Recently, I attended a conference organised for the teaching staff (including learning support assistants) of a teaching schools alliance, totalling over 900 delegates.
The venue was an international conference centre in the town where the lead school was based.
I decided to spend the day observing some of the talks taking place around me in an attempt to identify the discourse structure that underpin the day’s programme of professional development. I was trying to find out what the discourse structure revealed about this new form of CPD organised by and for teaching schools alliances.
Constructivist approach is inevitably interpretive in nature; the knowledge formed is ultimately subjective and personal in nature. How relatable it is depends largely on my reader’s experience and knowledge of the topic.
Programme of the day
08:30 – 09:00 Registration and Refreshments
09:00 – 09:10 Transfer to conference hall
09:10 – 09:15 Welcome
09:15 – 10:00 Keynote
10:00 – 10:05 Intro to Central Tensions Task
10:05 – 10:20 Transfer to breakout rooms
10:20 – 11:50 Breakout Sessions
11:40 – 12:45 Lunch and Exhibition
12:45 – 13:00 Transfer to breakout rooms
13:00 – 14:00 Breakout Sessions – Showcase
14:00 – 14:20 Transfer to conference hall
14:20 – 15:00 Keynote
15:00 – 15:15 Close
Categorised by discourse nature, the day’s structure can be broadly divided into three main types: expertise, professional and personal.
These dominant discourses were in turn punctuated by interactional talks that I would call “dislocated discourse” on the basis that the participants found themselves in a strange environment in which they had to improvise talks when most of the physical and structural references – for example, timetables – of their daily jobs were removed.
Rightly or wrongly, teachers have long enjoyed the dubious reputation of being resistant to change. Many scholarly papers have been published to discuss the tension between teachers and the demand for change to their daily practice. Supposedly being “free” from the control of the central government (but endorsed by National College for Teaching and Leadership), teaching schools enjoy the freedom to forge ahead with their own local changes. It is imperative that the work force comply.
It was not surprising that a psychologist had been invited as the keynote speaker to open the day with the subject of “change”.
I have approached this expertise discourse by means of analysing the speaker’s use of language, structure and persuasive devices in his narrative. To be able to achieve his objective to persuasive his reputedly sceptical audience to not just accept, but to agree with, the need to change requires a subtle approach. Below is my working notes as he delivered:
Keynote 1: esteemed voice (expert knowledge – psychologist with academic credentials) – compulsory participation, controlled thought process with specific epistemological goal expected.
Narrative structure: justification of stage presence, knowledge worthiness – concept 1 – explanation of needs to participate (element of antagonistic challenge) – anecdotes involving academic studies (12-year-olds’ top of professions) working with high-profile personalities (Redgrave, Branson) – 25 mins in, video (I Will Survive – Alien Song) with humour, huge response – introduction of concept 2 – academic studies (statistical info employed) – evolutionary psychology introduced (run away from, hide from, confront the danger; science) relating to classroom situation (audience position and reactions) – moving towards the main objective: how to improve by embracing change – anecdotes (reference to popular culture; difference between US and UK) – clapping moment (significant, the tide is change in the speaker’s favour) when swear word is used in conjunction with popular culture; not random, carefully selected material according to the the audience (teachers, familiar with cultural references cited) – sustained period of growing audience participation in terms of emotional response – critical concept (pessimism cycle) introduced (tone change to earnest) – importance of language (external temporary specifics vs personal permanent pervasive) – returning to justification of knowledge (use of academic studies based in the North East), need (or no need) to heed, derogatory comments used to a member of audience to create sustained crowd engagement through humour, academic narrative disappears into anecdotal reminiscence to disarm resistance (increasing volume of consent from audience) – validating knowledge by demonstrating expertise in common behaviour in response to change (fear for change) – quoting from Mother Teresa on self belief/conduct – conclude with video and humour.
The master stroke was that the audience was encouraged to think that events would always happen but they were in control of their own decisions (ERO – the first critical concept). Feel free to dismiss everything I am going to say, just so long as you are happy to admit that you are enactable of autonomy!
Through my working notes, the tension between my “situated self” (Spindler, 2006) and my “enduring self” becomes evident. The omission of the first two key concepts demonstrates most unequivocally my innate resistance to this kind of expertise discourse that I had perceived to be coercive on behave of a master narrative. Nevertheless, interestingly, as the crowd participation increased (as indicated by audible response in terms of laughs and spontaneous shouting-outs – I did wonder whether or not these were planted), I began to look up at the screen and took down another critical concept introduced during the talk, namely the (ETS and PPP).
Is resistance really futile? In the face of such powerful speaker, powerful in the sense of craftsmanship, it is always difficult to minimise the psychological bruise sustained in the resulting “endangered self”. Conversations amongst my colleagues during lunch about the first keynote speaker underlined the power of crowd psychology manipulation.
I would resent it if I knew that I had been manipulated. The problem is, much psychological manipulation does not have to be instant, often the method is subliminal and the outcome gradual.