How Transformative Learning Informs Transformative Inquiry

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Under Review please do not cite 1 Nurturing Peacemakers, Healers, Restorers, Storytellers, and Lovers: How Transformative Learning Informs Transformative Inquiry among Pre-service Teachers Lisa J. Starr [email protected] Doctoral candidate Department of Curriculum and Instruction Phone: 250-210-2059 Michele T.D. Tanaka [email protected] Assistant Professor Faculty of Education Phone: 250.853.3953 University of Victoria PO Box 3010 STN CSC Victoria BC V8W 3N4 Canada Fax: 250.472.4641 Word Count: 6573

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Microsoft Word - TL120525FINALwatermark.docxNurturing Peacemakers, Healers, Restorers, Storytellers, and Lovers: How Transformative
Learning Informs Transformative Inquiry among Pre-service Teachers
Lisa J. Starr [email protected]
Phone: 250-210-2059
Assistant Professor Faculty of Education Phone: 250.853.3953
University of Victoria PO Box 3010 STN CSC Victoria BC V8W 3N4
Canada Fax: 250.472.4641
Word Count: 6573
This paper highlights aspects from the field of transformative learning that inform our approach
to Transformative Inquiry (TI), a research approach designed to increase pre-service teachers’
capacity to negotiate the complexities of today’s diverse classrooms. Based in concepts of
relational accountability, ecological awareness, and soul work, TI creates space to examine the
vexing issues, ideas and complexities born out of direct experience in the classroom and related
to the classroom. TI is heavily influenced by transformative learning theory where learning is
synonymous with the capacity for change not only in what we know but also in how we know it.
Through TI, pre-service teachers are able to take ownership of their own development as a
teacher and how that development intersects with how they position themselves in the world.
Connections are made with the work of transformative learning theorists such as Cranton, Dirkx,
Mezirow, O’Sullivan and Taylor.
Nurturing Peacemakers, Healers, Restorers, Storytellers, and Lovers: How Transformative
Learning Informs Transformative Inquiry among Pre-service Teachers
The current educational system in Canada is broken. We begin through this simple yet
bold statement with the intention of positioning ourselves as purveyors of change and advocates
for transformative practice. As teacher educators, we open this can of worms within a system
that has long been obsessed with a technical-scientific-industrial worldview (O’Sullivan,
Morrell, & O`Connor, 2002). In this standards-based, accountability climate education is plagued
by the concept of efficiency, of being productive with minimum waste and effort (Stein, 2002).
This means that learners (which includes teachers) must be capable, competent, effective and
able to meet what the curriculum mandates; lesson plans must be detailed, unit plans equally so,
assessment must line up with learning outcomes. While none of these practices are harmful in
and of themselves, we ask, is this all teacher training has to offer?
In our experience as educators, we have found that this mechanistic philosophy
frequently informs teacher education and in large part goes unquestioned by pre-service teachers;
not out of a lack of concern or recognition, rather a lack of genuine opportunity to consider what
education is about and what matters. Teacher inquiry can be a useful means for pre-service and,
potentially in-service teachers, to address these nagging concerns as well as to develop and
evolve their own practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). More specifically we advocate
Transformative Inquiry (TI) as a process aimed at increasing pre-service teachers’ capacity to
negotiate the complexities of today’s diverse classrooms (Tanaka, in press; Tanaka, Abra, Tse &
Archer, in press). TI is characterized by a motivation to uncover and examine that which the
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gnaw at our gut (Tanaka, Nicholson & Farish, in press). TI creates space to examine the vexing
issues, ideas and complexities born out of direct experience in the classroom and related to the
classroom (Antunes, 2004) but that do not dwell in the neat boxes of understanding that schools
When teachers step out from behind the façade of consistency, certainty, and coherence
that has taken on almost sacred importance in modern pedagogies, even for a moment,
they may initiate productive forms of confusion that can bring into empathetic inquiry the
myth at the core of modern reason. This is a form of transformative inquiry capable of
reconstituting teaching as a craft for facilitating human encounters with a knowing
reality, an eloquent reality, a good reality. (Davison, 2008, p.53)
This paper highlights aspects from the field of transformative learning that inform our
approach to TI and to explain the importance of TI in the preparation of pre-service educators.
