Professional Teachers: Theorizing for Better Practice
The research question motivating this study is how teachers may meet a growing expectation of professional conduct through developing the capacity to theorize. Drawing on findings from two qualitative studies we have undertaken in seven schools, we point to a dichotomy between theory and practice among teachers, and argue that there is a need for bridging this dysfunctional gap. In order to do so, we contend that a process understanding of theory will be useful, where emphasis is put on theorizing as a verb instead of theory as a noun (Weick, 1989; 1995). By theorizing, we understand both the construction and the reflective application of theory, in which a differentiated and graded theory concept is applied (Weniger, 1953; Jarvis, 1995; Kvernbekk, 2005; Flyvbjerg, 2006). A graded theory concept means that theory in a stronger as well as in a weaker sense may be placed at the same continuum, where theory in the strong sense is a well-articulated general theory; and theory in the week sense are knowledge structures and beliefs that are less context based and more person and context specific. Weaker theories are typically drawn from the teachers’ primary experiences, while stronger theories are typically associated with, for example, educational theories and theories from related disciplines.
As pointed out by several scholars, in order to be perceived as professionals, teachers must not only justify their conduct by pointing to what works for them, but also by drawing on stronger theory (see for example Weniger, 1953; Eraut, 1994; Brookfield, 1995). The aim of our research is to develop a model that may help school teachers as well as teacher educators overcome the dichotomy between theory and practice through theorizing, and strengthen teachers’ professional identity and legitimacy.We present such a model, and apply the model on our two empirical cases in a discussion of how theorizing may improve professional practice among teachers and school leaders.
The data were collected through interviews with 20 class tutors, school leaders and union representatives in seven schools (three secondary and four primary schools). The interviews were qualitative and semi structured, and lasted in average about one and a half hour each. All interviews were transcribed and analyzed thematically.
We begin the article with a discussion of theory and theorizing as a process, with emphasis on the role of graded theory in theorizing. We then discuss theorizing as a verb using weaker respectively stronger theory, before we present two empirical cases. Based on these case studies we discuss what professional practice entails, and how teachers may develop their professional conduct through theorizing. Finally, we summarize the main points in our article, before we briefly point out some challenges for teachers' professional development that we believe deserve greater attention. By doing so, we hope that our paper may serve as a contribution to the understanding of the relation between theorizing and professional development among teachers. We introduce a process view of knowledge development through theorizing, illustrate with the help of a visual model how theorizing may bridge the perceived gap between theory and practice, and discuss how the capacity to theorize may lead to a stronger and more articulated theory of action and strengthen teachers’ professional identity and legitimacy.
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