Examining Teacher Beliefs about Diverse Students Through Transformative Learning: The Common Beliefs Survey and the Disorienting Dilemma

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As the diversity of America's public school students grows, current and future teachers must be prepared to meet the needs of students who are increasingly different from them ethnically, racially and socio-economically. Research indicates that one of the ways to impact teachers' instructional practices with these and other students is to address problematic teacher beliefs and assumptions around these dimensions. Using the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Diverse Students Initiative's Common Beliefs Survey, this research study explores Mezirow's Transformation Theory as a possibility for addressing these often problematic teacher beliefs. Specifically, the study looks at the research question: What was the nature of Common Beliefs Survey users' disorienting dilemmas (CBS)? The disorienting dilemma is the first step in perspective transformation as outlined in Mezirow's Transformation Theory. The study's participants included teacher educators and graduate and undergraduate education students. Overall, the study affirmed that disorienting dilemmas varied among individuals in terms of intensity; are often emotional in nature; and users' attributes were main contributors to experiencing disorienting dilemmas. The study also indicated that the CBS content helped trigger disorienting dilemmas among most of the study's participants by providing opportunities to reflect on their beliefs and assumptions and by providing information that challenged existing information or knowledge they had.