We wish to note that our intention is not to provide answers wrapped in shiny bows drawn from
critique and dichotomization. Rather, by employing a relational lens where we acknowledge that
being~doing~knowing involves interrelated connections, affiliations and overlaps (Stanger,
Tanaka, Starr, & Tse, in press; Thayer-Bacon, 2003; Wilson, 2008) we will contribute some
clarity to the murkiness of what it means to become a teacher and the important role of
transformation within that complexity.
Locating Ourselves
The basis for this paper is grounded in our work within the teacher education program at
the University of Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. As instructors, we are engaged in a
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studies course that is a requirement for the elementary and middle years bachelor of education
and post degree certification in the Faculty of Education. In the course, each student explores
issues about which they are personally and professionally passionate in order for one to emerge
as a relevant inquiry topic. They then investigate the topic reflexively (to understand how
personal beliefs, values and attitudes might interact) and relationally (within larger educational
and socio-cultural contexts).
Both the TI research project and the course employ a phenomenological narrative
methodology (Thomas & Polio, 2002) that examines the personal practical knowledge of
teachers (pre-service, instructors and expert mentors) through listening carefully to the richness
of their stories (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Funded by the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council of Canada, the project data include recorded mentor sessions, student course
work (including student generated images), and focus groups, with over 114 participants to date.
The transcribed texts of these lived experiences are analyzed using a dialogic team process where
the diverse group of researchers (including instructors of the course, past students and outsiders)
enter “humbly into the life world” (p.7) of each participant to gain understanding of the holistic
nature, as well as the specificity of each participant (Thomas & Pollio, 2002). This
phenomenological approach requires nuanced interpretations of the data through developing a
research approach that is sensitive to the subtle undertones of experience and language (van
Manen, 1990/1997). This research applies a reflexive technique where attention is turned onto
the researcher as an integral part of the social phenomenon being studied (Ahern, 1999).
Researcher assumptions are carefully described and acknowledged in order to make “visible and
audible the complicated interconnections between the topic of the writer’s gaze, and her ideas,
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Researcher knowledge is considered as a valuable source of data (Oberg, 1989), yet to provide
veracity this knowledge is recursively examined and contextualized for relational accountability
within the broader context of researchers, scholars, practitioners, artists, and thinkers who also
engage with the topic (Chambers, 2004; Wilson, 2008).
One of the purposes of the TI project is to expand the understanding of personalized
learning and the unique relationship cultivated between inquiry and the inquirer. In order to
address the complexities of classroom practice, pre-service teachers benefit from thinking like
researchers and developing an inquiry approach to their practice (Clark & Erickson, 2003;
Fitchman-Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2009; Kalmbach Phillips & Carr, 2006). An inquiry
approach tasks teachers with being reflective practitioners: instructors who ponder their teaching
skills and practice and reflect on how these affect their students’ learning (Dewey, 1933; Schön,
1983). A TI approach builds on the necessity of being a reflective practitioner but goes further to
emphasize reflexivity. Being reflexive means that one does not simply look back and contemplate
but considers her contribution to the construction of meanings and the reinterpretation of her
actions in light of newly constructed meaning (Willig, 2001). Moreover, one is able to amend
misinterpretations in what he believes and how he acts; to be reflexive requires analysis of that
which founded those beliefs and actions (Bray, Lee, Smith, & Yorks, 2000) and a degree of
action based on those findings. Brookfield (2003) suggests that individuals must be willing to
“identify assumptions they hold dear that are actually destroying their sense of well-being and
serving the interests of others, that is, hegemonic assumptions”(p.127). We agree; teachers need
to know what they believe in, and be able to think carefully about the interwoven eco-socio-
political issues they face in the classroom (Sassi & Thomas, 2008; Tanaka, 2006). Engaging in
A Purpose of Education
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the
younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it
becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and
creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their
world. (Freire, 1970, p. 34)
Before proceeding we are compelled to provide our interpretation of the purpose of
education, or more accurately, a purpose of education. We locate ourselves in a postmodern
perspective advocated by Richardson (2003) where “a multitude of approaches to knowing and
telling exist side by side” (p.507). Further, this perspective allows for doubt and a degree of
skepticism that “any method or theory, discourse or genre, tradition or novelty” (p.507) can be
considered universal or authoritative. Our research approach is built upon honouring the
researcher and participant contributions to the creation of meaning and knowledge without
advancing one or the other as paramount. In posing the question, what is the purpose of
education, we are struck by the sheer enormity of it and its potential for generating debate.
