The Impact of Teachers’ Words: A Phenomenological Study of Teachers’ Perceptions of Their Talk Used with Students

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Background: School districts and other educational systems have extensive options of programs to choose to implement for various types of professional and student learning. These well-intentioned and often research-supported programs and learning systems aim to improve education for students. A problem is that once a program is adopted, emphasis is often placed on its potential and routine classroom usage, rather than on how it is being implemented and if it is effective for students. Instruction on how teachers speak and present content is missing, leaving educators, especially novice teachers, unable to attain the full potential of the adopted program. Successful implementation of programs and curricula is directly impacted by teachers’ talk. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore teachers’ talk in their classroom settings, with students, and their perceptions of it after participating in professional development on the topic of teachers’ use of classroom talk. Teacher talk in this study is defined as the words educators say to students and the tone of voice in which they say them. Professional development is focused on warm, respectful, and student-centered talk moves. The following research question guided this study: What are the perceptions of both novice and experienced teachers toward their use of talk used with students before and after professional development? Methods: This study employed a qualitative phenomenology approach to collect and analyze data from eight participants. Four of the participants in the study were teachers at the study site with less than one year of teaching experience in the profession. The other four participants in the study were experienced teachers at the study site but with less than one year of teaching experience in the school district. Data sources included semi structured one-on-one interviews with participants designed by the researcher and reviewed by an educational expert, participants’ reflections on classroom talk and interactions with students, a contemporaneous researcher field journal used to document the researchers’ experience and observations throughout the study, and audio recorded semi-structured group conversations with participants. Both thematic and discourse analysis were used to make sense of the data collected. Member-checking was also utilized to ensure accuracy in representing participants’ perceptions of teacher talk. Results: The findings from this study revealed four themes: Professional development on teacher talk improved both novice and experienced teachers’ awareness of their teacher talk used with students; Both novice and experienced teachers recognized areas of growth in their own teacher talk after professional development on the topic; New-to-district and novice teachers benefited from the campus-designed induction program where professional development was presented, and lastly; New-to-district and novice teachers shared the feeling that professional expectations, including teacher talk, were different for them when compared to their more established colleagues. Conclusion: The perceptions of both novice and experienced teachers in this study have shown that the phenomenon of professional development on the topic of teacher talk has increased self-awareness and sparked a change in the way that teachers talk with students.