Sunday, 12 March 2017

Teacher professionalism, teacher agency and teacher identity

This post reflects some reading I have been doing in the last few weeks as I grapple with teacher professionalism, teacher identify and teacher agency both for myself, in my context and beyond, thinking about how to support teachers to enhance their professionalism, shape their identity and develop their agency.

Teacher professionalism needs to be placed in the broader context of neoliberal economic and political reforms and as such, the development of a teachers’ professional identity becomes increasingly influenced by the discourses of a market regulated professional community. This market driven professionalism supports and encourages improved performance and normative practices for its members and as such complies to a ‘managed professionalism’ model for teachers. The managed professionalism model has strong accountability policies, linked with performativity, which emphasises measurable performances and creates new professional norms.
Contemporary education reform champion instrumentalist concepts of teachers, by using words like practitioners rather than teachers, it encourages an emphasis on the technical and rational elements of professional practice. However, teachers are more complex and multifaceted than this ‘instrumentalist’ approach suggests. Most teachers conscribe to a professional stance that is based on values, both personal and professional, which emphasises the emotional, personal and relational aspects of teaching, the moral imperative, if you will.

Personal and professional values develop over time as does teacher identity. Teacher identity is influenced by and formed within multiple social, cultural, political, and historical contexts. It is formed through relationships, involves emotions, and the reconstruction of personal stories. It is negotiated through how the individual finds themselves in their context, through the available resources and their own experiences both personal and educational. Identities are constantly made and refined as teachers use their surroundings to make sense of and interact with and in their current context.

There is an acknowledged staged process to teacher identity development. Firstly, new teachers develop knowledge of curriculum content and become confidence in applying known skills to new situations. As a teachers’ learning journey progresses there is a shift in focus from subject matter expertise to pedagogical expertise as teachers develop skills in engaging students in their learning in a variety of ways, to support all learners needs. This leads to the development of a professional identity, a process described as a ‘professional self-image’ which is created using feedback from themselves and significant others, and as such, it can be said that it is a social construction, which is evolving as new situations present themselves.

Teacher agency and teacher identity are intimately inter-twined. Teacher agency, expands teacher identity to include the situational as well as individual, and is formed and re-formed constantly over the course of a teachers’ career. As teachers construct an understanding of who they are, within their school and professional context, they take actions that they believe align with that construction. These actions then feedback into the on-going identity construction process but are also influenced by context, structures and resources available to the teacher.

The interplay between teacher professionalism, professional identity and teacher agency is complex. To try deconstruct these three elements which are all part of what it means to be a teacher to create a simple definition is probably naive. So, I need to be content for now but want to move on to thinking about how these are influenced by professional learning and specifically how enquiry, both individual and collaborative, supports teachers to enhance their professionalism, develop identity and agency.

Berry, A. Clemans, A, Kostogriz, A (eds) (2007) Dimensions of professional learning
Buchanan, R. (2015) Teacher identity and agency in an era of accountability

Kitsing, M. Boyle, A. Kukemelk, H Mikk, J. (2016) the impact of professional capital on educational excellence and equity in Estonia

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