My Problem of Practice and its problems
As I grapple with the messy and goopy work of doing research, this is where I’m at in defining my Problem of Practice. As I mentioned before, defining a problem of practice is the first big task in our doctoral cohort.
At any other time in my life, I could spend three minutes and tell you a problem and what I intended to do about it. The new expectation I’m placing on myself as a researcher, however, is that my ideas need to be placed in dialogue with other researchers. This happens through the use of reading their research, citing it (which positions me in “dialogue”), and then proposing my ideas. The construct, then, is a “They say-I say” approach to reading and writing.
At the core of my problem of practice is this: teachers face so many external pressures that they lose creative agency and intellectual responsibility. I want to investigate the value of giving that agency and responsibility back to teachers by examining what happens when teachers get the opportunity to act and think like designers.
I’ve pasted below the latest draft of my problem of practice so that you can see where I’m at.
Teacher as Designer
As a consultant for early childhood schools, I am confronted with many questions. I have provided professional development and consultation on the topics of designing learning environments, the Reggio Emilia approach, constructivist pedagogy, and redefining challenging behavior in the classroom. With over 250 hours of professional development and consultation provided in the last two years, I am always left feeling emotionally charged with questions like this, “Yeah, I’ve heard of constructionism [sic]. My director says we don’t do that, but your ideas are so great. How do I talk to my director about this? Will you talk to her for me? [laughter]”. Questions regarding the external pressures and forces that limit teacher agency, creativity, and intellectual responsibility are common questions I receive. Choices having to deal with planning, pedagogy, and assessment seem to be made by other people outside of the classroom. In the particular example of teacher quoted here, she is even reluctant to have a conversation with her director. Members of leadership outside of the classroom seem to determine the intellectual responsibility and creativity of classroom practice.
Teachers’ professional images are compromised when they are not given opportunities for creativity, and the social and political climate for early childhood education indicates that early childhood teachers in particular face continued suppression of creativity. In a superior/subordinate power structure where teachers play the role of subordinate to directors or leadership committees, teachers feel disempowered, hold a negative professional image, and they have increased anxiety, vulnerability, and fear (Roussin & Zimmerman, 2014). United Stated educational policy invests heavily in high-stakes standardized testing which limits teacher creativity while creating challenges for studying creativity in education (Giroux & Schmidt, 2004; Henderson, Howell, & Peterson, 2014; Robinson, 2011). Here in Oregon, meanwhile, there has been unprecedented spending and attention in early childhood education (Hammond, 2014). Along with this spending and attention from our state legislature, our state seems to be leaning towards the adoption of accountability measures and standards such as Head Start’s Early Learning Framework, TS Gold, and the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (Early Learning Division, 2014; Hammond, 2014; Komp, Hack, & Huffman, 2015; Teaching Strategies, 2015a, 2015b; U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, & Office of Head Start, 2015). While these measures have not been enforced through the licensing of early childhood schools in Oregon, schools that wish to participate in Oregon’s Preschool Promise bill will have measures of accountability tied to their funding (Komp et al., 2015). In this social and political climate, teachers will have fewer opportunities to employ creative processes in their pedagogical practices.
The purpose of my intended research is to present the opportunities inherent and afforded to early childhood teachers who use creative processes in their teaching methods. Taking a social constructivist approach (Bruner, 1990; Piaget, 1950; Vygotsky, 1978), I place emphasis on the teacher’s current and evolving understandings of their professional identity as a teacher as attributed to their personal understandings in the midst of their social context. To do this, I look to the use of self-describing narratives and, in particular, the use of metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). The concept of metaphor becomes relevant and central to my problem of practice in that I propose a new metaphor for teachers to consider: Teacher as Designer. This metaphor is intended to provoke a new consideration for professional identity as an early childhood teacher, to disrupt the prevailing and current metaphors teachers might hold, and to establish new inroads to potentially innovative frameworks for teachers to use in their teaching practice.
To propose the Teacher as Designer metaphor, I draw from literature on the use of metaphor in teacher education, the concept of creativity and its definitions, and principles of design as it pertains to education. The use of metaphors in teacher education programs have sought to study incoming prospective teacher understandings of their roles and professional identities (Eren & Tekinarslan, 2013; Hamilton, 2016; Thomson, 2016). Parks (2009) makes the distinction that metaphors examine people’s understandings rather than beliefs. This distinction is important in that these metaphors are situated in a social context and can be changed through the social context whereas beliefs might focus on personal introspective reflection.
Creativity, furthermore, has to be defined and inspected for its value in educational practice. Plucker, Beghetto and Dow (2004) provides a content analysis of literature on creativity to create this definition of creativity, “Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context” (p. 90). This definition unlinks creativity from artistic ability and posits that usefulness is a key consideration of creative effort. This concept and definition of creativity is readily apparent in Design Thinking devised by David Kelley and Tim Brown at Stanford University (Brown & Katz, 2011; Kelley, 2012). They propose the framework of Design Thinking as a methodology of using design principles in areas outside of traditional design paradigms. This includes the use of design in education (IDEO & Riverdale Country School, 2012). I draw inspiration from this framework to devise the language, practices, rituals, concepts, and principles to disrupt and interrupt prevailing metaphors to introduce the metaphor of Teacher as Designer.
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Roussin, J. L., & Zimmerman, D. P. (2014). Inspire Learning, Not Dread: Create a Feedback Culture That Leads to Improved Practice. Journal of Staff Development, 35(6), 36–39,.
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Thomson, M. M. (2016). Metaphorical images of schooling: beliefs about teaching and learning among prospective teachers from the United States displaying different motivational profiles. Educational Psychology, 36(3), 502–525. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410.2015.1024612
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