Theses Doctoral

How Teachers Learn and Grow: centering teacher knowing and experience to sustain their work over a lifetime of teaching

Isbell, Allison W.

Issues of the multi-faceted, complex problem of teacher attrition in the U.S. have long been studied by researchers working to stem the tide of teachers leaving the field: dimensions of class size, salaries, working conditions, and accountability measures are most often interrogated in relation to this issue. However, this study takes up the dimension of teacher learning and growth beyond the first few years of teaching as an aspect connected to teacher attrition that is undertheorized and studied.

In the current climate of teacher learning, teachers are positioned in an implementation model of learning—as receivers of knowledge that they are to take up in their classrooms, which has been the way teachers have most often been positioned since the formalization of the U.S. education system.Through the intertwined theories of disability studies in education and Bakhtinian dialogism, this study troubles ableist constructions of normal that often manifest in the form of good teacher narratives, and instead centers teacher knowledge and experience to interrogate how, when and under what conditions teachers learn across the lifetime of teaching, through their own voices and stories.

This study takes up a narrative inquiry approach that views experience as both phenomena and method. Through a self-storying method called the Story Box, and subsequent Collaborative Conversations with the four teacher participants in the study, we think narratively about the conditions in which learning and growth occur for them that meaningfully influences their work and views of themselves as teachers and knowers. The cogent knowledge that emerged from the teacher collaborators in this study regarding school leaders is that the work of cultivating a dynamic learning environment where teachers’ learning and growth is fostered is a significant responsibility of school leaders. The participants’ experiences also reveal the critical correlation between their ongoing learning and growth and being seen and known by their school leaders. It is not sufficient for school leaders to simply make space for learning and growth, but they must be deeply imbedded with their teachers in order for teachers to thrive over a lifetime of practice.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Naraian, Srikala
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
May 24, 2023