10 SES 06 D, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
In education, the concept of agency is often used to highlight teachers as agents of educational reforms (see for example, Scottish Government, 2011). However, agency is not manifested only when some changes are required but also in routines of everyday life as influential theorists point out (see Bourdieu, 1977; Dewey, 1922/2002; Giddens, 1979). Particularly, theorists such as Bourdieu and Giddens are interested in how habitual actions are related to structures which agents belong to, and argue that routinised habitual behaviours are the key to the reproduction of existing social structures. It is meaningful that they highlight agentic dimensions of social reproduction though it is limited to a collective agentic dimension. Archer (2000) argues that agency is always collective while individuals are actors who shape contexts, but the global dimension of a contemporary society provides individuals with more opportunities to be exposed to different levels of access to physical mobility, information, culture, and so on by which given contexts are more tangled and ambiguous. From macroscopic perspectives, agency is manifested collectively, but it is meaningful to have a look at the individual level in a contemporary society full of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Accordingly, Emirbayer and Mische (1998) seek to reconceptualise agency based on internal dynamics of “free will and determinism” (p.964) within the flow of time and based on their re-conceptualisation of agency, Priestley, Biesta, and Robinson (2015) summarise the concept of agency as an emergent phenomenon resulting from a self-reflexively communicative process within given contexts. Their analytic distinction captures how agency emerges at individual level and seeks for understanding contexts in temporal passage, which is crucial to understand actors’ decision-making process. However, though they emphasise the dynamics of agency in different contexts and discourses, their model seems to neglect power imbalances which each agent recognises differently and to imply the dichotomy of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ agency, respectively for or against policy. Understanding power dynamics at the individual level helps to understand how agency emerges in a wider context as well as everyday routines and contributes to make spaces for a more equitable discussion on structures including policy making.
Thus, this research aims to further develop a model for understanding teacher agency in recognition of tensions between individuals and collective agencies based on an exemplary case of global citizenship education (GCE) in South Korea. In South Korea, where GCE was introduced to formal education in a top-down approach by government, GCE is heavily dependent on teachers’ preferences and decisions though the South Korean national curriculum, which officially included the concept as a philosophical background, and relevant policies have been employed since 2015. Through exploring how primary school teachers in South Korea perceive global citizenship and make pedagogical decisions, and understanding the gap between their perspectives and their actual engagement in class, the dynamics of teacher agency will be analyzed and this study seeks to elucidate theoretical and practical implications on teacher education.
This research is grounded on critical theory based on the premise that the world is informed by structured power relations (Merriam & Tisdell, 2015). From this perspective, knowledge presents different interests which are socially constructed and have an ideological function (Habermas, 1968/2015), which provides a firm ground for this study which explores power dynamics of individual agency. Through this lens, literature around agency is reviewed and revised. Also, this study employs methods of semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions to collect data for discussion on primary school teachers in GCE, South Korea. Nine primary school teachers in Seoul, South Korea, who are interested in GCE and have different ranges of GCE experience but at least two years’ teaching experience, participated in interviews and focus group discussions. For seven months, each teacher participated three to four interviews and two to three focus group discussions. The first interview was conducted to understand teachers’ personal backgrounds, professional life, and initial perspectives on global citizenship, and they were asked to convey a GCE-related class before the next interview each time. The rest of interviews were mostly about their class in terms of their intention, decisions on activities and materials, and their reflections. Between interviews after the first one, I conducted focus group discussions with other participants to explore their perspectives better. Each session was prepared to encourage participants’ self-awareness and interactions among participants, and participants were asked to discuss topics as individuals, not as teachers. The topics for discussions are as follows: equity, social justice, and education. Along with this, to understand teachers’ perspectives on GCE in South Korea from a wider context, ten teachers with no experience in GCE were additionally interviewed.
This study seeks to review teacher agency from a critical perspective and the analysis of teacher agency for GCE in South Korea suggests different approaches to teacher education policies. The main findings of this research are that teacher education focusing on individual teachers’ competences and perspectives is limited without the ethos of a whole structure changes, and that policies that inform teacher education should be dealt with in a holistic approach to a wider context. As teachers with GCE experiences show, their personal perspectives on global citizenship are an important locus to run GCE-related classes. It is clear from this research that those teachers interviewed altered their teaching practice as a result of specific interactions and encounters they had had that were unique to them. However, this easily leads to teacher education focusing on teachers’ individual capacities, which attributes more responsibility to individual teachers. Additionally, participants tend to moderate their own perspectives by contextual information such as class dynamics of students and their parents, national curriculum, school culture, policies, and social culture though the range of contextual pressure seems to vary within and between individuals. Likewise, teachers’ engagement constantly changes in power dynamics of collective agencies so that the mere emphasis on teacher autonomy cannot guarantee socially equitable ethos of the educational field. Lastly, it is important to note how teacher education makes ‘meaningful’ experiences for teachers. ‘Meaningful’ experiences do not mean knowledge acquisition but openness to other perspectives and discussion without judgement and assessment. As participants mention, GCE is not merely contents to teach but philosophical backgrounds to encompass curricular contents, which cannot be learnt from lectures or other structural pressure which lack the scope required for GCE.
Archer, M. S. (2000). Being human: The problem of agency. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. (N. Richard, Trans.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Dewey, J. (2002). Human nature and conduct. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. (Original work published 1922) Emirbayer, M., & Mische, A. (1998). What is agency? American Journal of Sociology, 103(4), 962-1023. Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure and contradiction in social analysis. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Habermas, J. (2015). Knowledge and human interests. (J. J. Shapiro, Trans.). Cambridge, England: Polity Press. (Original work published 1968) Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2015). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons. Priestley, M., Biesta, G., & Robinson, S. (2015). Teacher agency: An ecological approach. London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing. Scottish Government. (2011). Teaching Scotland’s future: Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland. Retrieved from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/01/13092132/0
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