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Teacher agency in the ESOL classroom: the intersection of policy and practice

Day, Myriam Grace (2023) Teacher agency in the ESOL classroom: the intersection of policy and practice. Masters thesis, York St John University.

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This study explores the extent to which teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) feel they have agency, how they negotiate it and what influences their decision making. While teacher agency is an emerging field, there are only a few explorations of ESOL teacher agency to date. Therefore, this underexplored area merits a deeper understanding of whether, and how, teachers achieve agency. The study draws on data from semi-structured interviews (n=9) with individuals who have considerable experience of ESOL teaching. I used content analysis to uncover insights from teachers’ self-reported perspectives. The resulting themes from the data are discussed using the lens of Priestley, Biesta and Robinson’s (2015) ecological approach to teacher agency. While my findings support this approach, they also go beyond it to introduce interdisciplinary concepts. I argue that psychological safety in the workplace – a popular concept in organisational psychology (Edmondson, 1999) – influences agency through the level of trust and freedom that ESOL teachers experience at work. My data show that teacher–manager relationships are instrumental in creating psychological safety and that, where strong relationship ties are lacking, this hinders teachers’ comfort in trying new ideas and making decisions. This new, interdisciplinary perspective adds to the existing literature and suggests that teacher agency is mediated predominantly by their external contexts. While all research participants reported feeling able to take action and make decisions to some extent, workplace culture (e.g., the type of organisational hierarchy and degree of trust in individuals) is, it seems, key in either promoting or hindering agency. The findings emphasise that agency is not solely an inherent personal characteristic, although teacher cognition (e.g., personal reflections and experience) also contributes to their classroom policies, such as encouraging the adoption of other languages to support learning. In summary, a complex web of internal and external factors creates an environment which either encourages or limits individual agency.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Status: Published
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
School/Department: School of Education, Language and Psychology
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/8339

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