Teacher Educators' Collective Professional Agency and Identity - Transforming Marginality to Strength

April, 2017

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 63 (2017) 36- 46
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examined teacher educators' collective professional agency and identity within an identity coaching programme.
The authors focused on collective agency in terms of teachers' shared efforts to influence matters, and to take stances within their work and the work organization.

This study describes a coaching programme, which took place in 2013. The participants were eleven arts and crafts educators (seven females, four males) from Finland. All the participants were working as lecturers or university teachers. They all held a master's degree, and several had a licentiate or doctoral degree. Their teaching experience in the field varied from 7.5 years to 39 years. All the participants had recently faced major external pressures, including new professional requirements (e.g. increased demands to publish academic research) and decreasing resources (involving e.g. discontinuous employment).
The authors collected data through pre- and post-interviews with participants. The pre-interviews took place during the two weeks prior to starting the programme. The post-interviews were conducted within one month from the end of the programme. The authors also collected video material from the identity workshops.

Initially, the participants consisted of individual actors without close relationships, or identification with the group. Through the shared activities of the coaching programme, the participants became empowered in terms of their collective professional identity and agency. The results revealed that as a group, the participants renegotiated a collective professional identity via functional and close professional relationships, group affinity, and identification with the group. The participants' collective agency was transformed from a marginalized feeling of invisibility within teacher education towards a shared understanding, and the will to make choices that could affect their work, and their professional identities. The participants also indicated the importance of building bridges and of making constructive suggestions together as a group, in efforts to influence their work, and work community.

This article illustrates how collective agency and identity are closely intertwined. The authors argue that it appears that a shared understanding of collective identity directs collective agency.
In addition, the study reveals the importance of agency in negotiating new kinds of crystallized collective identity. Through strengthened collective agency, the participants were able to give a new meaning to themselves as a professional group within the department, deserving of respect.

These results support the notion of agency and identity as being closely intertwined. The authors also highlight collective agency, demonstrating how a group can come to an understanding of itself as able to exercise influence on work and professional identities.

Furthermore, the authors emphasize that one of the most crucial issues in building collective agency was the development of trust and of a sense of affinity.

In conclusion, this study suggests that when one is seeking to understand collective identity and agency in professional contexts, it is important to address people's own individual narratives and learning pathways. Hence, this research emphasizes that in supporting collective identity and agency among professionals, it is pivotal to create shared learning platforms and processes (time, space, place) that will allow the professionals to encounter each other, and to discuss issues concerning continuous changes, work, and professional identities. 

Updated: May. 31, 2018