The Development of Professional Identities of Mathematics Specialists

Murray, Megan, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Berry, Robert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Garofalo, Joe, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Linnartz, Linda, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Brighton, Catherine, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Pitt, Loren, Department of Mathematics, University of Virginia

This study investigates how mathematics specialists perceive their professional identities and how those identities change over time, given the different contexts in which they work and the roles they play within those contexts. Specifically, the purpose of this interpretative phenomenological study was to explore the development of professional identities of experienced mathematics specialists who were working in jobs intended to support teachers in developing reform based mathematical practices. Five graduates of the University of Virginia’s Mathematics Specialist program served as participants. Four of these participants are currently practicing mathematic specialists, while one of the participants has returned to teaching full time. Retrospective data was collected, including semi-structured interviews, and supporting artifacts from work as a mathematics specialist. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed with an interpretative, iterative process, using a framework grounded in communities of practice.
Analysis resulted in the emergence of four main themes related to the development of a strong professional identity. These themes include the presence of reform based beliefs about the nature of mathematics and mathematical instruction; the importance of building strong relationships built on trust in order to work with teachers in bringing about change; the role of the culture of the community of practice; and the development of a professional voice. While all of the participants held strong beliefs, it was vital that the culture of the community of practice, including the division policies and the support of school administrators, became aligned with the beliefs of the specialist for a strong professional identity to occur. When this did not happen, the specialist found it difficult to make significant in teachers’ practice and did not develop a strong identity as a mathematics specialist.
Implications include the importance of mathematics specialists as players in the development of teachers’ social networks that are vital for bringing about educational change; the need for school divisions to develop policies and practice that are consistent with the goals of mathematics reform and to be consistent in working with mathematics specialists to implement these policies and practices; and the importance in considering the effect of time in bringing about educational change, and the need to allow time for specialists to develop a strong effective professional identity and practice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Mathematics specialists, professional identity, mathematics education
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