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When teachers face themselves: enduring outcomes of teachers’ “secret stories” lived and shared


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Jones, TA (2008) When teachers face themselves: enduring outcomes of teachers’ “secret stories” lived and shared. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This study sought to identify and understand the enduring outcomes, both personal
and professional, for seven Tasmanian teachers who participated in an emotionally demanding,
highly experiential 3-day professional development workshop. MESH
Support Group Facilitator Training (MESH) is part of a Student Assistance Program.
MESH seeks to develop teacher participants’ understandings about the issues
impacting upon individual lives, in and out of school settings, and to develop in them
the skills necessary to facilitate support groups in schools. In the process, teachers
share their stories of challenging life experiences in a series of support group
sessions, some of which they co-facilitate. This sharing of their own and colleagues’
stories in a support group context draws on teachers’ reserves of emotion, cognition,
and personal and professional experience.
Despite early acknowledgement that teachers’ personal and professional lives are
inextricably linked, and that teachers’ self-understanding is crucial to any effort they
expend to help students to understand themselves, the personal-professional
connection is one which is often neglected in teacher education programs and inservice
professional development. Consequently, the importance of this study lies in
its exploration of teachers’ engagement with a professional development program
that sought specifically to bring together the personal and the professional in
participants’ lives. Through this investigation, I sought to understand why teachers
engage with the MESH program, and how their engagement impacts on their
personal lives and professional practice.
Working within the field of narrative inquiry, I lived and worked alongside the
workshop facilitator and each participant, 3-days-at-a-time, observing and fieldnoting
participants’ experiences in order to develop an in-depth understanding of
their perceptions of the program, its impact, and outcomes. A series of three
interviews was conducted with each participant: one prior to their experience to
establish contexts and expectations, one following their experience to capture
immediate responses, and one a year later to probe participants’ memories and
recollections, and to discover the ways in which they have drawn on that experience
in both their personal and professional lives. Individual one-off interviews were also
conducted with the workshop’s Australian facilitator and the program’s US founder
in order to provide contextualising data. Preliminary work that informed my
methodology and understandings included a survey by questionnaire of 56 past
participants, 9 of whom participated in focus group interviews. Additionally, I have
drawn on my own experiences of participation in, and co-facilitation of, numerous
MESH workshops during a 5-year period. These supporting data informed my
analysis and interpretation of key participants’ data. From these rich data sources, I
constructed seven biographical narrative accounts which contextualise the individual
teachers’ participation, experiences and enduring outcomes.
These accounts trouble some of the taken-for-granted assumptions about the person
who is the teacher, re-presenting individual teachers’ unique biographies and
experiences, and revealing a diverse range of enduring outcomes – both personal and
professional. Teacher participants described their affective, emotional engagement
with their own and colleagues’ stories as cathartic and transformative. For these
teachers the enduring outcomes of their MESH experience included a transformation
of their understandings about themselves and others; their relationships with family,
colleagues and students; and their teaching practices. Teachers’ experiences became a
resource used by them to inform their self-understanding; their personal and
professional lives and relationships; and improve their understanding of, interactions
with, and support for, their students.
Findings of this study suggest that support groups provide teachers with a safe place
in which they can share their “secret stories,” and that this sharing is beneficial to
their self-understanding, self-care and well-being. Findings also reinforce the need for
teacher education and professional development programs to assist pre-service and
in-service teachers in exploring their biographies, and, through this exploration, to
make explicit the impact of biography on teaching practice

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: support group, teachers lives, secret stories, narrative inquiry, support group facilitator, training teachers, professional learning
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Date Deposited: 16 Mar 2009 20:50
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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