The development of the personal self and professional identity in learning to teach
Carol R. Rodgers University at Albany
Katherine H. Scott Independent scholar
The previous Handbook on Research in Teacher Education (Sikula, 1996) includes two
chapters dealing with the “inner life” of the teacher: Virginia Richardson’s review of
research on teacher attitudes and beliefs, and Kathy Carter and Walter Doyle’s review of
research on personal narrative and life history. Richardson dismisses attitudes as weak
indicators of teacher learning, while endorsing beliefs as important determinants of
action. She defines beliefs as “psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions
about the world that are felt to be true,” (p. 103; Feiman-Nemser & Floden, 1986)
and that stem from personal experience, experience with school, and experience with
formal knowledge (Clandinin & Connelly, 1987; Elbaz, 1983). Given the tenacity of
beliefs that spring from previous life history and student teaching, she concludes that
teacher education is a relatively “weak intervention”. Although beliefs are clearly part
and parcel of who one is as a teacher, Richardson does not directly address issues of
identity and self.
Carter and Doyle take on the question of self and identity indirectly, through the lenses
of personal narrative and life history research. Their research rests on the premise that
“the process of learning to teach, the act of teaching and teachers’ experiences and
choices are deeply personal matters inexorably linked to their identity and life story”
(p. 120). Life history research highlights the social contexts that shape identity, while
personal narrative emphasizes the fact that learning, including learning to teach, involves
the construction of personal stories. Carter and Doyle conclude by stating that “from a
biographical frame . . . becoming a teacher means (a) transforming an identity, (b) adapting
personal understandings and ideals to institutional realities, and (c) deciding how to
express one’s self in classroom activity” (p. 139). Clearly teachers are people who bring
themselves into the classroom and the formation of their identities involves an interplay
between external and internal forces.
This chapter does not refute these findings and perspectives. Rather, it shows how
research over the past ten years has deepened and complicated our understanding of
the role of self and identity in learning to teach, particularly by critical theorists (e.g.
Britzman, 2003; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Giroux, 2005; Zembylas, 2003). Specifically,
identity and identity formation have taken center stage, subsuming the categories of
belief, attitude, life history, and personal narrative. In addition, research on the role of
emotion in learning to teach and the development of teacher identity has gained a foothold.
At the same time, the distinction and relationship between one’s self/ves and one’s
identity/ies remains murky. Finally, and importantly, there is a call from theorists for
teachers to become aware of their identities and the political, historical, and social forces
that shape them—in Britzman’s (1993) words, to “acknowledge the politics of identity.”
In addition, theorists exhort teachers to assume agency, find their voice, and take the
authority to shape their own professional paths and identities. Left largely unexplored by
this literature, however, is the black box of how—how teachers should go about making
the psychological shift from being authored by these forces to authoring their own stories,
and how teacher educators might facilitate this process. This black box represents a
psychological shift; it leads us to explore what developmental psychologists might contribute
to the discussion. In particular, we take into account the view of constructivist
developmental psychologists who offer a potentially useful way to think about this shift.
Many of the studies reviewed for this chapter were conceptual rather than empirical in
nature. We hope that the introduction of a psychological frame will move the field of
teacher education towards more empirical work in the development of self and identity in
learning to teach.
This chapter is divided into four parts. We begin by exploring contemporary conceptions
of identity and self, drawing on the teacher education and professional development
literature. We follow this with a discussion of how constructive-developmentalist might
illuminate our understanding of the development of self and identity. The third section
looks at some promising programs from the past and present that support the development
of teachers’ selves and identities. The final section concludes with a discussion
of these model programs in light of constructive-developmental theory, and suggests
directions for further research.
Definitions of self and identity
It is necessary to carve out of the vast literature on self and identity a workable set of
definitions.1 For the purposes of this chapter, we have drawn our definitions from within
the fields of teacher education and adult development.
The past ten years have seen a burgeoning of articles and books on teacher identity
development. At the same time, studies of identity have cast doubt on the very concept of
a “self,” which may explain why much less has been written about self as teacher. Still,
confusion between the terms remains. As Beijaard et al. (2004) note in their review of
research on teachers’ professional identity, “it remains unclear how exactly the concepts
of ‘identity’ and ‘self’ are related” (p. 124). We will first look at the larger field of identity
formation, followed by the more elusive notion of self.
Contemporary conceptions of identity share four basic assumptions: (1) that identity is
dependent upon and formed within multiple contexts which bring social, cultural, political,
and historical forces to bear upon that formation; (2) that identity is formed in
relationship with others and involves emotions; (3) that identity is shifting, unstable, and
multiple; and, (4) that identity involves the construction and reconstruction of meaning
through stories over time. Embedded in these assumptions is an implicit charge: that
teachers should work towards an awareness of their identity and the contexts, relationships,
and emotions that shape them, and (re)claim the authority of their own voice. This
calls upon teachers to make a psychological shift in how they think about themselves as
teachers. Contexts and relationships describe the external aspects of identity formation;
and stories and emotions, the internal, meaning-making aspects. Awareness and voice
represent the “contested” place where the normative demands of the external encounter
the internal meaning making and desires of the teacher.
Identity as contextual
Identity is dependent upon the contexts in which we immerse ourselves: schools, teacher
education programs, study groups, family, religious groups, political parties and so forth
(Gee, 2001; Fitzgerald, 1993; Coldron & Smith, 1999; Beijaard et al., 2000, 2004;
Britzman, 2003; Carter & Doyle, 1996; MacLure, 1993; Smagorinsky et al., 2004;
Clandinin & Huber, 2005; Agee, 2004). Clandinin and Huber (2005) refer to context as
“the landscapes past and present in which [a teacher] lives and works” (p. 4). Most
definitions of identity take into consideration all four assumptions named above. A few,
however, define identity solely as a matter of context. Fitzgerald (1993) writes that “. . .
identity is defined as the academic metaphor for self-in-context” (italics in original, p. 3).
Coldron & Smith (1999) speak of context as a matter of “space and location” and the
identity of a teacher as “a matter of where, within the professional pertinent array of
possibilities, a particular person is located” (p. 714). Contexts inevitably shape our
notions of who we perceive ourselves to be and how others perceive us. We do not
necessarily perceive contexts (which include ways of thinking and knowing) as much as
we absorb them, often taking them for granted as what is “real.” Britzman (1993) for
example, argues that contextual forces are normative and determined by those in authority
who have a vested interest in the compliance of those under their authority. Within
each context there exists a set of norms, and it is expected that these norms will be upheld
by the participants within the given community. Lack of awareness of these norms and
pressures to assimilate, keep teachers subject to contextual forces, robbing them of
agency, creativity and voice.
