Self-Study In Teacher Education: A Means And Ends Tool For Promoting Reflective Teaching

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  • of Teacher Education online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0022487102238654

    2003 54: 6Journal of Teacher EducationTodd Dinkelman

    Self-Study In Teacher Education: A Means And Ends Tool For Promoting Reflective Teaching

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    American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

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  • ARTICLE10.1177/0022487102238654Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 54, No. 1, January/February 2003Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 54, No. 1, January/February 2003


    Todd DinkelmanUniversity of Georgia

    This article presents an argument for self-study of teacher education practices as a means and endstool for promoting reflective teaching. The assertion is that self-study serves a dual purpose: as ameans to promote reflective teaching and as a substantive end of teacher education. The argumentconsists of a five-part theoretical rationale for the use of self-study in reflection-oriented teacher ed-ucation programs. Taken together, the various components of this rationale suggest that the promo-tion of reflective teaching will require something other than an additive approach to teachereducation reform. Rather, self-study calls for a reconceptualization of the very process of teacher ed-ucation itself. When teacher educators adopt self-study as an integral part of their own professionalpractice, the terrain of teacher preparation shifts. Self-study becomes more than just a means to thetreasured aim of reflective teachingself-study becomes an end of teacher education in its ownright.

    The first social studies methods course I taughtserved the additional purpose of providing datafor a dissertation on preservice teacher develop-ment. This first attempt at methods was also myinitial, ambitious effort at building a classroomsetting characterized by critical discussion, thechallenging of assumptions, and anemancipatory discourse. These grandiose ef-forts were meant to send these beginning teach-ers into their student teaching semester chargedto lead the democratic transformation of publicschooling. In the middle of that semester, sev-eral class members let me know that my best in-tentions for the course were not being realized.On this particular day, as the class moved awayfrom a discussion of the appointed topic, multi-cultural education, and toward a forum for air-ing grievances with the course, one class mem-ber began her contribution by saying, I dontfeel safe in this classroom, and burst into tears.I was taken aback, to say the least, if not totallysurprised. That our classroom had become a less

    than welcoming environment for some was anunsettling sentiment I had detected in the priorweeks, but try as I might to figure out what wasso threatening about our class, I had few an-swers.

    Then, 2 months later, after the semester cameto an unceremonious end, I was nearing com-pletion of an interview of Amy, a student/studyparticipant from that class. I asked why shethought some students did not feel free to speaktheir minds in class. Amy replied,

    You have to have, like, a safe place, and where youregoing to feel comfortable saying things, and youregoing to feel like you can say stuff and you wont geta funny face. I mean, you kind of have that wrinkledface when you look at people, like that right there. . . .You have a face. Its stupid. Its totally stupid. Itshouldnt matter, but it does. Like, it shouldnt mat-ter, but if you dont care that I say it, I know that peo-ple have said, And then youre talking and he getsthis face like, and it looks like, what are you talkingabout? Like, are you stupid? Thats what the facelooks like. . . . And its good to, like, criticize and look


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  • at critical parts and pick things apart, but I dontthink there was that safe place and developed rela-tionship to do that yet . . . because some days whenwe were talking, some days, people around mewould say, Im scared to say what Im going to say.Thats pretty sad. People were scared to say whatthey had to say, that you would look at them funnyand look at them like, What the hell are you talkingabout?

    I was stunned. This response was truly a revela-tion to me. Promotion of open discourse was,and is, one of the most valued objectives of myteaching, one that I was unknowingly squelch-ing. Immediately after the interview, I phonedseveral of my closest friends, all of whomworked outside the field of teacher education, toask them if they knew of this look. To a per-son, they did. One of my closest friends told mehe knew the look well. I asked, What does itmean? He explained that it meant I was think-ing very hard about what he was saying, tryingto deeply understand his point. He claimed itwas one of my most endearing qualities as afriend. I continued, Could it mean anythingelse? My friend continued, Oh yeah, if I didntknow you very well, Id think it means that youthink Im stupid.

    Several years later, my efforts in teachingessentially the same methods course, with thesame aim of promoting critical reflection, meetwith far different results. I have since come tomore deeply appreciate the enormous complex-ity of a democratic teacher education project. Inmuch the same way as described by Cochran-Smith (2000), my competence as a teacher ofteachers has evolved as I have undertaken thesometimes painful work of carefully examiningthe assumptions I hold about progressive edu-cation. Many explanations account for myincreasing effectiveness as a teacher educator,but Amys words recall one particular change inmy professional practicein the very first classmeeting of all of my classes, students hear meexplain the look and what it means. As aresult of this simple yet powerful discovery,subsequent groups of students have experi-enced this methods class far differently than didthat first group. In this case, my success is not somuch a result of using different techniques ofinstruction, although I have added different

    strategies to my repertoire. Rather, I believe alarge part of the difference is accounted for byknowing something important about my prac-tice that I did not know before, something I onlycame to know about as a result of self-study.

    This story serves as an introduction to themain argument of this articlean argument forself-study of teacher education practices as ameans and ends tool for promoting reflectiveteaching. The assertion is that self-study servesa dual purpose: as a means to promote reflectiveteaching and as a substantive end of teachereducation in its own right. As reflective teach-ing has grown to become a treasured aimamong growing numbers of teacher educatorsover the past three decades, a concurrent inter-est has developed in the manner by which thisaim is effectively advanced among bothpreservice and experienced teachers. There hasbeen a rush to share experiences of what worksin promoting reflective practice, and a growingbody of research has addressed particular tech-niques and strategies for promoting reflectiveteaching (e.g., Calderhead & Gates, 1993;LaBoskey, 1994; Valli, 1992).

