Discipline or behavior management in schools is a common concern for beginning teachers and is frequently cited as a significant component in early career attrition (Goddard & Goddard, 2006; Hammerness, 2011; Hong, 2010). Moreover, the impact of perceived failure in relation to behavior in the classroom can substantially affect the self-efficacy of teachers particularly at the beginning of their careers (Hoy & Burke-Spero, 2005; Peters, 2009) and the wide variety of discipline approaches adopted within different schools can provide conflicting experiences and models. Consequently, exploring and understanding more fully how we can support student teachers in this area is important on a personal and professional level for the student teacher and teacher educators. Underpinning an urgency to consider this area, lies concern for the young people who may find themselves the focus of often punitive regimes (Bright, 2011; Reay, 2009). We know that certain pupils (Gillies, 2011; Gray, Miller, & Noakes, 1994; Reay & Wiliam, 1999) can be disproportionately affected by school discipline approaches particularly with regard to exclusion or expulsion from schools (Bright, 2011; Gillies, 2011; Osher, Bear, Sprague, & Doyle, 2010).
This paper then is concerned with the details of two individual case studies of student teachers during a 1-year Initial Teacher Education (ITE) program—a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE).1 The concern, here, was with exploring the ways in which the beliefs and values of student teachers might affect their engagement with different approaches to behavior and how they could be encouraged to reflect critically on the philosophies underpinning them. This critical engagement was supported through a new elective course that set out to encourage a bridging between theoretical and practical components of early professional development (EPD). Establishing a stronger link to the cognitive aspects of EPD while also helping student teachers to engage meaningfully and critically with the social and relational influences in schools, underpinned the elective course.
Some Key Issues in the Literature
ITE and Developing Approaches to Behavior
In today’s classrooms, increasing narratives of derision in the media and in policy rhetoric, within the UK and beyond, around poor pupil behavior (Gillies, 2011; O’Neill & Stephenson, 2012) have led to calls for changes in the ways in which teachers deal with discipline issues. Yet, until recently, we had limited knowledge about the problems that teachers face at the beginning of their career in relation to behavior and whether support within ITE merely focused on immediate survival through application of rules and sanctions or on specific behavior approaches. ITE providers may focus on promoting traditional behaviorist outlooks (Atici, 2007; Ben-Peretz, Eilam, & Landler-Pardo, 2011; Hammerness, 2011; O’Neill & Stephenson, 2012), but in some cases, this may mean little happens at the program level as student teachers may be thought to gain behavior management skills while in placement schools through experienced teacher modeling and practice in classrooms (Hammerness, 2011). In other contexts, a more humanist approach to behavior may form a small element within a larger Teacher Education program, but this may be in contrast to the tendency toward behaviorist models used in schools (Hamilton, in press; Riddell, 2006).
Emerging concern around student teacher development and behavior in classrooms has increased in the past 5 years across a wide range of national contexts (Atici 2007; Barker, Yeung, Dobia, & Mooney, 2009; Ben-Peretz et al., 2011; Hammond-Stoughton, 2007; Kyriacou & Martin, 2010; McNally, I’anson, Whewell, & Wilson, 2005; Wubbels, 2011). Schleicher (2011) reporting on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) research into teaching and learning across 23 countries found that concerns around behavior were evident in most head teacher responses and was a concern while teachers themselves were seeking help in approaching behavior management. This underpins the significance of behavior as a key issue at an international level in schools and within ITE.
Approaches taken to this aspect of teaching practice may vary greatly across institutions and even within countries: Ben-Peretz et al. (2011) found that in Israel, a traditional approach dominated ITE, while Stough (2006) found that only about 30% of such programs in the United States provided courses on behavior at all within ITE. There is no real consensus on how best to prepare student teachers for behavioral issues in schools, and a strong suggestion is that either the responsibility for this aspect of EPD is placed within school placement experience and modeling taking place there or specific behaviorist and/or humanist perspectives are taken in ITE. The latter provision is often regarded by students as too abstract and not sufficiently practical or applied (Ben-Peretz et al., 2011; Stough, 2006). Yet the negative role that behavior and misbehavior play in poor teacher self-efficacy and lack of persistence within the profession (Friedman, 2006; Hong, 2010; Peters, 2009) highlights the impact that lack of preparedness can have on new teachers. In addition, Van Tartwijk and Hammerness (2011) highlight the significance of classroom management competence as well as clarity of expectations and quality of feedback as ways in which teachers can have a marked impact upon pupil outcomes, and consequently, they argue, that classroom management should play a much more substantial role within teacher education. Questions then are raised over the shape that any learning around behavior management should take within ITE and how this might articulate with school placement experiences.
Complex national and local policy and institutional (school) approaches to behavior may chime or challenge student teachers. Situated within schools, preservice learning occurs within such policy umbrellas and via conversations and dialogues with experienced colleagues (Avalos, 2011). It is also helpful to acknowledge the significance of schools and teacher approaches to behavior and relationships in the classroom for pupil engagement or deviance from any norms in place. The power imbalance inherent in this schooling context between teacher and pupil (student), as well as student teacher and experienced teacher, underlines the need to engage critically with the ways in which teachers approach behavior and relationships in the classroom and the role that teacher education may play in supporting early teacher development (Kyriacou & Martin, 2010).
