Negotiating a Team Identity through Collaborative Self-Study

Aug. 01, 2011

Source: Studying Teacher Education, Vol. 7, No. 2, August 2011, 201–210
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article presents the authors' emerging understanding of the meaning of collaborative self-study as one of the mechanisms that facilitates effective, productive collaboration.
The authors are teacher educators in the Academic College of Education (ACE) program at Kaye Academic College of Education.
Over the years, the 10 teacher educators working in the program have developed a community of practice.

Towards the end of 2008, an external event intervened in the form of a call for papers on the professional development of teacher educators.
In the process of responding to this call for papers, the authors developed the idea of doing a subsequent collaborative self-study on their own professional life stories.
They decided to look at the development of themselves as a professional group through personal career stories that we brought to the junction of their collaborative work.

In this article, the authors explore the crisis they confronted as a professional learning community, the tensions underlying the crisis, the paths to resolving their crisis, and their decision to look more closely at how collaborative communities of practice affect both group and individual identities.

This collaborative study of the ACE team employed self-study methodology, along with mixed-method conversation analysis strategies and narrative analysis strategies.


The data analysis revealed two general thematic tensions that supported the authors' understanding of their group’s crisis and led them to identify two metaphors that would help them develop a way out of their crisis.
These tensions – preservation versus change and collective versus individual identity – related to their shared language and individual and group identity.

The concept of change that was central to the first theme of our crisis symbolizes the unified goal that brought them all together.
As a group that aimed to bring new spirit into teacher education, change was almost the headline of what they were doing.
Their practice was change-oriented, and the discourse of change served as a boundary object.
The tension of change versus preservation colored their identity as a team.

The authors considered themselves to be change agents and they considered even those practices that they preserved to be evidence of this.
In addition, they wanted their colleagues to view them in that way.
It was only when they started to openly discuss the crisis within their group that the fuzziness of their understanding of change was revealed and the different hidden understandings surfaced.
They recognized that maintaining certain stable practices allowed opportunities for innovation and change.

The second thematic tension – collective versus individual identity – gradually crystallized into a divide between the practice-oriented and inquiry-oriented professionals in the group.
This tension helped them to realize the differences among members of the group regarding the purpose, and thus the identity, of the team.
Coming to terms with the tension between individual and collective identity helped them to understand that, during the first formative years of the program, they collaborated as an innovative practice-oriented community.
While change was a boundary object of the entire group, an orientation toward research and inquiry into practice was central in the identity of some individuals within the group but not a boundary object that defined the group as a whole.

The decision to embark on a group self-study of their personal career stories and shared professional history in ACE allowed the authors to utilize the family metaphor by acting as their own external expert – a group therapist who forced us to speak and listen to each other and renegotiate our relations and understandings.
This new study provided the teacher educators with an opportunity to listen and be listened to, thus reclaiming the intimacy that was in danger of being lost and gradually re-entering the practice of a collaborative research community.


This work highlights the function of the collaborative self-study of teacher educator practices from the social perspective of the team’s work.
With the benefit of hindsight, the authors now realize that the process helped them negotiate between preservation and change and between their collective and individual identities.
It also resulted in the development of a common language and conceptualization of their purposes as a group.

Updated: Jan. 12, 2014