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Tales from the watershed: A study of primary teachers' mid-career identity

Project duration
September 2014 – March 2016

The Tales from the Watershed project is a small-scale, mixed method study of primary teachers’ identity, conducted in the West Midlands region of the UK. The project seeks to understand and explore factors (including local factors) influencing and contributing to the professional identity of 18 teachers who are in the mid-phase of their career. This phase, which covers between 8 and 15 years of teaching, has been described as a ‘watershed’ period during which a teacher can experience a number of changes in their professional and/or personal lives (Day et al, 2007).

Using innovative approaches to research with teachers, the study seeks to understand and describe the complexities that underpin primary teachers’ professional identity at an individual level, how the construction and development of teacher identity evolves, and consequently provide a deeper understanding of the influences that shape mid-career primary school teachers’ professional lives that goes beyond the most obvious stereotypes

The study will make significant theoretical and methodological contributions to the study of career phase and professional identity, including the development of new research instruments. In particular it will build understanding of the extent and impact of these concepts on personal and professional development of teachers in this phase of teaching, potentially having immediate implications for teachers’ classroom practice.

Research aims and objectives
The two overarching research aims are to:

  1. Identify and explain the impact of career phase on primary teachers’ development and management of their professional identity;
  2. Develop a theoretical model that describes the interactive relationship between critical events in teachers’ careers over time and the moderating and mediating impact of these influences in order to develop resources appropriate to mid-career teachers;

The research objectives, therefore, are:

  1. To investigate and describe the construction and development of teachers’ professional identity in primary schools using a narrative and repertory grid interview approach;
  2. To examine how, if at all, critical events (Day et al., 2006; Webster & Mertova, 2007) during a teachers’ personal and professional life have an impact upon teachers in the 8-15 professional life phase, and thereby to advance theoretical understanding of professional identity formation; and,
  3. To analyse and identify the shared and/or unique patterns underpinning the construction, development and adaptation of teachers’ professional identity that will contribute to the development of online and face-to-face provision for primary teachers by investigating variations in the needs and challenges faced during a career.

Research questions
In order to achieve the aims and objectives set out above, four research questions will be addressed:

  1. What are the key critical professional, situated and personal events that impact on primary teachers’ identity over time?
  2. What are the coping and/or managing strategies primary teachers employ in adapting to these critical events, in different contexts and at different points in a career?
  3. What are the key moderating and mediating factors that influence primary teachers’ professional identity over time and how are these factors linked, if at all, to number of years in teaching?
  4. What are the shared and/or unique patterns of professional identity development primary teachers experience during their career?

Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kington, A. & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers Matter. Maidenhead: OUP.
Day, C., Kington, A., Stobart, G., & Sammons, P. (2006). The personal and professional selves of teachers: stable and unstable identities. British Educational Research Journal, 32, 4, 601 – 616.
Webster, L. & Mertova, P. (2007). Using Narrative Inquiry as a Research Method: An introduction to using critical event narrative analysis on research on teaching and learning. Oxfordshire: Routledge.



Research team

All the researchers engaged in this project have worked in education for a considerable number of years and are former teachers.

The team includes: - 
Dr Alison Kington (Principal Investigator)
Branwen Bingle
Dr Colin Howard
Catriona Robinson



Outputs and dissemination

Coming soon:
  • Working paper (1)
  • Working paper (2)
  • Working paper (3)



Related links

Inspiring Teachers: perspectives and practices

Kington, A., Reed, N. & Sammons, P. (2014). Teachers’ Constructs of Effective Classroom Practice: variations across career phases. Research Papers in Education, 25(5), 534-556.

Kington, A. (2012). Narratives of Variation in Teacher-pupil Relationships across a Career. European Journal of Educational Studies. 4(2).