I recently read an article titled ‘Limitations of Language: developing arts-based creative narrative in stories of teachers’ identities’ by author Ruth Leitch (2006). There are a series of points that have made this article stand out from others that I have read in the development of my thesis literature. Leitch introduces a concept called ‘creative narrative’ that functions as a multi-layered approach that has helped her to capture her research based on the relevance of ‘storied lives’ of clarifying our understanding of teachers’ identities. Leitch defines ‘creative narrative’ as “an emergent methodological approach” that combines arts-based methods and narrative inquiry. Leitch believes that this approach requires that “narrative inquiry should strive to extend theoretical boundaries and incorporate non-verbal arts-based methods in order to go beyond the limits of language and capture the meaning of lived experience in more holistic ways” (Leitch, 2006, p.549). “Writing and traditional forms of inquiry do not completely convey the sense of felt embodied knowledge in the same way that an image, a poem, a sculpture or a play does” (p.552) recalls Leitch in her article. This statement promotes the notion that we need to develop alternatives to written and verbal language as means of expression and supports the need for arts-based inquiry as a viable alternative as well as a facilitator of unconscious awareness. It is this type of inquiry that “encourages the expression of multiple truths and the interaction of these truths to make new, individual and collective meanings” (p.553).
Leitch draws on various other authors with whom I am familiar. Sachs (2001) is used to make connections between personal narrative and professional agendas; while, Maclure (1993) is cited to help clarify the notion of unstable or changing identities as they are constructed by our social environment. Gergen & Gergen (1988) are also cited to highlight the “importance of professional self narratives”. The development of professional self narratives is an important element of both Leitch’s and my own research. Leitch focused on developing the professional self narratives of 6 primary and post-primary teachers (originally a participant group of 10). Similarly, I am aiming to work with a group of 8-10 teachers, however, they will be secondary art teachers who are ideally in mid-career positions. My interest in mid-career teachers is not only aligned with my own position but also of interest because of the lack of studies on mid-career professionals with regards to identity. While there is a wealth of research on the formation of identities in trainee teachers or NQTs, there is little research on the changes that occur in the professional identities of teachers as they move through their careers. If we are to support Maclure’s concept that identity is a dynamic, unstable (and I would suggest complex) construct that is influenced by our professional lives and social development (as noted above) then it is essential that we continue to document, research and assess the value of identity as we grow as professionals. Mitchell and Weber (1999) are also cited for having “pushed the boundaries of teacher research by exploring pervasive imagery in education, including how childhood memories and social stereotypes colour emerging teacher identities” (p.553).
One of the gaps in research highlighted by Leitch is the “little acknowledgment, and therefore study, of the potential role and impact of unconscious elements, individual and/or collective, within the personal/professional dimensions of teachers’ lives and identities” (p.551). Leitch attributes this to the focus of other aspects of professional identity such as: individual agency (Butt et al., 1992, socio-political factors (Sachs, 2001), and links with social constructs (Maclure, 1993).
Another aspect of Leith’s research references the importance of our unconscious as having a “role […] in the development of our professional lives” (p. 551) links this research to my interest in professional identities. She sees aspects of artistic intellect as a key method of interacting with our unconscious. The use of arts-based inquiry (non-verbal data) is a strategic method of accessing the unconscious and allowing our conscious to then reflect on our subconscious values and beliefs. The use of unconscious can often manifest itself in visual imagery, as opposed to conventional text-based research, because it is reliant on a different part of the brain that draws upon our visual world.
The research structure of Leith’s project is a third element that has helped me to clarify my own research design and development. The number of participants, the types of tasks and the use of narrative conversations to help clarify the other aspects of that I will need to include in my own research will be content analysis and for this I will need to draw on the advise of Gillian Rose and her book titled Visual Methodologies (2011).
Overall, this article is likely to play a key part in the development of my methodology, very helpful and insightful.