James Gee (2001) provides the most elaborate view of these contextual forces, identifying
four interrelated perspectives on identity: the nature perspective (N-identity, or those
parts of who we are that have their source in nature rather than society, e.g. a tall
person); the institutional perspective (I-identity, or those parts of who we are that have
their source in institutional authority, e.g. a school teacher); the discourse perspective
(D-identity, or those parts of who we are that have their source in the discourse or
dialogue of other people, e.g. someone who is deemed by others to be a “charismatic”
person); and the affinity perspective (A-identity, or those parts of who I am that have
their source in a “distinctive set of practices,” e.g. a Red Sox fan). Each of these perspectives
provides an “interpretive system underwriting the recognition of [one’s] identity”
The interpretive system may be people’s historically and culturally different views of
nature; it may be the norms, traditions and rules of institutions; it may be the discourse
and dialogue of others; or it may be the working of affinity groups. What is
important about identity is that almost any identity trait can be understood in terms
of any of these different interpretive systems.
(italics in original, p. 108)
Gee uses the example of a label like “African American.” This label, viewed through
different interpretive systems can be understood differently. Through the institutional
lens of school, for example, being an “African American” child might be equated with
being “at risk.” Alternatively, “African American” understood as an A-Identity, points
to an affiliation with groups who share certain practices. “Here,” writes Gee, “people do
not see themselves as African American primarily because of ‘blood’ (an N-Identity),
because of an institutional category (an I-Identity), or because others respond to them,
for better or worse, in certain distinctive ways (a D-Identity)” (p. 108). He suggests that
in this case, a “Black” person could claim that they have chosen not to be African
American and a “White” person could claim to be African American. In this way identities
are a matter of negotiation with others. “Thus,” writes Gee, “people can accept,
contest, and negotiate identities in terms of whether they will be seen primarily (or in
some foregrounded way) as N-, I-, D-, or A-Identities. What is at issue, though, is always
how and by whom a particular identity is to be recognized” (italics in original, p. 109).
And this points to the second assumption of identity: that it is relational, and hence, also
Identity as relational and emotional
Within multiple contexts one forms multiple relationships, and brings forth multiple
aspects of oneself. Gee (2001) points out that relationship cuts across all four of his
perspectives on identity. Relationship is essential to identity primarily because to have an
identity one must be recognized as a particular “kind of person” by others.
Smagorinsky et al. (2004), in their study of identity formation among new teachers,
conclude that identity is co-constructed “through engagement with others in cultural
practice” (p. 21). Samuel and Stephens (2000) observe multiple layers of relationship and
negotiation in their work with black South African teachers, where teachers “walk a
tightrope in both developing a personal teacher identity which sits comfortably with their
own sense of self,” and satisfying state requirements, while at the same time embodying
reform by being “the impetus for change,” including acting as critics to the very teachers
who are assigned to be their mentors (p. 478). Complicated identities, indeed!
That the complex relationships between teacher, students, colleagues, mentor, school,
community and state would provoke emotion is no surprise. Emotions have been taken
up increasingly as a critical aspect of identity formation (Britzman, 1993; Hargreaves,
2001; Zembylas, 2002, 2003; Winograd, 2003). “Feelings,” Britzman asserts, “are made
in social relationships.” In particular, she cites the friction created between institutional
structures and expectations of how teachers should behave and feel and the actual “structure
of feelings” that teachers already hold because of who they are, and “the lives they
live” (p. 252).
In his discussion of “emotional geographies,” Hargreaves (2001) also takes up the
ways in which teachers’ emotions are “embedded in the conditions and interactions
of their work.” Emotional geographies consist of “the spatial and experiential patterns
of closeness and/or distance in human interactions and relationships that help create,
configure and color the feelings and emotions [he does not distinguish between the two]
we experience about ourselves, our world and each other” (p. 1061). In other words,
teachers’ emotions are shaped by the conditions of their work (for example, high-stakes
tests) and are then manifest in their interactions with students, parents, administrators
and others. In his interviews of 53 elementary and secondary Canadian schoolteachers,
Hargreaves identifies five different emotional geographies: socio-cultural,
moral, professional, political, and physical. Each involves either a closeness or a
distance—distance driving wedges between people, and closeness forming bonds. For
example, a socio-cultural distance might exist between a white middle-class teacher and
her less-economically secure students. Moral distance exists when “teachers feel their
purposes are being threatened or have been lost” by those around them (p. 1067), for
example, when a school’s priority is high test scores rather than student learning.
Hargreaves advocates a deeper understanding of these geographies as key to making the
relationships of school work, and, by implication, making teacher identity less fractured.
Zembylas (2002, 2004) echoes Hargreaves’ notion of distance when he speaks of the
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 735
“emotional labor” in which teachers must engage in an effort to conform to what is
deemed appropriate within schools (the “emotional rules” of school): “teacher identity
and emotion discourses are formed within specific school political arrangements, in relation
to certain expectations and requirements, ones that presume a teacher should conform
to particular emotional rules (e.g. teachers should leave their emotions ‘outside’ the
classroom . . .)” (p. 226). Winograd (2003), an education professor who returned to
elementary school teaching for a year, brought the theories of emotion outlined above to
bear on his experience back in the classroom. During his year as a teacher, Winograd
faced challenges, particularly in classroom management, that caused him to question his
own identity as an effective educator. He found himself caught in a cycle of self-blame,
often experienced by new teachers, where the school culture made it easy “to conclude
that failure or struggle is [teachers’] fault alone and that structural conditions are less
influential than the individual’s own failings” (p. 1669). Feelings of anger, for example,
were experienced as bad in the face of a culture that see teachers as restrained, gentle, and
Identity as shifting and multiple
As implied above, when teachers’ identities are shaped, at least in part, by the external
forces of context and relationships, identity necessarily becomes a multiple and shifting
affair, in process and changeable. As Gee writes, “The ‘kind of person’ one is recognized
as ‘being,’ at a given time and place, can change from moment to moment in the
interaction, can change from context to context, and of course, can be ambiguous or
unstable” (p. 99). Identity is therefore not only shifting but also multiple. Beijaard et al.
(2004) in their review of the research on teachers’ professional identity, note that because
identity is relational, it is also shifting, and constantly in the process of becoming.
[Identity] is not a fixed attribute of a person, but a relational phenomenon. Identity
development occurs in an intersubjective field and can be best characterized as an
ongoing process, a process of interpreting oneself as a certain kind of person and
being recognized as such in a given context. In this context then, identity can also be
seen as an answer to the recurrent question: “Who am I at this moment?.”
What is important here is that identity: (1) is always “in the making,” rather than stable,
(2) shifts according to context and relationships, and (3) is therefore varied and multiple.
Identity as storied
Thus far, identities appear to be like a deck of cards spread out on a tabletop; any one
might be turned up at any time, depending upon the who, what, and where of circumstance.
