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Managers’ and teachers’ perspectives of dyslexic teachers in the English and Finnish Further Education workforce: new insights from organisational routines



This article explores the topic of diversity in the teaching workforce though the enactment of policy concentrating on teachers with dyslexia within the Further/Vocational Education and Training sectors of England and Finland. Two research projects from Finland and England focusing, respectively, on individual teachers’ perspectives and managers’ understandings of hidden diversity (such as dyslexia) are re-analysed through the use of the distinction between the ostensive and the performative aspects of organisational routines. The article contributes a new application of theory by drawing upon organisational routines as sources of flexibility and change rather than continuity alone. Avoiding the confusion between the ostensive and performative aspects of routines enables a more dynamic and emancipatory understanding of the identification and support for the promotion of workforce diversity to emerge.


This article explores the controversial and sensitive topic of diversity in the teaching workforce. It is concerned with policy as implemented and enacted (Ball, Maguire & Braun, Citation2012) in organisational routines around a diverse teaching workforce with a particular focus on teachers with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) in the Further Education (FE)/Vocational Education and Training (VET) sectors of England and Finland. Research projects from each country focusing, respectively, on individual teachers’ perspectives (Burns, 2015; Burns & Bell, Citation2010, Citation2011; Burns, Poikkeus & Aro, Citation2013) and managers’ understandings of diversity (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013) are re-analysed through drawing upon the distinction between the ostensive and the performative aspects of organisational routines (Feldman & Pentland, Citation2003). The article contributes a new application of theory by drawing upon organisational routines as sources of flexibility and change rather than continuity alone, so providing new insights and increasing the understanding of teachers in a work context and their professionalism as it relates to teacher workforce diversity.

The article begins by setting the scene for teacher workforce diversity including the place of teachers with SpLDs. It then provides some background on the respective FE and VET sectors in England and Finland before outlining the main findings from the two original research projects. The distinction between the ostensive and performative aspects of organisational routines is explained before applying it in the re-analysis of the original research projects around the two themes of the invisibility of teachers with specific learning difficulties and their professional identity and practice. The article ends by considering the implications of these new insights and identifies areas for further research.

Teacher workforce diversity

Workforce diversity has typically referred to different national, cultural and ethnic backgrounds as well as age and gender. Within its wider conception, the term also encompasses less visible aspects such as differing values and abilities, sexual orientations, religious affiliations, family structures and social class (Fullick, Citation2008; Mor Barak, Citation2005; OECD, Citation2009). The concept of diversity in the field of education is usually concerned with meeting the needs of increasingly diverse student populations (Arduin, Citation2015; Pavey, Meehan, & Waugh, Citation2009). However, the importance of diversity in the teaching profession and wider education workforce has grown due in part to globalised and international business, mobility of global and national workforces, demographic developments and increasing competitiveness (Kirton & Greene, Citation2005; Konrad, Citation2003).

Employers and managers are encouraged to see diversity and a diverse workforce as an asset in order to gain the perceived benefits, including increased innovation helping organisations to further foster efficiency and gain significant competitive advantage so playing a part in improving the performance of public service organisations (European Commission, Citation2013; OECD, Citation2009). Democratic arguments have also been made for the composition of the teaching workforce to reflect the diversity of the society which it serves (European Commission, Citation2007).

However, less attention has been paid to invisible workforce diversities in education (Fullick, Citation2008; OECD, Citation2009). A report found that only seven out of 29 European Union countries provided some information about the number of teachers from minority groups. Countries that did not offer such information appeared to have an under-representation of individuals with disabilities or from minority ethnic groups amongst qualified and student teachers (EADSNE, Citation2011). Some European countries, including Finland, place restrictions on the collection of data, in particular around sexual orientation or disabilities. Consequently, demonstrating the prevalence of practising teachers with dyslexia is extremely challenging. In England’s FE sector, workforce data from 2012–13 suggest that around 4.4% of staff disclosed some form of disability with learning difficulties ranking second after physical impairment (ETF, Citation2015). A previous report placed the figure at just over 3% (LSIS, Citation2013) whilst analysis of employees in UK higher education institutions gives a figure of 3.8% with the largest majority (18.2%) disclosing a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (HESA, Citation2015). However, all those reports have highlighted that data collection remains difficult in this area with the majority of returns failing to identify the specific disability where a disability was declared but with a much larger percentage containing no answer as to whether they had a disability or not. The initiative in Wales establishing a single register for the FE and school workforce may well have greater success in collecting comprehensive detailed data (Learning Wales, Citation2015).

