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The power of paradox: How high school teachers perceive the navigation of paradox influencing teacher resiliency and student motivation

James Rourke, Johnson & Wales University


As long as there are schools there will be students with varying degrees of motivation and teachers who will inevitably struggle with disappointments. This qualitative study evaluates the twin problems of student motivation and teacher resiliency through a specific conceptual lens. Parker J. Palmer (1998), a life long educator and learner, proposed a pedagogy of paradox that, in his personal experience, had a positive impact on both student motivation and his own resiliency. Palmer contends that all teachers, regardless of discipline, experience, or grade level, encounter paradox in one form or another. He maintains a conviction, reinforced by interaction with workshop participants, that the skillful use, or navigation, of paradox can enhance student motivation and teacher resiliency. This qualitative study allowed a sample (n=10) of purposefully selected high school teachers, who serve a diverse student body in southeastern, Connecticut, in various stages of their careers and from various disciplines, to discuss their perceptions of teacher resiliency and student motivation. The questions posed to these individuals in a semi-structured interview protocol did not directly mention the concept of paradox, but were constructed under the assumption that, if Palmer were correct, the successful and unsuccessful interactions that each participant has had with paradox would emerge through the conversations. The findings, therefore, would either further validate Palmer's approach or reveal in what areas it may be lacking. The further validation of Palmer's work could provide teachers and administrators with a valuable tool in their joint efforts to motivate students and retain quality teachers. Upon the completion of Classic Approach of qualitative analysis (Krueger & Casey, 2009) it was discovered that while the teachers did not provide equal support for the six paradoxes Palmer promotes, they did clearly and consistently supply answers that allowed some Palmerian paradoxes to emerge as extremely important facets of the learning process. In the final analysis, therefore, the participants all shared thoughts and perceptions that reinforced Palmer's conclusions. A relationship surely exists between the skillful navigation of paradox and an increased capacity to motivate students and enhance teacher resiliency.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Curriculum development|Education philosophy

Recommended Citation

Rourke, James, "The power of paradox: How high school teachers perceive the navigation of paradox influencing teacher resiliency and student motivation" (2010). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3402120.