Many studies and publications have been devoted to the analysis and development of teacher identity from different points of view, using diverse instruments and methodologies and analyzing different dimensions of identity. Despite the scrutiny, it is still a challenge to understand and define an issue as complex as professional identity.
Although there is no clear unanimity on the concept of identity itself, several characteristics have been identified from different approaches. Thus, aspects such as personal unity, stability over time, and across situations and contexts contrast with such features as multiplicity, discontinuity, and a social nature. Faced with this dichotomy, the dialogic perspective explains the complexity of the construct by proposing that the aforementioned features are linked respectively and dialectically. In other words, the various dimensions of identity, along with their variability through time and the influence exerted by social and contextual aspects, are combined with personal unity, with stability over time, and across situations and contexts. This can, occasionally, lead to conflict and contradictions that the individual strives to manage through self-dialogue.
Focusing in the dialogic conceptualization, several implications for research are identified. Firstly, it disallows static categorizations of teachers and places the focus on grasping the self-dialogue that allows teachers to maintain a certain degree of stability and coherence in their identity over time. Secondly, it showcases the effect that dialogue and participation-focused research can have on professional development. Additionally, the study of identity in all its complexity and mutability advocates the integrated study of two levels of analysis: On the one hand, there is the position and actions of teachers in different contexts and situations; and, on the other, there is their professional story, past, present and future, along with the sociocultural factors that have impacted it.
According to this dialogic approach, both the research on the professional identity and the teacher training should incorporate strategies that promote dialogue on actual performance and on professional careers. To this effect, longitudinal designs help capture the dialogue between stability and change. Still, transversal studies can be undeniably useful to identify current conflicts that might arise between personal and professional roles, as well as how such conflicts are managed. Furthermore, qualitative methodologies have a great potential to generate self-dialogues that provide insight into how teachers live, perceive, and manage such conflicts. Finally, research should be participative in nature so that teachers abandon their role as objects of research and become, instead, its subjects, in collaboration with researchers. In this manner, research on identity leads to changes in the professional identity of participants, in addition to furthering the knowledge available on the subject. Action research follows these guidelines, and it is therefore especially suited to this endeavor.
Based on this characterization of the research on professional identity, some techniques are suggested for the collection of information because they foster reflection and consequently also promote development of identity. Some of these techniques are: life stories, narrative of teaching, diaries, case studies, critical events analysis, professional dilemmas, teacher or teaching metaphors, and inquiry-based learning.