ITE input and school experience are often seen as complementary elements helping to shape student teacher practice and understanding, two connected but separate entities. Yet, the possible conflicts within and across these spaces in relation to behavior and building relationships with young people have seen relatively little research (Atici, 2007). Consequently, there is insufficient evidence with regard to the ways in which ITE institutions can best provide support so that student teachers can establish a strong foundation for future development in working with young people across these two spaces while dealing with the possible conflict that may arise in terms of teaching practice, beliefs, and values.
Within ITE, the perennial theory–practice divide challenges teacher educators to find ways to engage with student teachers meaningfully to enhance learning and the synthesis of theoretical frameworks and practice. Some would argue that to begin to do so, there is a need to conceptualize the journey of student teachers (preservice teachers) as narratives (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2000), reflecting, at times, conflicting metaphors of teachers and teaching (Bullough & Baughman, 1997; Clandinin & Connelly, 1995). In the next section, consideration is given to the role of narrative in conceptualizing and understanding student teacher EPD.
Narratives of Student Teachers
The narratives of student teachers and their visions of what being a teacher means play an important role in the teaching and learning experiences of those in schools (Schultz & Ravitch, 2013). Narrative identity theory provides a helpful conceptual frame here to view identity formation and reformation as well as the complexity of individual “webs of interlocution” (Taylor, 1992).
These webs comprise the myriad narratives of the individual and at any one time one or more strands may hold particular prominence for the student teacher, highlighting some and sidelining others. This represents a complex interaction between different aspects of the self and the falseness of attempts to separate the personal and the professional.
In using narrative identity here, the emphasis is placed on the embeddedness of the individual within relationships and experiences, within a multilayered and highly fluid telling and retelling of who we are. There are narratives of mother, of teacher, of belonging to community and nation and to metanarratives of, for example, social justice and inclusion. The personal and professional are not then able to be dislocated from the web of narratives and myriad interlocutions taking place. Yet, by engaging with the narratives that student teachers tell as they attempt to make sense of teacher education experiences in relation to past and future selves and within policy and metanarrative contexts, we may be able to more clearly understand how a sense of teacher self may evolve and be supported (Hamilton, 2011). Within this continual process of becoming, some narratives may hold greater sway than others at any given time and, as Taylor (1992) argues, “there may be changes to the web but there is still a dependence on the web of interlocution” (p. 39).
In a previous study (Hamilton, in press), the author highlighted the narrowing of focus, by some student teachers, on narratives of survival and compliance in response to social and relational influences of teaching practice. The difficulties faced by the students in trying to deal with behavior in classrooms often created a degree of dissonance between school values and beliefs and those of the student teacher. The dominance of the powerful narrative of experienced teachers in positions of power meant that survival and compliance involved echoing the existing approaches, as modeled by teachers in schools. Given the multiplicity of models, student teachers were likely to superficially reflect contradictory approaches to behavior but were not necessarily able to engage with beliefs and values or broader ideas and texts on behavior, weakening the possible influences on the narrative web.
We know that student teacher stories of being and becoming a teacher and the beliefs and values that inform their attitudes within these stories are crucial in forming and reforming professional identity (Bullough & Baughman, 1997; Johnson, 1988; Schultz & Ravitch, 2013). Such beliefs, often based on student teachers’ own lived experiences as learners, have a tendency to persist even in the face of conflict with ITE program teaching and, despite any conflict arising between internal beliefs and external input (Sternberg, 1999). McNally et al. (2005) highlight the tendency for student teachers to build their budding professional identity on social and relational connections to their past, present, and future selves and to their practicum colleagues. However, it is important to note that the latter colleagues are perhaps more likely to have an impact than teacher educators on shifting stances in relation to beliefs and values—at least on a temporary basis (McNally et al., 2005). Cognition is less likely to be enhanced to the same extent and so finding ways to encourage a greater balance between the emotional and relational aspects of teacher education experience and a more active engagement with cognitive elements would appear to be helpful if we are to encourage critical and reflective practice in relation to behavior.
Research suggests that we should not ignore or minimize the significance of teacher beliefs and values (Bullough & Baughman, 1997; Korthagen, 2004; Nias, 1989), their engagement with or disengagement from ITE provision and school experiences. For student teachers to more fruitfully engage critically with their current beliefs and values while attempting to evaluate possible alternative or extended models of thinking around behavior, it is argued here, that ITE should not favor particular approaches to behavior but instead should engage with conflicting stances and models, via role-play, discussion, and debate, encouraging internal cognitive dissonance within the student teacher to be acknowledged and articulated (Hamilton, 2006). By this I mean, encouraging engagement with conflicting beliefs, attitudes, and values to bring about cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957; Hamilton, 2011) in the individual. This approach is somewhat at odds with other researchers who argue that the personal and professional are separate (Korthagen, 2004) and any friction between the two should be avoided.
The prevailing student teacher approach to behavior during a previous project (Hamilton, in press) had highlighted a student teacher emphasis on looking to models for behavior within schools coupled with a trial and error approach to behavior underpinned by a vital survival instinct—an acknowledged aspect of early professional learning (Feiman-Nemser, 1983). This led to a struggle between compliance with the dominant school models or resistance and adherence to personal beliefs and values. As a result, in this project, emphasis has been placed on the importance of strengthening links between theory and practice through, generating dissonance to make implicit beliefs explicit, engaging student teachers in a critical selection and review of significant moments from teaching practice. Within this process, the ITE program does not want to sell a particular discipline agenda but instead, student teachers are encouraged to “try on” different approaches bearing in mind the constraints and opportunities in individual schools. One size does not fit all, and students may build hybrid models of engagement with young people. Through commentary on their work, presentations, and challenge in conjunction with the previous work outlined, student teachers are supported in clarifying their choices, making sense of outcomes, and throwing light on the relationships between their own beliefs and values and their emerging professional choices in relation to practice.