Yet the rhetoric for diversifying the teaching workforce is accompanied by changing expectations of the teaching profession. Teachers are not only expected to develop continuously their knowledge and skills but also to help their learners to obtain necessary competences for lifelong learning including, in particular, those of literacy and numeracy (European Commission, Citation2007; Gordon et al., Citation2009; Schleicher, Citation2012). Such an emphasis on literacy and numeracy within a standards agenda raises problems for in-service and student teachers who have specific learning difficulties in these areas (Riddick & English, Citation2006) as it has for the students they teach (Ainscow, Booth, & Dyson, Citation2006).

Awareness of specific learning difficulties has increased with a greater acknowledgment that dyslexia is a lifelong condition, so the associated literacy weaknesses extend into adulthood and therefore the workplace (Leather, Hogh, Seiss & Everatt, Citation2011; Leinonen et al., Citation2001). Yet, for example, in the UK the focus on teacher trainees’ literacy and numeracy standards has led to questions about whether individuals with SpLDs are suitable applicants for teaching positions as the macro policy discourse in England appears to be intent on homogenising the teaching profession (Leaton Gray & Whitty, Citation2010; Macleod & Cebula, Citation2009; O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013; Riddick & English, Citation2006; Singleton, Citation1999). It is within this wider context that the two projects around teachers’ and managers’ perspectives described below were conducted, but first we provide some background on the Finnish and English contexts.

Setting the scene—the English FE and Finnish VET sectors

The English FE and the Finnish VET sectors have a slightly different place in the education systems of their respective countries in terms of how colleges are organised, what they encompass and the subjects offered as well as the requirements and arrangement of teacher training and qualifications. In contrast to England, Finnish VET colleges are more popular with students and parents than academic schools and colleges. The VET sector is continuously developed, delivered and assessed in close co-operation with employers and other relevant stakeholders. To a great extent, it is based on the system of competence-based qualifications allowing for an individual’s vocational competencies to be recognised regardless as to whether they were acquired through work experience, studies or other activities. A change that came into force in August 2015 aims to strengthen the learning-outcome approach of vocational qualifications by changing the modular structure of student qualifications to focus on development of skills and competences required in future work contexts (Laki 630/98/ 20.3.2015/246). Competence tests are arranged by Qualification Committees appointed by the National Board of Education, working in co-operation with competence test organisers.

The English FE sector (sometimes referred to as the Learning and Skills sector) comprises a mixed economy of ‘providers’. In a deregulated system, the providers are independent from local and national government but receive government funding for some, but not all, students. General FE colleges are usually relatively large institutions offering courses covering VET programmes but also academic programmes, such as A-levels, taken traditionally as a route to university, as well as higher education programmes leading to foundation or bachelor degrees in collaboration with a university. In addition to these colleges, including those specialising in particular areas such as land based provision or special needs, there are also sixth form colleges focusing mainly on 16–19 year-olds studying for their A-levels and more academic focused qualifications. Work based learning providers concentrate on apprenticeships and training for a particular job such as, for example, hairdressing or construction; and adult colleges or community learning organisations offer English language and adult leisure courses amongst other general qualifications. Most full time FE students are between 16 and 19 years old. However, there are also adults studying full time programmes as well as part time day release or evening programmes, and a smaller number of students aged between 14 and 16 years old attending in combination with a school. The FE providers are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) as are the teaching training providers (Gleeson, Hughes, O’Leary & Smith, Citation2015).

There are considerable differences between England and Finland regarding the qualification and training requirements for tertiary teachers. Whilst previous government policy in England stipulated that all FE teachers should work towards qualifications if they did not already hold them, a policy change in 2013 revoked the requirement (Further Education Teachers’ Qualifications (England) (Revocation) Regulations, Citation2013). As teachers in FE are employed directly by the provider organisation, qualification requirements are decided by the employers and this has led to some 25 different types of initial teacher education and training qualifications being available through 839 providers, so collecting accurate figures is complex. Some students are classified as ‘pre-service’ but the majority are ‘in-service’ so already working as lecturers. Of the 5,240 trainees achieving higher level awards in 2012–13, most studied at one of 340 FE colleges (with 60% involving a franchising arrangement with a university) or else at one of 39 universities (Zaidi, Howat, Caisl & Pullen, Citation2015) offering programmes. Most students are part time but will spend a considerable amount of time in practice settings whichever route they take (Lucas, Citation2013).

