Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beijaard 2004 - Reconsidering research on teachers’ professional identity

Beijaard, D., Meijer, P.C., and Verloop, N. (2004). Reconsidering research on teachers’ professional identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20. 107-128. [pdf]

Erikson: identity is not something one has, but something that develops during one’s whole life

Mead: the self is developed through transactions with the environment; the self can arise only in a social setting where there is social communication; in communicating we learn to assume the roles of others and monitor our actions accordingly.

Professional identity refers not only to the influence of the conceptions and expections of other people, including broadly accepted images in society about what a teacher should knowand do, but also to what teachers themselves find important in their professional work and lives based on both their experiences in practice and their personal backgrounds (Tickle, 2000).

Professional identity is not a stable entity; it cannot be interpreted as fixed or unitary (Coldron & Smith, 1999). It is a complex and dynamic equilibrium where professional self-image is balanced with a variety of roles teachers feel that they have to play (Volkmann & Anderson, 1998). In this context, Coldron and Smith (1999) pointed to the tension between agency (the personal dimension in teaching) and structure (the socially 'given').

Connelly and Clandinin (1999) referred to professional identity in terms of ‘stories to live by’. A story to live by, according to the authors, provides a narrative thread or story-line that educators drawon to make sense of themselves and their practice. 'Stories to live by' is a way to conceptually bring together a teacher’s personal practical knowledge, his or her professional knowledge landscape, and identity (see also Clandinin, 2003).

Features of professional identity:
1. Professional identity is an ongoing process of interpretation and re-interpretation of experiences (Kerby, 1991)
2. Professional identity implies both person and context.
3. A teacher’s professional identity consists of subidentities that more or less harmonize.
4. Agency is an important element of professional identity, meaning that teachers have to be active in the process of professional development (Coldron & Smith, 1999). In addition, it can be argued that professional identity is not something teachers have, but something they use in order to make sense of themselves as teachers. The way they explain and justify things in relation to other people and contexts expresses, as it were, their professional identity (Coldron & Smith, 1999).

A cognitive perspective underlies most studies on teachers’ professional identity. From this perspective, the research results are based on written or verbal data collected from the teachers (e.g., portfolios and interviews). Understanding these data is only possible when data is also available about the teachers’ contexts from a more sociological perspective, e.g., gained through (participant) observation and analysis of school documents and student materials.

Furthermore, a teacher’s biography is important for professional identity formation (e.g., Knowles, 1992; Sugrue, 1997). In the literature on teachers and teaching, 'biography’ seems to imply a perspective of its own, with the emphasis on life histories (Goodson, 1992; Kelchtermans, 1994). Life histories are not just 'life stories', but stories that are embedded in a socio-historical context.

The cognitive and the biographical perspectives on professional identity formation are both characterized by a narrative research approach. This cannot be said about the sociological perspective, though it is implied in the biographical perspective. In view of professional identity formation, we feel that more clarity is needed about these perspectives that can possibly be combined in research on teachers' professional identity.

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