Discourse is a key element of the learning process that occurs when we can all come together in safe spaces to engage in intentional conversation. When students and teachers engage in discourse, we are able to identify, understand, and develop practical actions designed to address and resolve problems. Discourse requires sharing and examining practices systematically in order to ensure a continuous cycle of improvement, bringing the focus on how we can all promote solutions. Developing an effective discourse system is a complex process that can establish and sustain a robust learning community.
Themes of Discourse
High-trust community. Trust is a vital component in promoting discourse. It enables us to cultivate a community of collaboration that involves our students. Although building trust can be challenging, it is a vital component in working to address achievement gaps among a diverse student body. This focus on trust serves as a great first step toward broadly engaging others in the decision-making process. When teachers focus on their roles and responsibilities to meet testing mandates and other data-driven outcomes, engaging in interdisciplinary collaboration to develop communities of practice becomes more significant. It can be easy sometimes to find ourselves working in isolation as we focus on standards-based mandates. This shift toward discourse enables us to engage others in a process that helps to integrate students into that learning community.
Effective discourse requires meeting the following conditions:
Ensuring that all stakeholders feel as if they are regarded as valuable members of a high-trust community and all perspectives are represented and honored.
Shifting the mindset from deficit-based practices—where assessment focuses on what is missing or what is wrong—to asset-based practices—where assessment focuses on and builds up positive aspects.
Giving voice to all stakeholders, including community members, students, families, teachers, school leaders, and students—among these, it is most important to ensure students have a voice in the dialogue about processes.
Promoting a sense of belonging and creating relationships that include frequent interactions and sustain positive momentum.
Critical reflection on instructional practices. Since teachers are often pressed for time in their day-to-day practice, exploring new strategies can be a challenge. Engaging in discourse provides opportunities to reflect on instructional practices as part of a collaborative group rather than in isolation. Reflecting in this way also enables us to consider the holistic well-being of students as we work toward more equitable practices and decision-making. Engaging a diverse group of stakeholders helps us to think creatively and open up to new ideas, enabling us to question what we are measuring and how it is being measured. How we answer these questions requires us to rethink our instructional practices.
Reflection must also consider instruction that enables teachers to adjust and differentiate based on diverse student needs. Culturally responsive pedagogy is an important consideration because such pedagogy requires thinking about how systemic inequities impact learning and access to information. Because this process requires teachers to evaluate their own practices and engage in data inquiry, they participate in what is considered transformative continuing professional development, intentionally designed to continuously improve their practice. This process is bolstered when informed by a model that makes theories of action visible and explicit, when the reflection process is documented, and when a structure is in place that examines how to tailor research to specific contexts or settings.
Professional conversations. Effective discourse is professional in nature. This means that conversations move beyond casual social conventions to reflect shared experiences, and this supports the expansion of knowledge to create a community of practice. Through collaborative relationships, the community of practice can address common and group goals. New ideas and visions for professional development and peer mentoring often emerge from communities of practice informed by professional conversations. These conversations have the potential to enhance the competencies of community members and other practitioners.
Discourse in Practice
As teachers, we serve an instrumental role in sustaining momentum and providing daily insight about successes and growth opportunities by applying new approaches for promoting student well-being. Engaging in sustainable and high-quality instructional practices, along with active participation in a high-trust community, creates a foundation for teachers to successfully integrate discourse into the classroom. With support from educational leaders and the necessary resources to accomplish these objectives, teachers can be ready to face any challenges that might arise as they put the research into practice. Examples of putting discourse into practice might include:
Creating a safe place for discourse by establishing participant-defined norms. As long as
participants know and respect these norms, they can engage on a level playing field and know their voices will be heard. Established norms should emphasize the importance of the free flow of ideas about the nature of problems and solutions that may best address them. All should be invited to participate in discussions without concern for criticism or censure.
Engaging in active reflection across roles. Educational leaders should encourage the process of inquiry and reflection about instructional practices. Educational leaders must provide teachers with the resources to examine the inequities that students face daily. Teachers must be willing to make appropriate changes.
Constructing, interrogating and challenging the community’s professional conversations in order to achieve the goals outlined within a community of practice. The community’s identities and realities should be examined with all community members participating equally and fully in the process.
Improved educational outcomes can become a reality when diverse stakeholders come together in communities of practice. The stakeholders share their experiences to identify issues of concern and develop strategies to address these issues and achieve common goals. Beyond simply making sure that professional conversations occur within communities of practice with diverse expertise, it is also essential that norms and procedures be established to ensure that the voices of all are heard in a collaborative environment. The evaluation process is a requirement designed to understand the cultural context clues from students and families. These procedures can provide critical insights into mechanisms to promote success and failure when trying to meet student needs and promote student well-being.
