EXPLORING THE PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY OF ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATORS USING ELICITED METAPHOR AND NARRATIVE INQUIRY
College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
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Professional identity has to do with one’s professional self-concept and has particular significance for environmental educators, a majority of whom do not have an educational background in their chosen field and thus have missed a crucial period of professional identity development. Much research has been done on professional identity, its sub-identities, and how it develops, but little has been done specifically with environmental educators. To explore the professional identity and sub-identities of environmental educators my research questions were: 1) What themes of professional identity arise from the narratives of environmental educators? 2) How does a novice environmental educator’s professional identity change across time and experience over the course of a semester-long practicum course? 3) How do the professional identity narratives and themes of experienced environmental educators differ from those of novice environmental educators? Data to answer these questions were collected by conducting focus groups with two purposive samples from two distinct study populations. Sample one consisted of novice environmental education students taking a fifteen-week undergraduate practicum course in environmental education, with data collected pre-practicum and post-practicum. Sample two consisted of experienced environmental educators who were members of a professional environmental educator organization with data collected at one point in time. Data from both samples were coded for emerging themes of professional identity and turned into composite poetic portraitures using direct quotes from subjects to express dominant themes and sub-identities. Results showed that the theme of professional competency increased for the novices over the course of the practicum, whereas the theme of being knowledge holders decreased. For the experienced environmental educators, dominant professional identity themes included being those that connect others to nature and being social-emotional educators. The results suggest there could be value in more emphasis in environmental teacher education on how to create connections and on social-emotional education. This study and its results could be used to enhance the training of environmental educators in camps, nature centers, and environmental education programs across our state and country.