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Talk it (Racism) out: race talk and organizational learning

Decoteau J. Irby (Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education , Chicago, Illinois, USA)
Shannon P. Clark (Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education , Chicago, Illinois, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 7 August 2018

Issue publication date: 15 October 2018




The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether race-specific language use can advance organizational learning about the racialized nature of school problems. The study addressed two questions: first, is teacher use of racial language associated with how they frame school discipline problems during conversational exchanges? Second, what do patterns of associations suggest about racial language use as an asset that may influence an organization’s ability to analyze discipline problems?


Co-occurrence analysis was used to explore patterns between racial language use and problem analysis during team conversational exchanges regarding school discipline problems.


When participants used race-specific and race-proxy language, they identified more problems and drew on multiple frames to describe school discipline problems.

Research limitations/implications

This paper substantiates that race-specific language is beneficial for organizational learning.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that leading language communities may be an integral, yet overlooked lever for organizational learning and improvement. Prioritizing actions that promote race-specific conversations among school teams can reveal racism/racial conflict and subsequently increase the potential for change.


This paper combines organizational change and race talk research to highlight the importance of professional talk routines in organizational learning.



Irby, D.J. and P. Clark, S. (2018), "Talk it (Racism) out: race talk and organizational learning", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 56 No. 5, pp. 504-518.



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