10 SES 04 E JS, Professional Learning through Mentoring
Joint Paper Session NW 01 and NW 10
The work of school teachers has been characterised as involving endemic uncertainties (Lortie, 2002, p. 136). School teaching has been described as a paradoxical profession (Hargreaves, 2003, p. 1) in which teachers are often required to pursue multiple, seemingly contradictory goals. A range of stakeholders present teachers with ideas about how to conduct of their work and the teacher often becomes “a broker” of interests (Lampert, 1985, p. 190). While it seems that the prevalence of uncertainty in school teachers' work is internationally recognised, teacher uncertainty is, however, rarely studied directly (Helsing, 2007a). The research presented in this paper investigated what school teachers do when they are uncertain about the course of action to take in their teaching. The starting point for this research was the idea that teachers need to navigate a lot of competing demands in order to settle on what to do in their teaching. The study focused on teaching situations where this navigation becomes challenging and where school teachers experience that demands become difficult to realise. Such experience of not knowing what to do is, in this research project, referred to as task uncertainty, i.e. the inability see a way to satisfy all the demands one is faced with in a situation. It is important to stress that task uncertainty is not necessarily undesirable. Teachers' resolutions to uncertainty both include strategies that are mainly considered positive (e.g. reflection and experimentation) and strategies mainly considered negative (e.g. blame and excessive reliance on routines) (Helsing, 2007a, 2007b). The research project focused on teachers' use of supports and asked the following research question: What do school teachers make use of to resolve situations of task uncertainty?
The supports teachers make use of in situations of task uncertainty were, in this research project, conceptualised by drawing on a cultural historical research tradition which emphasises the role of artefact mediation (Cole, 1996, pp. 118–120). The study was hence guided by the idea that actions are always carried out by means of artefacts that become tools in those actions. Such artefacts include not only physical tools but also verbal, gestural and visual representations. The artefacts themselves are products of historical developments and they are acquired by individuals through the interaction with others within cultural activities. For the individual person, artefacts simultaneously aid and direct actions, and, as Wartofsky (1979, p. 209) argues, artefacts become “objectifications of modes of action” to those who encounter their use. Conceptualising teachers' supports in terms of artefact mediation hence stresses the role that these supports have in contributing to teachers' navigation of uncertain situations at work. It opens up enquiry into the different supports that teachers make use of to pursue and silence demands. By mapping the supports teachers make use of, we can start to compare how different supports are used, what they are used for and how they contribute to teachers' resolutions to task uncertainty.
Cole, M. (1996). Putting culture in the middle. In Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline (pp. 116–145). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press. Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in the knowledge society: education in the age of insecurity. Buckingham: Open University Press. Helsing, D. (2007a). Regarding uncertainty in teachers and teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23(8), 1317–1333. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2006.06.007 Helsing, D. (2007b). Style of Knowing Regarding Uncertainties. Curriculum Inquiry, 37(1), 33–70. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-873X.2007.00369.x Lampert, M. (1985). How Do Teachers Manage to Teach? Perspectives on Problems in Practice. Harvard Educational Review, 55(2), 178–195. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.55.2.56142234616x4352 Lortie, D. C. (2002). Schoolteacher: a sociological study (2nd ed.). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Wartofsky, M. (1979). Perception, representation, and the forms of action: Towards an historical epistemology. In R. S. Cohen & M. Wartofsky (Eds.), Models: Representation and the scientific understanding (Vol. XLVIII, pp. 188–210). Dordrecht, Holland: Springer Science+Business Media.
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