A drama of selves: Investigating teacher identity development from dialogical and complexity perspectives


language teacher identity
complex dynamic systems
dialogical self
practicum learning

How to Cite

Henry, A. (2019). A drama of selves: Investigating teacher identity development from dialogical and complexity perspectives. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 263–285. https://doi.org/10.14746/ssllt.2019.9.2.2


Identity is of increasing interest in teacher education. Crucial for resilience, the development of a coherent professional identity has been characterized as emerging from tensions between multiple and sometimes conflicting conceptions of what it means to be someone who teaches (Akkerman & Meijer, 2011). While light is being shed on these often antagonistic relations, less is known about the dynamics of identity formation and transformation. Providing a contribution to work on language teacher identity, in this single case study Hermans’ (2008) concept of the dialogical self is combined with complexity principles in an investigation of changes in the emerging professional identity of a pre-service English teacher during a practicum. Drawing on intra- and inter-personal data, experiences of learning to become a person who teaches English are conceptualized as a drama that is played out between different and sometimes unaligned selves. Analyses show how this inner drama maps onto the landscape of an emerging teacher identity, how tensions can be understood systemically, and how a teacher identity system can have a signature dynamic.



Akkerman, S. F., & Meijer, P. C. (2011). A dialogical approach to conceptualizing teacher identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 308-319.

Alsup, J. (2006). Teacher identity discourses. Negotiating personal and professional spaces. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Beauchamp, C., & Thomas, L. (2009). Understanding teacher identity: An overview of issues in the literature and implications for teacher education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39(2), 175-189.

Beauchamp, C., & Thomas, L. (2011). New teachers’ identity shifts at the boundary of teacher education and initial practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 50, 6-13.

Beijaard, D., Meijer, P. C., & Verloop, N. (2004). Reconsidering research on teachers’ professional identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 20, 107-128.

Bell, N. J., & Das, A. (2011). Emergent organization in the dialogical self: Evolution of a ‘‘both’’ ethnic identity position. Culture & Psychology, 17(2), 241-262.

Bento, T., Cunha, C., & Salgado, J. (2012). Dialogical theory of selfhood. In J. Valsiner (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of culture and psychology (pp. 421-438). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bloomfield, D. (2010). Emotions and “getting by”: A preservice teacher navigating professional experience. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 38, 221-234.

Britzman, D. P. (2006). Foreword. In J. Alsup (Ed.), Teacher identity discourses: Negotiating personal and professional spaces (pp. ix-xii). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Byrne, D., & Callaghan, G. (2014). Complexity theory and the social sciences: The state of the art. Abingdon: Routledge.

Chu, S. K. W., Kwan, A. C. M., & Warning, P. (2012). Blogging for information management, learning, and social support during internship. Educational Technology & Society, 15(2), 168-178.

Coyle, A. (2006). Discourse analysis. In G. M. Breakwell, S. Hammond, C. Fife-Schaw, & J. A. Smith (Eds.), Research methods in psychology (pp. 366-387). London: Sage.

Deng, L., & Yuen, A. H. K. (2013). Forums in preservice teacher education: Exploring the participation issue. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 22(3), 339-356.

Dörnyei, Z. (2014). Researching complex dynamic systems: “Retrodictive qualitative modelling” in the language classroom. Language Teaching, 47(1), 80-91.

Duarte, F., & Gonçalves, M. M. (2007). Negotiating motherhood: A dialogical approach. International Journal for Dialogical Science, 2, 249-275.

Ferrier-Kerr, J. (2009). Establishing professional relationships in practicum settings. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25, 790-797.

Geijsel, F., & Meijers, F. (2005). Identity learning: The core process of educational change. Educational Studies, 31(4), 419-430.

Henry, A. (2016). Conceptualizing teacher identity as a complex dynamic system: The inner dynamics of transformations during a practicum. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(4), 291-305.

Henry, A. (2019). Working with identity work: Supporting the exploration of professional identity development in teacher education. Manuscript in preparation.

Henry, A., & Tynkkinen, M. (2017). Becoming a process researcher of one’s own development: Using an identity mapping model to make sense of transformation dynamics during the practicum. In T. Gregersen & P. D. MacIntyre (Eds.), Exploring innovations in language teacher education: Transformational theory and practice (pp. 205-228). New York: Springer.

Hermans, H. J. M. (1996). Voicing the self: From information processing to dialogical interchange. Psychological Bulletin, 119(1), 31-50.

Hermans, H. J. M. (2001). The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7(3), 243-281.

Hermans, H. J. M. (2003). The construction and reconstruction of a dialogical self. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 16(2), 89-130.

Hermans, H. J. M. (2008). How to perform research on the basis of dialogical self theory? Introduction to the special issue. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 21(3), 185-199.

Hermans, H. J. M., Kempen, H. J. G., & Van Loon, R. J. P. (1992). The dialogical self: Beyond individualism and rationalism. American Psychologist, 47, 23-33.