Bullough and Baughman (1997) argue that student teacher beliefs about teaching and the metaphors used by them have a key role to play in their development as professionals. Freese (2006) reinforces the role of reflection and inquiry and sees these as a means of constructing meaningful stories and engaging student teachers with deeper learning. Thus, the student teachers participating in this study were located within a course that focused on activities and experiences that encouraged possible cognitive dissonance, explicit articulation of beliefs and values, and critical reflection.
Approaching the Study
Immediate Context of the Course on Behavior
Student teachers created reflective commentaries around, “significant moments,” choosing events/observations to describe and analyze as a result of a value judgment made by the individual (Tripp, 1993). The focus of such moments was to do with relationships (negative or positive), behavior policy, and practice issues focused on teacher–pupil relationships: These could involve observation of other staff or student teacher own practice or could sometimes be a mixture of both.
Activities were generated on the course that encouraged cognitive dissonance in individuals (Hamilton, in press). For example, media takes on behavior in schools are often written with different kinds of bias depending on the political stance of the newspaper. Students working in groups would have to immerse themselves in the newspaper article and come prepared to defend and debate that particular stance with other groups who represented conflicting stances. A reflective exercise afterward then encouraged student teachers to consider the dissonance or discomfort felt as a result of the exercise and its significance. In this work, engagement with student teacher tacit beliefs about behavior and pupils (school students) was an important element as we know that such beliefs tend to persist within the individual, even in the face of teacher education experiences (Bullough & Baughman, 1997; Korthagen, 2004; Swann, 1992). Making such beliefs explicit and available for discussion and challenge was important to encourage a more in-depth engagement with diverse views. Similar experiences were achieved through the use of contrasting behavior expert views, critiquing videotapes of diverse teaching approaches, and role-play within workshops. It is important to note that this course did not set out to sell or inculcate a particular view of behavior management, but instead shared diverse views and acknowledged that each student’s engagement with these different perspectives and theories would be unique.
The wider context for this project was a 1-year program of teacher education (secondary-level PGDE) lasting 36 weeks at a Scottish University: 18 of these weeks were spent on placements in schools interwoven across the year—in 6 weekly segments. Diverse schools were drawn upon including private schools, those with a predominantly middle class intake, deprived urban schools, and rural schools across many different Local Authority2 areas, and these were likely to take diverse approaches to behavior. Student teachers have the opportunity to opt in to a small number of elective courses and 22 out of a program total of 150 chose to specialize in behavior. Course participants came from a variety of disciplines including mathematics, geography and English. Two students volunteered (self-selection) to be the focus of case studies: They were both training to be English teachers.
To meet the aims of the study, the following research questions were developed:
Research Question 1: What are the key narratives underpinning two preservice teacher professional identity (re) formations during a significant transition period in their EPD?
Research Question 2: In what ways, if any, can the use of “significant moments” and the creation of dissonance, encourage engagement on a cognitive level with this essential component of the professional role of teachers?
A qualitative approach was chosen as the focus was strongly fixed on the personal journeys and narratives of student teachers and the belief that it is through understanding these more fully that we can begin to make informed choices about deeper learning and theory/practice divides (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013). Within this paradigm, instrumental case studies were chosen as the most appropriate as such studies attempt to capture an issue or aspect of a case rather than the case in its entirety (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013; Stake, 1995). Case study usually involves a variety of data collection tools as well as diverse perspectives (op cit), and in this project, the following tools and perspectives were drawn upon. The two student teachers, Annie and Will, provided reflective commentaries from each school placement (significant moments) as well as one piece of extended writing and a final interview. A teacher educator element (Author) involved a tutor journal, capturing discussions and reflections with all 22 student teachers on this course as well as concerns and dilemmas around the course or student issues with school experience. Student teacher experiences on the course and in schools and their charting of these journeys orally and in writing provided an important aspect of Annie and Will’s experiences. The teacher educator journal, charting and reflecting on these activities, provides a helpful background to both case studies. This presents some research perspectives with a challenge as the teacher educator (TE) researcher and student teachers were in a fluid, connected, and negotiated relationship that does not attempt to argue for objectivity and separation/distance between researcher and researched. Instead, our mutual subjectivities were made explicit through the course activities and challenged and reflected upon throughout.
So in summary, this research involved a teacher educator journal component in conjunction with a course focusing on supporting critical engagement with diverse approaches to behavior and active participation of student teachers as they engaged with the course and school experiences and their own emerging teacher research personas. Student teacher data came from Annie and Will through reflective commentaries (×3 after each 6-week placement in schools), one piece of extended writing, charting the journey made across school placements, and their evolving approach to behavior—written after second placement, and finally individual interviews lasting 1.5 hr at the end of the course.
Triangulation and approach to analysis
Triangulation was achieved via data collection and perspective: Diverse data collection tools were used, and student teacher and tutor perspectives were explored. This enhances the trustworthiness of the data (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013; Patton, 2002) and emphasizes the importance of exploring the cases in-depth and searching for rich accounts of evolving professionalism. Reinforcing the trustworthiness of the research and analysis, member checking was used throughout data collection processes and a colleague was also involved in independently working on emerging and developing categories.
