Exploring early childhood teachers' professional identities through reflective pedagogical processes: implications for teacher preparation and professional practice
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 17:23 authored by Leanne Lavina
This thesis-by-publication traces the identity journeys of six early childhood teachers working in prior-to-school long day care centres in the Northern suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Identity development is understood as a negotiated socially constructed encounter, shaped by interactions in time and place (Elbaz-Luwisch, 2004). With conflicting policy agendas influencing wider concept of the educational value of teaching in prior-to-school contexts, the nature of teachers' working lives is often ambiguously defined (Woodrow, 2007). Clearly, there is a need to explore how teachers attempt to construct and re-construct their professional identities given the potentially eroding influence of policy forces to status and self-concept. Not surprisingly, exclusionary policies defining 'teachers work' as occurring within school settings, along with increased "compliance, registration and regulation" (p. 237) of teacher preparation programs have seen prior-to-school spaces in Australia's educational landscape marginalised and surveilled, with 'professionalism' raised through the implementation of quality standards, streamlined curriculum and accreditation (Woodrow, 2007). Even so, these measures have done little to raise the status and wages of early childhood teachers, with the pedagogical value of "educational discourses" (p. 235) in prior-to-school contexts remaining less recognised within and outside of the educational community (Woodrow, 2007). In an attempt to disrupt this sideways positioning and re-imagine (for ourselves) our role and pedagogical discourse (Woodrow, 2007), I sought to develop an aesthetic framework of learning and reflection that emphasised the pedagogical complexities of 'teachers' work' whilst recognising the importance of teacher identity in affirming and strengthening concept of self-as-a-professional. Inspired by Creates' (1991) multi-modal forms representing place connections, bricolage (Kincheloe, 2001, 2004a, 2004b) and portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997) are fused with Creates' artistry to form a distinctly aesthetic methodology. Through teachers' creation of seven 'aesthetic frames', later re-presented and assembled by the researcher as installation, visual meanings are interrogated to uncover teachers' personal beliefs, knowledge and experiences influencing their identity development (see Weber &Mitchell, 1996). The researcher together with teacher participants constructed shared understandings of past and present images of self-as-teacher. As social readings of lives lived in spaces of negotiated meaning (Brady, 2008), images created offered teachers multiple "vantage points" for uncovering self and renewing seeing of wider forces influencing professional learning and practice (Mitchell, Weber, & Pithouse, 2009, p. 119). Revealed throughout this thesis is the importance of opening opportunities for teachers across experience to engage with multiple aesthetic modes of reflection and representation to better understand teacher identity formation. Entering this journeying with teachers, the researcher, incorporating collaborative auto-ethnography with one of the participants, describes personal processes of constructing and representing knowledge about her own evolving professional identity as a teacher and researcher with "fullness of being, body, mind, emotion" (Kamanos Gamelin, 2008, p. 178). Including different creative forms of expression reveals multiple ways of "knowing, being and doing [emphasis added]" (Kamanos Gamelin, 2008, p. 185) identity work. Through reflective acts of thinking, questioning and creation, the relational and emotional nature of stories presented reinforce the value of aesthetic forms for documenting understandings of evolving teacher selves (Lavina & Lawson, 2019). As a process of self exploration,the researcher's encounter with auto-ethnography reinforces the need for self attunement to better understand others (see Nancy, 2000). Such relational modes of inquiry enabled searching for meanings beyond the bounds of what was "already known" (Grosz,2001, p. 61) when 'seeing' and interpreting "patterns of knowledge" (Springgay, Irwin, & Kind,2008, p. 87) emerging from participating teachers' words and images of teaching. Pedagogical implications reveal the need for attentiveness to perspectives held and developed alongside others within and beyond educational settings. When attending to and re-evaluating significant events influencing identities, teachers' awareness of social systems shaping evolving pedagogies and images was enhanced through processes involving individual and shared interrogation of teacher selves over time. Broadening concepts of 'teacher' and 'teaching' also recognises teachers' stories as lived local encounters (Carter, 1995). As tangible threads, these stories raise consciousness within and outside educational research of the complex stories raise consciousness within and outside educational research of the complex pedagogical challenges characterising teachers' work in early childhood contexts.