Nonetheless, we believe that it is an essential starting point. While this paper focuses on the role
of transformative learning in the preparation of pre-service teachers as they engage in TI, we
acknowledge and advance that questioning the purpose of education underpins our thinking in
profound ways and resides in the heart of what we do. Throughout this paper you will find our
beliefs inextricably woven into the fabric of what we believe education strives towards, or
perhaps dreams of becoming and how the preparation of pre-service educators contributes to that
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Education has closely identified with the structural model born out of industrialization
(O’Sullivan, 2002; Slattery, 1995/2006). In this sense the purpose of education is equally
mechanistic where responsibility for effective training to “meet the demands of the field, shop,
conveyance, trade and home” (p.11) fell squarely on the shoulders of education and even went so
far as to describe schools as factories where the child was the raw material and the finished
product was the graduation of that student (Callahan, 1961). The factory metaphor is not
uncommon; education in general does not seem to have veered far from that original course.
Lisa, one of the authors, recalls a recent trip to her daughter’s school:
I stepped inside and was greeted by a contemporary open-concept, visually appealing school where light streamed in from the incredible number of windows, images of local wildlife motifs adorned the walls and floors, and each classroom had a spectacular view of the ocean. Visually, this school was a far cry from the long narrow, prison-like hallways that I remembered from my own school experience. In fact, being in the building as the light shone through the windows was almost inspiring. But sadly, appearances can be just that. When my daughter came home, unpacked her school bag to reveal worksheet after worksheet, I was disappointingly reminded that we have not escaped the factory floor. When she told me they are not allowed to talk during lunch, I wondered why conversations weren’t allowed. When she told me everything she knew about ice, which they were studying, but had yet to actually touch a simple piece of ice in the course of the unit, of course I couldn’t help but question what exactly education is for.
Lisa’s memory evokes concerns around how we teach children to learn through wondering,
dialogue and experiential learning. It reminds us that the purposes of both teacher education and
schools are intimately and inextricably linked.
We understand that there are many views of what the purpose of education is, some
closely aligned with the previous vignette, others less so. We also recognize that for the scope of
this paper, exploring the myriad of educational purposes far exceeds what we have the space and
energy to pursue. Be that as it may, we wish to make clear that for us, education is very much
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and its nonhuman creatures, for the human-made world, and for ideas” (Noddings, 1995, p. 675).
Such efforts towards this as a purpose of education promote a passion and engagement that does
not currently characterize typical education, as we know it. Environmental educator David Orr
(1994/2004) recommends that the very nature of the educational process should be carefully
examined in order to attend to what he calls “the problem of education rather than the problems
in education” (p. 5). He advocates that educators attempt to answer the simple, yet at the same
time highly complicated question, “What is education for?” (p. 7).
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more "successful" people. But it does
desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every
shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral
courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these
needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it. (p. 4)
Through TI, we are able to support Nodding and Orr’s broader purpose of education, to
live and care well for others, the planet, and ourselves. Further, our focus resonates with what
Cajete (1999) identifies as the three most important questions for modern educators: How do we
learn to take care of the planet? How do we learn to live together? And, how do we care for our
souls? Grounding ourselves in a purpose of education based on humanity and care, we proceed
with an explanation of how transformative learning theory illuminates TI.
The Importance of Transformation
The concept of TI is strongly tied to the underlying principles inherent to the field of
transformative learning. Use of the term transformation requires explanation and perhaps
justification in relation to pre-service teacher education. Senge, Cambron-McCabe, Lucas,
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Smith, Dutton, and Kleiner (2000) posit that learning is less about amassing facts and figures or
even constructing knowledge and more about transformation of spirit and mind. Based on
Senge’s idea, traditional notions of knowledge construction that are predominantly cognitive in
nature are expanded to include emotions, feelings, habits and thoughts (Li, 2002). Learning then
becomes synonymous with the capacity for change. “Deep learning takes place when new skills
and capabilities, new awareness and sensibilities, and new attitudes and beliefs reinforce each
other” (Li, 2002, p. 402). According to Clark (1993) a critical feature of transformational
learning is the deep change in how individuals see themselves and their world. Further, Kegan
(2000) suggests that through the process of engaging in transformative learning we don’t simply
add to what we already know, but we profoundly alter how we know. This capacity for internal
change is significant in our work with pre-service teachers as they grapple with who they are
becoming as teachers; we want to empower them with the capacity for and belief in change as
fundamental to their practice as teachers.
