Implementing dialogue to reform a total school district: A lens on both dialogue and the superintendency

Donna Hooker Topping, University of Pennsylvania


Dialogue, developed by Richard Gibboney, is a school-based reform intervention which engages educators in substantive reading and discussion of educational theory and philosophy and their relationship to practice. Based upon John Dewey's comprehensive theory of education, Dialogue places teachers and administrators in a collegial and intellectual environment in which they identify fundamental problems in their school, and change practices in ways which serve intellectual and democratic ends. This study documents the first district-wide implementation of Dialogue. Specifically, it focuses upon a progressive superintendent of schools who, unlike his peers in previous implementations of Dialogue, was actively involved in developing and moderating the Dialogue sessions in his district. In spite of the involvement of the chief school administrator, Dialogue failed to bring about widespread fundamental reform and, by Gibboney's definition of the process, ended after three years. Using observations, interviews, and review of site documents, this study revealed that Gibboney and superintendent differed in their expectations for Dialogue, their implementations of Dialogue, and their assessment of its success. These differences were mitigated by power asymmetries which brought the issue democratic school reform in general, and Dialogue in particular, into question by the teachers' union and the administrators, and by the difficulty of changing longstanding templates of how school should be. The Dialogue experience was successful as a professional development program in bringing educators toward the ideas behind fundamental school reform, but not in achieving reform within the context and time involved.

Subject Area

School administration|Teacher education|Educational theory

Recommended Citation

Topping, Donna Hooker, "Implementing dialogue to reform a total school district: A lens on both dialogue and the superintendency" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9814922.