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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Woods

"A Post-Observation Conference"(Conversational Analysis Perspective)

Updated: Jul 19, 2021


Post-observation conferences between administrators and teachers are widely used in K-12 to promote teachers’ reflection on their instruction, and in turn, improvement in instructional effectiveness. Scholars have examined how these conversations derive from pedagogical references, professional development structures, and supervision philosophies (Leonard, 2002; Sparks, 2002; Zepeda, 2007). Yet, little research has been conducted to examine what actually goes on in post-observation conferences between teachers and administrators (Wragg, 2013). This data analysis write-up addresses this gap in the literature by investigating the instructional dialogue that takes place during this interaction. By examining this post-observation conversation using conversation analysis, this paper will contribute empirical data to the ways teachers and administrators talk about instructional strategies during post-observation conferences. Findings will inform work that seeks to validate the merit in conducting post-observation conferences to improve instructional practices in K-12 classrooms.

Conceptual Literature

Teacher Perceptions

Bangs and Frost (2012) surveyed teachers in multiple countries (and grade levels) to gauge their opinions on the influence they have on professional development in their schools. The data showed that majority of teachers think it is normal for teachers to lead these discussions (within their sphere of influence), however many of these same teachers do not feel teachers should lead changes beyond their influence. Ironically, when asked about the perceived influence they have over “policy and practice both in their schools and beyond in their districts and even nationally,” three quarters of teachers “indicated that they are able to exert some influence” (2012, p. 19). Bangs and Frost (like myself) found this contradiction peculiar, and noted it in their findings:

What is abundantly clear is that, if the responses to the question about actuality indicates doubt about the extent of influence, the responses to the question about the importance of having such influence is unambiguous… The discussion in these ‘survey workshops’ reinforced this, but the statements did not, as some policy makers might suppose, indicate that teachers simply look to improving their own material working conditions or reducing the intensity of their work, considerable as this may be; rather they seek to be more effective teachers… (2012, p. 19).

The ways in which Bangs and Frost (2012) highlight this discrepancy sheds light on the exponential number of declarations that can arise during institutional dialogue. These assertions are constantly fluid based on the contextualization and levels of understanding by the participants (Liddicoat, 2007).

The perceptions participants (in this case, educators) bring towards institutional policies and procedures orientates the dialogue (Silverman, 1998; ten Have, 2004). These perceptions can impact how educators listen and respond to feedback during instructional post-observation conversations. As we hear ideas that conflict with our biases, norms and convictions, we become defensive in our responses. Nichols and Stevens (1999) use an example of a conversation between a firm accountant and general manager to prove how this can occur. As the firm accountant began to tell the general manager that they had just heard from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the general manager stated, “Can’t they leave me alone? Every year the government milks my profits to a point where…” Although the firm accountant never told the general manager what they said, he automatically concluded it was a negative connotation because it came from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (p. 12). As Silverman (1998, p. 51) noted, a social organization can be “observed within the structures” of a conversation. Within the realms of an organization, participants perceptions are shaped by their previous and current interactions in that space.

When measuring teacher’s perceptions of pre- and post-observation conferences, Range, Young, and Hvidston (2013) discovered that teachers valued the post-observation conferences higher. Although participants “identified all elements of the post-observation conference as important, respondents identified constructive feedback delivered by the principal/ supervisor as the most important element” (p. 72). However, this feedback needs to be tailored in a fashion that is applicable to the specific teacher, and navigates the emotional underlyings at play. Khachatryan (2015) study examined the nature of feedback give from observations, and teachers perceptions of that feedback. Her findings uncovered that the administrator’s specific feedback regarding their instructional practices prompted the teachers’ reflection. Additionally, Khachatryan (2015) noted that every teacher in her “study respected Jason (the administrator) immensely and valued him as an educator, not just a leader” (p. 184). The implementation of professional development in K-12 settings hinges on the perceptions all participants bring during these instructional collaborations.

Evaluation of Teachers

Feedback plays an essential role in education. Drago-Severson and Blum-DeStefano (2014) argued that “feedback for growth involves intentionally differentiating feedback” so teachers can make meaning of it to improve instruction (p. 1). Teacher evaluations are one of the times when administrators analyze instructional performance, and provide feedback to the teacher on what they have seen to promote growth. Evaluation of teacher’s instruction should not be instituted to criticize teachers, because this will “situate teachers in a deficit” manner (Zepeda, 2007, p. 49). Drago-Severson, Blum-DeStefano, and Asghar (2013) argued that there is a “long-standing knowledge gap” to how “school leaders support adult learning and growth” in their schools (p. 15). Concurrently, this impacts the means and methods in which administrators give feedback to teachers. Current evaluation methods have structured instructional supervision to align with “substantial and competent evidence” that follows “due process” and avoids subjective claims (Hazi and Rucinski, 2016, p. 188). However, these formalized mandates do not provide guidance on promoting these suggestions to teachers. True instructional supervision builds off the components discussed in the previous section to build coherence between all facets of instruction. Coherence not only links evaluation, supervision, and professional development, but it unifies their impact (Zepeda, 2007). 

Hazi and Rucinski (2016) discuss three approaches to judging teachers’ instruction: fault-finding approach, instrument approach, and inquiry approach. Fault-finding looks for errors in someone’s actions. Instrument approach requires the supervisor to look for accurate evidence that fits into the instrument. Inquiry approach allows the supervisor to “think deeply and thoughtfully” about what they see (Hazi and Rucinski, 2016, p. 192). While all three approaches have various levels of complexities, they all provide different perspectives in delivering feedback. Unfortunately, many administrators have become trapped under the first two categories, and rejected inquiry feedback. According to Hazi and Rucinski (2016):

leading reflective inquiry about student learning with teachers is a challenge for many supervisors, often because they have not studied teaching and teacher learning. Using such inquiry to further the professionalism of teachers as adult learners is even more challenging (p. 195).

Additionally, they further highlight that teacher choice/autonomy and professional development built-in traditional work days are precluded due to the innate challenging of “building and district leaders on these principles” (p. 196). Although these items are precluded to mandate district, state, and federal policies, administrators can still institute inquiry feedback in thoughtful fashions to promote instructional activities in their schools.  

The purpose of this paper is to addresses the gap in the literature by investigating the instructional dialogue that takes place during post-observation conferences between administrators and teachers. By examining the attached post-observation conversation using conversation analysis, this paper will contribute empirical data to the ways teachers and administrators talk about instructional strategies during post-observation conferences.