In contrast, all VET teachers in Finland are required by the Ministry of Education to obtain a formal teaching qualification (Law 356/2003; Act 357/2003) with approximately 80% of teachers being formally qualified for their positions (Kumpulainen, Citation2014). The requirements changed in 2010 (Act 16.12.2010/1168) so they now must have an appropriate university degree, at least three years of work experience in a field relevant to their position, and have undertaken formal pedagogical studies at a teacher training university. An exemption from the requirements for an appropriate university degree is considered if the field taught in the VET sector does not have relevant university level studies or if particular specialised practical skills and competences are required. In these cases teachers are required to obtain an appropriate degree in the field, have five years of work experience, and to undertake formal pedagogical studies at a teacher training university (Kumpulainen, Citation2014). Pedagogical education for teachers is provided by five VET teacher training departments operating within universities of applied sciences located in different parts of the country. In addition, one university offers VET teacher education in Swedish for a small number of students. There was a 13% increase in student applications between 2011 and 2013 resulting in stiff competition for places, with only 1,724 of the 5,617 applicants being admitted in 2013 (Kumpulainen, Citation2014).

The original two research projects

The Finnish study (Burns, 2015; Burns & Bell, Citation2010, Citation2011; Burns, Poikkeus & Aro, Citation2013) focused on the perceptions and professional experiences of nine tertiary teachers with dyslexia to gain a deeper understanding about the way they view themselves as professionals and negotiate their professional identities. The sample of participants comprised four females and five males with a range of teaching experience from two to over 30 years. The study also sought to offer a voice to those teachers with dyslexia involved in professional identity negotiation, especially as many do not feel safe to disclose this due to a fear of prejudice among their peers and employers (Valle, Solis, Volpitta & Connor, Citation2004). Narrative research was utilised due to its strengths in understanding and exploring experiences by approaching an individual from the inside to examine issues with complexity, multiplicity and human centredness, so expressing a form of knowledge that uniquely describes human experiences (Webster & Mertova, Citation2007).

It appeared to the interviewees that it was predominantly their responsibility to bring up issues relating to their disabilities and needs in their work contexts. They were extremely cautious about to whom, where and when they disclosed. Some prejudiced views among colleagues were reported by the teachers. Participants felt that their organisations did not actively enhance openness about and/or discuss benefits gained from diversity and they often felt invisible within the workforce.

Dyslexia contributed to a teacher’s sense of self and professional identity. The negotiation of professional teacher identity seems to be a complex and fluctuating phenomenon in which the teacher’s individual internal processes and the organisational environment play a part in an ongoing process of construction involving the social nature of identity in its multiplicity (Akkerman & Meijer, Citation2011). So the continuous negotiation process between them and their work environment entails professional identity being reconstructed in interaction with others as well as being shaped by their own history of dyslexia. Although the teachers’ internal processes appeared to be highly individual, complex and time consuming, they were continuously influenced by responses from the work environment.

Despite the personal and emotional difficulties, the teachers often perceived their dyslexia as an advantage which contributed to competence and success in their current positions. It provided them with unique insights and experiences that functioned as the basis for their teaching philosophies and methods that focused on enhancing their students’ learning and enabling them to develop and use alternative and more inclusive teaching strategies.

At an individual level, the teachers were required to develop a deep self-understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and utilise resilience and self-efficacy in their professional identity negotiation. These elements appeared to be both complicated and extensive but necessary processes for them to continue successfully in the teaching profession. Social networks along with supportive and collegial environments were identified as being particularly important in nurturing the development of the interviewees’ professional identities (Burns, 2015; Burns & Bell, Citation2011). Effective social relationships can contribute more to career success and work performance than general occupational skills so general discussions with colleagues or receiving feedback from managers can become sources of efficacy (Bandura, Citation1997).

