What are you trying not to say?
Teitelbaum, Deborah Lynn
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The purpose of this study was to determine what occurs during postobservation conferences between teachers and supervisors, what meanings and understandings each participant constructs from these conferences, and what factors may account for any disparities between participants in meanings and understandings. This qualitative field study used elements of conversation analysis, discourse analysis, politeness theory, and hermeneutics to uncover how participants constructed meaning from their own speech and that of their interlocutor. Findings included a typology of speech acts engaged in during the conference. Supervisor speech took the form of questions, directions, and commendations. Teacher speech was normally a response to supervisor speech and could be reflective or pseudo-reflective. The findings regarding meanings constructed from conference speech were illuminating. The response “I do not value your feedback” could arise from interpersonal conflicts, the perception that the supervisor was not well-informed enough about the teacher’s practice to render a judgment, or the sense that supervisors had been instructed by their superiors to stress particular issues. “I do not understand your feedback” emerged when supervisor speech was made unclear by the overuse of politeness strategies or when teacher ability was outstripped by supervisor expectations. Finally, “I have a lot of growing to do” could be a positive or a negative response. Some teachers felt well-equipped by their conference interactions to make changes in their practice. Others were defeated by disproportionately negative feedback or overwhelmed by more feedback than they could process. Implications and recommendations for practitioners and researchers are numerous. They include the need to resolve the role of the supervisor. One approach would be to consider themselves teachers of teachers and model “best” teaching practice during conferences. A second implication was the need to remain vigilant about mindfully using ideas and terminology. Finally, researchers and practitioners are encouraged to search out means enhancing feelings of trust and respect among school personnel.