Narrative as pedagogy: Professional learning and equity in Physical Education

Year: 2012

Author: Flintoff, Anne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Engaging teachers in issues of equity in initial or in-service teacher education remains an ongoing challenge for Physical Education (PE). Since teachers' (and teacher educators') personal identities are inextricably bound up with their developing professional identities, the construction of learning environments designed to encourage such reflection is best described as 'risky' pedagogy (Weiner, 2006).  For example, in professional learning centred on race, teacher educators report a range of student reactions from naivety, denial, or guilt; they report too, on the toll of such 'emotional' labour on their own identities (e.g. Lander, 2011). In PE teacher education, whilst scholars have sought to understand engagement with equity issues through more traditional research methodologies, such as interviewing, (e.g. Wrench and Garrett, 2011), few have examined students' responses to their own pedagogy focused towards this task, or its effectiveness in shifting positions.

This paper reports on the use of narratives in my teacher educator pedagogy with PE teachers and students. Narratives have been proposed as useful tools for professional learning not least because they offer the possibility for silenced or ignored stories in PE to be heard, and can help practitioners see how individual stories are always also stories about macro social relations (Dowling, 2012).  As such, they offer a different 'way in' to learning about power and discrimination in PE, and through engaging the reader at an emotional, as well as intellectual level, open up the possibilities for teachers  to be 'moved' to reflect upon repressive practices and see the need for change.

I explore their use within two teaching 'episodes': the first with six MA PE students involved in a programme aimed at 'unpacking' the social construction of 'abilities' within PE, who were asked to narrate personal stories about 'ability', as well as to reflect upon disabled pupils' narratives of PE (see Fitzgerald, 2012). The second draws on a final year, mixed-race undergraduate student, 'Anita', who used 'self stories' in her dissertation to explore issues of race. A thematic analysis revealed the significance of individuals' subjectivities in responses to learning about equity; students variously struggled to move beyond 'caring', individualist responses, and it was only in Anita's stories that links between  lived experience, professional identity and wider power were evident. The paper reflects on these and other issues raised by the use of narratives in pedagogy aimed at promoting professional learning about equity.

Chair: Professor Richard Tinning