Rethinking professionalism in the Australian teaching context: Exploring the application of autobiographical narratives and peer reflection methods in education

  • Emily Hills

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the autobiographical narratives of four secondary English teachers from one Australian education jurisdiction as they engaged in a peer reflection process with the researcher about embedding the cross-curriculum priority of Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia in their classrooms. This research addressed the question: how might peer reflection, through the sharing of autobiographical narratives, influence teacher professional practice when dealing with the concept of Asia literacy in the Australian secondary English classroom?
Data was collected through a qualitative narrative inquiry methodology using a combination of individual research conversations, classroom observations, and written reflections with each of the teachers. The classroom teaching observations were conducted with each teacher to help ground the final reflective conversations of the study, where the teachers were encouraged to make connections between autobiographical narratives they had shared and the teaching that had been observed by the researcher. The analysis of the research data was informed by Tan et al.'s (2009) rendering of Paul Ricoeur’s Theory of Interpretation.
This thesis reflects on the current education research emphasis on Standards and other external metrics of accountability and the ways in which external metrics influence the kinds of professional development and learning that is valued and prioritised within the teaching profession. For example, in the jurisdiction where this research was conducted, for teachers to maintain their accreditation to teach, they must complete a minimum of 20 hours of professional learning each year, and what counts as professional learning is carefully aligned with and assessed against the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) professional standards for teachers.
While emphasis on standards is important, this professional development yardstick may be missing out on acknowledging other important professional learning opportunities for teachers. To date, few studies have been conducted that seek to understand how teachers might access their own autobiographical narratives as a source of ongoing professional reflection, learning and development. This thesis seeks to address this knowledge gap. It demonstrates that when teachers are given time and space to share autobiographical stories with a peer, they can delve into and reflect on these stories in deeper and richer ways, making previously unmade connections between their lived experiences and their professional practice. When teachers are provided with the opportunity to better understand why they make certain professional choices in their classrooms, and to identify where these choices come from, there is a positive flow on effect to their professional and reflective practice.
The thesis concludes that peer narrative reflection can be a valuable form of professional development for teachers. It argues that teachers’ autobiographical narratives can be an important source of professional reflection and learning and an important marker of postmodern professionalism. By providing teachers and school leaders with the time to reflect on their practice, with a knowledgeable peer, schools and systems have the potential to access a new source of professional learning that is relevant, situated and free.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnn Hill (Supervisor), Kathryn Moyle (Supervisor) & Barbara Pamphilon (Supervisor)

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