UBC Graduate Research

The Teaching Coats Project : exploring the threads of our teacher identities through arts-based research Poirier, Tiffany


In a discussion of teacher identity in The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer (2007) shares this metaphorical Hasidic tale: “We need a coat with two pockets. In one pocket there is dust, and in the other pocket there is gold. We need a coat with two pockets to remind us of who we are” (p. 113). Inspired by the powerful imagery and meaning of these words, the author of this study created “The Teaching Coats Project”, an arts-based professional development activity for teachers, which she used as the basis for this research. The Teaching Coats Project involved study participants in making their own “Teaching Coats”; these were blank white lab coats that teachers transformed with personally chosen elements such as imagery, text, memorabilia, and symbolic objects. Participants creatively expressed aspects of their professional journeys and teaching philosophies on their Teaching Coats, analyzing their choices and deepening their self-awareness through the process. Each Teaching Coat evolved and was examined as a wearable mixed media collage representing a teacher’s identity. The central questions of this study included: What are the ways teachers interpret the task to create their own Teaching Coats? And what stories do teachers share in making and discussing the meaning of their Teaching Coats? Using an arts-based narrative inquiry methodology, this research emphasized a/r/tography practices and the author’s autoethnographical account of her experiences both creating her own Teaching Coat and facilitating the project with three other teachers. The author introduced the concept of a Teaching Coat to participants during one-on-one interviews and invited them to continue creating their Teaching Coats in their own time over several months. During follow-up interviews, participants discussed the features and meanings of their Teaching Coats and shared reflections on their creative processes. The data collected included participants’ stories, written statements, interview transcripts, and photographs of Teaching Coats. The data was analyzed around a central theme of teacher identity and explored through five interrelated themes: teacher identity as a contextually embedded and co-constructed social phenomenon, teachers’ need for self-awareness, the complexity of clarifying boundaries between one’s personal and professional identity, teacher authenticity, and transformation. This study offers a rationale for how The Teaching Coats Project, as an example of an arts-based professional development opportunity, may foster teacher identity by providing a framework for independent exploration and/or participation in a practice-based community of inquiry.

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