Kegan’s idea that transformation ultimately changes how we know, speaks to
transformation occurring on an intuitive level. In the preparation of pre-service teachers, there is
significant emphasis on cognitive knowing as seen in the requirements for detailed, logical unit
plans that yield equally meticulous, linear lesson plans. In our view, transformation as a learning
process is rarely analytical; instead it is very much an embodied, spiritual, social, soulful
journey. By using soul, Kessler (2001) draws attention to the inner life of schools, the depth of
human experience and “students’ longings for something more than an ordinary, material,
fragmented existence” (p. x). Though we acknowledge transformation can occur in many forms
in many ways, the soul as a site for deep learning is an important, often neglected place for pre-
service teachers (Tanaka, in press).
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Our commitment to transformation runs deep in large part because of our experience as
mentors of TI (to date we have worked one-on-one with well over 400 student between us). We
have seen pre-service teachers engage in powerful learning that breaks down binaries,
deconstructs the archetypal teacher as transmitter and addresses the role of privilege; TI has
cracked open the tough exterior plaster that surrounds stale, antiquated notions of teaching to
reveal light, possibility and hope. Through transformation, the pre-service teachers we work with
are more engaged in their own learning as well as the lives of students; they care because they
are connected. In that we have born witness to the success of transformation in the development
of teachers, we feel compelled and somewhat obligated to ground these beliefs in order for these
experiences to be shared and built upon by scholars and learners other than ourselves.
How Transformative Learning Informs TI
Mezirow (1975) is widely credited with the original theory from which many scholars
have built upon to conceptualize the field of transformative learning. In his early work, Mezirow
(1975) described ten phases of personal transformation: experiencing a disorienting dilemma;
undergoing self-examination; conducting a critical assessment of internalized assumptions and
feeling a sense of alienation from traditional social expectations; relating discontent to the
similar experiences of others-recognizing that the problem is shared; exploring options for new
ways of acting; building competence and self-confidence in new roles; planning a course of
action; acquiring the knowledge and skills for implementing a new course of action; trying out
new roles and assessing them; and reintegrating into society with the new perspective. In his later
work, Mezirow (1994) added a step between eight and nine “renegotiating relationships and
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interpret experience (Cranton, 2006). Mezirow developed his own work further by recognize the
disorienting dilemma as being less the result of a single event to more of a cumulative effect.
Educators hoping to go beyond the linear nature of his conceptualizing and its emphasis
on cognitive processes have expanded Mezirow’s seminal efforts. Tisdell (2001) writes about a
university course session where her students revealed personal stories that lead to significant
shifts in their understanding of, in this case, race relations, concluding:
I do not think it is possible to have a transformational experience by merely “critically
reflecting” on experience. Further, an overreliance on rationality can prevent a
transformational learning experience from happening. I do not think that participants in
the critical incidence would have had a transformational experience only by critically
reflecting or rationally thinking about our experience. The affective component – the
sharing of our vulnerability – along with the critical analysis was what made the
experience transformational. I would argue, contrary to Mezirow, that affective
involvement and expression is also a necessary condition for transformational learning to
happen.” (p. 160)
In particular we gravitate towards the work of Cranton (2006; 2009), Dirkx (1997; 1998;
2001), O’Sullivan (2002) and Taylor (2008) as being fundamental to TI. Cranton (2006) offers a
definition from which we begin. Transformative learning is “a deep shift in beliefs and
assumptions about self, others, and the world around us that occurs through critical reflection,
relational learning, and intuition” (p. 95). Cranton`s work is built upon what she refers to as five
perspectives of transformative learning, cognitive, extrarational, relational, social change and
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that we use to structure our discussion here. In the end, we focus primarily on the latter three
perspectives (relational, social change, and ecological) as being most useful to our approach with
In the cognitive perspective, Cranton suggests that individuals develop meaning from
direct and indirect experience and validate it through dialogue where beliefs, assumptions and
values are interrogated. Individuals utilize a structured approach by initially formulating a
question, through which exploration of the questions motivates individuals to revise
perspectives. Such an approach requires a rational form of critical reflection where questioning
content, process, and premises of beliefs and assumptions are featured. While we often
encourage the formation of a question to begin the TI journey, meaningful questions come from
a deeper place that is neither exclusively rational nor solely cognitive.
