Sacred and secret stories in professional knowledge landscapes: learner agency in teacher professional learning

Jennifer Charteris, Jane Smith
  • Reflective Practice, March 2017, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2017.1304375

Professional knowledge landscapes: learner agency in teacher professional learning

What is it about?

Set in a schooling practitioner research context, this article critiques instrumental forms of teacher professional development. An account of teacher professional learning and development is provided, as an inter-relational construct, where teachers reflect on practice to inquire into their students' learning and foster their own and others specific interests and talents in creative ways. In an Aotearoa/New Zealand context, teachers are mandated to inquire into what their students need to know and understand, the strategies required for teachers to attain these learning goals, and how effective the approach implemented is in enhancing student learning. Emerging from qualitative case study research, a teacher's narrative account of a student-initiated critical thinking episode in a secondary science classroom is analysed to demonstrate sacred, secret and cover stories of professional knowledge landscapes. Findings highlight the importance of agentic teacher-enacted forms of practitioner inquiry that support critical and collaborative reflective practice.

Why is it important?

Depending on how it is constituted in schooling settings, practitioner research or ‘Teaching as Inquiry’ can be both a technicist mechanism for enhancing practice and a process for active engagement in critical pedagogy. Drawing on Giroux’s (2011) work that highlights the need to challenge technocratic rationality, the researchers consider teacher inquiry from a critical perspective. In the following sections, literature on ‘Teaching as Inquiry’ (practitioner research) as a habit of mind, critical thinking and agency are explored. A teacher narrative is presented and analysed to leverage a discussion on the implications of teacher inquiry as critical action. The analytical framework is based on Clandinin and Connelly’s (1995) conception of secret, cover, and sacred stories that teachers use to describe their professional lives. Th authors consider the implications for practitioners as reflective and adaptive experts who can explore relations of power in their classroom contexts through ‘Teaching as Inquiry’.


Dr Jennifer Charteris
University of New England

This article forges connections between sacred, secret and cover stories that teachers tell about their professional knowledge landscapes. It highlights the importance of an interpretation of ‘Teaching as Inquiry’ as reflective practice that can support critical and collaborative practitioner research. Of particular significance is the affordance of teacher space for agency. Agency can be facilitated though the inquiry practices of storying classroom events. In the example above one sacred story (a linear conception of ‘Teaching as Inquiry’) was subverted for others (social justice and twenty-first century learning). This illustrates how a technicist- mandated policy lever for teacher PLD can be appropriated by teachers for social justice purposes and agentic teacher learning. Classroom data (teacher observation) can be storied and shared as a process of dialogic feedback.

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The following have contributed to this page: Dr Jennifer Charteris