A ‘knotty’ problem: researching teachers’ experiences of Master’s level research through a rope metaphor

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    This paper presents a conceptual framework intended to support careful investigation of teachers’ identity (re-)formation through the metaphor of a rope, influenced by Hattie (2004) and Engeström (2004). The framework has been developed within a doctoral study which seeks to map teachers’ experiences as they engage in Master’s level research and interrogate how these experiences influence their identity/identities as teacher and researcher.

    The commitment to establish and support teachers’ research activity has a long history in England and internationally and has been re-affirmed in recent years. It has been suggested that teachers’ engagement in research activity and critical scholarship can encourage action and reflection which serves a variety of interests and purposes, from solving individual and local problems through to articulating with other interventions and wider social movements. However, such engagement can be problematic given extant (initial and continuing) teacher education policies in England, which seem grounded in the ‘what works’ agenda and in narrow constructions of evidence-based practice.

    These issues are elucidated in accounts from teachers engaged in part-time Master’s level research. In interviews, which acted as early reconnaissance work for the research project, teachers expressed anxieties about their professional identity, value and worth and indicated tensions between the dual demands of their work as both teacher and researcher. These accounts are significant when explored through the lens of teacher identity (re-)formation. A growing body of literature describes how teachers’ professional identities constantly change and evolve over time in relation to cultural and social contexts, as well as in response to teachers’ professional development activities which can incrementally affect an individual’s beliefs, ideals and subsequent practice. However, little is documented about the impact on teachers’ identity as they engage in Master’s level research, or the potential for teachers to experience conflict as their professional identity/identities (re-)form as teacher and researcher.

    In this paper, I propose that using a rope metaphor provides a framework for more nuanced interrogations of teachers’ experiences during their Master’s level research, through which any impact on (re-)formation of their identity/identities can be articulated. Drawing on the maxim of Wittgenstein (1958) it is recognised that the strength of a rope lies in the overlapping of many fibres, mirroring the multiple dimensions of a teacher’s identity/identities. By examining individual identity/identities over time using this framework we may come to understand how, and when, these fibres come to be tightly bound together and if, and when, the fibres might separate and ‘fray’. The paper concludes with details of an ongoing case-study approach which seeks to elucidate narratives from teachers during their Master’s dissertation year using video diary methods to map and analyse their ‘identity ropes’.

    • Engeström, Y. (2004). New forms of learning in co-configuration work. Journal of Workplace Learning, 16, 11–21.
    • Hattie, J. (2004). Models of self-concept that are neither top-down or bottom-up: the rope model of self-concept. Retrieved fromhttps://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Models-of-Self-Concept-that-are-Neither-Top-Down-or-Hattie/beaadff694619622d0101925281f3a019bb5a3e7
    • Wittgenstein, L. (1958). Philosophical investigations (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

    Academic conference

    Academic conferenceInternational Professional Development Association (IPDA) International Conference 2020
    Internet address


    Dive into the research topics of 'A ‘knotty’ problem: researching teachers’ experiences of Master’s level research through a rope metaphor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this