Transnationality and Teacher Educator Identity Development: A Collaborative Autoethnographic Study

Winter, 2019

Source: Action in Teacher Education, 41:4, 287-306

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This collaborative autoethnographic study examines the researchers’ own experiences of teaching a diversity course in the U.S. as transnational teacher educators from China and South Korea.
The overarching question they ask is, “How have we been developing our professional identities as teacher educators through teaching a diversity course in the U.S.?”

A Collaborative Autoethnographic Approach - This study adopts the collaborative autoethnography (CAE) as the research methodology.
The autoethnographic approach is a research method in which researchers individually write autoethnographic narratives (e.g., Ellis, 2004), whereas the collaborative autoethnographic method involves autobiographic, dialogic, and ethnographic dimensions (Hernandez et al., 2015).
In other words, the CAE method involves autoethnographic narrative writing on a topic shared by participants.
The process of cooperative data collection facilitates dialogic engagement with participants facing similar yet different insights and experiences.
In the field of teacher education, teacher educators use CAE as a qualitative research method in which teacher educators dialogically reflect on their experience embedded in their teaching and learning contexts and collectively analyze their data to deepen their understanding of their professional practices.
Furthermore, in the field of teacher education, CAE has been identified as an empowering approach for unpacking teacher educators’ learning and identity (e.g., Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001).

Research Setting and Participants - The authors were graduate students in teacher education at a large public university in the United States when the study took place.
They taught the same course on human diversity and social justice as graduate instructors.
This course is designed to introduce prospective teachers to the ways in which social inequality affects schooling and schooling affects social inequality, and it is a required foundation course for all teacher candidates in their teacher education programs.
The course instructor team includes faculty and graduate instructors.
Every instructor teaches a class independently, but each graduate instructor is paired with a faculty instructor as his or her mentor.
In addition, the whole instructor team meets weekly to perform a variety of professional development activities, such as discussing problems that individual instructors encounter, planning lessons together on some difficult topics (e.g., race and racism), and circulating experiences and instructional materials.
After they both finished teaching this course, the authors realized that they shared some unique experiences in teaching this course as transnational teacher educators in the U.S.
Thus, in May 2016, they decided to form a study group to conduct a systemic examination of their experiences.
They both shared a passion for teaching and research in the field of teacher education, the same career goal of becoming an academic, and many years of life and educational experiences in Confucian cultures before they came to the United States.
The term Confucian culture is used to indicate East Asian cultures that have been influenced by Confucian tradition.
They chose to enter academia after graduation and now are an assistant professor of teacher education at a university in China and in the U.S., respectively.

Data Sources and Data Collection - Similar to that of many collaborative autoethnographic studies, the data collection process of this study was autobiographic, dialogic, and ethnographic (Hernandez et al., 2015).
In particular, the authors collected two sources of data that are commonly used in autoethnographic studies: teaching artifacts (Austin & Hickey, 2007) and vignettes (Pitard, 2016).

Data Analysis - When analyzing the data, the authors used a combination of deductive and inductive coding approaches.
Specifically, they used the three kinds of identities (i.e., legitimate, imagined, and practical identities) as a reference for coding the teaching artifacts and vignettes in a deductive way.

The authors’ personal stories provide a context for exploring how transnational teacher educators develop professional identities.
Overall, the study found that in developing their teacher educator identities, they initially encountered extensive challenges related to their transnational backgrounds.
However, with their ongoing reflection and actions as well as the sustained support from the instructor community, they have gradually turned their transnational backgrounds into professional assets, which has helped them develop a new version of their teacher educator identities.
In particular, they identified three navigational strategies undergirding their identity development experiences:
1) establishing legitimate identities by leveraging their transnational backgrounds,
2) imagining new identities as co-learners for students and colleagues, and 3) forming practical identities by nurturing a classroom culture of inquiry and solidarity.
The findings also revealed that though their overall experiences of developing teacher educator identities were positive and progressive, they still experienced persistent tensions in their teaching practices and identity development.

Discussion and Implications
The authors note that using the CAE as the research methodology, this study unpacks the processes of how they have been developing their teacher educator identities across linguistic and cultural boundaries.
The current study demonstrates that transnational teacher educators’ identity development is important in enacting culturally responsive and empowering pedagogies in teaching diversity courses (e.g., Dunn, Dotson, Ford, & Roberts, 2014).
This study offers a thick description of the development of legitimate, imagined, and practical teacher educator identity, which provides insights into the multiplicity and complexity of transnational teacher educators’ identities.
The authors’ experiences have implications for how teacher education programs can extend the norms of cultural, linguistic, and racial/ethnic diversity to teacher educator preparation. First, the research findings indicate that continuously practicing in a supportive and inclusive institutional context is key for turning the marginality of transnational teacher educators’ backgrounds into an advantage. Indeed, a series of contextual factors have influenced their teacher educator identities.
These include the practical teaching resources they learned from their instructor team (e.g., collective lesson planning, observing one another’s teaching), the individual guidance they received from their faculty mentors, and their ongoing reflections on their teaching practices and student learning.
These contextual factors together helped them develop an overall sense of being trusted and supported, which further catalyzed the positive transformation of their teacher educator identity. These findings highlight the critical roles that practice and institutional context can play in shaping the development of teacher educator identity (e.g., Davey et al., 2011).
On a practical level, this study suggests that various forms of institutional arrangements, such as one-on-one mentorship, teaching communities, and guided reflection are conducive to the development of transnational teacher educators’ professional identity (Russell & Korthagen, 2013).
Second, the authors note that along with the demographic shifts of the faculty in the current landscape of the U.S. teacher education in the context of transnationalism and globalization, the findings in this study remind us that teacher educators should revisit culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogical frameworks (Ladson-Billings, 2014) in support of those transnational teacher educators to continue to develop their professional identity and prepare preservice and in-service teachers to work with diverse students.
The authors call on teacher educators to make efforts to better understand and scaffold transnational teacher educators’ identities as pedagogical resources in teaching a diversity course in addition to the foundational pedagogical framework for preservice and in-service teachers in working with diverse students.
Third, the authors note that though transnational teacher educators’ diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds can be professional assets, we should not turn a blind eye to their professional learning needs, especially the need of enhancing their language proficiency.
For the sake of making communication clearer, teacher education programs should provide support to transnational teacher educators in enhancing their language proficiency and communication styles.
The authors recognize that transnational teacher educators’ identity development and pedagogical enactment may unfold differently dependent on the institutional and teacher education program-wise support.
The findings in this study point to the needed professional development in relation to identities and pedagogical scaffolding, particularly for beginning teacher educators.

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Updated: Feb. 23, 2020