Teacher communication concern (hereafter abbreviated TCC) is a concept and research line that developed from attempts to describe specific behaviors of teachers that could influence student learning. Initially conceived as three factors of worry or anxiety about self (confidence and competence as teacher), task (mastering the specific skills), and impact (affecting learning), it is an area that is part of the general category of instructional communication, which is the interaction of teacher and student talk in classrooms.
For more than 50 years, from the 1950s on, researchers have been studying variables such as patterns of verbal and nonverbal interaction, teacher communication moves and student communication responses, asking and answering questions, giving directions and information, accepting and rejecting student behavior, positive and negative reinforcement, and so on. How teachers used communication in their various roles was a major focus of study (e.g., lecturing, leading discussions, giving feedback, tutoring, disciplining, etc.) In short, the questions of interest related to the process of communication in classrooms as conducive or not to student learning.
Even though student learning was the goal, the students were not the focus of study except in the research and theory involving learning styles. Most of the pedagogical research and theory has focused upon the characteristics of teaching that were considered effective, e.g., teacher communication apprehension, communication style, uses of reinforcement, and classroom interaction patterns.
Origins Of The Concept
TCC involves a kind of self-reflection by a teacher as to aspects of the teaching role that they might be worried about. Although professional practice was analyzed in teacher education it was not until Donald Schön (1983) conceptualized the “reflective practitioner” that this received prominence. As professionals, we should think actively and critically about what we do in teaching before, during, and after a class session. Such reflective practice serves as the context for teacher self-analysis of teaching acts, strengths, and weaknesses.
The TCC term and concept emerged in a qualitative research line examining what teacher education students expressed as their concerns about teaching (Fuller 1969). Questionnaires were given to the neophyte teachers asking various questions about their anxieties or worries in facing their professional responsibilities. The responses were then analyzed to construct the common themes of concern that emerged. This research used the constructivist approach to educational research.
From the results of several studies (Fuller 1969; Staton-Spicer & Bassett 1978), three areas or dimensions of concern emerged. It seemed that developing teachers were concerned about (1) themselves meeting their responsibilities, (2) how they would fare with the specific teaching tasks, and (3) the influence or impact they would have on students. So the primary teacher communication concerns were classified as self, task and impact. Further, the results supported a developmental sequence for teacher trainees moving through the three stages – from self concerns to task concerns to impact concerns. Two of the earliest uses in communication of Fuller’s concept were by Staton-Spicer and colleagues. One study used the Fuller questionnaire (Staton-Spicer & Bassett 1978) and another was a case study relating TCC to teacher classroom behavior (Staton-Spicer & Marty-White 1981). These were not fully quantified analyses, however.
The next step in the research was operationalizing TCC into a measurement instrument. Researchers structured items for and tested a three-dimensional scale, which proved to be valid and reliable. The first such formulation of scales was carried out by Staton-Spicer (1983). It was subsequently used in several studies by the developers and others.
An expansion of the measurement instrument occurred with the application of TCC to graduate teaching assistant (GTA) training. Myers (1994) used the three-dimensional scale in his dissertation, but found evidence in his qualitative analyses suggesting another developmental area of role conflict concerns. GTAs are students but also serve in the complementary role of teachers and teacher aides. Balancing these separate demands (as well as those of a personal, family, or social life) can invoke “role conflict concerns.” In juggling their multiple roles, GTAs expressed communication concerns about coping with those dilemmas and conflicts. Hence one line of research has added this as a fourth dimension of measurement (Feezel & Myers 1997). After testing and validation, the four-dimensional scale has been applied to enable a pre/post-assessment of the developmental process of orientation and socialization. GTA training combined with natural maturation and adaptation should lead to reduced concerns over time. Such has been found to be the case in applications of the GTA–TCC scale.
