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"We Don't Have Conversations Like That in the Faculty Lounge": Equity and Accountability in Teacher Inquiry


At a time when widespread education reform is greatly affecting teachers' daily work, this study explores the potential of social-justice focused teacher inquiry to assist educators in improving their teaching practice. The culmination of one year of data collection with a group of K-12 teachers, this study investigated: (1) the effects of a group inquiry process on teachers' understandings of their own practice with regard to issues of equity; (2) the conditions under which the inquiry process translated into shifts in teaching practice; and (3) the ways in which institutional constraints of schooling and accountability affected teachers' efficacy in bringing about education for social justice, and how the inquiry process affected teachers' abilities to navigate these constraints.

This study was informed by the literatures on urban educational inequity, social reproduction theory, teacher inquiry, and multicultural pedagogy. While a significant body of scholarship has examined the outcomes of educators' attempts to enact social justice-based pedagogies, and much research has documented impacts of the teacher inquiry process, this research combined these two arenas while also incorporating a consideration of the daily demands present in the teaching profession. This framework thus integrated the lived realities of current educators' perspectives while simultaneously outlining the ways in which the inquiry process could serve to provide a space for agency and increased teacher self-efficacy.

This project utilized an ethnographic methodology, based on intensive participant observation and the analysis of inquiry group meetings and classroom observation fieldnotes, interview transcripts, teaching artifacts, and focus group and survey data. Findings demonstrated significant tensions between current policy demands and what teachers actually felt able to do within their daily classroom challenges. The study also illustrated current manifestations of teacher resistance and agency as related to equity and student needs. The research presents promising cases of educators negotiating the complex intersection of equity, social justice, test preparation, caring, and rigor. Findings also revealed the ways in which the teachers worked together to share strategies and reflectively navigate constraints through a structured professional learning community. The research demonstrates that inquiry group meetings served as a beneficial space between constraints and what could be undertaken in the midst of accountability struggles.

This work informs policy considerations related to accountability mandates and teacher practice, and contributes to the literature on educational equity and teacher inquiry. Because this study is grounded in the lived realities of educator experiences, it adds to emic understandings of current teacher challenges. Moreover, this study interrupts the ubiquitous conception of teachers as beneficiaries of academy-generated knowledge and instead views them as creators of practice-based knowledge.

Lastly, this research demonstrates significant potential benefits in the implementation of teacher inquiry processes within school-based educator professional development and intellectual learning communities. This project found that with the right type of supports, teacher inquiry can inform reflective understandings of social justice, assist teachers to collaboratively transform their practice, and ultimately result in improved student achievement.

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