Analysing ourselves and the role of ‘teacher’

Studies such as those of Huberman (1993), Nias (1989), Day (2004) and Gu (2007) have shown that most people enter the profession with a strong sense of personal identity and of personal values. For instance, Nias reported that this sense of self was so strong that many teachers saw themselves as ‘persons in teaching' rather than as ‘teachers' as such. Clearly, if this is so, then the openness and willingness to change and develop, which is implied by the notion of reflective teaching, is dependent on the qualities and degree of confidence of each teacher's sense of self and the relationship of ‘self' to ‘role'. One issue of particular interest is that of achieving personal fulfilment from teaching. This seems to be most likely when there is a congruence between each teacher's personal sense of self and the ways in which they are expected to present their self in school – their public display.

This work raises a number of important points, particularly the need to develop self knowledge. Easen (1985) has provided a useful framework for developing such understanding. He suggests that we can distinguish between a set of characteristics which we see as being part of ourselves (as representing our self image) in contrast to a set of attributes which other people attribute to us on the basis of observation and interaction with us. There is also an unknown area of potential for self development.
Using a model of this sort, one can distinguish between the following:

These aspects are indicated in Figure 5.1. Gaining self knowledge is not something which one can simply ‘do' and complete in a single activity. It is something which develops over time, as a conscious process which goes on throughout life. As reflective teachers we will be aware of how much our biographies affect what we think and do (see Maclure, 2000). It is helpful and interesting to recall experiences at home and at school which you feel were significant – exchanging memories with a colleague is a good way to do this. However in Reflective Activity 5.1 our main purpose is to draw attention to a different aspect of self awareness.

However, developing such self awareness can involve a process of self discovery which may, at times, be threatening and painful. The work of Carl Rogers (1961, 1969, 1980) is useful here. Rogers writes as a psychotherapist who has developed what he calls a ‘person centred' approach to his work. His central argument is that:

Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self understanding and for altering their self concepts, basic attitudes and self directed behaviour. (1980, p. 115)

In addition to the focus on inner self development, Rogers also suggests that personal development is facilitated by genuine acceptance by others. This has great relevance for professional and personal development in teaching. In particular, it points to the importance of working collaboratively with colleagues and developing open, trusting relationships. Such relationships should not only provide an alternative source of insights into our own practice but should also provide the support to face and deal with whatever issues may be raised. Recent work in the field of school effectiveness identifies the importance of schools developing cultures in which teachers are supported in taking risks, changing their practices and growing in effectiveness, creating ‘learning communities' in which teachers are also learners (Hopkins, Ainscow and West, 1994; MacBeath and Mortimore, 2001; Southworth, Nias and Campbell, 1992; MacGilchrist, Myers and Read, 1997; Nixon, 1996).