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Shaping agency through theorizing and practicing teaching in teacher education

MacLellan, Effie (2017) Shaping agency through theorizing and practicing teaching in teacher education. In: The SAGE Handbook of Research on Teacher Education. Sage Publications, London, pp. 253-268. ISBN 9781473925090

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Abstract

The construct of agency has a long and rich history, having been explored from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Agency as the capacity to produce effects is a critical idea in understanding human activity. Within teaching, agency as the capacity to make principled choices, take action and make that action happen will be argued here as being our most important pedagogical resource. The teacher's sense of promoting others' learning, as distinct from 'delivering the curriculum', places upon teachers both a great honour and a great responsibility: both to help, and to be clear about how we help, others to take charge of their own learning. The demand for teachers to be agentic is extensive in the teacher education literature, though for Pantić (2015) there is a lack of conceptual clarity about the nature and function of teacher agency. For the purposes of this chapter, teachers' and teacher-educators' personal agency is stipulatively defined as their: • capacity to effect real change (in other words to have at their disposal means of reforming and transforming educational practice for the benefit of learners); • knowledge that they themselves wittingly caused change in others’ learning (in other words a conscious understanding of their precise contribution to change); • awareness of their own influences and powers to navigate within the milieu of institutional, political and societal structures; and it is derived from a psychological perspective of people as reflexive and self-conscious individuals who operate in a social world and interact with others (Kögler, 2012). This definition involves not only the self's implementation of actions but the self's awareness of detailed contributions, and the self's identification of 'reach' and salience in specified social contexts. It also implies that teachers' and teacher-educators' intellectual and affective capacities to act in problem-solving situations can change or grow over time, thereby enabling experiences of intellectual professional satisfaction. The exercise of agency is complex and while its relationship to educational practice has been characterised variously, this chapter privileges agency in relation to learner achievement, structuring the content under five headings: agency as enacted behaviour; agency as implicit theorising; self-efficacy; epistemic agency; and agency as autonomy.