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Dawan Coombs

Novice Teachers Embracing Wobble in Standardized Schools: Using Dialogue and Inquiry for Self-Reflection and Growth

Novice Teachers Embracing Wobble in Standardized Schools: Using Dialogue and Inquiry for Self-Reflection and Growth

‎ Routledge; 1st edition, 2020

A critical resource for pre-service and practicing teachers, this book addresses what happens when new teachers try to enact inquiry-based and dialogical pedagogy within standardized schools. Exploring the narratives from beginning ELA and humanities teachers when they encounter challenges and obstructions, this book explores moments of wobble―key events that called attention to practice in the context of inflexible schooling systems―that the teachers shared with their peers via an oral inquiry process (OIP) to help them unpack and understand their experiences.

This book advocates for the continued use and enhancement of mentoring and induction initiatives, particularly those that recognize the expressed concerns of novice teachers, no matter what their pedagogical stance might be. By sharing novice teachers’ “wobble stories” and their outcomes, this book provides a pathway for teachers’ continued self-reflection and growth for the duration of their careers. The authors offer a reflective, adaptable, and easy-to-use process that places teachers in control of their own professional learning. The beliefs and structures examined in this text support the intentions of all teachers who work from a learning-centered perspective and wish to take some ownership of their professional development.

Review by Jon Ostenson at Faculty Book Lunch

It’s my pleasure to introduce Dawan’s co-authored book, Novice Teachers Embracing Wobble in Standardized Schools, which she wrote with Bob Fecho, Trevor Thomas Stewart, and Todd Hawley; the book was published by Routledge this year.

I don’t know how many of you remember the Weebles toys popular in the 70s and 80s, those little plastic, egg-shaped figurines with rounded bases and special weight inside that ensured that if you poked or pushed them, they’d wobble back and forth but they’d never fall down. I wish I had one today to show you since the visual is a powerful way to understand the central metaphor of wobble used in this book to drive the research that Dawan and her colleagues did with novice teachers. The authors describe these wobble moments as “[not] physical, but ideological and occurs in those moments where uncertainty presents itself and when possible directions for response don’t readily come to questions that feel off center.”

The study described in this book focuses on groups of novice teachers (connected to teacher preparation programs BYU, Virginia Tech, Teachers College, and Kent State) who met on a regular basis to share moments where they had experienced wobble as they tried to enact dialogical teaching in their classrooms; they brought these moments to their group to engage in dialogue and inquiry about the meaning and potential in them. The book shares much from the teachers’ written narratives about their wobbles and includes the ways the groups responded and dialogued about those moments. In doing so, it reveals important understandings about novice teachers and the ways they navigate personal and professional identities, the tensions about beliefs and practices in classrooms, and interactions with schools and districts as institutions.

The book is important to our understanding of how novice teachers experience their first years because it, first and foremost, privileges their voices and their experiences. Long quotes from their experiences are spread liberally throughout the book, and Dawan and her co-authors deftly analyze their experiences and bring them into dialogue with other participants and theorists in the field of teacher development. The book also matters because it shows the ways that dialogue with trusted peers can help novice teachers navigate the challenges of entering the teaching career.

With estimates suggesting that a third to half of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years (and it costing $2 billion annually to replace those teachers), we need tools to help these novices build the dispositions, networks, and strategies that will keep them fulfilled and successful in this profession. The work that Dawan and her co-authors do in this book shows one set of tools that can help.