However, it has to be acknowledged, that there is limited breadth especially as the two case study students were both en route to becoming English teachers. A future study will attempt to attain a balance between the two elements through a small cohort study and will also extend work to student teachers working at primary/elementary level. A further limitation for case study lies in its lack of generalizability, but this is countered by Pollard (quoted in Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013) by his argument that, in subtle ways,
case study research can produce a resonance for those in similar contexts, with similar issues, providing insights to help them understand, more fully, the nature of their own problems. (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013, p. 145)
The stance taken here is that such a resonance is what is sought by the use of case study in this project. I would argue that in qualitative research, especially case study, it is not the size of case or number of cases that is important. Instead it is the appropriateness of the choice of case, the quality of the research process and the richness of the data and the insights that can be gained, which are forefronted. Bassey (1999) would be one of the first to criticize the use of unqualified generalizations from small studies; however, he acknowledges that there is value in what he calls fuzzy generalization as opposed to the statistical notion of generalization in quantitative research. He argues that
Fuzzy generalization arises from studies of singularities and typically claims that it is possible, or likely, or unlikely that what was found in the singularity will be found in similar situations elsewhere: It is a qualitative measure. (Bassey, 1999, p. 12)
Hamilton and Corbett-Whittier (2013), Bassey (1999), and Stake (1995) all focus on
the subtle ways in which case study research can produce a resonance for those in similar contexts, with similar issues, providing insights to help them understand more, fully, the nature of their own problems. (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013, p. 145)
In this way, looking at qualitative research in general and case study in particular, no claim is being made for a transformation of understanding but instead for a refinement of understanding (Stake, 1995, p. 7). Here is the strength of qualitative work, in that it can provide insights into and deeper understanding of the complex experiences and interactions of student teachers that can have potential importance for others working in this area and does not rely on a particular sample size when considering how worthwhile it might be. The value of this kind of research is underpinned by the validity and trustworthiness of the research process and findings: supported by triangulation of data collection method and perspective as well as the use of member checking during the research process.
Analysis was ongoing throughout the project and each stage of the project allowed for analysis and feedback to the student teachers and so member checking was an integral means of verifying and challenging the analysis process and the findings. Key strategies in the analysis of the data, initially, involved drawing on themes that might hold resonance for this aspect of teacher narratives in previous research (Hamilton, in press) such as
The attribution of blame for poor behavior
Teacher role creating or challenging good behavior/poor behavior
Conceptualization of teacher identity and purpose
Power and control
Compliance with dominant discourses
This previous work had involved a pilot study of a cohort of student teachers and aimed to begin to understand the possible issues that might face emerging professionals in relation to behavior. This led to the emergence of sensitizing themes to begin to engage with the data. These themes were used as a preliminary means of beginning to sort and analyze data but with the intention of being open to new raw categories being found that might challenge or even overturn particular themes. A toing and froing across the data allowed the final themes of each case study to be ratified through a return to the data and independent verification but also through member checking during the research process.
It cannot be denied that there were ethical issues inherent in this kind of approach where the tutor who grades final assignments is also the researcher and researched. The power imbalance is intrinsic to the institution and the official relationship between tutor and tutee. However, I was keen to ensure that student teachers understood that diverse views were expected and one particular stance with regard to behavior was not considered the answer. Although I established explicitly my own views on behavior, I was also careful to share my view that there were many successful approaches to behavior and that part of this professional journey involved them exploring these approaches and school experiences critically while also reflecting on and challenging their own beliefs about children and childhood. In this way, student teachers could feel that they had the freedom to choose and would not be considered wrong if it diverged from the views of the tutor (Hamilton & Corbett-Whittier, 2013). Student teachers were also encouraged to suggest particular dilemmas and/or texts that had relevance for them and to lead the group in critically examining these issues. The blurring of these boundaries between research, researchers, and researched is viewed as a strength as it encourages a negotiated research experience, a mutuality that can enhance learning and understanding for all participants. National (Scottish Educational Research Association [SERA], 2005) and institutional guidelines were followed and this involved ensuring that participation was voluntary and that anonymity would be provided in the tutor’s journal and reflections while pseudonyms were used for the two case study student teachers.
Policy context of the case study
The importance of behavior in schools is recognized at policy level in Scotland, where in the past 10 years, there has been increased funding for positive behavior programs and facilities. Munn’s policy update and report of 2009 (Munn et al., 2009) provide a helpful insight into the perceptions of behavior in schools and responses to it. Such work highlights the significance of policy-level emphasis on the building of positive relationships, and the increasing interest in Restorative practices as a humanist rather than behaviorist model emerging in schools, although Riddell’s paper (2006) suggests a more complex and tension-laden issue for individuals within schools. In her paper, she notes the apparent embracing of humanist approaches is more likely within primary schools in Scotland (5-12-year olds) but that a male-dominated discourse of control and compliance focusing on rules, sanctions, and punishment is more likely to hold sway within secondary environments (12-18-year olds) despite government innovations.
