In the previous two tasks the needs of individuals, learning through social participation and the assembling of knowledge have been looked at in relation to professional growth and development. Another important consideration when supporting the professional learning of colleagues is aspiration. Practical training on what to do in various situations is undoubtedly important but without a vision of the sort of professional someone might aspire to be, learning can become unfocussed or poorly directed.
Mockler, N. (2011) Becoming and ‘Being’ a Teacher: Understanding Teacher Professional Identity. In: Mockler, N. and Sachs, J. eds. Rethinking Educational Practice Through Reflexive Inquiry: Essays in honour of Susan Groundwater-Smith. Springerlink online series.
p125: In the same way as other abstract concepts require more description than definition in order for their true sense to be conveyed, perhaps it is so too with the multifaceted, multifarious concept of teacher professional identity.
p125: conceptualisations of teacher professional identity recognise:
- The shifting and multiple nature of teacher professional identity
- “Teachers will define themselves not only through their past and current identities as defined by personal and social histories and current roles but through their beliefs and values about the kind of teacher they hope to be in the inevitably changing political, social, institutional and personal circumstances.” (Day and Hadfield 1996, p. 610)
- The complex circumstances and conditions under which teacher professional identity is formed and mediated
- “…each teacher also partially constructed that context according to his or her biographical project: that is, the network of personal concerns, values and aspirations against which events are judged and decisions made.” (MacLure 1993, p. 314, emphasis in original)
- The role of narrative in the construction of professional identities
- “Stories, as lived and told by teachers, serve as the lens through which they understand themselves personally and professionally and through which they view the content and context of their work, including any attempts at instructional innovation.” (Drake et al. 2001, p. 2)
p129: Professional, Personal and Political Domains in the Construction of Teacher Professional Identity
- p130: The Domain of Personal Experience: The domain of ‘personal experience’ includes those aspects of teachers’ lives which stand outside the professional context, including personal history, family life, ethnicity and gender, which can provide framing constructs for the decisions and actions of people over the course of their lives.
- p131: The Domain of Professional Context: The domain of ‘professional context’ includes those aspects of teachers’ lives which relate to them as teachers, including pre-service education, socialisation into the profession and the school and system contexts and cultures they work within.
- p132: The Domain of External Political Environment: The domain of ‘external political environment’ includes those dimensions outside of the field of education which impact upon it and frame it, such as the policy environment within which education operates, the discourses which surround education and teachers’ work, as represented in the media and the ‘cumulative cultural text’ of teachers’ work (Weber and Mitchell 1995, 1999) as well as those stereotypes and dominant images of teachers and teaching held within the popular memory and reiterated and reinforced in interactions between individuals and groups.
p133: Identity Anchors in the Storm
- these three domains work in a reflexive relationship with each other in terms of the ‘anchoring’ of teacher professional identity.
- The professional identity anchors in use currently or in the past by participants within this study included: subject area or discipline, welfare/pastoral care, learning, literacy, equity, leadership, experience and ‘eldership’.
- p135: Identity anchors essentially provide a connection point for teachers between the work they do and their purpose in that work—they join the essential identity question “Who am I (in this context)?” to the broader question of purpose: “Why am I here?” and hold potential in terms of moving teachers beyond the claim of ‘moral purpose’ to an articulation of how that moral purpose links with elements of teachers’ work such as pedagogical approach and teaching and learning strategies.
- p136: good, thoughtfully constructed professional learning and development which incorporates opportunities for teachers to not only expand their practice but to authentically reflect on their practice and how it relates to who they are as a teacher, might work to anchor and orientate teachers to new and different dimensions of their work.
Nicole Mockler suggests that teacher professional identity might be explicitly shaped and formed out of professional learning and development experiences that focus not only on ‘what to do’, but also on the kind of teacher it is possible to be. (p.136)
In reading this chapter, consider the three domains that she implicates in the construction of professional identity. In what ways is the ‘anchor’ metaphor useful?
The Oxford Dictionary provides one definition of anchor as ‘a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation’. The words ‘stability’ and ‘confidence’ are key here. When considering ones identity, one would hope to think of attributes that are fixed, are secure, are strong. A physical anchor provides a strong mooring for a boat, a mooring that keeps the boat steady in calm and rough waters. Whilst the surrounding environment changes, the anchor does not. So to is ones identity – it remains fixed (albeit malleable) and provides one with a firm point of reference to aid decisions and choices.
As Mockler suggests, professional identity can and does change. This is not to say that we are indecisive but that, as our experience and understanding grows, so our values and priorities shift. The same could be said of an anchor in so much as a ‘starter’ boat only needs a small anchor but a ship designed for the high seas has need of a much stronger, robust anchor.
In relation to your own professional identity make notes in your journal of your thoughts on how effective the use of the domains is in exploring professional identity.
Personal: gender influence – male as a primary teacher – was given priority; family – needed to choose a career that would provide stability; own experience in school – positive and enjoyable
Professional: GTP training – learning on the job, collating evidence for registration; NQT year – high expectations, quality mentor; RQT year – moved to Scotland, had to re-train with CfE; Eyemouth – influence of colleagues and SLT; RAfA year – influence of SLT and national interests
Political: only a recent influence – increased awareness of neo-liberalism, critical of ‘business practices’ imposed on education.
Try to identity your ‘anchors’; if you can’t, think of a more useful metaphor to help you to identify some essential elements of your professional identity.
- Invest – how can I / this opportunity make a difference to the pupils / staff
- inspire – how can I / this opportunity challenge pupils / staff to change
- involve – how can I / this opportunity gives others the chance to be part of it
Retooling, remodelling, revitalizing, reimagining?
- Professional identity should evolve and change. My own has significantly shifted as a result of the ‘reimagining’ opportunity provided by In Headship. ‘Revitalizing’ opportunities can also serve to challenge our thinking because, by their design, they require teachers to question practice.
- Retooling and remodelling are less likely to affect our professional identity because they are intended to transmit accepted knowledge rather than generate new knowledge.