Professional Self-Understanding in Practice: Narrating, Navigating and Negotiating

  • Geert KelchtermansEmail author


Teaching as a practice, situated in a context of time and space, is where teachers’ self-understanding – their sense of self- emerges. Taking this practice-based stance, the author argues that teachers’ self-understanding is at the same time the result or outcome of experiences in practice as well as a condition for future professional practice. This conceptualization of professional self-understanding allows to incorporate a number of ambiguities that are inherent in and even constitutive for the teaching job: self-understanding as both process and product, as situated between agency and structure, and as caught between intentionality and vulnerability. Concluding the author identifies three categories of practices in which the self-understanding is developed, as well as influences teachers’ actions and professional choices: narrating, navigating, and negotiating.


Professional self-understanding Vulnerability Agency versus structure Narrativity Micro-politics 


  1. Achinstein, B., & Ogawa, R. (2006). (In)Fidelity: What the resistance of new teachers reveals about professional principles and prescriptive educational policies. Harvard Educational Review, 26(1), 30–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ballet, K., & Kelchtermans, G. (2009). Struggling with workload. Primary teachers’ experience of intensification. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 1150–1157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Hoyle, E. (1982). Micro-politics of educational organisations. Educational Management and Administration, 10(2), 87–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kelchtermans, G. (2007). Macropolitics caught up in micropolitics: The case of the policy on quality control in Flanders. Journal of Education Policy, 22, 471–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Kelchtermans, G. (2009). Who I am in how I teach is the message: Self-understanding, vulnerability and reflection. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15, 257–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kelchtermans, G. (2011). Professional responsibility: Persistent commitment, perpetual vulnerability? In C. Sugrue & T. D. Solbrekke (Eds.), Professional responsibility: New horizons of praxis (pp. 113–126). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Kelchtermans, G. (2017). ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Unpacking teacher attrition/retention as an educational issue. Teachers and Teaching: Theory & Practice.
  8. Kelchtermans, G., & Ballet, K. (2002). The micropolitics of teacher induction: A narrative-biographical study on teacher socialisation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18, 105–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kelchtermans, G., & Deketelaere, A. (2016). The emotional dimension in becoming a teacher. In J. Loughran & M. L. Hamilton (Eds.), International handbook on teacher education (Vol. 2, pp. 429–461). Singapore, Singapore: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kelchtermans, G., Piot, L., & Ballet, K. (2011). The lucid loneliness of the gatekeeper: Exploring the emotional dimension in principals’ work lives. Oxford Review of Education, 37, 93–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Labov, W., & Waletzky, J. (1973). Erzählanalyse. Mündliche Versionen persönlicher Erfahrung. In J. IHWE (Ed.), Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik (Vol. 2, pp. 78–126). Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Athenäum.Google Scholar
  12. Lanas, M., & Kelchtermans, G. (2015). “This has more to do with who I am than with my skills”: Student teacher subjectification in Finnish teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 47, 22–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lortie, D. (1975). The schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. März, V., Kelchtermans, G., Vanhoof, S., & Onghena, P. (2013). Sense-making and structure in teachers’ reception of educational reform: A case study on statistics in the mathematics curriculum. Teaching and Teacher Education, 29, 13–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Polkinghorne, D. (1988). Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  16. Rots, I., Kelchtermans, G., & Aelterman, A. (2012). Learning (not) to become a teacher: A qualitative analysis of the job entrance issue. Teaching and Teacher Education, 28, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

Personalised recommendations