Cultivating Self in the Context of Transformative Professional Development

Jun. 03, 2009

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 60 Number 3, p. 277-290. (May/June 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the author examines how a model of self was cultivated through the social practices of a transformative professional development program for urban public school leaders. She formulated a research question that leads her analysis: How did the talk and interactional practices of the program meetings aim to facilitate participants’ access to the notion of an inner self?

Methods and Analytic Approach

Four CTL retreat weekends which took place from spring 2007 through spring 2008.
CTL is one of a set of retreat series provided by the Center for Courage and Renewal whose tagline reads “reconnecting who you are with what you do.” The retreats took place in a secluded setting in the mountains of the western United States. A typical first full day of the retreat included meals, sessions, and time for individual reflection/relaxation.


17 administrators and building leaders applied to attend the CTL retreats. The participants included principals, assistant principals, literacy/math coaches, an English Language Acquisition specialist, a learning specialist, and two district-level administrators. All but one were employed by the High Plains School District. There were 14 female and 3 male participants, and they ranged in age from 31 to 60.

Facilitators. There were two facilitators of the retreat cycle. Both are middle-aged White males who teach at universities. Though neither have been public school administrators, they regularly drew on their experiences as leaders at their universities to connect with the retreat participants.

Researcher Role
The author gained access to this CTL retreat through her connection with one of the retreat facilitators. She introduced herself as a participant observer who would sometimes participate in the retreat activities and at other times observe from a more distanced perspective.

Data Sources

The author collected a range of qualitative data. Primary data sources include observational notes written during the retreat meetings, documents given to and created by the retreat participants, and semistructured interviews with the facilitators. She also conducted interviews with three focal participants.


The author identified three practices that were used at the retreats to facilitate participants’ access to an essential and true inner self: (a) Modeling of multiple ways of talking about an inner self. According to this, the facilitators introduced words and phrases that indexed a specific view of an inner self. However, they did not insist that the participants use them to describe their own experiences. (b) ritual experience of the self in relation to others. Through engagement in ritualized discourse events, the school leaders could practice how to treat others and one’s self in a way that was aligned with a view of the self as connected to others.
(c) the connection of the self to a natural order. The analysis of what was referred to as third things (primarily poetry and short essays) allowed members to explore the connections between the inner self and the rhythms of the natural world.

Taken together, the author found that the social practices of the retreat aimed
to reposition the school leaders to try on new ways of seeing themselves both personally and professionally. This study contributes to our nascent understandings of both the practices and potential of transformative professional development.


Updated: Sep. 22, 2009