An Exploration of the Development of Academic Identity in a School of Education

May. 15, 2014

Source: Professional Development in Education, Vol. 40, No. 1, 56–70, 2014.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors suggest that current, ongoing changes in the nature and expectations of the university are causing the individuals who work in a UK School of Education to reconsider their identity.

This paper draws on four practitioner research projects, which used a range of methodologies – including self-study, case study and action research to explore the process of academic identity development. The projects share a broadly qualitative interpretive approach, used to examine thoughts, perceptions and beliefs. Data were collected in all the projects through semi-structured interviews.


The paper proposes the formation of this identity to be a dynamic, career-long process. Diverse scaffolds for the development process are proposed, including opportunities for new teacher educators to be apprenticed into an academic role, the centrality of communities of practice and the importance of the supported development of academic skills such as writing for publication.

Apprenticeship of teacher educators
One research reveals that the developing teacher educator takes responsibility for selecting different adepts according to their current activity and needs, and the apprenticeship model reflects the informal collaborative and supportive culture within the school. This research demonstrates the potential power of adepts within a community of practice to withstand the shifting environment and to provide ongoing, effective support for ‘newcomers’.

Access to a community of practice
Engagement with communities of practice is seen to be of paramount importance for the development of professional knowledge and academic identity, both within the university setting and also for those undertaking the function of teacher educators outside the traditional structures of the academy. Such an approach allows for the development of the substantive self through engagement with the communal repertoire of beliefs and practices.
These teachers need opportunities to be engaged with adepts in a community of practice in order to develop their practice and identity adequately to support them in fulfilling the teacher educator aspect of their role. The accessibility of adepts could be a big challenge in the induction and professional development of these new teacher educators.

Academic Writing Support Programme
A second research challenges set identity positions such as teacher versus teacher educator, offering instead frameworks for colleagues to develop an understanding of the value of scholarship and of their potential to develop a more multi-faceted identity. Academic writing is thus re-framed from an individual activity associated with superior intellectual capacity and professional competitiveness to a collaborative, social activity, which impacts on the learning of teachers, students and the organisation.

From the data it appears that the change process does not conform to a common pattern for individuals but is rather dynamic and shifting in response to personal preference, skills, opportunities and challenge. Induction processes, often patchy and inappropriate, do not appear to adequately support this complex process of transformation.
The value of providing a static development map for individuals is severely reduced in times of uncertainty. Instead, teacher educators need to be sustained in developing their own map during a continuous journey of self-discovery. The shifting terrain can then become a stimulus to development rather than an impediment.
Although some of the changing landscape we are experiencing is currently peculiar to England, the process of teachers developing an academic identity as teacher educators in other countries is likely to be similarly dynamic in the massively changing higher education landscape worldwide. Individuals are constantly defining, and redefining, what they do and how they might explain this to others.

Updated: Jun. 29, 2016