In this three-article dissertation, I explore what it means for teachers to be designers in three different ways. Each article can stand on its own, but taken together, they paint a rich and nuanced picture of the relationship between teachers and design. The first article is an analysis of a decade of literature on teachers and design seeking to answer the question, “What does it mean for a teacher to be described as a designer, or for the act of teaching to be considered an act of design?” The analysis combined an interpretive content analysis of central terms and constructs with a network analysis of co-authorship and citation practices. The results highlighted 10 strands of literature around teachers and design, each describing a different perspective on what, how, when, and why teachers design.
The second article focuses on a design-based professional development (PD) program I conducted with four teachers in a rural junior high school. The program was designed to support teachers in approaching problems of practice in designerly ways, including exploring problems using various epistemic perspectives. Using an embedded case analysis approach, I found that although each teacher interpreted the program differently, all described outcomes related to coming to know in new ways, developing a deeper understanding of students, and being impacted at a personal level. These outcomes could be interpreted as a type of sensemaking, where teachers came to re-interpret the past and present in ways that allowed them to shape the future. Sensemaking was supported through epistemic diversity and the acts of framing common in design practice.
The third article is a scholarly essay arguing that the PD program and its implementation suggest design is not only about creating things but is also about seeing and addressing the indeterminacy inherent in complex situations of practice. Designers interact with this indeterminacy through imposing a frame on the situation and interpreting the results. When teachers are designers, they are empowered to integrate their personal and professional selves with the design situation, all while maintaining a form of skeptical optimism within complex and shifting contexts.