Continuity and coherence suggested by the terms identity formation or identity
development feel elusive. There is a need for making sense—an internal arrangement and
control of things so that the shifting, multiple, constructed, contradictory, confusing,
cubistic thing called identity becomes useful. The most widely embraced way of making
sense is through the practice of narrative, or the telling of our stories. “Nowadays,” as
Beijaard et al. (2000) note, “identity formation is conceived as an ongoing process that
involves the interpretation and reinterpretation of experiences as one lives through them”
(Kerby, 1991, as cited in Beijaard et al., 2000). The foremost proponents of this point of
view are Michael Connelly and D. Jean Clandinin (1986, 1995, 1999, 2000). Based on
736 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
Spence’s (1984) notion of the narrative construction of the self (side-stepping for a
moment any definition of self), Connelly and Clandinin understand a teacher’s identity as
“a unique embodiment of his/her stories to live by, stories shaped by the landscapes past
and present in which s/he lives and works . . .” (as cited in Clandinin & Huber, p. 4).
Sfard and Prusak (2005), equate identity with the construction of stories. They parse the
process further by articulating a tripartite picture of identity: first-person identities (stories
a person tells himself about himself), second person identities (stories told about
oneself to oneself by a second person), and third person identities (stories told about
oneself by a second person to a third person). Identity, then, is both interpreted and
constructed through the stories that one tells oneself and that others tell. These stories
change over time, across contexts, and depend upon relationship.
Awareness and voice
The four assumptions described above address the nature of identity. Awareness and
voice, however, point to what theorists believe it is incumbent upon teachers to do in light
of those assumptions. Identities form and develop as a result of interactions, but not
necessarily as a result of awareness. Theorists, however, call for teachers to develop an
awareness of the normative contextual and relational forces that shape their identities.
They exhort new and experienced teachers alike to “resist” these normative forces, forces
which are “overburdened with the meanings of others,” and author their own identities
according to their own “deep convictions, investments, and desires” (Britzman, 1993,
p. 33). Voice, Britzman contends, struggles to emerge from the confluence of forces that
compete for a teacher’s allegiance: the schools and universities in which she works and
learns, her past experiences and identities as a learner, and her desires and images of
herself as a teacher. Finding one’s voice implies not having others (researchers, school
boards, text books) speak for us, not being silenced by authorities or normative notions
of who teachers should be, in effect, to be the author of one’s identity.
Like Britzman, Zembylas (2002, 2004) advocates developing an awareness of and
resistance to the normative forces of school, and encourages teachers to “try to think
differently, to ask themselves not only how discourses on emotions and the various
norms in their school have shielded them from their desires, but also how it [normative
discourse] has installed those desires as what they presume themselves to be” (p. 229).
Awareness of the emotions (as manifested in the body—e.g. facial gesture, the eyes, the
gut) that are triggered within the context of school, and the forces that bring them about,
he argues, prepares the road to voice, agency and self-transformation, especially when
done in the company of others.
Winograd (2003), reflecting on his year as an elementary school teacher, advocates
teachers forging relationships with other teachers in order to “study, share, and use their
emotions for social change,” by holding up for critique the kind of “emotional rules”
that schools can impose (p. 1670).
What it takes to move from being “authored by” to “authoring” oneself is not, however,
addressed in detail in the literature. It also begs the question of self in contrast to
identity. If one’s identities are to be “self-authored,” then who is the “self” doing the
authoring? It is at this juncture that discussion of an aware, active self is useful.
Self as maker of meaning and agent
The literature on the self reviewed here (Dewey, 1938; Kegan, 1983; Gee, 2001; Nias,
1989; Palmer, 1998) assumes that there is more to a self than simply an array of shifting
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 737
identities. There is a notion of continuity and coherence that signals a self, even as there
are discontinuities, shifts, and crises that signal an evolving self. In effect, the self can be
seen as the meaning maker, or teller of stories. If our identities are stories, then our selves
might be the storytellers. As a bridge to this notion of self, we again turn to Gee who, in
his discussion of identities, speaks briefly of a “core identity.” One’s “core identity,” he
writes, is different from one’s “identities” which are multiple and connected “not to
[one’s] ‘internal states’ but to [one’s] performances in society.” One’s core identity, in
contrast, is something “that holds more uniformly, for ourselves and others, across
contexts” (p. 99).
John Dewey references the importance of such coherence across contexts. He writes
that when coherence is lacking, a person, in a sense, “cracks up”:
A divided world, a world whose parts and aspects do not hang together [for a
person], is at once a sign and a cause of a divided personality. When the splitting-up
reaches a certain point we call the person insane. A fully integrated personality . . .
exists only when successive experiences are integrated with one another.
The integration, he argues, is a matter of the meaning that is made of experience
through reflection. Similarly, Polkinghorne (as cited in Bruner, 1990) spoke of the self as
“a configuring of personal events into an historical unity” (p. 116).
Jennifer Nias (1989), citing Foulkes (1975) and Mead (1934) distinguishes between a
substantial self (I) and situational selves (me). The substantial self, formed primarily at,
and even before, birth and in the early years, is embodied in values shaped by family and
one’s immediate culture. The substantial self remains relatively impervious to change.
One’s situational selves can be thought of here as one’s identities. Our situational selves,
she argues, “incorporate those beliefs, values, and attitudes which we feel to be most selfdefining”
(p. 163). The I-substantial self is subject and the me-situational self, object. The
former is not knowable except as it becomes object. Reflection is the tool the self uses to
know one’s situational selves, which change over time. What Nias and others call the self
or the private self, Britzman refers to as “being” (personal communication, 2005). It is
both conscious and unconscious and therefore can really only “hint at itself:”
In my view, the self and identity are maybe two sides of the same coin. I have come to
believe that there is an unknowable core, something that resists sociality, and can
only hint at itself. I would not locate this core in identity, which I tend to think of as
the social clothing plus desire for recognition. Within this clash or conflict, there is
something called the private self, which I would call “being.” Here is where I would
locate interiority that may fuel the need for identity but in and of itself the self is not
coextensive with identity, or another way of saying this is the self is not identical to
itself as the philosophers might say.
(Personal communication, August 2005)
Parker Palmer (1998), educator and author of the popular book, The Courage to
Teach, distinguishes between identity and integrity in defining the self. Identity, he says, is
the “evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute life converge in the mystery of self
. . . In the midst of that complex field, identity is a moving intersection of the inner and
outer forces that make me who I am, converging in the irreducible mystery of being
human” (p. 13). Integrity differs from identity in that it suggests a conscious weaving
together of some kind of meaning out of the experiences that comprise one’s identity. It is
738 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
“whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus [of identity] as its vectors form
and re-form the pattern of my life. Integrity requires that I discern what is integral to my
selfhood, what fits and what does not—and that I choose life-giving ways of relating to
the forces that converge within me” (p. 13).