    The past decade has also witnessed a rapidlydeveloping interest in self-study of teacher edu-cation practices. Over this time, many teachereducation researchers have constructed a richtheoretical and empirical case for the power ofself-study as a reform tool in rethinking howteachers learn to teach (Hamilton, 1998). Forexample, Olson (1995, 1996) related her experi-ence using narrative inquiry to investigate theways in which her work as a teacher educatorleads preservice teachers to examine and explic-itly link their own narrative understandingswith the professional knowledge they encoun-ter in school and university settings. Similarly,Knowles and Cole (1994, 1995; Knowles, Cole, &Presswood, 1994) investigated their own devel-opment as teacher educators and drew connec-tions between such self-study inquiries andtheir developing expertise in working withbeginning teachers. Hamilton (1995) reviewedsalient readings about action research andargued the merits of self-reflective, inquiry-based study of practice (p. 81) for school anduniversity-based teachers alike. Other accounts

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  • illuminate how self-study has lead teacher edu-cators to deeper understandings of the aims,methods, and outcomes of their work withbeginning teachers (Guilfoyle, Hamilton,Pinnegar, & Placier, 1995; Hamilton, 1998;Loughran & Russell, 1997; Placier, 1996).

    The simultaneous rise in interests in bothreflective teaching and self-study is not coinci-dental. An argument can be made that there areclose conceptual and practical ties betweenthese two movements in teacher education. Inthis article, I explore these ties by casting self-study as a way to promote reflection that is notso much a stand-alone technique as it is anapproach to the work of teacher education. Self-study is not a direct intervention done withbeginning teachers in the same way as arrow-in-the-quiver methods such as dialogue journals(Stephens & Reimer, 1993), structured curricu-lum tasks (Beyer, 1984; Hatton & Smith, 1995),or the use of case and ethnographic studies(Fueyo & Neves, 1995; Gitlin & Tietlebaum,1983). Yet the potential benefits of self-study byteacher educators are so compelling that self-study should be considered a viable and power-ful strategy, a means of teacher education, forpromoting reflective teaching in its own right.At the same time, self-study can itself be under-stood as a reflective end for those teacher educa-tors who aspire to encourage reflectiveapproaches to teaching.

    By self-study, I mean intentional and system-atic inquiry into ones own practice.1 Includedin this definition is inquiry conducted by indi-vidual teacher educators as well as groupsworking collaboratively to understand prob-lems of practice more deeply. Clearly, the storyof my own experience is one piece of evidence tostrengthen the argument for self-study, but inthis article, an attempt is made to build abroader case grounded in more than anecdote.My aim is to advance a five-part theoretical ra-tionale for the use of self-study to promote re-flective teaching, while selectively drawing onthe experiences of teacher educators and re-searchers who have reported results of study-ing their own practice. The rationale rests on thefollowing:

    the congruence of reflection with the activity ofteaching;

    the potential of self-study for knowledge produc-tion, of value for both local contexts and the broaderteacher education research community;

    opportunities to model reflective practice; value of self-study participation for preservice stu-

    dents; possibilities for programmatic change.

    Each part of this rationale contributes to an ar-gument for the more widespread practice ofteacher educator self-study in programs for thepreparation of teachers that feature an emphasison reflective teaching.


    The first part of the argument is a normativeconception of teaching that puts reflection at thecenter. It is common for those who advocatereflective and critically reflective approaches toinstructional practice to draw on the work ofJohn Dewey. From the large body of workDewey produced on the nature of thinking,problem solving, democracy, and educativegrowth, an idea of teaching emerges that fusesthe process of reflection with the process of edu-cation such that the two become difficult to ana-lytically separate. Dewey (1916) wrote, Thesole direct path to enduring improvement ofmethods of instruction and learning consists incentering on the conditions which exact, pro-mote, and test thinking. Thinking is the methodof intelligent learning (p. 153). Although it mayserve our purposes in day-to-day discourse tospeak of reflection as something distinct fromteaching, for Dewey, the concepts intertwine tothe point that separating them becomes an arti-ficial act leading to serious and damaging con-sequences in practice. In other words, educationis a construct unified with the idea of reflection.This conceptualization of teaching, includingteaching done by teacher educators, makes adefinitional case for self-study. That is, if teach-ing is what teacher educators do, and teachingmust include reflection, then self-study, as aform of reflection, ought to be an essential partof the activity of teacher educators. Thus, the

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  • process of teaching reflects the process of reflec-tion. The process of reflection reflects the pro-cess of teaching. In this same vein, Grumet(1990) maintained that teaching is research.

    Deweys (1933) theory of reflective thinkinginvolves both a process and a set of attitudinaldispositions brought to that process. The pro-cess is represented by the steps of confronting apuzzling situation; identifying a problem posedby that situation; forming a hypothesis aboutwhat might be done to solve that problem; con-sidering the hypothesis by drawing on experi-ences, linking understandings, and combiningideas; and testing the hypothesis against therealization of desired ends. These steps oftenoverlap and are not meant to describe a mechan-ical, lockstep process. This theory of thinkingcould very well serve as a template for framingthe activity of teaching. Equally important, themethod of thinking, to be meaningful, requ...


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