Teacher agency in collaborative professional development; missing in action?

Catriona Oates, Carey Philpott

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

35 Downloads (Pure)


Internationally there has been growing research in teacher agency (e.g. Masuda 2010; Sanino 2010; Ketelaar et al 2012; Riveros, Newton & Burgess 2012; Priestley et al 2012; Robinson 2012; Reeves & I'Anson 2014).Teacher Agency can be defined as "the power of teachers (both individually and collectively) to actively and purposefully direct their own working lives within structurally determined limits” (Hilferty 2008: 167). Priestley et al (2012: 196) remind us that “rather than agency residing in individuals as a property or capacity, it becomes construed in part as an effect of the ecological conditions through which it is enacted”. So the key questions are ““How is agency possible? and “How is it achieved?”” (ibid: 196). Similarly Biesta and Tedder (2007: 137) remind us that “actors always act by means of their environment rather than simply in their environment … the achievement of agency will always result in the interplay of individual efforts, available resources and contextual and structural factors”. Internationally, curriculum reform (rhetorically at least) is making growing use of teacher agency as a mechanism for reform (Priestley et al 2012; Robinson 2012). At the same time as growing international policy/rhetorical emphasis on teacher agency for curriculum reform there has been growing international emphasis on models of collaborative professional development for the same purpose (Riveros, Newton & Burgess 2012). Some have made a connection between the two, seeing teachers collaborative professional development as an important “ecological condition” or “resource” for teacher agency (e.g. Masuda, 2010; Lipponen & Kumpalainen 2011; Riveros, Newton & Burgess 2012; McNicholl 2013). In Scotland, Learning Rounds (based on U.S. Instructional Rounds (City et al 2009)) has been one of the most high profile policy manifestations of collaborative professional development. A key purpose of instructional rounds should be to develop a theory of action. A theory of action is a “statement of a causal relationship between what I do … and what constitutes a good result in the classroom … [i]t must be empirically falsifiable [and] [i]t must be open ended” (City et al 2009: 40, italics in original). Once a theory of action is viewed as finished it “ceases to function as a learning tool and it becomes a symbolic artefact, useful primarily as a tool for legitimising … authority” (ibid; 53). Similar to the “rhetoric of conclusions” (from government policy, ‘district’ policy or educational research) that Clandinnin and Connelly (1995) argue devalues the understanding of practice developed by teachers. The open ended and falsifiable nature of a theory of action is a “condition” for teacher agency. Once it becomes fixed and an example “the rhetoric of conclusions” it constrains teacher agency by serving to legitimise external authority. Despite the international popularity of instructional rounds and official support in Scotland for the learning rounds derived from them, there is little empirical evidence internationally on the effects of this form of collaborative development in practice. The research reported here analysed transcripts of four groups of teachers in Scottish schools engaged in discussions as part of collaborative professional development through learning rounds. The analyis seeks to determine the evidence that this form of collaborative professional development is providing the "ecologial conditions" or a "resource" for teacher agency.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2015
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2015
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2015 - Corvinus University, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 7 Sep 201511 Sep 2015


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2015
Abbreviated titleECER 2015
OtherEducation and Transition. Contributions from Educational Research


  • Agency
  • Learning Rounds
  • PLCs


Dive into the research topics of 'Teacher agency in collaborative professional development; missing in action?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this