10 SES 11 D, Politics and Recognition for Beginning Teachers
As the ECER program theme suggests, the continued prevalence of social, political, and cultural transformation throughout Europe and the world heightens the need for research on educational reform at all levels of teaching practice. Educational researchers can further this aim by producing research and constructing knowledge concerned with navigating political complexity and embodying democratic values in educational environments. Beginning teachers’ experiences negotiating the contested nature of educational institutions are of particular relevance to educators interested in ensuring the professional longevity and retention of teachers around the world. How novices construct meaning from politically contested conflicts and use authority, both formally and informally, to achieve their goals within the organizational context of schools, is of particular relevance to educators concerned with maximizing teachers’ professional engagement. The purpose of this paper is to present findings from an investigation of beginning teachers’ micropolitical experiences in two countries, with particular attention to the implications of beginning teachers’ experiences for teacher educators and the pedagogical practices they implement in teacher education settings.
The quest to keep beginning teachers teaching, reverse prevailing trends towards teacher attrition, and increase teachers’ capacity to skillfully navigate the complex political realities of schools is perhaps best embodied by the concept of micropolitical literacy (Kelchtermans & Ballet, 2002a). Micropolitical literacy refers to the process of learning to comprehend, interpret, and act upon the varied strategies and tactics used by individuals and groups to advance their interests in organizational contexts. Such interests, which may be pursued through actions characterized by conflict and/or collaboration and coalition-building to achieve individual or shared goals, are particularly pronounced in times of change. The manner in which educators themselves contribute to their organizations’ political cultures and influence others through employing resources of power and authority to advance their interests constitutes the domain of school micropolitics (Ball, 1987).
Conducting research into beginning teachers’ micropolitical experiences is particularly important in Europe since many countries are emerging democracies with fragile educational reforms (Breca & Anderson, 2010). Due to unstable economic and political contexts, transitioning to more democratic forms of organizational citizenship is both needed and desired (Koshmanova & Ravchyna, 2008). Educators can help create such a reality by further developing their pedagogical skill, knowledge, and perspective. Together with students, parents, and administrators, teachers can learn to live more congruently with democratic principles and values in school contexts (Zogla, 2001). Doing so may help undo troubling trends in teacher development and retention documented in countries like Belgium (Struyven & Vanthournout, 2014), Germany (Richter et al., 2013), and Ireland (Long, Hall, Conway, & Murphy, 2012).
We know very little, however, about how beginning teachers navigate, construct meaning from, and develop their micropolitical literacy in school contexts. While micropolitical analyses have been conducted on such topics as teacher induction (Kelchtermans & Ballet, 2002b), development (Kelchtermans & Ballet, 2002a), mentoring (Achinstein, 2006), and community (Warner, Brown, & Lindle, 2010), they have not been sufficiently applied to how novice educators themselves contribute to and make sense of their immediate political cultures. We know even less about how beginners’ experiences navigating the political complexity of their organisational contexts compare across national contexts. Such insights are necessary for informing processes of developing pedagogies of teacher education (Loughran, 2006) concerned with cultivating micropolitical literacy. The following question was therefore investigated in this study: how did eighteen beginning teachers in the USA and Australia construct meaning from politically contested conflicts in their teaching?
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