Teacher Educator Overview
All student teachers from this course focusing on behavior set out their own aspirations at the beginning of the postgraduate teacher education year suggesting their own conceptualizations of the teacher they were going to become. The terms used, provided some insights into the kind of teaching metaphor they might be echoing. At this early stage, descriptions focused on the specialist knowledge of the individual preservice teachers and so subject content knowledge held sway but a small number of student teachers suggested other aspects of the professional—the rebel educator and the creative educator. At this stage, too, early on in this intensive 1-year program, aspirational elements suggested the idealistic with the use of terms such as caring, supportive, liberal in thinking, could change lives, working for education and equity, and empowerment of pupils. Yet, as we began to examine how these student teachers related to behavior as a classroom component, the language of control began to emerge from many.
I’m not scared to give out punishments.
They have to understand that I am the law.
I want to be strict—they have to know who’s in control.
Here the emphasis was on the teacher as the authority figure with right of enforcement of certain rules of behavior. For other student teachers, understanding young people and encouraging them to engage positively with the rules came to the fore at this early prepractice stage. Using words and phrases such as
Fair, consistent, just
Getting to know young people, understanding pupils
I want to be relaxed/innovative
But not too soft
Show them respect and they’ll respect you, they’ll follow the rules
Almost all suggested a vision requiring compliance with the rules and sought pupil acquiescence either through strict adherence to rules or through a more relaxed engagement with and application of rules.
As they moved through school experience, many began to exhibit concern for the social and relational aspects of school experience, desperate to fit in and ready to allow experienced teacher prejudices and assumptions to be the template to survive within this assessed experience. For some this created real quandaries, especially if they had had professional aspirations that looked beyond control.
Building trust within the course, students began to become more frank about their own beliefs and their concerns with more humanist approaches. The power of colleagues’ often more behaviorist approaches in schools held particular influence over student teachers and a real internal struggle emerged as student teachers felt there was a demand to simply “copy” the model/approach taken by teachers in schools. However, brief input at program level in the university was thought to simply polarize views on behavior.
They [PGDE program] make you feel that the only way to deal with behavior involves a humanist approach, restorative practices but what if that’s not you? (Tutor notes quoting student from cohort)
The competing narratives calling to student teachers, created real tension as they struggled with the need to comply with university-based approaches to behavior to “play the game” and pass the course. A similar degree of compliance was sought within the school contexts (often behaviorist in nature) where student teachers were also assessed. The vulnerability of student teachers to power imbalances (Lasky, 2005) is substantial at this time and within this vital transition highlights the possible pragmatic nature of the choices made around behavior approaches.
Having used sensitizing themes as well as themes emerging from the data to grasp the key elements of the case, the data are presented in relation to each case individually, reflecting the narrative identity work in which the research is situated. The use of extended quotes is deliberate, to share the nature of the narratives in the participant’s own words. Developed critical consideration of the data is then taken up in the discussion section.
Annie’s Journey—Annie’s Case Study: Narratives of Rebellion and Compassion
Annie was by nature a little bit of a rebel who would question the status quo or dominant narrative. She was determined to listen to other viewpoints but was prepared, then, to challenge these and to find her “own way” to being a teacher. She didn’t want to reflect a particular model of teaching. Annie had been adopted and had escaped a potentially difficult family setup and this seemed to inform her desire to understand young people and their varied and sometimes dysfunctional home backgrounds. She was also a volunteer with different groups for example with a group for women who had been abused and for those who had learning difficulties and so she held a strong advocate stance in the face of injustice or inequity. In her early 20s, Annie was idealistic and warmhearted with a passion for her subject area and she approached her first placement school with anticipation. However, her first school was a private one and there seemed to be limited scope for active behavior strategies. The strong consensus generated by the nature of the institution (Hamilton, 2002, 2011) tended to encourage compliance as the narratives of parents, pupils, and teachers tended to complement each other. The school had suggested to her that her quiet manner might become an issue when moving into more demanding (with regard to behavior) state schools. Initially, Annie complied with her first school’s approach with regard to strict rules and application of any sanctions.
On her next placement, Annie’s context changed quite dramatically as she moved into a state comprehensive (all-comer) high school with a very mixed intake. Despite her earlier support for a more humanist approach to young people’s behavior, she found herself in an environment that relied heavily on rules, warnings, and punishments leavened at certain points by the more humanist Restorative practices approach.
This significant moment involved a first-year boy who is one of nine children, himself being the second eldest and from a dysfunctional complicated family who were in crisis. The pupil had also recently been arrested for burning down a football club house only the week before. This gives you some indication of the situation the pupil was in. The pupil had been absent for the first three weeks of my taking the class and so when he arrived he found the different teacher unsettling. I was accused of picking on him for simple reasons for example due to the behavior policy (3 warnings written on board, third means pupil receives punishment exercise and the fourth means that pupil is sent from the class), anything serious results in calling your head of department for a duty officer who is a member of SMT3 to remove the pupil who is then dealt with and given evening detentions while writing warnings on the board for several pupils, I wrote the pupil in question’s name first, which resulted in a few minutes of shouting from the pupil accusing me of picking on him. . . .the pupil should have been visited by a duty officer and received detentions out with school hours, however the PT (Principal or lead subject teacher) decided that this was not necessary as it was too late on in the lesson. This caused the pupil’s behavior to deteriorate further and the verbal abuse would begin the moment that he entered my classroom. I phoned senior management myself. The pupil continued his aggression in front of the depute head and then refused to enter an office and left the school grounds. I learned that some pupils sadly cannot be reached, they have too much going on in their lives and cannot deal with the change brought about by a student teacher on placement and that the best that you can do is to follow an ineffective behavior code and remove the pupil from the class.