Psychologist Robert Kegan (1982), writing from a developmental-constructivist perspective,
holds that at every stage of development, the “self” coheres in an organized
system of meaning and meaning making. It coheres differently at each stage (something
which we explore more extensively below), but there is a balance in place that allows one
to be. “There is presumed to be a basic unity to personality, a unity best understood as a
process rather than an entity. This process, according to [Carl] Rogers’ conception, gives
rise to the ‘self,’ the meaning-making system with which the process gets identified”
Self, then, might be thought of as the meaning maker and identity as the meaning
made, even as the self and identity evolve and transform over time. The self in its completeness,
however, remains unknowable. It is, as Palmer says, an elusive reality “that can
be caught only out of the corner of the eye.” Still, despite the inevitable discontinuities
and change and the intangible nature of self, there is a belief that there exists over time a
“Self” that is recognizable and a coherence that allows one to move in the world with a
certain confidence. For the purposes of this discussion, then, self will subsume identity(
ies) and will be understood as an evolving yet coherent being, that consciously and
unconsciously constructs and is constructed, reconstructs and is reconstructed, in interaction
with the cultural contexts, institutions, and people with which the self lives, learns,
Looking at self and identity formation through a constructivedevelopmental
Because Kegan (1982, 1994) clearly articulates a process of growth and change as well as
distinct developmental stages in adulthood, his theoretical framework is a useful lens
with which to consider the hidden developmental demands that are at work in the literature
on teacher identity. How a teacher makes sense of her teacher identity evolves out of
the developmental capacities of the self. That is, lying underneath the four basic assumptions
about teacher identity is the question: how? How does the teacher make sense of
social, cultural, political, and historical forces? How does she make sense of her relationships
with others? How does she construct and reconstruct meaning through stories? It is
in the answer to this question, how, that we are able to identify qualitatively different
ways that teachers make sense of their experiences; these differences reflect the differing
developmental capacities of teachers’ selves, and therefore, color and shape how they
make sense of their identities.
The different ways in which teachers might answer these questions are reflected in
Table 40.1 below.
Kegan’s conception of self suggests that the way the teacher self makes sense of his/her
experience is, in fact, different at different developmental stages, and that it evolves over
time. These differences reflect teachers’ varying capacities to take a perspective on their
experiencing (i.e. on their developmental structure) as distinct from differences in the
content of their teaching (i.e. their discipline, teaching strategies, area of discipline),
teacher education experiences (the philosophy of the program, the expectations of the
program), or identity (i.e. sex, socio-economic status, religion, political position, etc.).
Developmental structure or stage reveals the specific ways in which individuals make
sense out of experiences that are seemingly similar.
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 739
740 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
Kegan delineates five developmental stages; however, for the purposes of this discussion,
we will only address stages two through four.2 At Kegan’s stage 2, or the Imperial
Balance (Kegan, 1982, 1994) one has the capacity to take the role of another person, and
to view oneself as distinct from the other. At this point in development, there is an
emergence of self-concept, a consistent notion of me, an enduring set of dispositions
(Kegan, 1982, p. 89). While the success of this developmental stage is that one is in a
“project for oneself” (p. 89), one is not yet able to coordinate the perspective of another
with one’s own perspective and one understands the world in highly concrete terms. The
teacher at this developmental stage is likely to conceive of the teacher role as a means to
fulfilling her own purposes (or her own project in some way—as a fulfillment of herself
[Scott, 1999]). Because she does not yet have a perspective on her own needs, desires or
interests, she is not able to articulate them. Her self is made up of these needs, desires, and
interests. As a result, any attempt to engage in self-reflection would be characterized by a
very concrete, black and white analysis.
At Kegan’s stage 3, or the Interpersonal Balance (also known as the “socialized self”),
the self “embodies a plurality of voices” (1982, p. 96). The teacher self at this developmental
stage is subject to the demands of her surround; as such, the notion of multiple
identities, may be a developmental notion. The self is authored by the context of relationship.
Teachers at this developmental stage are likely to enact the teacher role that is
ascribed by the culture generally, or the most significant contexts of which the teachers
are a part (i.e. teacher education program, school context). They take their cues from
the cultural surround and seek approval and feedback from their surround as a measure
of how well they are doing (Scott, 1999). Thus, their measurement of success or
well-being is defined according to external standards rather than according to internal
standards defined by them. Although they are able to engage in self-reflection, the
nature of their reflection is focused on the way they view their teaching in relationship to
the expectations or demands that are defined by the “authorities”—those who author or
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 741
define their experiences for them (i.e. the institution of school, teacher education
At Kegan’s stage 4, or the Institutional Balance (also known as the “self-authoring
self”), the self moves from being defined by external sources to being defined internally.
The self is its own system with a clearly defined set of values, a clear philosophy. One is
no longer pushed and pulled by the needs, wants, or expectations of others. Rather, the
self is able to take a perspective on information, evaluate it, and then decide how to act
upon it. Teacher identity at this stage is defined internally; it is no longer subject to the
demands/expectations of the cultural surround. Teachers at this stage are able to take a
perspective on their identities; it is at this developmental stage that they are able to
evaluate the ways in which the different aspects of their selves (i.e. their identities: socioeconomic
class, race, culture, history, etc.) are borne out in their teaching and in their
relationships with their students, and engage in a critique of their teaching according to
their own standards rather than by the standards of others.
Kegan’s view of an evolving self sheds new light on the literature on teacher identity. It
helps to illuminate the varying capacities of teachers to respond to the calls that they: (1)
become aware of their identities and the political, historical, and social forces that shape
them; (2) assume agency, find their voice, and take the authority to shape their own
professional paths and identities. Clearly, these calls assume that these teachers are selfauthoring
in their developmental orientation; in fact, this claim may put teachers at risk
for being “in over their heads” (Kegan, 1994). Nevertheless, what is revealed is that there
is a hidden developmental expectation that teachers do, in fact, possess these developmental
capacities. Returning to the question that we posed at the beginning of this
chapter: how should teachers go about making the psychological shift from being authored
by these forces to authoring their own stories and how should teacher educators
facilitate this process? we now give consideration to the necessary components of an
environment or program that does facilitate the ongoing growth and development of its
members so that they can successfully fulfill the expectations held of them. First, we will
consider the importance of a good developmental match between program and student,
and then we will explore model teacher education programs that do seek to support the
growth and development of their students, or the emergence of a teacher’s voice.