The English based study (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013) explored teacher professionalism and the standards debate through an examination of how FE managers perceived the implementation and enactment of policy in supporting and including teaching staff with SpLDs such as dyslexia. Symbolic interactionism (Blumer, Citation1969; Denzin, Citation1992) informed this micro-level study involving interviews with five key managers in a large general FE college comprising a senior leader, two curriculum leaders, and two managers with responsibility for human resources and staff development. The study also involved an analysis of the college’s policy documents and statements addressing equal opportunities and disabilities including the college’s ‘Single Equality Scheme’ document.

The article found that joint actions created and developed meanings and practices around the identification of teachers with SpLDs. Many of the managers with an academic background had an interpretation of a SpLD that was governed by their experiences of supporting students rather than teaching staff. The focus upon the consideration of students with a SpLD rather than staff members is typical of much that is written about the topic in FE (see Pavey et al., Citation2009) and government advice for the sector (EHRC, Citation2010) which may have accounted for teachers with SpLDs not fitting within the shared definition of someone who has a SpLD, and so remaining invisible.

The use of symbolic interactionist insights helped to uncover similar professional dilemmas around identification and disclosure. Impression management may suggest that a teacher might seek to steer clear of disclosure to avoid the assumed stigma associated with a SpLD by managing his or her image to avoid ‘detection’. One of the managers expected the teachers with a SpLD to disclose not only to their managers but also to their colleagues, as a way of explaining why reasonable adjustments had to be made for them. Might teachers with SpLDs fear disclosure because it leads to their professionalism being questioned and their identity stigmatised?

The fear relating to disclosure may be experienced by not only the teacher but also the manager to whom the teacher is disclosing, perhaps because the standards debate places an emphasis on competence and incompetence (Riddick & English, Citation2006). So, as fellow academics, certain ‘joint actions’ in impression management and the avoidance of labelling through ‘concealed’ support seemed to be undertaken to avoid a stigmatised identity for the teacher. However, one interviewee thought that even if a staff member declared a SpLD to the manager, then the manager might feel inadequately prepared for offering the necessary support to the member of staff.

A tension was identified between the government’s policy of, on the one hand, defining teachers more tightly in terms of entry qualifications and standards encouraging a uniform and mechanistic approach to the teaching profession and the nature of that professionalism, whilst, on the other hand, espousing a policy of creating a more inclusive profession as promoted by equality and disability discrimination legislation. Instead of harnessing the difference in thinking and doing that may arise from having a teacher with SpLDs, the enforcement of the ‘one size fits all’ concept of teacher professionalism could inadvertently disadvantage those whom equality and diversity employment legislation is in place to protect. The article identified the need to address this juxtaposition to ensure that it does not become a vehicle for disadvantage and indirect discrimination against teachers by enabling managers in educational institutions to support teachers without fear of negative consequences when they do so.

Yet we felt that something remained unexplained about the understandings uncovered in our respective projects. In particular, explanations for the collusion between teachers and managers in the English project and the contradictory narratives of misunderstanding and yet resilience and successful professional practice using their dyslexia to a pedagogical advantage that emerged from the Finnish teachers. We sought an explanation that might link these levels together and found this in Feldman and Pentland’s (Citation2003) reconceptualisation of organisational routines.

The ostensive and performative aspects of organisational routines

Workforce diversity requires research at different analysis levels as several different factors contribute to how diversity is perceived and how it affects the operations of the organisation (Cox & Taylor, Citation1993; Jackson et al., Citation1991; Sessa & Jackson, Citation1995). So within this article, workforce diversity is examined at individual (micro), organisational (meso) and societal (macro) levels in which individuals’ experiences affect the other levels and vice versa (see Figure ). Generalisability can be established through moving back and forth between levels of scale and differing contexts (Luke, Citation2009) to generate new insights about the topic.

Figure 1. Levels of workforce diversity.

Figure 1. Levels of workforce diversity.

Framing research at the macro level alone leads to the suppression, or overlooking, of the all-important contextual factors (Murmann, Citation2014). Yet seeing the topic as consisting of a set of organisational routines based around identification, disclosure and support leads to a focus on the enactments around teachers with dyslexia within an organisational setting yielding different understandings and insights. Feldman and Pentland’s (Citation2003) revised ontology of organisational routines provides a way to locate research into teaching workforce diversity and to move between the various levels. In a challenge to the established view that organisational routines only create stability or inertia in organisations, they draw on a distinction between ostensive and performative from Latour’s (Citation1986) theory of power to argue that routines can also be a source of change.

