Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 7-2-2004


Professional development for teachers tends to focus on subject matter ("what” is being taught) or methods (“how” it is taught). Rarely is it concerned with the teacher him or herself (the “who), and how a teacher’s sense of “self” negotiates the pressures and complexities of school life. This research focuses on a program called The Courage to Teach, which pays attention to this more personal aspect of the teaching profession, and provides opportunities for teachers to engage in a particular type of introspection called “inner work”. The primary purpose of the research is to examine the intricacies of the inner work process, to explore what teachers experienced at the program’s seasonal retreats, and whether or not retreat experiences impacted teachers’ relationships with students and colleagues in school. The findings illuminate the details of inner work in progress, indicating that a teacher’s sense of self can be assisted by reflection on significant life events that have shaped their beliefs about who they are. That reflection is conducted in a retreat setting with the use of seasonal imagery and a variety of practices that are designed to tap into the unconscious mind, where valuable information about one’s true self can be uncovered and reclaimed. Illuminating the unconscious mind gives teachers a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of who they are, and how they might be sabotaging their effectiveness in a teaching role. Inner work also has the capacity to highlight certain gifts that teachers offer to their profession—gifts that may have been overlooked or under-developed. This study sheds light on the importance of paying attention to the inner life of teachers, and points to the complexities and difficulties in supporting “inner work” in schools where certain structural constraints conflict with the personal process of teaching from within.