The way that teachers construct their relationship to their teacher role does not by
itself indicate how teachers will fare in teacher education, nor how they will fare as
beginning teachers. Rather, there is an interaction between how teachers make sense of
their role, the norms/values of the culture in which they are situated (the culture of the
graduate school curriculum, the culture of the school in which they are teaching), and the
available supports. To be at a higher developmental stage could be an asset or a risk.
Likewise, to be at a lower developmental stage could be an asset or a risk. To determine
whether developmental capacity, or the way that a teacher makes sense of his/her experience
is an asset or a risk, consideration must be given to the developmental demands of
the context (teacher education program, the culture of school) and the available supports
(Berger, 2002; Daloz, 1999; Drago-Severson, 2004; Kegan, 1982, 1994; Scott, 1999). In
this regard, Kegan states,
If I were to stand on one leg, like Hillel, and summarize my readings of centuries of
wise reflection on what is required of an environment for it to facilitate the growth of
its members, I would say this: people grow best where they continuously experience
an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the rest is commentary. Environments
that are weighed too heavily in the direction of challenge without adequate support
are toxic; they promote defensiveness and constriction. Those weighed too heavily
742 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
toward support without adequate challenge are ultimately boring; they promote
devitalization. Both kinds of imbalance lead to withdrawal or dissociation from the
context. In contrast, the balance of support and challenge lead to vital engagement.
(1994, p. 42)
Daloz (1999) illustrates this relationship between support and challenge to engagement
or disengagement in the following diagram:
Daloz states that the function of support is “to affirm the validity of one’s senses” and the
function of challenge is to “open a gap between students and environment, a gap that
creates tension in the student—calling out for closure” (p. 213). Like Kegan, he suggests
that a balance of support and challenge is what will best promote the growth or evolution
of the student’s or the teacher’s self. Both Kegan (1994) and Daloz (1999), however,
caution that what one person (teacher) may experience as support may be experienced as
challenge by another, and vice versa. Thus, from a developmental perspective, an effective
teacher education program must take into account the goodness of fit between how its
students are making sense (developmental structure) and the developmental demands of
the curriculum. If the program assumes that all teachers make sense in one way—that
they all have the same developmental perspective—some students will likely meet with
success and others will not. However, their success or failure will have as much to do with
the developmental demands of the program, as with the effort, motivation, or determination
of the students. In other words, a student could be very motivated to participate in
the program, but because there is a mismatch between her way of knowing (developmental
stage), and the developmental demands of the environment, she could become
disengaged. Without attention given to the goodness of fit between the developmental
demands of teacher education programs, and the developmental capacities of prospective
teachers, we will fail to understand why teacher education programs are successful in
promoting/supporting the development of the teacher self for some students, while they
are not for others (Berger, 2002).
Figure 40.1 Daloz’s matrix of support and change.
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 743
TEACHER EDUCATION PROGRAMS THAT EDUCATE SELF
The programs outlined below, both historical and current, offer examples of ways in
which teachers can be both challenged to become aware of the ways in which their
identities are shaped by their contexts and relationships, and supported in reflection upon
those forces in order to become more self-determining. We look at four historical teacher
education programs that explicitly educated the personal/critical/social self, and current
efforts to educate awareness of self and identity.
A short history of teacher education and the personal/critical/
In Feiman-Nemser’s (1990) outline of conceptual orientations in teacher education, the
personal and critical/social orientations (which are most closely aligned with work on self
and identity) are included along with the academic, practical, technological orientations.
Where the practical and technical orientations emphasize “additive” knowledge and
skills, the personal and critical/social orientations demand awareness and a transformation
of the “self,” (of the meanings one makes and the internal and external forces that
shape those meanings), and encourage teachers to take action based on their learning.
The programs described below affirm the unique humanity of the teacher, but also ask
new and prospective teachers to take a critical look at themselves and the privileges
and inequities of their own and their students’ lives. In this section we describe how
four early, alternative teacher education programs, the teacher center movement and
several contemporary efforts sought/seek to support teachers in the development of selfawareness
and voice, or to make that psychological shift from being authored by external
forces (e.g. historical, political, social) to authoring their own teacher identities.
Leading teacher education programs regarded the growth of teachers as inseparable
from the growth of persons, in both humanistic and critical/social terms. Among the
teacher education programs embodying this stance were Bank Street College, (started in
1930 under Lucy Sprague Mitchell), The Prospect School Teacher Education Program
(1968–1990, initially under the direction of Patricia Carini), New College (1932–1939)
of Columbia Teachers College, and the Putney Graduate School of Teacher Education
(1950–1965, under the direction of Morris R. Mitchell). These private programs operated
with small numbers of students. Variously influenced by the thinking of John
Dewey, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alfred North Whitehead, and Theodore Brameld, they
had well-articulated philosophies and values regarding teaching and learning, which
included the importance of self-knowledge. One might say they had strong programmatic
identities. They valued close observation of and inquiry into children’s learning as well as
the world around them and recognized the role that the teacher’s perceptions and preconceptions
played in learning to see children and their learning. As Morris Mitchell
wrote, “A teacher teaches who he is.” In other words, since a teacher teaches from
herself, self-awareness is an ethical necessity. It is also the source of her power. These
programs also emphasized the teachers’ role as citizen and educator of citizens in a
democracy. As Jaime Grinberg (2002) noted of Bank Street, it “assume[d] a need for
teachers’ own social perspectives to be explored and the need for teachers to engage
actively as participants in social and civic responsibilities” (p. 1430).
744 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
Teacher education programs
These programs shared several characteristics which influenced the ways in which they
challenged new teachers to become aware of and to interrogate their past experiences,
their beliefs and assumptions about school, schooling, and the contexts within which
they lived and worked, while offering them the necessary support to make a transition
from old perspectives to new ones. First, each program had a clearly defined mission that
saw education as a key to a democratic society. They linked teachers’ personal and
professional identities to the larger societal causes that reached beyond the circumscribed
world of the classroom or their personal lives (e.g. social justice, racial equality). Second,
as progressive programs, their approach to learning and teaching was experiential and
necessarily included both experience and reflection. The experiences included one’s own
past, one’s existing perspectives on learning, teaching, and school, and the decisions
made in one’s teaching present. As such, reflection on experience was meant to lead to
Mission: all these programs, but most clearly the Putney Graduate School and New
College of Columbia, saw their purpose as the building of a better society. The development
of the person was not their end goal. Rather such development was in service of
the larger goals of children’s own learning and development and eventual transformation
of society. New College, which suffered an early demise (Teachers College News,
2001), was an experimental undergraduate, four-year teacher education program within
Columbia Teachers College. It combined a liberal arts curriculum with a focus on social
problems which future teachers were expected to address. Students spent their time
between New York City and the New College Community, a student-run farm in Ashville,
North Carolina. They also studied abroad for at least a summer in an effort to experience
peoples and cultures different from their own.