The ostensive aspect of a routine embodies what is typically thought of as the structure. This aspect is important because it guides, accounts for and refers to specific performances of a routine, such as, in the case of this article, the disclosure of a SpLD by an employee. However, it is the routine’s performative aspect which ‘embodies the specific actions, by specific people, at specific times and places that bring the routine to life’ (Feldman & Pentland, Citation2003, p. 94). It is the performative aspect which ‘creates, maintains, and modifies the ostensive aspect of the routine’ in other words, through the enactment of the organisational routine, so that,

the relationship between ostensive and performative aspects of routines creates an on-going opportunity for variation, selection, and retention of new practices and patterns of action within routines and allows routines to generate a wide range of outcomes, from apparent stability to considerable change. (Feldman & Pentland, Citation2003, p. 94)

In the case of this article, our re-analysis draws attention to the performative aspects of routines and policy around diversity in the teaching workforce. The conception of organisational routines as a source of flexibility and change (Feldman & Pentland, Citation2003) allows us to make connections between the micro and meso levels in a way that also has implications for understanding the macro level environment. The ostensive and performative routines are overlapping between different levels, as are the actions they entail which are indicated by the dotted lines (Figure ).

Re-analysis of the original projects

The two earlier studies were re-analysed in an attempt to understand teacher workforce diversity more fully but without undertaking a simplistic aggregation of results to reach abstracted and decontextualised conclusions. By applying the insights of organisational routines upon the events and experiences articulated through individual interviews in the two studies, we can have something meaningful to say at the meso and macro levels as well.

We deploy an understanding of organisational routines which enables us ‘to identify general causal mechanisms that combine in different ways to produce different results depending on context’... rather than ... ‘seeking invariant, general patterns of development across all time and place’ (Murmann, Citation2014, p. 381) to examine studies from two countries with different actors involved in the routines. The findings of this re-analysis are reported through the two themes. First, the invisibility of teachers with SpLDs with the routines around identification and disclosure and secondly, issues and dilemmas of professional identity with the routines around negotiation and practice are discussed.

Invisibility of teachers with specific learning difficulties (identification and disclosure)

Both projects identified the low profile and near invisibility of dyslexic teachers. A focus on those organisational routines at work concerned with the identification and disclosure of disabilities yields different understandings of an explanation for how invisibility can occur at all levels. Within the holistic understanding of dyslexia (Herrington & Hunter-Carsch, Citation2001), organisational values and social contexts influence how it is viewed within the organisation, which affects the individual’s perceptions.

In the English study, the dominance of the notion of SpLDs being something related to students rather than staff members may have accounted for teachers with SpLDs not fitting within the shared definition of someone with, for example, dyslexia and so remaining invisible. One curriculum manager defined SpLDs as follows, ‘ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], Aspergers, people who have got additional learning support or need extra support for exams which is fairly common’ (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013, p. 97). A non-academic manager was incredulous that someone with a SpLD could be a teacher, remarking, ‘I don’t think that people come to work here with learning difficulties. If it was that bad then they probably wouldn’t work here’ (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013, p. 97).

In particular, in the context of invisible diversity, disclosure plays an important role in how an educational organisation reacts to an individual teacher with dyslexia. The ostensive aspects of a procedure or routine to offer reasonable adjustments to employees requires an employer to be aware that an employee has such a disability, thus disclosure is something to be expected as a consequence so requiring a performance of the routine.

However, disclosure of one’s difficulties is a very personal issue that can have a major effect on a teacher’s professional identity and so the performance of that routine provides for different interpretations and variations. In the Finnish study, the interviewees’ perceptions of work as educational professionals were closely linked to the issue of self-disclosure, suggesting a need to focus on those organisational routines.

