Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


The retirement of a significant proportion of late career teachers from Australian schools has meant early and mid career teachers are responsible for reshaping pedagogies to enable today’s students to engage with learning experiences relevant to their needs in authentic learning contexts. The literature reports that reflected in a teacher’s ability to design authentic learning experiences (see Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Herrington & Oliver, 2000) are the beliefs a teacher holds about what it is to be a teacher, that is, their professional identity (Ramsey, 2000; Rowe, 2003). The professional identity of an early career teacher is reported as somewhat fragile and vulnerable to the demands and pressures of the first years of classroom practice (see Darling-Hammond, 2006a; McCormack, Gore, & Thomas, 2006). A closer focus on the development of professional identity during preservice teacher education could support early career teachers’ ‘survival’ during these early years. This inquiry investigates the development of professional identity in early career primary teachers and its relationship to designing authentic learning experiences. Specifically, it explores the ways early career teachers’ abilities to plan and design authentic learning experiences change in response to the development of their professional identity. The inquiry adopted a design-based approach (Reeves, 2000, 2006) as an organisational frame as it provided a useful way to organise and report the phases of the inquiry and the different focus taken for each. Within this frame, a qualitative research design employed ethnographic principles and action research to collect and analyse rich data from two groups of participants: experienced classroom teachers and early career teachers. Data were analysed using the constant comparison method through the multiple lenses of quality teaching (see Darling-Hammond, 1997; Ramsey, 2000), authentic learningexperiences (see Brown et al., 1989; Herrington & Oliver, 2000) and professional identity (see Connelly & Clandinin, 1999; Wenger, 1998). The results of this inquiry generated a theory for the development of a professional identity that focuses not only on oneself as a teacher in a particular school, but also on the types of learners one aims to develop. Further, the findings of this inquiry argue for a professional identity that identifies with teachers beyond the immediate setting of a single school to active engagement within the broader community of teachers. Findings of the inquiry highlighted the ways that teacher education programs can advance the skills of reflective practice, professional dialogue, making connections between theory and practice and active participation within the community of professional teachers to develop an identity that equips early career teachers for the rigours of teaching. Consequently, the theory for the development of professional identity also calls teacher educators to reflect on their own identities and the ways they are translated into learning experiences. The findings of the inquiry support the argument that questions of identity and the principles for the development of professional identity are related to the development of a professional identity that is characterised by resilience, durability and responsibility. The development of a sense of professional responsibility was observed to empower the early career teachers in this inquiry to participate in the practices of a range of teaching communities, both as consumers and producers of knowledge. Such findings, it is argued, are critical for teacher educators to consider as they plan learning experiences that support early career teachers as they enter the teaching profession.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.