Once a faculty member at New College, Morris Mitchell, who later directed the Putney
Graduate School of Teacher Education, wrote that education should “become a dynamic
for peace” in the world. This was accomplished, he believed, by immersing students in
a variety of experiences that awakened them to problems of poverty, war, and racial
injustice. This usually involved a long trip, or Study Tour, South, often to sites of what
Mitchell termed, “quiet revolution,” where people involved in the Civil Rights movement
and sustainable land development were working.
Bank Street and Prospect also adhered to purposes beyond the bounds of school and
test results, and saw education as linked to principles of democracy. Bank Street took
teachers into the streets of New York City to explore the workings of the city and on
Long Trips to explore the larger issues of the nation. As Grinberg (2002) notes, “Bank
Street . . . emphasized that teachers ought to engage in systematic investigation of communities
and social relations as an integral part of learning to teach . . . [and that] issues
of social justice not only have to be studied but also must be experienced, lived”
While Prospect’s mission was less overtly attuned to broad political and social issues, it
was grounded in questions that mattered. What makes us human? How can teaching
bring forth and nurture the humanity of a child? What resources and activities manifest
the complexity and humanness of the child? How are universal human themes reflected
in the disciplines? These commitments lifted the sense of oneself above the particular. Yet
deep knowledge of the particulars of experience (as revealed through reflection)
grounded teachers’ (and students’) investigations.3
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 745
Experiential learning, reflection, and self-awareness
In each program, awareness of oneself was developed through recollection of past
experience, interaction with the “stuff” of the world, and observation of children’s interactions.
At Prospect and Bank Street, especially, teacher-students were asked to recall
their own experiences as children, to play with blocks, clay, and wax, for example, and to
closely observe children on a daily basis. They were asked to both describe their own and
others’ experiences with awareness of the potential interference of pre-conceptions, and
to reflect on the meaning of what they had observed (either from childhood or in the
present). Carini (like Dewey) believed that a human being is knowable in his or her
interactions with the world. It is therefore important to observe those interactions closely
and carefully. In the observing of the other, one gains knowledge of one’s own self. Carini
When the perception of the other person is based on direct access through the expressiveness
of the body in its engagement with things-in-the-world, there is an assumption
of co-extensive beings united through the shared world setting. From that
assumption, it can be derived that self-knowledge and knowledge of others are
achieved reciprocally and intersubjectively.
At Bank Street, student teachers “engaged in treating their own learning experiences
as a subject matter of study” (Grinberg, 2002, p. 1429). Bank Street sought “to promote
the development of personal powers . . . to treat the student-teachers as we should treat
children—only on a higher level” (Lucy Sprague Mitchell, 1931, as quoted in Grinberg,
2002, p. 1430). As Grinberg (2002) explains,
the purpose was to further the connections with children’s learning. After the student
teachers learned the content, understood relationships [through reflection], and
had a powerful personal experience that helped them construct personal meanings,
they had to plan the environment to provide their own students in their particular
classrooms with concrete experiences that would further learning.
New College and Putney also relied on experience and reflection as the vehicles of
learning. In each case, students would come up against themselves and the assumptions
and prejudices that resulted from their own particular histories. Putney students began
the year by writing an autobiography that was read aloud to their fellow students.
“Writing the autobiography was one way of sorting through what brought students to
the Graduate School and getting at what was termed ‘felt needs.’ . . . Once uncovered,
these needs or desires served as the impetus for study” (Rodgers, 1998, p. 102). To a large
extent, though not exclusively, students at Putney determined their own course of study.
Throughout their time in the program, they kept reflective journals of their experiences,
met regularly with director, Morris Mitchell, and with his guidance, structured and
restructured their course of study, as well as their stories of their experiences—in short,
Each of these progressive teacher education programs relied heavily upon advising
systems that allowed students to explore in depth their personal experiences as both
learners and teachers, one-on-one and in small groups with a faculty advisor. In large
part, these sessions were forums for reflection, which, coupled with their experiences,
provided a bridge that carried teachers from a place of being authored by their past,
746 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
(e.g. traditional school systems, a racist society, or a world of privilege) to one where
they might question these systems and assumptions and begin to construct a learning
environment that resonated with their own emerging voice. For the most part, these
private programs sent teachers into private schools where teachers’ emerging voice
resonated with the song of the institution they had chosen, and which had chosen them.
Contemporary approaches and programs
Echoing these older programs contemporary progressive programs (e.g. Cook-Sather, in
press; Smulyan, 2004; Elbaz-Luwisch, 2002; Korthagen and Vasalos, 2005; Featherstone,
1993; Abu El-Haj, 2003; Palmer, 1998; Intrator, 2002) advocate creating time and
space for reflection, creating communities of trust and making sense of experience
through stories. They, too, ask teachers to confront and speak back to the external forces
that shape and limit who and what a teacher is, that is, using the language of today,
to become aware of one’s various identities and to cultivate a teaching self that is
As we have already mentioned, most of the studies reviewed for this chapter were
theoretical in nature, and either speculated about practices that might support teachers’
identity formation, contained first person teacher reports on identity transformations, or
exhorted teacher education and professional development programs to address teacher
identity. Empirical studies are relatively scarce. Of the more than 40 articles and books
reviewed, only about a third reported on courses or programs that worked explicitly with
teachers’ identity formation. Many of those were self-reports. Of these, three reported on
isolated courses and seven described substantial programs. Nonetheless, promising contemporary
programmatic efforts rely on familiar tools, techniques, and structures like
journals and autobiographies, teacher study groups and book groups, action research
and collaborative research. In addition, some initiatives embed these strategies in a larger
mission and set of beliefs that may potentially provide the kind of developmental bridge
of challenge and support of which Kegan and Daloz speak. However, it is important to
note that none of them addresses the fact that developmentally, not all new teachers may
be ready to cross that bridge. A description of a selection of these efforts follows.
One useful concept that resonates with Kegan’s idea of a developmental bridge, is the
idea of “liminal” time and space. Alison Cook-Sather (2005), drawing on the work of
anthropologist Victor Turner, describes liminality as “outside of standard, hierarchical
structures of institutional relationship, power, and action,” and between one way of
being and another, new way (p. 7). In Cook-Sather’s program pre-service teachers work
with experienced teacher partners in a liminal time and space created by e-mail. The
experienced teachers are not students’ cooperating teachers but participate actively in the
design and delivery of the teacher education program. The outside-of-time-and-space
aspect of the e-mail environment provides an opportunity “both for initial processing
and then dialogue” that allows new teachers to “re-imagine” and “transform” themselves
from students to teachers in an unpressured environment, hearing their own voices
against the backdrop of the normative voices they hear so loudly in the context of school.