Possibly the caution on behalf of the teachers found in the Finnish study as to whom, where and when to disclose was due to the sensitivity of disclosure in any employment context and particularly one such as teaching, which still harbours ideas of the faultless teacher which may be linked to ostensive definitions of the role within routines. Such caution may also indicate that invisible diversities such as learning difficulties are still not fully understood and acknowledged in the work environment. One VET teacher explained her reluctance to disclose her dyslexia to her college’s management, although her colleagues were aware of it, ‘I haven’t spoken to my head teacher. I’ve heard some comments ... it’s a secret between me and my colleagues’ (Burns & Bell, Citation2010, p. 537). Another lecturer described how the ‘Comments and talk among my colleagues, I hear daily, is awful. They kind of hint that way and it hurts’ (Burns & Bell, Citation2010, p. 538). Another spoke of how some of his colleagues appeared only to notice his mistakes not his achievements, and mentioned that ‘there seems to be a tendency in the academic world to be a perfectionist’ (Burns & Bell, Citation2011, p. 538). Educational organisations that uphold discourses of SpLDs forged by medical conceptualisations that frame dyslexia as a personal deficit might lead teachers to feel vulnerable and refrain from disclosure; whereas discourses of equality and valuing diversities would support a more open and inclusive working culture.

The use of symbolic interactionist insights in the English study helped to uncover similar professional dilemmas around identification and disclosure. Impression management suggests that a teacher might not disclose in order to avoid ‘detection’ of the assumed stigma associated with a SpLD linked to a standards debate that places an emphasis on the dichotomy between competence and incompetence. Yet many managers were alive to the possible perception of a stigmatised identity of the teacher with a SpLD and seemed to collude by not fully recognising the situation—as implied by this response from a curriculum manager speaking about a lecturer: ‘he has specific learning needs, it is only mild, and he actually uses a laptop that he has on loan from the college’ (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013, p. 98). Another informant made specific reference to the ‘concealed nature of what support ... we give managers to support staff and what support can we give staff without suggesting that this is an issue of competence’ (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013, p. 99).

Through the joint action in this impression management, the actors appeared to seek the avoidance of labelling by the provision of ‘concealed’ support. Yet this ‘collusion’ takes on a different character when it is understood as the performative aspect of an organisational routine and may simply be the performance of the routine of disclosure and putting in place reasonable adjustments in a way which seeks to address the concerns of the various actors leading to a more supportive set of arrangements.

Illuminating the difference between etic and emic descriptions of routines helps avoid the error of mistaking the ostensive aspects of the routine for the whole routine. An etic approach will lead to a perception of a lack of recognition and invisibility as the individual fails to locate him or herself in the ostensive aspects of a routine. Yet an emic approach which focuses upon the performative aspects of routines around disclosure reveals teachers and managers engaging in the development of routines often with a mind to the impression given to others but also developing suitable arrangements. However, it remains difficult for managers to adopt such a framework in relation to teachers in the FE context due to the dominance of the needs of students and the standards debate particularly in relation to the professionalisation of FE teachers by forcing them into a model of a teacher from the compulsory sector; in other words, the tension created where the ostensive is confused with the performative.

That, as suggested in the English study, a manager may feel inadequately prepared for offering the necessary support to the teacher may also have concerns about their preparedness to perform the organisational routine itself even when the ostensive aspects are laid down in writing, as ‘we are often dealing with managers who don’t feel competent because that is around the edge of their management skills’ (O’Dwyer & Thorpe, Citation2013, pp. 99–100). So too, in the English study, where teachers with a SpLD were expected to disclose not only to their managers but also to their colleagues, as a way of explaining why reasonable adjustments had to be made for them. This may itself be part of the routine of creative ‘give and take’ in the mind of the manager rather than something simply imposed (see O’Dwyer & Thorpe, 2015, p. 100).

Issues and dilemmas of professional identity (negotiation and practice)

The second theme is concerned with professional identity and in particular the organisational routines involved in negotiation of that identity and professional practice as a teacher. The contrast between the ostensive and performative aspects of the practice and negotiations of professionalism allows a different understanding of the causes of these dilemmas and how only considering the ostensive aspects of professional routines can lead to the further marginalisation of teachers with SpLDs.

In the Finnish study, the teachers’ professional identities were shaped by their own history of dyslexia involving their internal processing which was tightly connected to, and influenced by, the professional and socio-cultural contexts in which they worked. Such findings may be better understood by reference to the performative aspects of routines often being complex, allowing the participants’ personal histories to come into play, whilst the ostensive aspects cannot reflect so flexibly these complexities and experiences.

