Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Story as a Fossil and the NCTE Proposal Title

As I struggle with the right conference proposal title, I think about the aha moment I had just an hour ago while reading Stephen King's On Writing.  I bought this book some years ago and enjoyed reading it then as I am enjoying a reread of it now.  But the section about fossils and symbolism made me pause:  "If you can go along with the concept of the story as a pre-existing thing, a fossil in the ground, then symbolism must also be pre-existing, right? Just another bone (or set of them) in your new discovery" (p. 198).  Stories, he said, are fully formed and need the proper excavation tools.  And maybe symbols and deeper meanings are much the same.

What this comes to is my narrative stance in research.  I want to study, to write about, inquire into the idea of transformation experiences in teacher development.  Why do certain professional development experiences transform some teachers and not others?  How might narrative inquiry help us know the entire story that answers that question?  It seems that there is a fossil that must be discovered, unearthed, and polished for us to understand why some teachers respond with renewed vigor for the profession and others decide that one more hoop just won't do it for them.  I suspect transformation has to do with the validation teachers finally feel as professionals when they attend learning opportunities that honor their capacity as leaders.

Recently, I learned about another kind of transformation.  By listening to interviews, reading transcripts, and focusing on the story being told, I found a thread running through many conversations between one teacher and myself.  I created a narrative research/literature review that uncovered an interesting element that could lead to the teacher's exploration of new classroom strategies.  Seeing the story of our work, the teacher realized our conversations, more than class reflections, were intelligent talk that moved learning and discovery forward. That story is still developing.  But it may be key to figuring out the transformation piece.  Perhaps the transformed teachers discovered a fossil--their mission, teaching story, or leadership ability, perhaps--and were able to polish it with renewed strength and insight with the right excavation [PD] tools.  That, too, remains to be seen.

There may be no easy formula to determine the best professional learning opportunity.  It most likely is dependent on the disposition of the attendee and his or her context.  If that is true, even the well-designed PD may fall short of delivering (or deliverance).  This inquiry goes deeper than examining professional development feedback databases or administering surveys.  The story begins at the fossil, in the classroom before the professional development experience.  Either polishing happens or it doesn't, but we have to know the fossil from the beginning.

So I am still stuck with no title for my NCTE proposal and am only a  little clearer on my narrative stance in research.