Smulyan (2004), in her ten-year study of female graduates of an elite liberal arts
college, speaks of the college experience in general as a time and space where her students
were encouraged by the institution as a whole to redefine what it means to be a “successful”
woman. Students came to this college with the externally crafted notion that success
meant a lucrative career as a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Through the course of their
education, their concept of success changed to a more internally defined set of criteria.
This happened through a process of reflection on “social and internalized frameworks,”
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 747
and included a reframing of teaching not merely as a helping, woman’s profession, but as
a means to “change a society that they see as inequitable and unjust” (p. 535). Smulyan
attributed this shift in part to the knowledge, skills, and language the college provided to
describe and explain students’ gendered experiences as teachers.
Another example comes from Elbaz-Luwisch’s (2002) work with “storying the
teacher-self in writing workshops.” Elbaz-Luwisch sees autobiography as a place, again,
in the liminal space between identity as student and that as teacher, for the persuasive
inner voice (the self?) to counter authoritative social discourse (Britzman, 2005, personal
communication). Through describing, storying, and questioning in small groups of
trusted colleagues, the self reframes experience and begins to assume the authority of his
or her identity instead of ceding it to external forces. Writing, Elbaz-Luwisch says, acts as
mid-wife to the teacher’s own “becoming.”
While several programs refer to reflection as a necessary tool for making meaning,
questioning external authorities, and constructing identities, many left the actual process
of reflection undefined. A few, however, were specific in describing the reflective processes
to which they refer. Elbaz-Luwisch (2002), for example, outlines a clear process of
description, storying, and questioning, a process she calls “restorying.”
Korthagen and Vasalos (2005) describe a Dutch teacher education program that utilizes
“core reflection.” Core reflection aims at an awareness of the “core of one’s personality,”
namely, identity (the kind of teacher one wants to be) and mission (why a person teaches,
their calling) and the emotions that accompany such work. The teacher, in partnership
with an empathetic and skilled supervisor, goes through an iterative process of action,
looking back at action, developing awareness of the mission and identity played out in—
or missing from—that action, and devising plans for alternative actions. In the process,
the teacher becomes aware of the “less rational” sources of behavior: one’s self-concept,
fears, desires, and “deepest motives for becoming a teacher.” The authors argue that such
awareness can effect change in teacher behavior, and even in the school.
The reflective practices of groups like the Philadelphia Teachers Learning Cooperative
(PTLC) (Featherstone, 1998; El-Haj, 2003), affiliated with the Prospect Center for
Education and Research in North Bennington, Vermont and the Teacher Knowledge
Project of the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont are also clearly
spelled out. The PTLC has met as a group of new and experienced teachers once a week
for over 25 years. It (along with several other similar groups across the country) continues
to follow the descriptive processes developed at the Prospect School. These include
descriptive reviews of children, descriptions of student work and descriptions of practice.
The objective of these processes is to carefully gather evidence that allows a teacher to see
a child and his or her work without resorting to labels, or jumping to judgments based on
unexamined assumptions about the child. The Teacher Knowledge Project, which, like
the PTLC, works with teachers across subject areas and age groups, operates study
groups across the country (Rodgers, 2002). It, too, follows a process that moves from
description of experience to analysis to “intelligent action.” Based on Dewey’s conception
of reflection, teachers are encouraged to “slow down” to see students and their
learning. While the purpose of these two programs is not explicitly the development of
the teacher’s self and identity, by training teachers’ attention on what is, rather than what
they think should be or what they wish were so, these programs bring into focus the ways
in which the fears and desires of the self can make assumptions which might not be borne
out by evidence. They are then confronted with the gap between what is and what either
they or the system thinks should be. The challenge then becomes one of choice—to act
according to one’s own perceptions of what is necessary or according to the demands of
748 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
Finally, it seems important to include in this discussion the work of Parker Palmer.
With the Fetzer Foundation, Palmer has established a series of workshops and retreats
that ask, “Who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form—or
deform—the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can
educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching
comes” (Intrator, 2002, p. 288). Palmer (1998), a college professor, writes, “In every
class I teach, my ability to connect with my students and to connect them with the subject
depends less on the method I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my own
selfhood—and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning”
(p. 11). His workshops draw upon teachers’ “personal stories, reflections on classroom
practice, and insights from poets, storytellers, and various wisdom traditions” (Intrator,
2002, p. 288). Palmer views teacher formation as a spiritual (though not explicitly
religious) practice and intentionally structures his work with teachers along a retreat
model. Time and space is built in for contemplation and solitude within a context of
These model teacher education and professional development programs, share the following
expectations: (1) teachers must know themselves and their own frames of reference,
values and biases; (2) teachers should take a critical look at themselves and the
privileges and inequities of their own and their students’ lives; (3) teachers should explore
their own social perspectives; (4) teachers should reflect upon their educational experiences
as children, and recognize how these experiences impact upon how they think
about teaching; (5) teachers should be exposed to perspectives different from their own.
Some consider the capacity to engage in this kind of self-reflection to be an “ethical
necessity.” Each program offered processes that both challenged and supported teachers
in confronting and changing their practices and conceptions: i.e. in developing their
teacher selves and identities.
Constructive developmental theory helps us unpack the hidden developmental demands
of these teacher education programs. It reveals that even model programs may not be
good matches for all teachers who are enrolled (Berger, 2002, Drago-Severson, 2004,
Kegan, 1982, 1994) and it highlights the importance of attending to the developmental
diversity of students enrolled in such programs. As such, to assume that there is a static
notion of identity or self puts even the best teacher education programs at risk for
alienating certain groups of students.
These model teacher education programs may be best suited to the prospective teacher
who is making sense somewhere between a stage three and a stage four way of knowing.
For the stage three/stage four student, such programs provide the three necessary components
of a “holding environment” that is designed to support the growth/development
of its members’ selves.
A holding environment is a tricky transitional culture, an evolutionary bridge, a
context for crossing over. It fosters developmental transformation or the process by
which the whole (“how I am”) becomes gradually a part (“who I was”) of a new
whole (“how I am now”).
(Kegan, 1994, p. 43)
These programs provide support (“to affirm the validity” of one’s experiences), challenge
(to “open a gap between students and environment, a gap that creates tension in the
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 749
student—calling out for closure”) and vision (Daloz, 1999) suited to this subgroup of
students. In his discussion about the supportive function of mentors to adult learning
Daloz defines vision:
It [providing vision] is similar to Kegan’s idea of the confirming function. Mentors
hang around through transitions, a foot on either side of the gulf; they offer a hand to
help us swing across. By their very essence, mentors provide proof that the journey
can be made, the leap taken. In helping their charges look ahead, form a dream,
sketch their own maps, mentors offer a fair chance of ‘winning through’ as the Old
Man said to Telemakhos.
