The Role of Texts and Talk in Mediating Relations Between Schools and Homes
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This study draws on Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis and Foucauldian Theory to investigate the textual and conversational construction of teacher-parent relationships as they are evidenced in examples of school-home communications. A survey of educational research literature suggests that what is taken to constitute a productive teacher-parent relationship remains largely undefined and untheorised. Although it seems that 'good' teacher-parent relationships are valued by the stakeholders in schooling, including school administrators, teachers, parents and government bureaucrats, views of these relationships tend to be based on commonsense notions that there is a need for 'improvement'. It is suggested that contemporary neo-liberal educational views regarding the importance of such factors as parental choice, for example, and the associated movement towards the commodification of education influence teacher-parent relationship possibilities. It is theorised that teacher-parent relationships are constituted and mediated within and through the details of textual and conversational practices evidenced in school-home communications. Theoretical components derived from Smith (1987, 1990a and 1990b), Bourdieu (1991) and Foucault (1977) are established as useful conceptual frameworks from which to view the data. The data corpus originates from both private and secondary schools, and consists of examples of written and spoken school-home communications. The data are analysed using a multiperspectival approach that combines strategies deriving from different analytic perspectives in complementary ways. Ethnomethodology (EM) and Conversation Analysis (CA) are the main techniques used to document the detailed textual and conversational strategies that work to construct teacher-parent relationships. This study's basis in EM means that it does not begin with a pre-theorised notion concerning 'best practice' regarding teacher-parent relationships. Foucauldian Theory provides an alternative lense through which to view the data. It is argued that different passes through the data operate as overlays or reflexive readings, thereby providing enriched understandings of how the inter-institutional texts and talk work to construct particular moral versions of schools and homes, and of teachers parents and students, and of their inter-institutional relationships. Various different kinds of secondary school-home communications are analysed in Chapters 5 to 8. Chapter 5 presents analyses of school promotional documents originating from a variety of secondary school types, including both private and state, and both single-sex and co-educational schools. More than in documents originating from state schools, private school documents tend to include more visuals that imply moral versions of acceptable teacherhood, parenthood and studenthood. The state school documents tend to state expectations more explicity than do the private school documents. Apart from this difference, it is found that similar versions of schools, homes, parents, teachers and students are textually and visually constructed regardless of their origins. Uniformed, well-disciplined students are presented as desirable and representative of the various schools, and are themselves produced as a marketing device. It is the schools' versions of the social world that are fore-grounded within and though the various promotional documents. Chapter 6 presents analyses of three examples of monologic school-home communications, Each item is analysed by focussing on a particular conversational or textual feature. The first example is a speech given by a state school principal to a group of prospective parents and soon to be enrolled students at an induction morning. This analysis focuses on this principal's use of pronouns as positioning practices. The second example is an address given by a private school principal to a group of existing parents and students at the school's Speech Night. This analysis focuses on the private school principal's use of aligning strategies such as audience invitations to applaud as an aligning strategy. The third example is a letter sent by a school administrator to the parents of private school students. This analysis,focusses on the school administrator's use of oppositionals to construct her versions of acceptable students and parents in contrast to those of 'other' less desirable schools. These examples include both explicit and implicit suggestions that conformity to school expectations and directions will enable parents to obtain advantageous futures as positional goods for their children. It is argued that a curriculum of compliance and conformity for homes is textually and conversationally established within and through these examples of school-home communications. Chapters 5 and 6 analyse examples of monologic school-home communications, so designated because although the school-based texts and talk could have been received in a multiplicity of ways, readings and hearings are not available for analysis within the data themselves. In contrast, Chapters 7 and 8 analyse examples of interactive teacher-parent talk. Chapter 7 analyses the first 39 turns of the initial talk of a teacher-parent interview that took place at a secondary school teacher-parent interview night. The chapter is organised into three different readings of the data to show how each of these can inform the others. The first reading uses Conversation Analysis (CA) to highlight the participants' use of sequential structures and membership cateogrisation devices (MCDs) to present moral versions of themselves and each other within and through the talk. The second reading identifies a number of dominant discourses as practices of power to show how the participants position themselves and each other, negotiating their respective responsibilities for the student. It is found that the adult participants tend to position the student as an overhearing audience to their co-constructions of responsible teacherhood, parenthood and studenthood. The student is positioned as ultimately responsible for her own academic well-being and behaviour. During this talk, the home is positioned as a colony or annex of the school, and the parents are positioned as adjunct teachers, expected to continue the work of the school within their private family space. The third reading uses the Foucauldian concept of governmentality to read the talk. It is suggested that the discursive techniques identified by the previous two readings work as disciplinary practices to regulate the participants. Chapter 8 surveys other examples of interactive teacher-parent interview talk that took place in various sites on different occasions, involving both teachers and parents. During some of these interviews the student is also present, whereas in other interviews the student, who is the focus of the talk, is not. On one occasion the interview takes place in the ,home rather than at the school and includes another family member in addition to the student herself and her parents. It is found that despite such differences and variations in the use of conversational strategies, comparable versions of schools, homes, teachers, parents, students and their inter-institutional relationships are talked into being across these different educational sites. Again, a Foucauldian perspective is used to account for such similarities in the various examples of interactive teacher-parent talk. The thesis concludes by arguing that the textually and conversationally constituted and mediated teacher-parent relationships are fundamentally asymmetrical. It is the schools' versions of the social world that come to count in these inter-institutional communications. On some points teachers and parents are often found to have different expectations regarding what they perceive to be in the 'best' interests of their students / children. However, despite such differences it seems there is a high degree of similarity regarding what schools and families should be like evidenced across the various school- home communications. It is argued that such commonalities can be viewed as evidence of governmentality actively enacted within and through the particular textual and conversational micro-practices identified here (following Foucault, 1977). As such, these practices work to implement techniques of state power into home space, bringing bureacratic control into homes and functioning to produce a future citizenship with limited cultural and moral options. In conclusion, the thesis summarises some of the main implications of the study's findings for theory, method, practice and policy. It is suggested that there is a need to re- theorise commonsense notions of teacher-parent relationships as a result of the findings of tfus study. This research shows how educational materials such as teacher-parent communications can be anaysed in insightful ways to reveal how such relationships are actively constituted and mediated within and through them. Findings revealed here offer a way of documenting the workings of particular inter-institutional practices and offer a new way of construing the functions and consequences of those practices.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
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