

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Vedder-Weiss, D., Ehrenfeld, N., Ram-Menashe, M., Pollak, I. (2018). Productive framing of pedagogical failure: How teacher framings can facilitate or impede learning from problems of practice. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 30, 31-41.
Zhang, M., Lundeberg, M., Eberhardt, J. (2011). Strategic facilitation of problem-based discussion for teacher professional development. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 20(3), 342-394. 

Updated: Jun. 18, 2020