Dirkx (1998) while agreeing that the concentration on rational thought and reflection are
central to a process of transformative learning also criticizes such an approach as potentially
limiting because it does not acknowledge or incorporate the emotional, spiritual or imaginative.
As a result of ignoring these, engaging in transformation becomes a fractured process incapable
of generating understanding of the whole. The extrarational perspective features an expanding
consciousness and the recognition of personal, emotional, spiritual, and imaginative ways of
knowing (Cranton, 2009). Through such a perspective, transformation becomes more focused on
a holistic process where “we become aware of and consider the psychic structures of anima,
animus, ego, shadow, and the collective unconscious“(p.97).
Reflection, dialogue and structure are embedded within the cognitive and extrarational
and while we agree that these are present as one engages in TI, the cognitive and extrarational
perspectives lack attention to transformative learning as a relational process where emotional,
spiritual and embodied ways of knowing are not merely acknowledged but embraced, explored
and acted upon as we live and care well in relationship and collaboration with others, the planet,
and ourselves. Though we consider the cognitive and extrarational perspectives useful in
explaining the evolution of TI, neither fully addresses the social nature of transformative learning
or the importance of spirituality or soul. In our experience as facilitators of TI, we have been
witness to powerful transformation that resides well outside of what we consider a traditionally
rational or reflective process. As such we turn to those perspectives that indomitably influence
Relational transformative learning and TI.
Collaborative learning is the focus of the relational perspective. According to Cranton
(2009), the relational perspective requires that knowledge is created through “story-telling,
sharing experiences, careful listening to each other’s points of view, and a drawing out of each
person’s thoughts and feelings” (p. 97). Similarly, Dirkx (1997) suggests that Mythos reflects a
facet of knowing that we can see in symbols, images, stories, and myths. Embedded in this
collaborative approach is the necessity of “non-judgmental acceptance” (Cranton, 2009, p.102).
Belenky and Stanton (2000) highlight the role of gender in relational knowing where women are
characterized as relational knowers who learn by “caring, connecting and nurturing”. The authors
categorize women as a hybrid of silenced, received, subjective, separate, connected and
constructivist knowers. Belenky and Stanton also suggest that in earlier conceptions of
transformative learning theory, separate knowing, understanding generated analytically by
building more defensible knowledge through logic, rationality and reasoning, was central to
transformative learning. Alternatively, when we consider connected knowing, judgement is
suspended, and “empathy, imagination and story-telling as tools for entering into another’s frame
of mind” (p. 87). Such a view is more holistic in nature than its analytic predecessors. Through a
less gendered lens, O’Sullivan (2002) has also established a relational foundation for
transformative learning.
Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in basic premises
of thought, feelings and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and
permanently alters our way of being in the world. This shift includes our understanding
of ourselves and our self-locations and our relationships with other humans and with the
natural world. It also involves our understanding of relations of power in interlocking
structures of class, race and gender, our body awareness, our visions of alternative
approaches to living, and our sense of possibilities for social justice, peace and personal
joy. (Transformative Learning Centre, 2004)
Though the process of TI is personal it is not individual because we are all part of a
greater whole from which we cannot be extricated (Aluli-Meyer, 2008; O’Sullivan, 2003;
Thayer-Bacon, 2003; Wilson, 2008). Taylor (2008) draws on the work of Tisdell (2003) to
describe this perspective as a cultural-spiritual view where connections and intersections are key
to forming knowledge and meaning in the process of the transformative learning. Featured is
narrative storytelling, cross cultural relationships and spiritual awareness. Of note is the role of
the mentor as collaborator with “a relational emphasis on group inquiry and narrative reasoning,
which assist the learner in sharing stories of experience and revising new stories in the process”
(p. 9).
