Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Using Drawings to Interrogate Professional Identity and the Popular Culture of Teaching.

Weber, Sandra and Claudia Mitchell. “Using Drawings to Interrogate Professional Identity and the Popular Culture of Teaching.” Chapter 6 in Teacher’s Professional Lives, ed. Ivor F. Goodson and Andy Hargreaves. Falmer Press: Bristol, PA, 1996. 109-126.

(To access this chapter, you can search for the title of the book on Google Books.)


The authors explore teacher identity and image both to investigate how teachers perceive themselves, and also how students perceive teachers. They argue that the current work on teacher identity is misguided, because it treats it as an almost formulaic "outcome of pedagogical skills or as an aftermath or function of classroom experience." The authors contend that it is a much more complicated picture - literally - and through their study, they investigate that understanding through artwork.


The study relies on two essential sources of data: student drawings, and teacher drawings. For the students, they took a sample of 150 elementary school children's drawings of teachers. The students were fairly divided by gender (boys and girls are both represented by the study), and their drawings were done with crayons, colored pencils, and standard blank paper. They were asked, "please draw a teacher (any teacher)" and were then interviewed, "Tell me about your picture," were asked to write about it, or were invited to join a group discussion about who teachers are and what teachers do.

The second data source was a collection of images drawn by teachers. They came from three sets of university students enrolled in elementary education programs, two undergraduate groups of pre-service teachers and one group of graduate students, most of whom were experienced teachers. These drawings were part of a reflective log or journal, and teachers were given the instruction, “draw any teacher, or yourself as a teacher,” then write about the drawing, why they had drawn what they had. Their sample included 98% women, 2% men, based on the natural gender bias of Canadian teachers. The drawings were then displayed on a long wall in several parallel rows, and then rearranged, so as to juxtapose different sets. Analysis of the images also included the contextual field notes, interviews, and written comments, and excerpts of the comments written by teachers.

Three essential understandings of professional identity emerged: models of teaching evoked by drawings, teacher appearance, and gendered aspects of the images. Places this in the context of the culture both present and in history, and then draws specific inferences from the drawings themselves. They recognize that the drawings tend to show us not just what we want to see, but how what has been continues to influence our present culture. The authors conclude with implications about how to create change or reform in a culture that seems static, even in the midst of progressive ideals.


The methodology is clear, and if one is interested in preparing "to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if [one] may not eff it after all" (to quote Douglas Adams), I think the use of images makes a lot of sense. In terms of action research, I do not know that images do much more than give us something a little more interesting to explore and examine. This study becomes about inferences, explanations, and definitions. It is less about changing, and more about the phenomenon of change. I think image analysis is incredibly interesting, but I am always skeptical of the conclusions. You can, when focusing on an image, make it say pretty much anything you want. Nevertheless, this is an interesting examination of things like perception, which are hard to understand any way you look at them.


"Drawings are a compelling source of data that has seldom been used in educational research. For adults and children alike, drawing can express that which is not easily put into words: the ineffable, the elusive, the not-yet-thought-through, the subconscious." 110-11

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