Hiver, P. (2017). Tracing the signature dynamics of language teacher immunity: A retrodictive qualitative modeling study, Modern Language Journal, 101, 669-690.

Hiver, P., & Al-Hoorie, A. H. (2016). A “dynamic ensemble” for second language research: Putting complexity theory into practice. Modern Language Journal, 100, 741-756.

James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology (Vol. 1). London: Macmillan.

Jasper, C., Moore, H., Whittaker, L., & Gillespie, A. (2012). Methodological approaches to studying the self in its social context. In H. Hermans & T. Gieser (Eds.), Handbook of dialogical self theory (pp. 319-334). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnston, B. (1997). Do EFL teachers have careers? TESOL Quarterly, 31(4), 681-712.

Kaplan, A., & Garner, J. K. (2017). A complex dynamic systems perspective on identity and its development: The dynamic systems model of role identity. Developmental Psychology, 53(11), 2036-2051.

Kaplan, A., & Garner, J. K. (2018). Teacher identity and motivation: The dynamic systems model of role identity. In P. A. Schutz., J. Hong, & D. Cross Francis (Eds.), Research on teacher identity: Mapping challenges and innovations (pp. 71-82). New York: Springer.

Klimstra, T. A., Luyckx, K., Hale, W. W., Frijns, T., van Lier, P., & Meeus, W. H. J. (2010). Short-term fluctuations in identity: Introducing a micro-level approach to identity formation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(1), 191-202.

Kostoulas, A., Stelma, J., Mercer, S., Cameron, L., & Dawson, S. (2017). Complex systems theory as a shared discourse space for TESOL. TESOL Journal. Advance online publication.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2017). Complexity theory: The lessons continue. In L. Ortega & Z. Han (Eds.), Complexity theory and language development: In celebration of Diane Larsen-Freeman (pp. 12-50). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, M. D., & Ferrari, M. (2000). Cognitive-emotional self-organization in personality development and personal identity. In H. A. Bosma & E. S. Kunnen (Eds.), Identity and emotion: Development through self-organization (pp. 177-198). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacIntryre, P. D., & Serroul, A. (2015). Motivation on a per-second timescale: Examining approach-avoidance motivation during L2 task performance. In Z. Dörnyei, P. D. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 109-138). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Markus, H. R., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954-969.

McAdams, D. P. (1985). The “imago”: A key narrative component of identity. In P. Shaver (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychology (pp. 115-141). Beverly Hills: Sage.

Miller, J. (2009). Teacher identity. In A. Burns & J. C. Richards (Eds.), The Cambridge guide to second language teacher education (pp. 172-181). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nowak, A., Vallacher, R., & Zochowski, M. (2005). The emergence of personality: Dynamic foundations of individual variation. Developmental Review, 25, 351-385.

Ortega, L., & Han, Z. (2017). Complexity theory and language development: In celebration of Diane Larsen-Freeman. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pillen, M. T., den Brok, P. J., & Beijaard, D. (2013). Profiles and change in beginning teachers’ professional identity tensions. Teaching and Teacher Education, 34, 86-97.

Potter, J., & Wetherell, M. (1995). Discourse analysis. In J. Smith, R. Harré, & L. Van Langenhove (Eds.), Rethinking methods in psychology (pp. 80-92). London: Sage.

Rodgers, C. R., & Scott, K. H. (2008). The development of the personal self and professional identity in learning to teach. In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. J. McIntyre & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 732-755). New York: Routledge.

Smagorinsky, P., Cook, L. S., Moore, C., Jackson, A. Y., & Fry, P. G. (2004). Tensions in learning to teach: Accommodation and the development of a teaching identity. Journal of Teacher Education, 55(1), 8-24.

Sutherland, L., Howard, S., & Markauskaite, L. (2010). Professional identity creation: Examining the development of beginning preservice teachers’ understanding of their work as teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 455-465.

Trent, J. (2011). “Four years on, I’m ready to teach”: Teacher education and the construction of teacher identities. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 17(5), 529-543.

Trent, J. (2013). From learner to teacher: Practice, language, and identity in a teaching practicum. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 41(4), 426-440.

Vallacher, R. R., van Geert, P., & Nowak, A. (2015). The intrinsic dynamics of psychological process. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24(1), 58-64.

Valsiner, J. (2004, August). Temporal integration of structures within the dialogical self. Keynote lecture at the 3rd International Conference on Dialogical Self, Warsaw, Poland.

van Geert, P., & Lichtwarck-Aschoff, A. (2005). A dynamic systems approach to family assessment. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 21(4), 240-248.

Verspoor, M. (2015). Initial conditions. In Z. Dörnyei, P. D. MacIntyre, & A. Henry (Eds.), Motivational dynamics in language learning (pp. 38-46). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Walkington, J. (2005). Becoming a teacher: Encouraging development of teacher identity through reflective practice. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 33(1), 53-64.