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Within the context of the TI course, we consciously develop relationships between
mentor and mentee that disrupt the “power over” situation typical in many university classrooms.
The instructor becomes a facilitator who draws on intuitive wisdom to assist and shape but does
not mandate or prescribe as the pre-service teacher decides how to move forward with her or his
particular inquiry. Mentors suggest movement towards relational accountability (Wilson, 2008)
where we are reciprocal, respectful and responsible to each other, all living beings and ourselves.
As we model relational accountability in the mentor sessions, the students also practice this
aspect of TI with each other in thinking partner relationships with peers through various semi-
structured activities.
The social change perspective sees transformative learning as being closely connected to
social justice and emancipation (Cranton, 2006). Liberation from oppression has Freirian roots in
its emphasis of the term conscientisation, or an awakening of consciousness based on a cycle or
cycles of reflection and action (Freire, 1970). More specifically, conscientisation occurs when
individuals “achieve a deepening awareness both of the socio-cultural reality which shapes their
lives and of their capacity to transform that reality” (Freire, 1970 as cited in Lloyd, 1972, p. 5).
Through the process of conscientisation, transformation includes not only change in an
individual’s way of seeing the world, but also structural change in the social world that provides
the context for the individual’s life. As a result, empowered learners act to transform their world
(Baumgartner, 2001). In a review of the work of bel hooks and Angela Davis, Brookfield (2003)
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noncapitalist logic" (p. 224). Scott (2003) helps clarify this when she says "transformation
includes structural changes in the psyches of persons and in the structures of society" (p. 281).
Embedded in these relationships is the importance of being mindful. Riley-Taylor (2002)
suggests mindfulness can be viewed as “an awareness of one's positioning within the "now" as a
site where action may be taken” (p.21); a particularly important place in the context of TI where
pre-service teachers seek to understand the complexity of modern schooling in order to become
active participants. By positioning ourselves in the now, we create the opportunity to shift our
perspective to understanding truth as being embedded in the nexus of relationships and it is that
relationality that serves as a foundation in the school experience.
Being fully present is the very heart of "the teaching presence." A teacher is expressing
this capacity when he or she is open to perceiving what is happening right now,
responsive to the needs of this moment, flexible enough to shift gears, prepared with the
repertoire, creativity, and imagination to invent a new approach in the moment, humble
and honest enough to simply pause and acknowledge if a new approach has not yet
arrived. (Riley-Taylor, 2002, p. 124)
We adapt Shawn Wilson’s (2010) suggestion of beingfulness as a more accurate word for this
important concept.
Ecological transformative learning and TI
Finally, Cranton discusses an ecological perspective; it is here we find that our work with TI
powerfully resonates because the notions of soul and spirituality that emphasize ”connectedness,
belongingness, identifications, well-being, love, compassion, peaceful coexistence with nature
includes individual, relational, social, and global perspectives on transformative learning. Clover
(2002) also describes ecological knowing as central to transformative learning because it is
“nurtured by, with, and through the ‘land,’ the life-world. It comes from age old traditions as
well as daily lived experiences in a changing world; it is a web of old and new knowledge”
(p.160). Taylor (2008) describes this as a planetary view where “transformation is not only about
how we view our human counterparts; it explores how we, as humans, relate with the physical
world” (p. 10). Included in those relations are imaginative and emotional ways of knowing
brought forward as valid sources of knowledge and catalysts for action and change.
