2.3 Learning as acquiring a professional identity within a community of practice
In both the new Welsh and Scottish Curriculum, teachers are required to exercise high degrees of professional agency (Biesta, Priestley and Robinson, 2015). Agency is not something that someone has. Rather, it is something the teacher is allowed and encouraged to exercise within the resources offered by the context in which they act, thereby developing a professional identity within a community of those that exercise such agency.
Professional identity is an ongoing process of making sense of and reinterpreting values and experiences (Flores and Day, 2006). The beginner teacher must come to see themselves as a teacher (Coldron and Smith, 2010); they must acquire and redefine an identity that is legitimised by the community of which they form a part. Agency is required in order to develop an identity as a teacher: to become a teacher, a beginner teacher must be allowed and encouraged to participate as a decision maker within the community of the school.
Lave and Wenger (1991) see a teacher’s professional identity as being formed through legitimate peripheral participation in the community of the school. Seen in this way, becoming a teacher requires movement from peripheral participation to full membership by mastering skills, knowledge and sociocultural practices. A beginner teacher takes part in a range of experiences, develops relationships and encounters ways of behaving, allowing them to become a full member of that community.
Thinking about learning as induction into a community of practice requires the mentor’s role to be facilitating the beginner teacher’s sense of belonging to and their ability to exercise agency within the community. Unequal relations of power (Lave and Wenger, 1991) are inherent within communities of practice – the mentor’s role is to welcome the novice into the community, and support and legitimise their movement from peripheral to full participation in active membership of the community.
Teaching is a complex endeavour, and learning to teach is equally complex. Any attempt to simplify this approach is likely to risk losing some vital part of the undertaking.