Being granted the latitude in my life to participate in a Ph.D. program is something that I have had to take forcefully and with vigor. It is something that has been both exciting and rewarding. It also is challenging and has often made me think this is how I am going to make my hair grey. To keep balanced and make the most of my opportunity to engage in this focused time of learning, I have had to keep myself directed towards future career goals. To do this, I produce as many of my projects and learning activities towards my dissertation and future career. I continue to remain open ready to move with whatever wind the inquiry takes me, but I always feel the need for projects to connect.

Much of my career has been focused on doing direct service. I love directly engaging with my clients, especially youth with mental health challenges or behavioral problems. I do not see myself moving entirely away from this direct engagement. I have also found myself increasingly drawn to assisting the helpers and those who are again doing the immediate service. I want my narrative inquiry pilot study to help uncover some of the needs and stories of a teacher working with youth with emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD). This essay discusses some of the focus of that inquiry project and why narrative inquiry is a beneficial lens to use.

Back in 2002, when I was participating in the Master’s Commission, a leadership training and discipleship school in Spokane1, I was volunteering with incarcerated youth at the local juvenile detention. Through that experience, I was hooked on supporting and working with youth and decided to pursue a degree in social work. Over the years, I have gained new skills in working with youth. I have supported these at-risk teens (along with many other populations) in many different settings. I have worked in residential programs, mental health settings, organizations that interface with youth in community settings, and most recently in a school setting.

About seven years ago, I was offered the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct in a school of social work at Heritage University. Within this experience, I have been able to see countless of my former students start to work alongside me in my community, supporting clients. I have also been lucky enough to be encouraged to provide professional development, assistance with program evaluation methods, and other system supporting activities within the school district. In my view, for the future, I am encouraged to look towards the potential exponentially multiplied impact I can have in working with helpers versus only working with individuals.

Having transitioned to a more direct focus of supporting staff and other helping adults who work with adolescents requires a distinct set of skills and knowledge. I want to use my dissertation to increase my understanding and ability to encourage helpers. Expanding my knowledge and the scientific communities understanding of trauma and resilience and their impact on staff is a way of moving in that direction. Using narrative inquiry in this goal and setting has been demonstrated in the scientific literature.

Kim (2016) describes many of the appropriate settings that narrative inquiry has been used in, including Michel Foucault’s analysis of power relationships. The concept of understanding power balances between people is essential both in education and support persons with special needs. Dewey’s theory of experience is also focused on educational settings. Along with being useful in both understanding educational settings and power dynamics, it also fits my values. Qualitative inquiry methods have the possibility of being used for social justice. Creswell (2013) describes it this way.

Ethical practices of the researchers recognize the importance of the subjectivity of their lens, acknowledge the powerful position they have in the research, and admit that the participants or the co-construction of the account between the researchers and the participants are the true owners of the information collected (p. 26).

I plan to interview a teacher who works with students who have emotional and behavioral disabilities for the actual project. The topic of my inquiry is to understand the recognition of and view of trauma and resilience. I want them to relate their current understanding of trauma and strength and how they connect with that in their classrooms. I also want to see if there is a history in their lives that drew them to teach students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. I am also interested in hearing about the impact of working with students who have experienced traumatic events has on the teacher.

Huber et al. (2013) describe how narrative inquiry works within the field of education. They tell stories as having the power to make critical connections and allow authors to “transcend temporal, contextual, cultural, and social boundaries” (p. 216). In looking towards the future of work within the narrative inquiry, they describe narrative inquiry as providing opportunities for those whose experiences are “most often invisible, silent, composed, and lived on the margins” (p. 236).

Providing this type of space for teachers to share their stories and be heard can be useful for the teacher. It can also benefit the work being done in schools to understand trauma and resilience. Narrative inquiry can offer a powerful story that is additive to work within schools and their understanding of trauma and resilience.


Campbell, J (2019) The path to the ph.d.: Intertwining my experiences and research topic.

Creswell, J. W. (2013). 2 Philosophical assumptions and interpretive frameworks. In Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed, pp. 15-41). SAGE Publications.

Huber, J., Caine, V., Huber, M., & Steeves, P. (2013). Narrative inquiry as pedagogy in education: The extraordinary potential of living, telling, retelling, and reliving stories of experience. Review of Research in Education, 37(1), 212-242.

Kim, J.-H. (2016). Understanding narrative inquiry: The crafting and analysis of stories as research. SAGE.

Author Note

The following essay was originally posted as a paper TSD 6660 - Narrative Research as a part of my Ph.D. Studies in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies.


  1. More the experiences that led me to pursue my Ph.D. and some of my career choices can be found in an essay I wrote, “The Path to the Ph.D.: Intertwining My Experiences and Research Topic” (Campbell, 2019).