These teacher education programs (to the stage three side of these students) provide
a context of affiliation by offering a defined set of values, a common purpose that generates
a common language, or a norm of which students can be a part. As such, there are
clear values, expectations, and purposes that are defined by the program. This creates
a safe space in which students can begin to define themselves and their own purposes.
The challenge function of these teacher education programs (appreciating the student’s
movement towards a more self-authoring self) is the encouragement for students to
engage in self-reflection, to know/understand the limits of their own thinking, values,
histories, and the ways in which these limitations could influence their teaching. As such,
there is encouragement/support for students to become self-authoring. Finally, the vision
function of these programs is the belief that students’ teaching holds a bigger purpose; it
is for the greater good of a democratic society.
If prospective teachers are making sense in a stage 3 way (the socialized self, according
to Kegan), they are likely to feel “in over their heads” (Kegan, 1994). As a result, they
may experience disappointment and frustration because the program did not provide the
degree of clarity or the specific guidelines and direction that the students felt they needed.
The teacher educators may also experience disappointment and frustration because, in
their view, their students should take more risks, be independently minded, and refrain
from leaning on them. Teacher educators may desire their students to be more “selfauthoring”
than they are capable of being. As such, there is a developmental mismatch
between the students and the developmental demands of the program. Using Daloz’s
model, the programs offer high challenge and low support. Unless supports are put
into place—a developmental bridge that attends to both who the teacher is now (her
current way of making meaning; stage three), and to who she may become (stage 4, a
more self-authored self)—students may disengage. (Daloz, 1999; Kegan, 1994).
It is also possible for prospective teachers operating in a stage four way (self-authoring)
or beyond to feel alienated in these model teacher education programs. While these
programs espouse values such as independence, self-motivation, and the capacity for selfreflection/
self-critique, they assume that students will espouse their values and beliefs
about teaching. Thus, a conflicting message is put forth. On the one hand, independence
and self-authoring are desired; yet, there is an unspoken expectation that students will
tow the party line (a stage three way of knowing). As a result, students who are
independent-minded, and hold a different set of values about teaching may, in fact,
challenge the very fabric of the program. These students may feel that asserting their
voice puts them at risk within the context of the program (i.e. maintaining the good
graces of their professors, achieving good grades, getting along with fellow students).
Because they hold a perspective on their conflict, they can make a conscious choice about
whether to “play the game” to get through the program successfully, to take the risk of
750 CAROL R. RODGERS AND KATHERINE H. SCOTT
asserting their voice, or to leave the program. Teacher educators who themselves are not
stage 4 or beyond may experience these students as a threat to the program, resistant (to
upholding the values of the program), or self-absorbed. Using Daloz’s model there is low
challenge and low support; unless both support and challenge are increased, there is the
potential for disengagement.
Constructive developmental theory, then, helps us to better understand why some
students’ may fare better than others in these model teacher education programs (Berger,
2002; Drago-Severson, 2004; Kegan, 1982, 1994). This perspective suggests that if our
mission is to design teacher education programs that will support the growth and development
of teacher selves, we need to attend to the developmental diversity students
bring, as well as the developmental demands inherent in the program. A developmental
perspective helps us to “see more clearly” and to have greater compassion for prospective
teachers (Kegan, 1982). Rather, than focusing on behaviors (e.g. needy, resistant, etc.),
we can attend to the meaning that these behaviors have to the students who are displaying
them. This attention leads to better understanding of students and compels us to
develop teacher education programs that attend to the developmental diversity of its
students. In doing so, we are more likely to achieve the goal of graduating teachers who
have successfully developed their own voice, and who can take a critical perspective on
Finally, a note of caution. Implicit in this discussion is the notion that the growth and
development of teachers’ selves is a worthy goal. It is the mission of these programs for
students to become more self-authoring, self-motivated, and self-directed. However, prospective
teachers leave these programs to enter school contexts that may, in fact, value a
more stage three way of knowing. Schools, in fact, may prefer that their teachers enact a
role that has been defined by the system, rather than that they self-author their role (see
Achinstein and Ogawa, 2006 for an exploration of just this). Teachers who enter the
system hoping to define their role may be at risk for a developmental mismatch between
themselves and the context in which they find themselves teaching. Thus, teacher education
programs must also give consideration to the developmental demands of the educational
system and how to prepare students to negotiate that system in a way that is
productive for them and their students
In this chapter we have sorted through recent conceptions of teacher identity and teacher
self to arrive at a new definition of teacher identity and teacher self. As we stated earlier,
we define self to subsume teacher identities and to be an evolving, yet, coherent being
that consciously and unconsciously constructs and is constructed, reconstructs and is
reconstructed in interaction with cultural contexts, institutions, and people with which
the self lives, learns, and functions. Drawing upon the psychological literature of
constructive developmental theory, we highlight that the sense the self makes of her
experiences is distinctly different at different levels of meaning making (i.e. the varying
capacities to take a perspective on oneself), and that these differences color how the
teacher self makes sense of her teacher identity, emotions that are evoked for her within
the context of her teaching, and the level of connection or involvement that she may feel
as a participant in her teacher education program.
In the face of such developmental diversity, there is nevertheless a hidden developmental
expectation or assumption held by teacher educators and teacher education program
that teachers should, in fact, make sense of their experiences at a particular level
of development. They assume that prospective teachers should have the capacity to be
DEVELOPING A PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY 751
self-authoring, and self-critical. In our discussion, we have emphasized that without
attention given to the developmental diversity of students, both they and their professors
are at risk for disappointment, and even disengagement.
Clearly, what is still missing from the literature and the field is empirical work that
seeks to better understand the role of psychology in teacher education. While there is an
evolving literature on teacher emotion, the literature that brings in the psychological
development of the self to bear on the effectiveness of teacher education programs is in its
infancy. It is our hope that over the next decade this research will evolve so that we can
better answer the questions that we posed at the beginning of this chapter: (1) How might
teachers go about making the psychological shift from being authored by these forces to
authoring their own stories? (2) How might teacher educators facilitate this process? (3)
What is the impact on the practice of teachers who participate in such programs? And
finally, (4) What is the impact on their students’ learning?
1 It is well beyond the scope of this chapter to do this exhaustively. Conceptions of the self and
identity reside in nearly every field of study from psychology to philosophy, from literature to
2 We exclude stage 1, the latency age child, and stage 5, a developmental achievement that is not
usually achieved until middle age or later.
3 Rodgers, (2006). Learning to teach as an art: John Dewey and the Prospect School Teacher
Education Program (1967–1991). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, San Diego, California.
Abu El-Haj, T.R. (2003) Practicing for equity from the stand point of the particular: exploring the
work of the urban teacher network. Teachers College Record, 105(5), pp. 817–845.
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