(Annie second placement school, reflective commentary)
Here, Annie had tried to apply the behavior code and hierarchy of measures that obviously were not helping with this particular young person. The school’s management team had made a decision to use some elements of restorative practice (RP) within a more punitive regime to try to make something work. However, in this instance, it seemed to be the use of strategy rather than an embracing of the philosophical ideas underpinning RP. At this point Annie had to find a way to deal with a lack of success with this pupil, and she focused on the dominance of family and community contextual influences and the powerlessness of the system. Added to this was a fragmented management structure that seemed unreliable and at times contradictory.
What is schooling about?
As Annie progressed through the teacher educator course and placement experience, she began to reflect more deeply on some of the power relations prevalent within school and her own beliefs and values around education.
“control,” many teachers I have witnessed think that they must be in control at all times. However, I disagree with this approach as I do not feel control is an important part of education, rather I believe in a more liberal approach in which the focus on education is creating a nurturing atmosphere in which children feel comfortable and know that the teacher is there to aide them in life and learning and not there solely to enjoy being in a position of control at all times. Creating a tense atmosphere does not in my opinion aid learning and growth of a young person allowing them to prosper, which after all, is surely the point in schooling and education.
(Annie—second placement, reflective commentary)
Where previously Annie had relied on the punishment regime and short-term control within the classroom she had begun to question fundamental aspects of the implications of this approach and to consider how this might chime with her own personal beliefs about schooling. Annie began to question what she had previously accepted as the part of the behavioral approach of the school—punishment.
The only obvious “achievement” in using punishment to manage behavior is to stamp out the behavior; there is no rehabilitation side or enquiry into the behavior. Another negative effect of punishment is the possibility that the pupil will rebel, as there is no focus on restoring the relationship between pupil and teacher, just in the teacher exerting their control over the pupil in the classroom.
(Annie—second placement, reflective commentary)
Moment of revelation?
We had spoken in the behavior course about reaching a point, a moment of epiphany, one of many in becoming a teacher when certain things seem very clear and more fully understood. Annie characterized this as her moment of revelation and reflects the natural movement for the student teacher away from a focus on self and toward a more reflective and critical view of experience, reading, and practice.
This was my revelation—behavior management is not all about a teacher, but a lot about the pupils and their backgrounds and expectation from which you have to work and adapt and adjust to. I adjusted my expectations and they adjusted their language and sometimes with some classes that is enough—you have to accept that silence while golden is not always possible and does not sound the same for everyone.
(Annie—third placement, reflective commentary)
Annie’s movement toward a different way of thinking about engagement with pupils led her to reconsidering her priorities and the nature of her relationships with the young people she was working with and she began to ask the school to give her very difficult classes.
I realized the complexity of behaviour management, there’s not just a problem and a solution. You have to live with some uncertainty. I think before I had the idea of the perfect classroom, children at desks, working away in silence but I had to change expectations, look below the surface. I learned to let go of the academic a little. I had to let go of my selfish needs. Yes, I had a crit4 to pass, yes I had this and that to do but I had children. In some classes, the focus had to be on making a connection. I had one girl, it was a struggle to work with her. She was damaged and aggressive and I was thinking how am I going to get them doing things for my crit, for me. But then I thought no—what do they need from me? That’s what I have to give if I want to build up real trust.
(Annie’s interview at the end of the course)
Annie had delved into teacher metaphors and debated the kind of model she might echo:
As an English teacher I cannot avoid turning to the metaphor in order to make clear my interpretation and stance in behavior, I think of the two very different roles of that of the fireman and the policeman. The fireman simply arrives to put out the flame and then leaves once the fire is extinguished, the policeman, however firstly investigates and then if a charge is to be made the person is then sent to a place of rehabilitation or must perform some work within the community. I think we have a choice as teachers when managing behaviour to either be the fireman or policeman; we either stamp out the bad behaviour and leave it at that or follow a longer process of investigation and rehabilitation when managing the behaviour of our pupils. The fireman’s actions are suggested by those professionals who agree with punishment and confrontation but yet there is a distinct lack in these approaches to building a relationship with the pupil and trying to promote positive behavior, whereas the teacher who is the “policeman” attempts to manage the behavior and lead to positive behavior by rehabilitation. The difference between these two roles and subsequent approaches is made clear by Stoughton (2007, p. 1033) who notes of teachers managing behavior: Responses were frequently concerned with putting out fires rather than helping children learn how to be more successful classroom participants.
(Annie’s extended writing in the last few months of the program)
Will’s Case—an Alternative Journey
No negotiation—no discussion?
