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What shifts the identities and practices of teachers and school leaders: Expanding notions of professional learning

Netolicky, D.ORCID: 0000-0002-5258-0890 (2017) What shifts the identities and practices of teachers and school leaders: Expanding notions of professional learning. In: Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2017, 26 - 30 November 2017, Hotel Realm, Canberra


Professional learning for educators is embedded in the unstable politics of neoliberal education cultures of accountability and performativity. The 'quality' of a teacher's teaching or the effectiveness of a leader's leading are seen as factors influencing student learning and achievement, and that can be measured and improved. Professional learning, within this milieu, is sometimes positioned as a blunt tool for teacher improvement or a commodity with a dollar value and tangible outcomes. Yet learning, teaching, and leading are human endeavours, full of complexities, identities, and emotions. This study is concerned with transformational learning that actively shifts cognition, emotion, and capacity (Drago-Severson, 2009). While it is situated amongst scholarship that seeks to understand what experiences positively shape teaching practice in order to improve student learning, it also seeks to understand the complex relationships between educators-as-humans, their lived experiences, and their learning.

Set against the backdrop of one independent, well-resourced Australian school during a professional learning intervention, this paper draws together findings from a narrative study that examined the lived experiences of 14 educators. The educators interviewed for this study included the researcher (also an educator at the school), two teachers, and 11 school leaders at middle and executive levels.

The study generated context-specific connections between lived moments of being, becoming, learning, and leading. It revealed a variety of types of professional learning, more wide-ranging than that often found in literature, including experiences that were professional and personal, formal and informal, in and out of educational contexts, and singular and collaborative. Participants' experiences were highly individualised and at times holonomous, heutagogical, technological, and deeply personal.

While the study set out to explore how educators' experiences of professional learning transform their senses of professional identity, it found that it is not just professional learning, but epiphanic life experiences that shape professional selves and practices. It found learning that taps into who educators see and feel they are, has the most impact on beliefs, thoughts, behaviours, and practices.

This study suggests that transformational professional learning can occur in a wide range of life arenas. It recommends that the definition of professional learning be broadened, that teachers and schools think more expansively and flexibly about what it is that transforms educators, and about who drives and chooses this learning. Schools and systems can work from their own contexts to design and slowly iterate models of professional learning, from the bottom up and the middle out.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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