Dirkx (1997) is a strong advocate for the link between spirituality and learning. In
Baumgartner (2001), the author sees Dirkx’s work as speaking to the important role of
imagination in facilitating learning through the soul where transformative learning goes beyond
the ego-based, rational approach that relies on words to communicate ideas to soul-based
learning that validates feelings and images. According to Baumgartner (2001), transformation is
directly connected to embodied experiences “that transcends rationality and gives depth, power,
mystery, and deep meaning to the connection between the self and the world” (p.50)
(Baumgartner, 2001). These experiences serve to nurture our emotional, spiritual and social
selves and serve to honour “the multifaceted dimensions of learning” (p.50). In turn, Dirkx
(2001) stresses that emotion is a powerful site for transformative learning that allows individuals
to establish a greater connection to the self as well as the social world. “Emotionally charged
images, evoked through the contexts of adult learning, provide the opportunity for a more
profound access to the world by inviting a deeper understanding of ourselves in relationship with
it” (p. 64)
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For Dirkx (2001), emotions always refer to the self, providing us with a means for
developing self-knowledge. They are an integral part of how we interpret and make sense of the
day-to-day events in our lives and are from what most would consider rational. Through the
examination of our emotional or spiritual selves, we are able to reveal ourselves more fully
(Dirkx, 2001). Common conceptions of teaching and learning are built as cognitive processes
where reason, logic and rationality are considered paramount. In each cohort we have worked
with, we have come up against this obstacle. We have devoted hours of class time to creating
space for students to relieve themselves of their emotional baggage as they vent frustrations,
uncertainties, fears and challenges, both publicly and privately in class and in mentor sessions.
For example, students have introduced various topics or questions born out of frustration
with the program or with schools that wash over the class like a destructive rogue wave. As
instructors, we are learning to ride these out in deference to the powerful emotions that unleashed
the wave. In mentor sessions when we meet with students individually, there are times when the
discussion of their inquiry opens a floodgate of emotion. While the subject of their emotional
upsurge is rarely the inquiry topic itself, the powerful emotion connects the personal and
professional and therefore influences the other. Some might view these as one-time events that
must be overcome in order to move on to ‘real’ learning. We disagree; it is through these very
occasions, that many students have been able to find a connection to what matters most to them
both educationally and personally. Providing space for emotion has resulted in a bond of trust
amongst individuals that has been empowering and a stimulus for the powerful learning
advocated in transformation.
Transformative learning transforming
Baumgartner (2001) summarizes the key features of transformative learning that have
emerged since the original work of Mezirow (1975). First, transformative learning is “more
individualistic, fluid and recursive” (p.19) and in transformative learning, feelings and emotions
are as significant as rational thought. As we briefly explained earlier, in our role as instructors in
the TI course, we have experienced the power that emotions play in informing TI as we have
grounded them in transformative learning. Second, the disorienting dilemma or triggering event
is more likely a series or accumulation of events that act as the impetus for the process of
transformative learning to begin (Stanger et al., in press). Based on our research we further this
notion by suggesting that opportunities to engage in transformational practice occur in the spaces
in between where the individual is able to dwell in the question (Tanaka, in press). Here we use
dwell in the same sense as Chambers (2004), “to be still with, to remain for a time with, to reside
with” (p. 11). It is an open-ended dwelling that has space for the possibility of what might be true
of another. We liken this to liminal spaces where transformation and change take place (Davis,
2008). Third, trust as a relational concept features strongly which is directly connected to an
individual’s readiness to change. Preliminary analysis of our data shows that pre-service teachers
who engage in meaningful transformation exhibit signs of resonance or a deeply powerful
emotional connection; individuals make meaning in the connections amongst elements of their
own identities. Whether it was addiction and teacher, math and multiple-ways of knowing, or
science and indigenous spirituality, the students most engaged in transformation were connecting
with the complexity of their identities as their inquiry path.
In addition to Baumgartner, Selby (2002) advances the concept of radical
interconnectedness as a more complete relational metaphor for transformative learning. In this
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transformation. In the TI data, we see constant evidence of the need to melt binary thinking in
order to embrace and explore the complexity of everyday educational life. Selby also suggests a
strong focus on inner journeying. Interiority allows the individual to experience empathetic,
embodied learning, spiritual learning and slow learning that resides in relational,
multidimensional ways of knowing. We often advocate the same inner journeying through TI
because it allows the individual to “clear the clutter of explicate reality; limit or stop thought,
bring together the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of our being; and can create awareness
of the oneness of everything” (p.87). Through participation in TI, individuals are challenged to
“recognize the other and the self and to see oneself in another” and the individual sees “processes
of domination and resistance, of inclusion and exclusion, and of marginalization and
socialization” (Davis, 2008, ¶5).