Will was in his mid-30s on the PGDE and, like Annie, learning to be a teacher of English in high school. In the past, he had run his own company and worked as a football player. Initially, he didn’t have any apprehensions about standing up in class and “being the teacher.” His approach to teaching in general and behavior more particularly was very focused and straightforward. He believed that the key support for his choices and strategies would be the school and subject department policies and sanctions. He suggested that there should be no negotiation, no discussion over the rules governing behavior. He felt comfortable with aspects of the behaviorist approach:
One morning, within the first 5 min of the period, she refused to take out her jotter, sit at a table as instructed by me and to be quiet when I was addressing her. Her behavior had clearly escalated within such a short period of time that I had no option other than to ask her to leave the class that morning. Outside the class, the pupil was told why she was removed and where she would be going. There was no negotiation. The class appeared very calm and quiet when I reentered. When the regular class teacher was informed of this, he advised this was the right course of action and served to warn others in the class who might “try it on” in future. The next time the girl came into class she was observably quiet and withdrawn but got on with the work assigned and there was no problem that day. I interacted with her as though nothing had happened the previous time. I had to deal with several incidents in this class where highly inappropriate behavior was the main issue. Depending on the severity, these were dealt with through the school policy regarding such indiscipline. The worst cases were dealt with in the same way: Removing the pupil from class, sending them on what is called “local referral” to an adjacent or nearby class to be monitored by another teacher. (Will’s first placement school—reflective commentary)
However, as Will moved into second and third placements, he was faced with diverse student populations. Suddenly there were children from very low socioeconomic status as well as new ethnic minority groups and so English as an Additional Language (EAL) had to be considered, as well as a wide range of Additional Support Needs (ASN) and some with, “very tragic stories” (Will’s Interview—end of program). He certainly needed to rethink some of his ideas about working and building relationships with young people.
I reflected that although I had “won” the battle of authority I felt the matter had not been resolved satisfactorily. Thus, after further reflection, I sought out opportunities in the final couple of weeks of placement to “regain” John and develop one-to-one discussion strategies further in an effort to work alongside this pupil who had clearly manifested incommunicative and challenging classroom behavior. On one occasion, I noticed John passing in the corridor, affording an opportunity to speak with him. I was genuinely impressed with the piece of poetry that John had eventually handed in and commended him accordingly, specifying exactly what was good about the work. Here began the diffusing process of a potentially damaging relationship and was certainly the catalyst for better relations between teacher and pupil for the rest of the placement.
The handling of the insubordination though raised a number of questions for me to consider. On the one hand, I was mindful to support the guidelines presented within the School’s Discipline policy when dealing with John’s indiscipline. I recognized any clear guidelines adopted by the school will only be as good as the consistency with which it is employed. That is why I used the whole school agreement on behavior as the basis to discuss the matter with John outside the classroom and enforce its punitive sanctions. I felt this had been professionally achieved, but equally felt the ensuing “confrontation” was potentially damaging to both parties and could have been avoided. Although I “won” the battle of the egos, lost was the creation of an arena within which to cater for constructive one-to-one discussion. The error at this stage of handling John’s behavior was the lack of consideration for the rest of the story. Firstly, John did not have a record of this kind of behavior. Secondly, his tearful reaction proved to me that his spiralling behaviour was not borne out of defiance but most probably due to him having an “off day.” (Will after second placement school, extended writing)
Yet he did not see himself as having undergone a personal transformation during this time and he was happy that he had retained the key aspects of the person he was.
I’m true to myself but there are subtle shifts and a lot more to develop and understand. In my childhood, I had to play a role, to be an effective contributor and wherever I’ve ended up in life, I’ve taken that working class, socialist view through the rest of my life. I also happen to be religious and I try to aspire to my beliefs and hopefully that comes across in how I try to deal with others in a compassionate and fair way—I want to be a role model for other working class boys. (Will’s interview—end of program)
Nonetheless, Will suggests the need for awareness and reflection as he highlights the occasional shift back in approach.
I do still have moments when I think, I’m older than you and you should do what you’re told and when that didn’t transfer to immediate respect, trying to think back to the course. Some occasions when my authority was usurped and in close proximity to a fourth-year pupil (16 years old), I probably raised my voice and went masculine eyeball to eyeball but then realized his lack of maturity and tears and realized I’d waded in with my tacketty boots. (Will interview at end of program)
Will charted his evolving ideas around behavior and building relationships with young people as part of the learning and teaching process and his movement away from his earlier, “no negotiation, no discussion,” stance was marked.
On a wider level, Bruner’s theory of “reciprocity” has given me further inspiration to incorporate strategies of handling motivation during learning. “Reciprocity,” Bruner states is an “intrinsic motive, a deep human need to respond to others and to operate jointly with them towards an objective.” (Bruner, 1966, p. 121) For pupils requiring help with motivation, the “motive to conform” only Bruner adds is too much of an “abstraction.” Ingram and Worral’s ideas on “negotiation” between teacher and pupil is of help particularly when deployed in the conflict resolution process. They contend that both parties act as “negotiators who explicitly identify their differences from the start” (Ingram & Worral, 1993). This arguably shifts the traditionally constructed “power” of the teacher to a more egalitarian footing allowing the pupil to feel a sense of worth, identity and enhanced security within an already established partnership with the teacher.
(Will, after second placement school, extended writing)
Don’t Be a Rose Miss, Be a Thorn! Or Don’t Smile Until Christmas . . .
Discussion and Conclusion
In this section, I return to the narrative strands emerging from the two case studies and explore the tension or even dissonance experienced, the significance of student teacher beliefs and values, the possible development of cognitive as well as relational and emotional aspects of learning in ITE and the possibility of the teacher as agent for change, even within the early evolution of professional identity formation and reformation.
