10 SES 01 B, Professional Learning and Reflection
This paper reports on one preservice teachers’ experience of her first year at university while undertaking a teacher education program. Emotional episodes, identity and arts-based reflection form the conceptual framework of the study. The guiding research question was: Can arts-based reflection support professional identity development in the first year of au undergraduate teacher education program?
Developing a positive self-concept and strong professional identity during her teacher preparation program contributes to future success as a teacher. As demands on teachers intensifies and teachers’ work becomes increasingly scrutinised in an era of accountability and audits, it is getting harder to “assert a strong professional identity” (Lindstrom & Beach, 2015, p. 254).
Dassa and Delores (2017) contend that a strong identity helps beginning teachers to deal with change. Therefore it is particularly important to start to develop a professional identity during preservice teacher education when identity is less stable (Henry, 2017). Similarly it is also useful in the first year of teacher education, during the transition to university, when preservice teachers balance their identity as a student of teaching with an identity as a teacher of students.
High attrition rates amongst beginning teachers are a reality in many western countries (Ewing & Manuel, 2005; Hong, 2010). Graduating with an idealised view of teaching and an unclear understanding of the challenging context is likely to lead to low job satisfaction (Struvyen & Vanthournout, 2014) and contribute to a decision to leave the profession. Therefore developing a strong teacher identity during teacher education can be an important aspect of supporting the transition into teaching and reversing the high attrition trend.
Research suggests there is a strong link between identity and the emotional work of teaching (Beauchamp & Thomas, 2009). When preservice teachers are faced with situations that they are unsure how to interpret, or how to respond, it interferes with the development of their teacher professional identity (Isenbarger & Zembylas, 2006). Therefore, spending time during teacher education to understand emotional responses to situations and reflecting on their conceptions of a professional teacher identity should be a priority (Brown et al., 2017). Emotions are an underexplored area of initial teacher education.
Emotions provide meaning to an experience. “Understanding of teacher self through an exploration of emotion opens possibilities for the care and the self-knowledge of the teacher and provides spaces for his/her transformation” (Zembylas, 2003, p. 214). In essence, nurturing a strong sense of professional identity during initial teacher education has benefits for the profession. It may not only curb the attrition rate of teachers (Izadinia, 2015) but if developed earlier in preservice training it may sustain preservice teachers’ commitment at university during their practical experience and coursework. According to Izadinia (2015, p. 2) “it helps beginning teachers to gain a sense of control and remain resilient.”
While identity is difficult to conclusively define, Nicols, Shultz, Rodgers and Bilica (2017) report three salient features are characteristically referred to in the literature. These are that identity is fluid; context specific; and involves human agency. Despite the importance of identity work and its role in preservice teachers’ developing teacher identity, it is often placed secondary to the curriculum and pedagogical focus in teacher education programs, particularly in countries such as Sweden, where the role of teachers has changed and “whose occupational identity has slipped from the distinction of professional responsibility to that of professional accountability” (Lindstrom & Beach, 2015, p. 25).
This research reports on the first year of a four-year study. In total 14 participants completed the first year of the project and this paper reports on one case. The data set includes reflections gathered predominantly through workshops. Data collection included using collage (n=2) with deconstruction notes, photo elicitation (n=1), semi-structured group interviews (n=1), reflections from course work (n=2), informal discussions and emails. A researcher diary containing observations and reflections from discussion completed after Third Space sessions and student emails also provided data. Third Space was the name given to the intervention workshops held in the second-half of the first year of the Bachelor of Education degree. The six workshops were two hours each in duration and a full day workshop concluded the data collection for that period. The purpose of the Third Space sessions was to create time and space for preservice teachers to discuss openly and reflect at a personal and group level on the events that they felt were significant in their first year in developing how they felt or acted as a teacher. This data collection period was chosen because students were involved in weekly professional experience in schools as well as ongoing course work at university creating opportunities that could cause positive and negative shifts in teacher professional identity (Dassa & Derose, 2017). The qualitative case study allowed intimate knowledge of the participants views to be shared (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2000). By creating and sharing “images in relation to self, new meanings, previously unaware, unvoiced, unexpressed, half-understood came to be significant and capable of being incorporated into the participants’ social and/or emotional understanding of themselves” (Leitch 2006, p. 566). McNiff’s (2008, p. 40) work also supports that arts-based and creative approaches to reflection often result in more “meaningful insights [that] often come by surprise, unexpectedly and even against the will of the creator.” Utilising modes, other than language, creates space for different ways of knowing or being (Liamputtong & Rumbold, 2008). Thematic analysis was guided by techniques Braun and Clarke (2006). Coding and categorisation of data involved the constant interplay of theory and data. Processes described by Simons (2012) as “dancing with the data” (p. 140) allows the data to be read, reread, viewed from various angles and organised in multiple ways.