Discourse brings participants together in a high-trust community to engage in critical reflection and examine instructional practices in a continuous cycle of improvement to promote equity for all learners.
Akinyemi, A. 0F., Rembe, S., Shumba, J., & Adewumi, T. M. (2019). Collaboration and mutual support as processes established by communities of practice to improve continuing professional teachers’ development in high schools. Cogent Education, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186x.2019.1685446
Boyd, A. S., & Glazier, J. A. (2017). The choreography of conversation: An exploration of collaboration and difficult discussions in cross disciplinary teacher discourse communities. The High School Journal, 100(2), 130–145.
Brown, C., & Flood, J. (2018). Lost in translation? Can the use of theories of action be effective in helping teachers develop and scale up research-informed practices? Teaching and Teacher Education, 72, 144–154.
Chang, E. (2019). Beyond workforce preparation: Contested visions of ‘twenty-first century’ education reform. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 40(1), 29–45. https://doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2018.1549702
Charteris, J., & Smardon, D. (2019a). The politics of student voice: Unraveling the multiple discourses articulated in schools, Cambridge Journal of Education, 49(1), 93–110. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2018.1444144
Charteris, J., & Smardon, D. (2019b). Democratic contribution or information for reform? Prevailing and emerging discourses of student voice. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 44(6). https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2018v44n6.1
Dodman, S. L., DeMulder, E. K., View, J. L., Swalwell, K., Stribling, S., Ra, S., & Dallman, L. (2019). Equity audits as a tool of critical data-driven decision making: Preparing teachers to see beyond achievement gaps and bubbles. Action in Teacher Education, 41(1), 4–22. https://doi.org/10.1080/01626620.2018.1536900
Dyke, E., & El Sabbagh, J. (2020). “It’s an Americanization that’s not working:” Reimagining teacher leadership and accountability in a Latinx-serving middle school. Journal of Education Human Resources, 38(4), 416–437. https://doi.org/10.3138/jehr-2020-0006
Elkomy, M. M., & Elkhaial, N. H. (2022). The lesson study approach to professional development: Promoting teachers’ peer mentoring and communities of practice and students’ learning in Egypt. Teaching and Teacher Education, 109. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103538
Eshchar‐Netz, L., & Vedder‐Weiss, D. (2020). Teacher learning in communities of practice: The affordances of co‐planning for novice and veteran teachers’ learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 58(3), 366–391. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21663
Evans-Winters, V., Hines, D. E., Moore, A., & Jones, T. L. (2018). Locating Black girls in educational policy discourse: Implications for the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” Teachers College Record, 120(13), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1177/016146811812001305
Gardner-Neblett, N., Iruka, I.U., Humphries, M. (2021). Dismantling the Black-White achievement gap paradigm: Why and how we need to focus instead on systemic change. Journal of Education, (203)2. https://doi.org/10.1177/00220574211031958
Gee, J. P. (1989). Literacy, discourse, and linguistics: Introduction. Journal of Education, 171(1), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/002205748917100101
Goddard, R. D., Skrla, L., & Salloum, S. J. (2017). The role of collective efficacy in closing student achievement gaps: A mixed methods study of school leadership for excellence and equity. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 22(4), 220–236. https://doi.org/10.1080/10824669.2017.1348900
Harris, D. N., & Herrington, C. D. (2006). Accountability, standards, and the growing achievement gap: Lessons from the past half‐century. American Journal of Education, 112(2), 209–238.
Kehus, M., Walters, K., & Shaw, M. (2010). Definition and genesis of an online discourse community. International Journal of Learning, 17, 67–85.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511815355
Sant, E. (2019). Democratic education: A theoretical review (2006–2017). Review of Educational Research, 89(5), 655–696. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654319862493
Segal, A. (2019). Story exchange in teacher professional discourse. Teaching and Teacher Education, 86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2019.102913
Simoncini, K. M., Lasen, M., & Rocco, S. (2014). Professional dialogue, reflective practice and teacher research: Engaging early childhood pre-service teachers in collegial dialogue about curriculum innovation. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(1). https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2014v39n1.
Swales, J. (2011). The concept of I discourse community. University of Michigan Press.
Truscott, D., & Barker, K. S. (2020). Developing teacher identities as in situ teacher educators through communities of practice. The New Educator, 16(4), 333–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/1547688x.2020.1779890
Vetter, A., Faircloth, B. S., Hewitt, K. K., Gonzalez, L. M., He, Y., & Rock, M. L. (2022). Equity and social justice in research practice partnerships in the United States. Review of Educational Research, 92(5), 829–866.
Wilcox, S. M. (2020). Policy storms at the central office: Conflicting narratives of racial equity and segregation at school committee meetings. Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation Faculty Publications, 20. https://uknowledge.uky.edu/epe_facpub/20