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Down the rabbit hole: Professional identities, professional learning, and change in one Australian school

Netolicky, Deborah M.ORCID: 0000-0002-5258-0890 (2016) Down the rabbit hole: Professional identities, professional learning, and change in one Australian school. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study takes researcher and reader down the rabbit hole of story with its unique approach to the phenomena of professional identity, professional learning, and school change. It examines the perspectives of 14 educators: a range of teachers and leaders in one independent Australian school and in the context of a teacher growth intervention. Set against the backdrop of the global push for teacher quality, and consequent worldwide initiatives in the arenas of teacher professional learning and school change, the study generates context-specific connections between lived critical moments of identity formation, learning, and leading.

A bricolaged paradigmatic stance weaves together a social constructionist, phenomenological approach to narrative inquiry. Data were generated primarily from individual narrative-eliciting interviews, of the researcher, two teachers, and 11 school leaders. Extended literary metaphor and known literary characters operate as a symbolic and structural frame. Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Cheshire Cat, from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, are analytical tools for the presentation and analysis of the perspectives of researcher, teacher, and leader participants.

While the study set out to explore the ways in which educators’ experiences of professional learning (trans)form their senses of professional identity, it found that it is not just professional learning, but epiphanic life experiences, which shape professional selves and practices. School context, and the alignment of the individual with the collective, emerged as key factors for individual and school change. Transformation of educators’ identities and practices was evident in environments which were supportive, challenging, and growth focused, rather than evaluation driven. Identity formation, individual professional growth, and collective school change were revealed to be unpredictable, fluid processes in which small, unexpected moments can have far-reaching effects. The findings have implications for the theorisation of identities, and the research and implementation of professional learning and school change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
Supervisor(s): MacCallum, Judy and Woods-McConney, Amanda
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