Thesis (Ed.D)

Expert teaching: what matters to expert teachers? A cultural-historical perspective on relational expertise


Teacher expertise is commonly regarded as fast and fluent pedagogical decision-making. Research in this area has predominantly applied models of expertise based on the notions of deliberate practice or a novice to expert continuum to the practice of teachers. Expert teachers’ perceptions of what matters to them in their own practice has been under-researched. Drawing on cultural-historical theory, this study considers teachers’ own understandings of expert teaching, and how their motives relate to their teaching actions. The study focuses on 9 expert secondary school teachers in one secondary school in England to discern how they work with pupils and the curriculum. The analysis explores the different elements of the teachers’ activities, identified as: (i) the kinds of teaching actions used in their work; (ii) the relational space between the pupil and the subject-matter of the curriculum and (iii) the concepts that mediated expert teachers’ practice. The Vygotskyian perspective taken by this study entailed an inquiry into the teachers’ intentional actions in everyday teaching. School-based fieldwork was bookended before and after by interviews with each teacher, exploring their beliefs on expert teaching and what matters to them about their own teaching. In between these interviews each teacher was observed in 3 lessons and undertook up to 5 structured reflections. The data were analysed deploying concepts from cultural-historical theory, particularly two sets of concepts within the approach. One was an adaptation of the analytical model developed by Edwards (2010) in her work on the relational expertise of multi-agency professionals. The other was from the research of Hedegaard (2005) into development and learning: the ‘double move’ (between situated activity and subject matter). The findings indicate that teachers work relationally with pupils and the subject-matter of the curriculum. Two key aspects of expertise surfaced: subject agency, where the teachers aim to develop pupil agency in relation with the subject-matter of the curriculum, and future agency where the teachers intend that the subject they teach will shape their pupils in terms of the way they interpret the world. Both were enacted through a teaching process in the form of teacher talk: metacommentary. The concept of teacher expertise as relational has implications for the professional learning of teachers, in terms of ‘know-why’: how to develop professional judgement through an emphasis on higher order knowledge made explicit to the pupils.

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Shires, Lorna


Supervisors: Arthur, Linet; Summerscales, Ian

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
School of Education


Year: 2022

© Shires, Lorna
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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  • Owner: Lorna Shires
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