Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Transforming Identities: Understanding Teachers across Professional Development and Classroom Practice

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Transforming Identities: Understanding Teachers across Professional Development and Classroom Practice

Article excerpt

Despite the prevalence of professional development in schools and the variability in its implementation, little research has been conducted on how professional development makes its way into the classroom (Wilson & Berne, 1999). Even when teachers participate in high-quality professional development, there remains a large and often undocumented variability in how teachers make use of ideas learned (Enyedy, Goldberg, & Muir, in press; Kazemi, 2004; Franke, Carpenter, Levi & Fennema, 2000). Therefore, educational researchers and professional developers need to better understand the dilemmas and choices teachers face in making use of learned practices.

We have recently turned to identity as a way to help us document, analyze, and understand teacher learning and classroom practice. "We take identity to be a central means by which selves and the sets of actions they organize form and re-form over personal lifetimes and in the histories of social collectives" (Holland, 2001, p. 270). Focusing on identity as a part of learning has enabled us to see teacher learning as both situated in practice and as an integrated, complex system embedded in the structures, histories, and cultures of schools. We use identity to differentiate how teachers participate in and make sense of professional development in practice. The construct of identity allows us to begin to understand why professional development can look very different as teachers take new ideas and put them into classroom practice.

Characterizing Identity

Identities are constructed in relation to history, cultural practices and communities, and the broader contexts in which we participate (Wenger, 1998; Holland, 2001). How one thinks of herself is conceived of in relation to a particular context, with a particular history, with others who have ideas about themselves. These histories (and the structures in which they are embedded) contribute to how a teacher comes to make sense of what it means for her or him to be a teacher, what it means to be a "White" or "African-American" teacher, what it means to be a "traditional" or "reform" mathematics teacher, as well as what it means to be a "good" teacher. We do not develop our identities as teachers in isolation. Ever changing histories, cultural and historical events, create and continue to create space for particular identities and shape how teachers navigate their everyday practice (Holland, 2001). In creating this space, they can both open and constrain how identities develop. Through participation in social practice, identity shapes how one participates and how one participates shapes identity (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1997, 1994). Lave (1996) states it this way,

   Crafting identities is a social process,
   and becoming more knowledgeably skilled
   is an aspect of participation in social
   practice, who you are becoming shapes
   crucially and fundamentally what you know. (p. 57)

Identity is shaped by the knowledge and skills we acquire and shapes the knowledge and skills we seek to develop. So identity does not sit separately from knowledge and skills; acquiring new knowledge and skill play a critical role in reshaping identity (Franke & Kazemi, 2001). The relational nature of identity arises, in this sense, as a way of contextualizing knowledge and skill.

Instead of assuming that teaching is the sum of knowledge, beliefs, and skill, we assume that teaching occurs through participation in a community of practice. Therefore, participation constantly leads to the formation of a new identity (Wenger, 1998). Teaching is a process of becoming a member in a defined group of practitioners with specific skills, with the important marker of learning being the adoption of an identity as a full member. For us, professional development is a space for acquiring new knowledge, re-crafting identities, and challenging existing cultural and social practices. …

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