Looking beyond survival : a study of teacher resilience in a context of change
The purpose of this study was to investigate how selected high school teachers, identified as resilient to the demands of a complex and changing education environment, were influenced in their response to change by aspects of their personal, organizational and professional lives. To this end, a conceptual framework was presented, not as a template, but as a vehicle to critically reflect upon the change context, and the dynamic relationship between the resilient teacher and the organization. The conceptual framework for this study was derived from literature about the context of change and educational reform, as well as the social psychological constructs of culture, role theory, occupational self-concept, career anchors, and teacher career stages. Central to the framework was a model of change management that delineates a perspective on individual and organizational resilience. A naturalistic interpretive case study approach using a semi-structured interview format was applied to engage selected participants in guided reflections upon their changing role and that which influenced their response to change. Over a period of several months, qualitative data were collected by means of tape recorded semi-structured interviews. Data were analyzed inductively using a framework that emerged from the voices of the participants, individually and comparatively, and, then deductively, using the theoretical framework as presented. Emerging from this study are numerous lessons, stated as propositions about resilient teachers, their perspective on change, and the dynamics of influences upon their response. One of the more significant propositions is that resilient teachers anchor their careers in autonomy and moral purpose, but in an individualistic way that reflects additional anchors in technical/functional competence, creativity, and/or adventure. Such a finding calls into question the notion that privatism is a barrier to change in education. A second proposition of some significance speaks to the dynamics of the psychological contract operant among resilient teachers in the context of their professional work. It appears that a reframing of the psychological contract may well be in order. In the case of resilient teachers, the linearity of the implicit reciprocal relationship between the individual and the organization does not appear to fit the dynamic complexity of the changing context of education. Finally, of note, is a reconceptualization of a model depicting the progression of teachers' careers that articulates the proposition that resilient teachers engage in cyclical self-renewal and appear highly self-directed in this regard. Having taken a proactive and positive approach to the study of change at the level of the individual teacher, I would further propose that this study affords new perspectives on change in the context of education and numerous potential "new beginnings" for further research on the phenomenology of change at the level of the individual teacher.