Negotiating meaning with educational practice: Alignment of preservice teachers' mission, identity, and beliefs with the practice of collaborative action research
The case studies examined how three preservice teachers within a Master of Arts in Teaching program at a small, private university negotiated meaning around an educational practice—collaborative action research. Preservice teachers must negotiate multiple, and often competing, internal and external discourses as they sort out what educational practices, policies, organizational structures to accept or reject as presented in the teacher education program. This negotiation is a dynamic, contextual, unique meaning-making process that extends, redirects, dismisses, reinterprets, modifies, or confirms prior beliefs (Wenger, 1998).
Korthagen’s (2004) model for facilitating understanding and reflection was used to explore the process of negotiating meaning. Known as the Onion Model, it includes six levels: the environment, behavior, competencies, beliefs, identity, and mission. When alignment occurs between all levels, Korthagen explained that individuals experience wholeness, energy, and presence. In contrast, tensions can occur within a level or between levels of the Onion Model and limit the effectiveness of the preservice teacher regarding the area in question. Reflecting on the collaborative action research experience through the layers of the Korthagen’s model may allow preservice teachers (and professors) to identify degrees of alignment and areas of tension as preservice teachers negotiate meaning. Once identified, areas of tension can be deconstructed and better understood; self-understanding can empower individuals to assume an active and powerful role in their professional developmental.
To explore how preservice teachers negotiated their identity regarding collaborative action research, the following research questions guided the study: (1) How do preservice teachers’ trajectories align with the practice of collaborative action research? (2) How do individuals negotiate meaning regarding the practice of collaborative action research? (3) How do preservice teachers frame collaborative action research in relation to their future practice? Triangulated data from interviews, observations, and document analysis was collected, analyzed, and interpreted to provide insight into preservice teachers’ process of negotiating meaning around a nontraditional educational practice.
Each participant traveled a unique and emotional journey through the process of collaborative action research and their personal trajectory did influence the way they negotiated the practice of collaborative action research. Findings included: (a) each participant had a dominant trait that influenced areas of alignment and misalignment between their trajectory and the practice of collaborative action research; (b) some participants exhibited visible misalignments while the misalignments of others were hidden; (c) participants relied on personal strengths to reestablish the perception of alignment as they negotiated meaning through the practice of collaborative action research; (d) the way misalignments were negotiated limited the transformational potential of the learning experience of collaborative action research; and (e) participants’ expectations for their future use of the practice of collaborative action research aligned with their dominant traits.