Teacher team meetings focus mostly on practical issues
Teacher team meetings tend to be fragmentary, focus on practical duties and feature informal language. There is generally a lack of professional language that would enable discussions on complex issues of relevance to the teaching profession and education. These are the conclusions of a new thesis that has analysed conversations between teachers.
Anna Norrström observed teacher team meetings at three different schools in the Swedish compulsory education system to investigate how teachers talk to each other in professional contexts. The teacher team meetings were held at the schools once a week, providing a forum for the teams to discuss current issues.
“Research into teachers’ conversations has long been focused on how specific projects can improve the professional discourse. But I wanted to look at what actually happens in ordinary team meetings,” explains Anna Norrström.
In her analysis of the conversations at the team meetings, Anna Norrström differentiates between a horizontal and vertical discourse. In simple terms, a horizontal discourse is characterised by informal language and is rooted in personal experience, while a vertical discourse is more theoretical and abstract.
“All the conversations were oriented towards a horizontal discourse, meaning that they were personal, context-bound and fragmentary. The teachers addressed issues that were important for the profession, but instead of taking a step back and looking at it from a theoretical and more distanced perspective, the conversation stopped at the descriptive level and then moved on to the next topic.”
A typical agenda for a meeting contained a small number of set discussion points. However, the majority of the time was generally taken up with the issues that were considered most important at that moment.
“This makes it all rather fragmentary. There are so many issues being raised, and then personal matters and anecdotes are also included.”
As such, the teacher team meetings are rarely a forum for professional communication.
“The nature of such conversations allows no scope for generalising beyond specific situations and experiences. An evolving discussion needs to move between closeness and distance. Being rooted in your own context is important, but so is being able to take a step back and adopt an outside perspective.”
Practical issues take up the majority of the meeting
The majority of the time was taken up with practical issues such as logistics, timetables, resources and purchasing. These might include who would be accompanying the students on an excursion, who would be supervising break times or exams and what materials needed to be ordered. Time was also spent on discussing individual student cases, looking at the progress of individual students who were facing some kind of difficulty, and on issues concerning group dynamics such as conflicts and student groupings. Conversations about teaching were rare.
“If the topic being debated is what kind of scissors to buy, it makes it difficult to then talk in depth about core professional matters. There may be many reasons why the discussions are like this. It could be a combination of factors, from working conditions in the profession, organisational structures and the framing of the meeting, to the actions of the teachers themselves.”
Anna Norrström previously worked as a teacher in Swedish and history at secondary and upper secondary level. She now works as a lecturer at the University of Borås.
Contact: Anna Norrström, + 46 33 435 4042, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org