Groups of researchers across the University of Edinburgh and non-academic users have explored the development of teacher agency and how teachers at different career stages can be supported to address various challenges posed by the changing contexts of their practice.

Making Sense of Communities of Practice with Social and Epistemic Network analysis

Teachers’ collaboration with others (e.g. colleagues, families, and other professionals) is an essential aspect of their agency for change. Communities of Practice (CoPs) – a form of collaboration characterised by shared purposes and mutual support – can make a difference in student outcomes, including but not limited to achievement, especially for vulnerable learners. But how do teachers build such communities in the first place? 

A team of researchers led by Dr Nataša Pantić at University of Edinburgh, employ new network approaches to study how teachers’ practices shape and are shaped by their social networks within and beyond schools. The aim is to understand how CoPs emerge from teachers’ day-to-day interactions with colleagues, families, and other professionals as they seek to improve all students’ learning and schooling experiences. 


Why is this research important for schools and teachers? 

Institutional cultures can powerfully enable or constrain individual practices. Relationships that form those cultures are partly created by school staff themselves in their day-to-day interactions. Understanding how teachers build and sustain appropriate relationships can be significant for building school environments that support change and innovation.

We are particularly interested in how teachers can build inclusive school communities that promote the learning and wellbeing of all students and staff. While teachers are often committed to equality and inclusion, they themselves need support to address barriers to learning that some students may be experiencing. By making visible teachers’ networks this research helps locate particular sources of support or expertise within school community.


What does the participation in this research involve?

We ask all teachers in a school to fill out a web-based log that asks teachers to reflect on a particular situation and how people they approached supported them. Teachers are asked to contribute at least one log entry each school term over three school terms. The school staff will have an opportunity to receive anonymised research feedback that can be used in professional development. 


Research Team 

Principal Investigator: 

Dr Nataša Pantić, Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh, Charteris Land, Rm 4.15, EH8 8AQ. Email: Tel: +44(0)131 651 6626


Dr Gil Viry, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh

Professor Dragan Gašević, Chair in Learning Analytics, Monash University

Dr Srećko Joksimović, Data scientist, University of South Australia

Advisory Board Members: 

Head Teacher and a Teacher from the participating school (anonymous)

Professor Lani Florian, Bell Chair in Education, University of Edinburgh

Professor Maarten de Laat, The University of Wollongong 

Professor David Williamson Shaffer, Chair in Learning Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research Assistant:

Sarah Galey

Making Visible Teachers’ Impact as Agents of Change for Inclusion

This project draws on research in the area of teacher agency for inclusion to showcase the difference teachers can make by developing inclusive school cultures and trustful relationships with students and their families. A film will be co-produced with a partner school to capture how teachers’ knowledge of the individuality of children and young people, and their home backgrounds can inform teachers' pedagogical decisions. We will work with teachers to develop complementary professional development material to facilitate teachers' reflection on enhancing inclusive practice, and disseminate the film and material throughout professional networks in the UK and beyond for generating further impact.


Student Teachers' Perceptions of their Development as Agents of Social Justice

This project explored how student teachers perceived the impact of teacher education programmes on their capacities to enact principles of social justice in the many different and varied professional contexts in which they will work.


Pilot Study of Teachers as Agents of Social Justice

Pilot Study of Teachers as Agents of Social Justice involved the development of tools for mixed-method analysis of teacher agency with a group of 12 Advisory board members including school teachers, local authorities, members of General Teaching Council Scotland, and teacher educators and researchers. The participatory methodology employed in the research is described in the paper: Pantić, N. (2015). Reconciling Rigour and Impact by Collaborative Research Design: Study of Teacher Agency. International Journal of Research & Method in Education. Research tools have been tested in An Exploratory Study of Teacher Agency for Social Justice, Teaching and Teacher Education (Pantić, 2017). 

The findings suggest that both student and practicing teachers often perceive agency for change as an essential part of their professional role. However, their understanding and enactment of the underlying principles varies according the sense they make out of the perceived opportunities and constraints within their school, policy and broader social settings. While teachers often feel that their power is limited in the face of external influences such as poverty, they also recognise how current practices can be transformed through collective teacher agency and relationships that are characterised by mutual trust and influence.