10 SES 14 E, Research on Teacher Induction and Early Career Teachers
In recent literature, researchers have indicated that teacher agency is a key capability of teachers for advancing student learning, and for their continuous professional development and school development (Toom, Pyhalto & O'Connell Rust, 2015). Although the importance of the concept of agency is acknowledged, we lack empirical studies about (the development of) professional agency. Especially, teacher research is one of the areas where teachers have the possibility to achieve agency and to contribute to professional and school development. This study aims to gain insight in the manifestation of teachers professional agency in relation to their PhD’s in school, and to study which factors influence the achievement of their professional agency.
Today, it is widely accepted that the role of the teacher is of great influence when it comes to the quality of student learning (Priestley, Biesta, Phillippou & Robinson, 2015). Consequently, teacher agency regainedincreased interest among policy makers, educational organizations and researchers (Hökkä, Vahasantanen, Hokka, Paloniemi & Etelapelto, 2014; Vähäsantanen, 2015). Such different scholars agree that professional agency provides teachers with (1) the power to influence and give direction to school organizations; (2) improve the professional dialogue between teachers and school leaders about educational development and implementation, and (3) increase the level of control in the classroom, which influences the quality and the achievements in education in a positive way. Employing agency is a dynamic process that is personally constructed through many forms of interactions with the constraints of a given context (Lipponen & Kumpulainen, 2011). Or, as stated by Biesta and Tedder (2007, p. 137) ‘actors always act by means of their environment rather than simply in their environment [so that] the achievement of agency will always result from the interplay of individual efforts, available resources and contextual and structural factors as they come together in particular and, in a sense, always unique situations'. This interplay between personal and contextual factors is an essential feature of the ecological model on (teacher) agency in which both the importance of ‘agentic capacity’ and ‘agentic spaces’ are stressed, and agency is viewed as a temporal process (Priestley, Biesta, Philippou & Robinson, 2015).
Although the importance of teacher agency is acknowledged, empirical evidence is scarce on how agency is manifested through teachers’ work and which cultural and structural conditions play a role. Especially when related to professional development, existing models tend to ignore or misrepresent the role of agency in educational innovation, and to our knowledge, only a few studies focus on teachers’ professional agency from a theoretical perspective (Vähäsantanen, 2015; Etelapelto, Vahasantanen, Hökkä & Paloniemi, 2013; Priestly et al. 2015; Ketelaar, Beijaard, Boshuizen & den Brok, 2012). In this study we aim to deepen our understanding by studying how, when and under which conditions teachers are able to achieve agency within the context of a government funded professional development program in the Netherlands: the teacher PhD-scholarships.
Central research questions in this study are:
1) How can teachers’ agency be characterized in the context of a PhD scholarship?
2) What factors influence the achievement of agency in this context?
3) What is the impact of teacher agency on both professional development and school development?
This study was undertaken in the context of a teacher PhD scholarship. The PhD scholarship provides ambitious teachers with funding to conduct a four-year research program resulting in a PhD, while at the same time keeping their job as a teacher. The aim of the initiative is twofold. First, it aims at closing the divide between educational research and educational practice since the teachers themselves are leading actors in creating relevant knowledge. The second goal is to increase the number of teachers in school who can model an inquiry habit of mind and show an evidence-based approach to educational practice. In this study a multi-method qualitative approach is chosen to study the achievement of teacher agency of 20 secondary school teachers who worked on a PhD scholarship. All teachers were followed throughout one year and interviewed twice, and filled out digital journals between the interviews. In addition, the school leaders of the participating teachers were interviewed in order to map their beliefs, roles and expectations on teachers’ professional agency and the perceived impact on professional and school development. In these methods, we focused on retrieving how, when and under which conditions teachers were able to achieve agency within the context of their PhD scholarship, and the perceived impact on professional development and school development. In analysing these data we a) developed a ‘case-ordered descriptive matrix’ guided by the central concepts of the study (Miles, Huberman & Saldana, 2014). In the matrices interview and log excerpts were gathered on professional agency, relevant influencing factors and impact on professional and school development, b) developed a coding scheme involving the central concepts of the study as main categories, subcategories were developed using a process of ‘open coding’ (Corbin & Strauss, 2008), c) quality of analyses was ensured by collaborative coding and discussing differences to obtain consensus, and by illustrating results with relevant quotions from the data.
The results of this study indicate firstly, that teachers’ professional agency can be characterized as ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ and that it differs in relation to research, professional development and school development. Teachers achieve professional agency in relation to their PhD studies but for example in busy times, they experience weaker levels of agency. During the year teachers professional agency changes somewhat as they indicate stronger levels of agency in relation to their PhD studies, for example by creating time and space for their PhD studies. Secondly, we found that both personal and contextual factors influence teachers professional agency. Personal factor we distinguished in our study were 1) motive to do a PhD, 2) professional history, 3) intentions, 4) responsibility, and 5) involvement. Contextual factors we found were 1) workpressure, 2) active involvement and interest of schoolleaders, 3) learning culture, and 4) interest from fellow teachers. After a year, especially the intention to contribute to school development has increased. Finally, perceived impact of teachers’ PhD was higher with regard to professional development than to school development. Teachers’ perceived high impact on their personal capacity, and impact on their school practice. Only in a few cases we found impact on school development, for example on contributing to school policy. After a year we found no changes in perception of impact. This paper provides and discusses findings about how teacher agency is a delicate interplay between personal and contextual factors in the context of improving educational quality. It provides clues of how the two might coincide and, as such, contributes to existing insights that mainly focus on one of these. As such, it provides more empirical insights into what teacher agency is and how it manifests in the context of a PhD scholarship.
Biesta, G., & Tedder, M. (2007). Agency and learning in the lifecourse: Towards an ecological perspective. Studies in the Education of Adults, 39(2), 132-149. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. Eteläpelto, A., Vähäsantanen, K., Hökkä, P., & Paloniemi, S. (2013). What is agency? Conceptualizing professional agency at work. Educational Research Review, 10, 45-65. Eteläpelto, A., Vähäsantanen, K., Hökkä, P., & Paloniemi, S. (2014). Identity and agency in professional learning. In International handbook of research in professional and practice-based learning (pp. 645-672). Springer Netherlands. Ketelaar, E., Beijaard, D., Boshuizen, H. P., & Den Brok, P. J. (2012). Teachers’ positioning towards an educational innovation in the light of ownership, sense-making and agency. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28(2), 273-282. Lipponen, L., & Kumpulainen, K. (2011). Acting as accountable authors: Creating interactional spaces for agency work in teacher education. Teaching and teacher education, 27(5), 812-819. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis. Sage. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. J. J., Philippou, S., & Robinson, S. (2015). The teacher and the curriculum: exploring teacher agency. The SAGE handbook of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, 187-201. Toom, A., Pyhältö, K., & Rust, F. O. C. (2015). Teachers’ professional agency in contradictory times. Teachers and Teaching, 21(6), 615-623.
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