The influence of attribution style on beginning teachers' professional learner identities

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Allen, Jeanne

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Singh, Parlo

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It is well documented that entry into the teaching profession tests beginning teachers’ ability to cope and build capacity as they encounter the realities of teaching. Professional learning – particularly through mentoring and induction – has been identified as important for beginning teachers to effectively manage early professional practice, and to go on to thrive as teachers. For this reason, the development of professional learner identities is of significant interest in beginning teacher research. The aim of this research is to generate deeper understandings of the ways beginning teachers develop their identities as professional learners in their first year of teaching. Discussion about beginning teachers’ engagement with professional learning is often focused on externally driven accountabilities such as the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and Teacher Registration Authority requirements. Significant responsibility has also been placed on schools to provide professional learning environments that meet the needs of teachers entering the profession. This approach to professional learning for beginning teachers, however, has a number of problems. First, access to quality professional learning environments has been shown to be highly inconsistent for those starting their teaching careers. Second, intentional engagement with professional learning, rather than an externally driven obligation to participate, is significant to the success of teachers from the outset of their careers. Third, professional learning provision generated in response to teacher standards and associated accountability measurers often fails to acknowledge the importance of internal motivation and attitude to beginning teachers’ sense of a professional learner identity. Framed within the theory of attribution, this study was motivated by the following research question: How do first-year teachers’ responses to their experiences influence the development of their professional learner identities? Attribution theory provides an explanation for how individuals make meaning of their experiences by determining causality for the outcomes of these experiences, thereby influencing their subsequent actions. Using a mixed methodology, whereby attribution theory informed data collection and analysis, this study investigated first-year teachers’ attributions of causality following a range of experiences to understand the influence of these attributions on the development of their professional learner identities. Participants in this study were drawn from independent schools across Queensland, Australia in 2015 and 2016. First, I administered an adaptation of the Causal Dimension Scale II (CDSII) as an online survey tool with 57 first-year teachers reporting their experiences and attributions of causality for perceived outcomes. Following this, I conducted face-to-face semi-structured interviews with 16 first-year teachers who provided rich insights into the ways in which their attributional responses to experiences influenced the development of their professional learner identities. Through the use of descriptive statistical and thematic analysis for the survey and interview data respectively, the findings illustrated that attributions of causality were significant for first-year teachers in the development of their identities as professional learners across varied school contexts. Participants responding to their experiences using a balance of attributional behaviours were best able to maintain positive attitudes as professional learners despite the challenges and demands of entry into the profession. In contrast, predominantly unvaried and habitual attributional responses across many experiences negatively impacted the extent to which participants perceived thinking and acting as a professional learner to be purposeful, necessary and manageable. These findings also demonstrated that first-year teachers’ perceptions of their school contexts impacted the ways they made meaning of their experiences and thus their ability to enact their envisaged professional learner identities as they progressed through the first year of teaching. In an era of standardisation and accountability, this study draws attention to the need to expand current approaches to supporting first-year teachers beyond the provision of professional learning, with current models of professional learning proposed by external accountabilities and standardised regimes insufficient for the development of positive professional learner identities and building capacity within the workforce. This study highlights the importance to a number of stakeholders of taking into account first-year teachers’ attributional behaviours and attitudes to professional learning; they include policy makers, teacher educators, school leaders and those responsible for beginning teachers’ induction into the profession. This study makes an important contribution to research about effective support for teachers as they commence teaching, their professional and personal growth, and their identity work as professional learners.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School Educ & Professional St

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Attribution style

Learner identities

Professional learning


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