Smirnova, Lada (MA and PhD alumna)
I am a language teacher educator and a lecturer of English for Academic Purposes, currently working at the Language Centre of the University of Leeds in the UK. I help students develop their researcher competences and improve Academic English skills.
My primary research interest is in the area of digital transformation in education, and more specifically – how teachers resolve difficult situations in this transition from traditional to technologically enhanced teaching. My PhD research revealed various movements and dynamics between teachers’ cognitive and emotional response to a problematic situation. I showed how, when faced with obstacles, the teachers went through a change process, which involved initial frustration, then denial, and after that, at the stage of acceptance, more cognitive engagement with the problem, and finally a sense of moving forward, making progress and finding solutions. This is how I describe the work of perezhivanie, which is the foundation of these stages. One limitation of my conceptualisation of perezhivanie was that I restricted the study to the situations when teachers resolved double binds. Facing them can trigger strong emotions, which are more likely to be recognised in consciousness by the teachers. Such events were easier for the participants to discuss thereby, and gave me access to the teachers’ thinking, emotions, and perezhivanie. However, I assume that development also occurs outside of double binds, or at least in those times in between such events, where issues emerge in more general ways, and perezhivanie may play a role in relation to them. Now I’m exploring these ‘outside of double binds’ times, so as to understand the role of perezhivanie in the bigger picture of teachers’ lives.
My studies in the University of Manchester
I applied for the MA in Educational Technology and TESOL in 2009, and then did it online because I could not leave my small but robust educational business in Moscow. I ran a Language Centre, where my knowledgeable and experienced teachers prepared students for international exams such as IELTS, TOEFL and various Cambridge ones, in a new and promising socio economical context of Gorbachev’s Perestroika, and I helped them become even more knowledgeable and skillful. That was a time and setting when my lifelong interest in teacher development emerged. Helping others to become a better version of themselves is a lot of fun after all! In my MA dissertation I designed an in-service teacher training course, which had action research at its core and aimed at helping language teachers explore the possibilities of digital technology. The dissertation was supervised by Richard Fay, and finally given Distinction by two kind people, Juup Stelma and Garry Motteram. Although I took their generosity as a grant rather than something that marked the status quo, a PhD-virus infected me, and one of these brave men later became my PhD supervisor.
I began my PhD in September 2015 and relocated to Manchester, falling in love at first sight with the people of the School, the university campus and the city, but probably that magic of distance education played not the last role too. I enjoyed participating in several projects, and Social Theories of Learning was one of my favourites. Inspired by the reading group discussions, I invited three prominent scholars and organised a 3-day Roundtable on ‘Emotions and Agency’ with Laura Goodfellow, and the University even had supported us financially.
Regarding my PhD focus, as a teacher trainer I had noticed the inconsistency between teachers’ apparent resistance to cognitively reflect on any issues ‘on request’, and a desire to share their feelings and emotions when they wished to. To address this inconsistency, I planned to use the Russian notion of perezhivanie, and was thrilled to launch a study to understand how perezhivanie works ‘for’ or ‘against’ the teacher on various occasions.
However, people around me could not understand what my research topic was. As any other psychological phenomenon, perezhivanie cannot be visually observed, and not being a psychologist, I came to realize that I was not able to clearly define perezhivanie, even in plain terms. Vygotsky introduced it mainly for Russian readership, who have perezhivanie in their schemata, and for international researchers it was (and still is to some extent) a kind of ‘unexplored territory’. The writing up of the study was a useful exercise for me to become able to articulate perezhivanie.
Life after PhD
Since I was engaged in launching a new MA programme as a Deputy Director and worked full time during my last year of study, the return to ‘normal life’ was gradual and did not feel like ‘is there a life after PhD?’. It definitely was for me, but the only thing I have missed so far is to work collectively on a paper. Since the phenomenon of perezhivanie I explored in my PhD was an idiosyncratic topic for others, I did not have an opportunity to do something together and still dream about it. Meanwhile, I have reworked my thesis into a book, published several articles on perezhivanie, and recently edited a book on using Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to analyze projects in digital transformation in education.
You can find out more about me and my work, listen to my lectures and reading tutorials by visiting my site. Drop me a line at email@example.com, or find me in the social media:
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Lada, I don’t think we’ve ever welcomed you officially in these pages! So, welcome – we’re so pleased to have you as part of our community.