Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 7, No. 2, August 2011, 187–199
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article reports a collective self-study by seven teacher educators at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
For more than a year, the authors have been involved in a collaborative self-study project investigating effective professional learning in pre-service teacher education.
In studying their practices as teacher educators, they employed collaborative-collective self-study of teacher education practices (S-STEP) methodology to investigate and improve aspects of their own individual professional practices in pre-service and in-service teacher education.
The authors specifically analyzed the contribution made to their teacher education practices and self-understandings by the collaborative-collective process itself.
As the authors individually engaged in self-studies of their personal teacher education practices, they also were participating in a group self-study of their collaboration to better understand the effects of their collaborative endeavor on them individually, as well as how their work together affected them collectively.
They addressed to the following questions:
(1) What do, or can, various forms of collaboration, partnership or collectivity contribute to the process of self-study?; and
(2) How have aspects of such collaborative or collective approaches contributed to their own professional learning, self-knowledge, and identities as teacher educators individually and as a group?
In their individual self-studies, the authors used a variety of practical strategies for collaborative research and data collection, including observations, joint stimulated-recall sessions, sharing journal reflections, collaborative interviews, and co-coding data.
However, the central data for the collaborative-collective aspect of their study were collected during the group workshop conversations with the mentors over the year, supplemented by journal notes and numerous informal corridor conversations they had amongst ourselves.
The main purpose of S-STEP is often said to be improving our professional practice – improving what the authors as teacher educators do and how they act when teaching or supervising their students.
However, the impact and outcomes of self-study may go well beyond this, into the realm of illuminating, challenging and possibly even changing in some deeper way who they are as teacher educators.
The theoretical literature tends to provide different lenses for studying identity, key amongst these being the psychological, socio-cultural, and poststructuralist perspectives.
It is the desired or valued professional self that we see ourselves as being or wanting to be as individuals, and as being or wanting to be part of as a social group.
Much of the work on identity emphasizes its dualistic nature and regards identity as simultaneously individually oriented, and socially oriented.
In other words, professional identity is how we define ourselves to ourselves and to others.
Their Developing Me Identities – the Sense of an Individual Self
Examinations of S-STEP literature and research reveal individual researchers’ insights into self, beliefs and values, and their analyses of the processes of professional renewal, shifting roles, and professional identity.
These examinations reveal that many implicitly assume a definition of professional identity compatible with that of the valued professional self.
The authors would argue that the individual studies done by their group fit this frame too.
For example, Fiona, one of the authors, recognized the connection between her professional identity implicit in and manifested by her own core beliefs and values as something that being part of the group particularly fostered and developed.
Their Developing We Identity – the Sense of a Collective Self
Even when we were talking about our own self-studies, and even considering that we had little initially connecting us as a natural grouping of people, we found the connection with others vital in a practical sense of stimulating us to articulate their own beliefs and deprivatize their own practice.
Furthermore, the connection with others is also vital in a deeper sense of developing and using their group affinity to compare themselves with themselves.
Collectivity, Collaboration and Professional Identity
Collaborative-collective S-STEP research along the lines reported here can provide opportunities to critically view the teacher education practices of others and to use the lessons drawn to improve our own practice.
Through the conversations and inevitable comparisons with known others that the authors make and encourage in studies conducted this way, they are encouraged to reflect on their own uniqueness as professional selves.
At the same time, they are also reminded of the collective values that they share as a professional community.
They become more aware of what identifies or distinguishes them as individuals and more aware of those around them with whom they identify or connect most or least as members of a professional group.
The particular accumulation of similarities and differences among them can be seen as constituting the professional identity as an individual, while the body of commonalities among them constitutes theirs as a community.
The authors conclude that the forms of S-STEP research at the collective end of the continuum may add a particular value to researchers and the field by illuminating the inherent potential of collaborative-collective self-study of teacher education practices in contributing to the development and understanding of both their my and their we identities.