Although occasional studies may be found in other fields, most of the applications have occurred in communication. As an example of the former, a quantitative study of the concerns of nurses in training was presented at a conference in 1992 (Owens et al.) Two studies reported here had results contrary to the typical developmental ordering of concerns previously postulated by Fuller and her colleagues. A science education study of new approaches by Hand & Treagust (1995) did not use Fuller’s scale but a constructivism analysis showing that concerns shifted with inservice training from themselves to how to involve their students and maximize their learning. Capel (1998) made a longitudinal study of physical education students in teacher training. Using two concerns and anxiety scales, she found that self and impact concerns remained strong and did not change over four different school experiences in their training. Other studies in teacher education found that primary school teachers’ self concerns reduced while impact and class control concerns emerged (Ballantyne & Hansford 1995), or that all three concerns reduced after a teaching practicum experience (McCormack 1996). These publications were applying the Fuller conception and not the TCC as developed by Staton-Spicer and Bassett. Some other studies were found to be talking about teaching concerns but not directly applying either the Fuller or TCC construct.
Applications in communication have included elementary and secondary education, college basic communication courses, and the work on GTA development described above. In one of the earliest studies in communication, Staton-Spicer & Bassett (1978) examined elementary teachers in three stages of their training. They found that even though the concerns of pre-service student teachers and in-service elementary teachers tended to correspond as theorized by Fuller, all three categories of concern did occur with each stage. A case study of one college research methods instructor, the Staton-Spicer & Marty-White (1981) research, confirmed the three types of concern and found relationships to teacher behavior. When formulating the scales for the TCC instrument in 1983, Staton-Spicer conducted research in secondary-level communication classrooms. She found positive relationships between the measured communication concerns and attitudes about teaching, indicating the value of the three types of concern as well as their validity and reliability. Further research applied the TCC instrument to college courses in basic communication (Hiemstra & Staton-Spicer 1983). Again, the three types of concern were operable, but not in the precise developmental pattern that Fuller and others had found.
TCC has been established as an important construct in communication education, having significant connections to other variables in teaching. However, there is no large body of publications using the construct in either its three- or four-dimensional form. Although it has been established as reliable and valid to measure in relation to teacher development, behavior, anxiety, and other elements, it has not been as widely pursued as some other variables. This is puzzling, since other studies have talked about the concerns of teachers without using this well-established tool to probe those issues more fully. Further research is needed to clarify the psychological value of the TCC construct and better understand its function in instructional communication and teacher development. Thus far, it may have been used too generally under the term “concern,” and perhaps there are more complex aspects of concern, such as the differences between feelings of worry, anxiety, fear, insecurity, or inadequacy. Such feelings of teachers about themselves and their communication are very important to examine more closely, as they may mark the differences between those who are effective and those who are ineffective, those who survive and those who burn out.
- Ballantyne, R., & Hansford, B. (1995). Assessing the concerns and professional development requirements of beginning teachers in their first term of teaching. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 23, 241–254.
- Capel, S. (1998). A longitudinal study of the stages of development or concern of secondary PE students. Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 3, 185–199.
- Feezel, J. D., & Myers, S. A. (1997). Assessing graduate assistant teacher communication concerns. Communication Quarterly, 45, 110–124.
- Fuller, F. (1969). Concerns of teachers: A developmental conceptualization. American Educational Research Journal, 6, 207–225.
- Hand, B., & Treagust, D. F. (1995). Teachers’ concerns about implementing teaching/learning approaches informed by constructivism. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 23, 177–18
- Hiemstra, G. E., & Staton-Spicer, A. Q. (1983). Communication concerns of college undergraduates in basic speech communication courses. Communication Education, 32, 29–37.
- McCormack, A. (1996). Exploring the developmental view of the perceived concerns of pre-service teachers. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 24, 259–267.
- Myers, S. A. (1994). The availability and helpfulness of graduate teaching assistant socialization activities. Communication Research Reports, 11, 221–228.
- Owens, L., Powell, A., & Hatton, N. (1992). Measuring the concerns of nurses in training: The development and trial of an instrument based on Fuller’s self-task-impact stage theory. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia.
- Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.
- Staton-Spicer, A. Q. (1983). The measurement and further conceptualization of teacher communication concern. Human Communication Research, 9, 158–168.
- Staton-Spicer, A. Q., & Bassett, R. E. (1978). Communication concerns of preservice and inservice elementary school teachers. Human Communication Research, 5, 138–146.
- Staton-Spicer, A. Q., & Marty-White, C. R. (1981). A framework for instructional communication theory: The relationship between teacher communication concerns and classroom behavior. Communication Education, 30, 354–366.
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