Stella’s identity was firmly shaped by her strong Christian upbringing. She described her decision to return to university as “courageous” knowing she “doesn’t have the full support of family and friends” who questioned her decision. Initially she expressed a self-doubt, her emotional regulation fluctuated and she kept herself protected by an invisible space barrier in class. Converging identities emerged as she attempted to reconcile her identity as a students of teaching with her identity as a teacher of students as well as the multiple identities she brought with her such as wife, Stella described herself as being empathic to the students she meets on the practicum. Through the collage activities in particular, she identifies previous experiences and “poor life choices” often make her “doubt herself as a person.” However, the reassurance and personal kudos she receives from the students validated for her that she was “in the right place.” Arts-based practices provides opportunities participant reflexivity, reflection on their practice in a non-judgemental context. For Stella this was the case and will be vital to support her self-esteem and determination that will form the basis of strong professional identity. Making time for reflection outside of assessment expectations in teacher education is vital for professional growth. Preservice teachers need a safe place to honestly share their thoughts and experiences in a non-judgemental context. Arts-based reflection provided opportunities for individuals to explore the early eruptions of their professional identity development in the first year of a Bachelor of Education program. Fostering this professional identity will be crucial for their successful transition into teaching and longevity in their careers. Arts based practices allowed new ways of seeing and saying (Rolling 2006). In fact I believe arts-based reflection provided the tools for not only new ways of saying that ways of saying more.
Beauchamp, C., & Thomas, L. (2009). Understanding teacher identity: An overview of issues in the literature and implications for teacher education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(2), 175-189. Dassa, L., & Derose, D. S. (2017). Get in the teacher zone: A Perception Study of Preservice Teachers and Their Teacher Identity. Issues in Teacher Education, 26(1), 101. Eteläpelto, A., Vähäsantanen, K., & Hökkä, P. (2015). How do novice teachers in Finland perceive their professional agency? Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 660- Ewing, R., and J. Manuel. (2005). Retaining quality early career teachers in the profession: new teacher narratives. Change: Transformations in Education 8(1). 1-16. Retrieved from http://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/research/publications/change.shtml Henry, A. (2016). Conceptualizing teacher identity as a complex dynamic system: The inner dynamics of transformations During a Practicum. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(4), 291-305. DOI: 10.1177/0022487116655382 Hong, J.Y. (2010). Preservice and beginning teachers’ professional identity in relation to dropping out of the profession. Teaching and Teacher Education 26, 1530-43. Isenbarger, L., & Zembylas, M. (2006). The emotional labour of caring in teaching. Teaching and teacher education, 22(1), 120-134. Izadinia, M. (2015). A closer look at the role of mentor teachers in shaping preservice teachers' professional identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 52, 1-10. Lindqvist P. & Nordänger U.K. (2016). Already elsewhere – A study of (skilled) teachers' choice to leave teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 88-97. Doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2015.11.010 Lindström, M., & Beach, D. (2015). Changes in teacher education in Sweden in the neo-liberal education age: Toward an occupation in itself or a profession for itself?, Education Inquiry 6(3), 27020, DOI: 10.3402/edui.v6.27020 Nichols, S. L., Schultz, P. A., Rodgers, K., & Bilica, K. (2016). Early career teachers’ emotion and emerging teacher identities. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 23(4), 406-421. Doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2016.1211099 Simmons, N., & Daley, S. (2013). The art of thinking: Using collage to stimulate scholarly work. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4(1), 1-13. D oi.org/10.5206/cjsotl-rcacea.2013.1.2 Struyven, K., & Vanthournout, G. (2014). Teachers' exit decisions: An investigation into the reasons why newly qualified teachers fail to enter the teaching profession or why those who do enter do not continue teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 43, 37-45. Zembylas, M. (2003). Emotions and teacher identity: A poststructural perspective. Teachers and Teaching, 9(3), 213-238.
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