A further example of transformation relevant to our study is Kremer’s (1997) perspective,
transformative learning transforming. Kremer characterizes transformational learning as an
experience that “may lead to confusion and dark night experiences along the way”(p.7) but that
“ends in a place where all the threads can come together in a new weave…” (p.7). Many of the
pre-service teachers we work with make reference to the confusion and uncertainty associated
with having one’s mind boggled. The very nature of transformative learning is transforming
which makes the following characterization particularly poignant:
Transformational learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic
premise of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically
and permanently alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our
understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans
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of class, race and gender; our body-awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to
living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy
(O’Sullivan, Morrell & O’Connor, 2002, p.11).
Transformative Inquiry and Pre-service Teachers
We have explicated how relational, social and ecological perspectives of transformative
learning inform TI. Our belief is that engaging in TI is vital in forming the foundations for pre-
service teacher’s pedagogical and philosophical identity. Individuals must explore and
investigate not only what matters to them but more importantly, why it matters. In our
experience, pre-service teachers leave teacher preparation programs with technical proficiency;
they can plan lessons and units, adeptly incorporating learning outcomes that feed into activities
that can then be assessed and reported on. However, those same teachers are far less prepared to
deal with the complex reality of teaching that presents itself each school day.
As a process, TI promotes “collaboration, participation, empowerment, accountability,
confidentiality, acknowledgement of obligations to the subject, transparency of goals, methods
and motives, benefits to the subject, and opportunity for subjects to present themselves in their
own voice" (Deal, 2006, p. 4). More importantly, engagement in TI promotes understanding of
the spirit or soul that lies at “heart of personal, scholarly, and organizational life and, therefore,
of change” (Anglin, 1996, p. 99). TI is our response to these educational demands because the
process allows students the opportunity to develop skills around facilitating deep change and to
appreciate their own capacity for transforming their practice. Through TI, pre-service teachers
are able to take ownership of their own development as a teacher and how that development
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schools as autonomous thinkers who act in “a collective, relational process” through
“constructive discourse in which participants deliberate about the reasons for their actions and
get insights from the meanings, experiences, and opinions expressed by others” (Shugurensky,
2002, p. 63). TI focuses on clarifying pre-service teachers’ purposes and beliefs cultivate their
compassion, critical awareness, or even enlightened wisdom (Li, 2002, p. 403).
Transformative learning within our teacher education program becomes an integrative
process that is about dialogue and reflection embedded in community. In the course students
contemplate the personal and professional concerns about which they are passionate, and then
select an inquiry topic from among these. Their choices have been wide-ranging: e.g., formative
assessment; teacher stress reduction; kindness in the classroom; differentiated learning; and
clarifying the purpose of education. They then pursue their chosen topic through the formulation
of inquiry questions and the gathering of information from self-study, literature reviews,
classroom observations and conversations with colleagues, students and community members.
Underlying these experiences are some basic tenets.
• People transform through dialogue. Educational change demands that people change
– in their attitudes, values and beliefs. For this to occur, dialogue is essential. How
else will we know how or why to change? Through talking, reading, arguing, with
others, we begin to see our world differently (Isaacs, 1999; Vella, 2002).
• People transform through deep critical reflection. Teacher education programs must
consider carefully, and vigorously discuss curricular decisions while keeping in mind
a vision of how we want our world to be, from the perspectives of both ecological and
• Community plays an essential role in transformative learning. For transformation to
occur a learning community of practice (Wenger, 1998) must exist. Through a shared
repertoire of experiences, we construct meaning together about teaching and learning.
The tone of this learning community is set by the instructors and affects our learning
experience (van Manen, 1986).
As teachers and learners we believe in the power and value of transformation as a
teaching practice but recognize that belief does not always translate into action. Our commitment
to TI is our action; it is our contribution to preparing pre-service teachers to become the amazing
teachers that are needed in schools. We close with the words of those who have experienced the
value of TI first hand:
As a teacher I value the idea that learning is dynamic and constantly transforming the individual. Being involved in Transformative Inquiry reminded me the importance of keeping all doors open and never blocking off a path that may lead to another perspective. My inquiry has allowed me to follow a path with heart because my self-study collage reflects that I honour the fact that each student is an individual and holds a unique gift waiting to be unwrapped. (Course participant A)
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