Teacher identity is an ongoing process of construction. The Finnish study identified with social settings and social networks along with supportive and collegial environments as being particularly important in nurturing the development of their professional identity, and also enhancing their resilience and professional performance. Furthermore, the social networks utilised by these teachers seemed to offer a boost to their self-efficacy enabling them to develop strategies of resilience and to try harder to succeed, that is, the performative aspects of routines around professional and identity development. One interviewee described his strategies as follows:

When I’m reading a student’s assignment I perceive it as a picture. It’s so natural to me. I’m hopelessly visual. I’m also kind of philosophical, when I’m preparing a lecture I think about the topic and draw some kind of picture of it then I’m able to talk about the content easily for an hour. That’s all I need. (Burns et al., Citation2013, p. 81)

The Finnish teachers often perceived their dyslexia as an advantage and a tool to be utilised in their teaching enabling them to develop and use alternate and more inclusive strategies to support learning. One teacher mentioned that ‘I’m able to take into consideration all kinds of learners, and we have lots of them. I just see things; I think it comes from my own experience’ (Burns & Bell, Citation2010, p. 539), whilst, as another put it, ‘I can get on with the really bad kids for some reason. I have been treated bad [badly] and I have been treated well in my time so I know the difference’ (Burns & Bell, Citation2010, p. 537).

The English managers tended to see the member of staff as rather a case to be addressed and for whom support needed to be provided. Crucially here our use of theory and focus on the performative aspects of routine allow for an understanding which sees teachers and managers as bringing change and not simply maintaining the status quo. Such an analysis can offer an emancipatory understanding of the individual and collective behaviours.

Concluding remarks

This article drew upon research undertaken in the two different countries in order to go beyond the findings of the original projects. Through a re-analysis drawing upon the insights of the distinction between the two aspects of organisational routines (Feldman & Pentland, 2003), we have generated questions that further illuminate the debates around the diversity of the teacher workforce policy development (the ostensive) and the ambiguities of enactment (the performative). However, we have only sketched out the possibilities and further exploration and research is needed.

We are not claiming to have explained away, or dissolved, the very real problems that are faced by individuals in the teaching workforce. Yet seeing teachers’ and managers’ experiences and perspectives as being a part of, and not separate from, their work environment and organisational context allows for a new application of theory by drawing upon organisational routines as sources of flexibility and change rather than continuity alone. Avoiding the problem of mistaking ostensive aspects of routines for their performative aspects illuminates a more dynamic and emancipatory understanding of the routines around the identification and support for the promotion of workforce diversity where members of the education workforce can contribute to and develop routines to bring about positive change. Furthermore, our article aids a practical understanding as to how the rhetorical calls for greater diversity in the education workforce could be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden for educational organisations.

Neither do we claim to have an objective and privileged viewpoint outside of the complexities of the micro, meso and macro levels. The policy discourses from the English and Finnish governments for the FE/VET, school and HE sectors perceive very different concerns for education and training in general, teacher qualifications and education/training, as well as the role of higher education in teacher education and training. Whereas seemingly opposing policies are at work in the micro-politics of ‘negotiations’ by individual teachers and also by individual managers relating to, and contradicting, the meso- and macro-level policy pronouncements and directions, our use of theory allows us to see hope in their development whilst being aware of the negative effects of only focusing on the ostensive aspects of routines and policy concerned with the promotion of workforce diversity. In eschewing this error, we are not suggesting that the performative aspects of an organisational routine are somehow ‘better’ than the ostensive aspects, since both are parts of that routine. It is seeing the distinction that enables richer understandings to emerge.

We call for more research and exploration of the questions emerging around these new insights and the relevance of our findings to the wider concepts of workforce diversity. For example, a project might take place in a number of countries looking at the organisational culture in the analysis of organisational routines around the topic and explore practically how workforce diversity is implemented and enacted through organisational routines.

Notes on contributors

Anthony Thorpe is a senior lecturer in leadership and management in the School of Education at the University of Roehampton in the UK. He has a particular interest in organisational studies and human resource management across the sectors of education.

Eila Burns is a senior lecturer and teacher educator in Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences, Teacher Education College in Finland. She recently defended her doctoral dissertation on ‘Tertiary teachers with dyslexia as narrators of their professional life and identity’, which sought to shed light on and increase understanding of the professional lives of a group of tertiary teachers with dyslexia.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


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