In these two case studies, the student teachers have each engaged with contrasting views on behavior and relationships in schools within a university-based course and have also experienced varied understandings of behavior as manifested in schools by colleagues. The cognitive dissonance made explicit at various stages encouraged them to engage critically with these diverse ideas and to look for supporting evidence for taking different approaches. The significance of the personal, the belief systems of the student teachers was highlighted in the struggle that would ensue as they attempted to reconcile their practice with policy and modeling at school level. The greatest need for compliance, as might be expected (Feiman-Nemser, 1983), was during the initial placements that the student teachers encountered. This was also highlighted in an earlier study by the author (Hamilton, in press). However, unlike the previous study where minimal intervention occurred, this project deliberately set out to create and encourage dissonance to highlight the moments of discomfort and challenge student teachers experienced, when attempting to deal with contradictory ideas and beliefs. Consequently, as each student teacher took slightly different journeys through experience, dissonance and reflection supported a more meaningful engagement with behavior approaches, leading to more informed choices about the way forward in dealing with young people.
Student teachers were frequently faced with the myths of teacher control through clichés such as don’t smile until Christmas and the power of such clichés was evident in the reflections of the cohort of new teachers. Much of this cliché was emerging in discussion, formal and informal, with experienced teachers, all of whom had a role to play in mentoring and/or assessing students. The social and relational engagements generated had particular power (Lasky, 2005) as McNally et al. (2005) established in their EPD research, but despite this, Annie and Will began to engage with them critically and to draw on other ways of thinking about young people and teacher–pupil relationships.
Annie’s journey began with a rebellious spirit working within a compliant institution where consensus and conformity was key and she began by subsuming her own rebellious nature within a conforming exterior. Will, however, had operated within teams and collaborations with strict rules and ways of working prior to beginning his teaching course and so reflected a view that echoed a rather traditional behaviorist approach to young people. Yet both student teachers by the end of their course had made subtle shifts and changes to their thinking through a critical engagement with and challenge to their own beliefs and values. This perhaps reflects a movement away from what Sultana (2005) suggests is the traditional academic model of teacher as professional where assimilation and socialization into the existing models in schools may hold sway. Instead this chimes with teacher as a critical agent for change through formal or informal research into practice (Sachs, 2003). Research here is used in a highly inclusive sense. However, this suggestion of agency and the development of cognitive elements within learning may not echo what Sultana (2005) argues is the dominant paradigm in ITE: the teacher as clinician, bound by central control and determination/definition as well as competencies or performance indicators. The course at the heart of this project did not set out to push for the rightness of one particular model of behavior. Instead, diverse views were discussed and debated. The tutor’s own approach to behavior was made explicit but student teachers were encouraged to see this, not as the orthodox way forward, but simply as one of the ways, and this meant that the tutor had to also be ready to respond to challenges to her own view in light of student teacher experiences. The possibility of the teacher being a transformational agent (Sachs, 2003) in the classroom increased as students gained confidence in their careful articulation of their beliefs and understandings of behavior and relationships in the classroom.
The use of dissonance as a mechanism to encourage explicit acknowledgment and engagement with beliefs and values appeared to support students in moving away from reactive approaches to behavior. Although still dealing with survivalist modes initially, they moved toward a more thoughtful engagement with their own beliefs and values as well as broader discussions and debate around behavior. Student teachers quickly moved on from egos and gut reactions and the need to “win control” and instead they began to locate themselves more firmly as in partnership with young people. Negotiation and regaining a child on side became important but so did negotiating some space for their own critical engagement with behavior approaches.
Significant moments and extended reflections encouraged students to narrate their thinking and experience of behavior to provide a springboard for student teachers to delve more deeply into experiences and to make connections to theory more readily. Extended reflections and significant moments helped to broaden narratives being considered and debated and helped to enhance student teacher understanding of their own professional development evolution.
The engagement on this course with multiple models of behavior management runs the risk of student teachers understanding each model superficially rather than attempting to master the strategies of one model in depth. There is research that suggests that a mastery of one approach is preferable (Brophy, 2006; O’Neill & Stephenson, 2012), but the argument made here is that such an approach tends to avoid key aspects of student teacher narratives and the ways in which these may reject such models or at least comply temporarily while course assessments hold sway. This sole model approach moreover does not deal with the situated nature of student teacher learning and the role that “dialogues, conversations and interactions centered on materials and situations”(Avalos, 2011, p. 7) may have on the mediation of behavior models.
In this paper, the narratives of individual student teachers have helped to show the complexity of student teacher engagement with behavior and with young people and the need for teacher educators to engage more critically with this aspect of EPD. As an essential component of professional identity formation and reformation, relational, situated interactions with regard to behavior are considered to be significant (Beijaard, Verlop, & Vermunt, 2000). Yet, the development of critical engagement at a cognitive level is seen as essential (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & Le Page, 2005) if teacher educators wish to encourage student teachers to engage with this important aspect of their professional experience and to invite dissonance to enhance teaching and learning.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding The author(s) received no financial support for the research and/or authorship of this article.
↵1. Students will have completed an undergraduate degree in an appropriate discipline before applying to undertake a 1-year teacher preparation course.
↵2. There are 32 Local Authorities in Scotland responsible for local governance (including schools) led by elected councilors.
↵3. Senior Management Team (SMT) in high school usually comprising head teacher and deputy heads responsible for policy, managing staff, curriculum development etc. as well as working in the classrooms as teachers for limited periods.
↵4. a crit—term used by students for a lesson visited by university staff to evaluate quality of teaching progress.
- © The Author(s) 2013
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (http://www.uk.sagepub.com/aboutus/openaccess.htm).
Lorna Hamilton is a senior lecturer in education research at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include the early professional development of teachers and professional identity as well as the development of teacher agency within negotiated spaces.