Portraits of teachers in landscapes of change: exploring the role of teachers in school improvement

Durrant, J. A. (2013) Portraits of teachers in landscapes of change: exploring the role of teachers in school improvement. Ph.D. thesis, Canterbury Christ Church University.


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This thesis focuses on an investigation which aimed to explore how teachers interpret their roles and construct their professional identities in relation to school improvement and how they can be supported in their contributions in this respect. The initial research questions were set within a conceptual framework linking teacher professionalism and school improvement, in particular the symbiotic and reciprocal relationships between individuals and organisations which were illuminated by the concepts of agency and structuration. Research aims, questions and conceptual development were reflexively and iteratively modified, to encompass the significance of school context in influencing professional identity and agency and to explore intractable dilemmas arising in interpreting external and internal policy requirements in relation to personal values. The implications of narrative enquiry for validity were acknowledged, focusing on distilling the ‘essence’ of situated professional selves and identities through portraiture to explore these substantive themes.

The professional values, priorities and aspirations of six teachers were investigated through semi-structured interviews incorporating elicitation tools, and presented as a form of nested case study where individual portraits were set within the organisational landscapes of their two contrasting schools, based on evidence representing a range of perspectives. This involved navigating the methodological territory between narratives and portraits. Analysis is presented as an ‘exhibition’, with three ‘galleries’ exploring different themes emerging from the empirical evidence. This enabled comparisons to be made between the stance that teachers choose to take in relation to internally or externally driven change and their own motivations, aspirations and actions to achieve outcomes according with their personal values and concerns.

The research contributes new understandings in relation to how, within ‘imposed’, ‘selected’ and ‘constructed’ organisational environments (Bandura, 2001), teachers’ professional identities are, to a greater or lesser extent, imposed or constructed. This in turn affects their agency in influencing their professional environments aligned with their personal professional values and aspirations. The empirical evidence therefore shows the significance of organisational cultures, leadership and individual agency, in influencing how professional environments and identities are constructed or imposed. A new model is derived from the empirical evidence and parallel conceptual development, contrasting complementary epistemological, ontological and agentic perspectives for schooling. This provides a framework for developing professional identity and professionality, in which individual agency is considered a vital dimension. Since teachers have a predominantly narrative understanding of reality, it is argued that narrative and visual approaches are key to such school improvement work. Making the agentic perspective visible and developmental supports key components of agency - intentionality, forethought, self-reactiveness and self-reflectiveness (ibid.). The resulting levels of engagement give grounds for optimism in supporting teachers’ more powerful individual and collective agency, including working critically and strategically with systemic reform, contributing proactively to local initiatives for change and pursuing personal change agendas.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Education
Depositing User: Mr Andrew Hudson
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2013 15:03
Last Modified: 22 Sep 2016 15:49
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/11664

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00