10 SES 11 D, Research on Teacher Educators
The rapidly changing policy context in the field of initial teacher education (ITE) in England and Wales has brought uncertainty and ambiguity around the role of the university in preparing teachers.Recent policy favouring school-led training models raises questions about the role, status and viability of university teacher educators (TEs), and threatens the long-term stability of teacher education departments. Such policy moves can be viewed as part of a neoliberal agenda affecting public education on an international scale.Within this context there is a need to reassert the value of university-based ITE and prepare new TEs well to both execute and defend their role. This research uses data from research-intensive universities in England, Canada and Singapore to understand how the TE role and identity is conceived by novice and experienced TEs, with the goal of informing high quality professional development (PD) for early career TEs which addresses their work in all its complexity (Boyd and White, 2017).
Substantial research activity in the field of TE PD is relatively new. One strand of this work addresses the challenges facing new TEs who, often having had a career in the ‘first-order practice’ of teaching, must adjust to the ‘second-order practice’ of teaching about teaching (Murray and Male, 2005). This requires support in the forms of induction and ongoing PD, which is not yet well embedded across the profession (Kelchtermans et al. 2017). A challenge facing those who seek to provide this support is the number of variables of which account must be taken: the ‘ambiguity’ of who ‘counts’ as a teacher educator, the varied professional histories of TEs on entry to the role, ongoing discussions about the constitution of the knowledge base for teacher education and the particular practices, expectations and norms of the institution in which the TE is employed (Boyd et al. 2011, Kelchtermans et al. 2017, Loughran 2014). A generic programme of professional learning cannot therefore be developed for use ‘off the shelf’ but must take account of variation at the level of the individual, institutional and national contexts, as well as cross-cutting themes and challenges associated with developing professional identity in any new role. For TEs employed within a university setting, the institutional context can be particularly challenging given expectations of research engagement by TEs in some organisations. As is widely acknowledged, how this emphasis is articulated and enacted varies across universities, reflecting institutional priorities/characteristics as well as national policies (Boyd et al. 2011, Kelchtermans et al. 2017, Ellis et al. 2012, Loughran 2014). This contextual variation is consistent with situated learning theory (Lave and Wenger 1991). Given the international nature of the academy we suggest that similar universities which share certain priorities and characteristics might also share similar approaches to TE work, as well as inevitable differences shaped by context. We therefore identify TEs in research-intensive universities as a defined group worthy of research and context specific PD framed within the wider goal of strengthening ITE by better understanding and developing those who educate teachers.
This research contributes to the academic base on the PD of TEs by exploring how the TE role is understood and enacted across research-intensive university settings internationally. Objectives:
- Inform initial and continuing TE PD in research-intensive university settings internationally;
- Support collaboration between university-based ITE teams across institutions in realising rigorous and highly effective ITE programmes;
- Contribute to policy debates around the ongoing role of universities in general, and research-intensive universities in particular, in ITE;
- Contribute to broader work that articulates and supports development of the competencies of TEs working beyond as well as in university contexts.
The aim of this research is to advance understanding of how best to support the professional learning needs of new TEs working in ITE in research-intensive universities. This research contributes to the field in considering the specific, research-intensive university context across international settings, supplementing existing research which is overwhelmingly located within national borders. Drawing on situated learning theory and the importance of identity this research considers the conceptions of both novice and experienced TEs within the same setting, introducing an innovative approach to considering the identity shifts necessary for new TEs to assimilate into the local university ITE context. Research Questions 1. What are the professional learning needs of novice teacher educators working on university initial teacher education programmes at universities in Canada, Singapore and England? a) How is the concept of high quality teacher education articulated within the institution? I. How do experienced TEs conceptualise high quality teacher education? II. How is high quality teacher education communicated through policy in each institution? b) How do novice TEs conceptualise high quality teacher education? c) Which learning needs are consistent and generalisable across contexts and which require personalisation/adaptation to local contexts? 2. What is similar and different across the university contexts in conceptions of quality teacher education, as understood by experienced TEs and novice TEs? 3. To what extent can research-intensive university contexts be understood to have a consistent, predictable effect on TE identity? This is a qualitative study exploring conceptions, beliefs and identities of TEs in different local and national environments. The research draws on data from three research-intensive universities in England, Singapore and Canada. It uses focus groups conducted with TEs who are new to the profession (between 0-2 years) and experienced TEs (over 5 years) often with leadership responsibilities within ITE. Focus groups allow for interaction between participants and in-depth exploration of issues considered, useful for ‘generating hypotheses that derive from the insights and the data from the group’ (Cohen et al. 2000, p288). Focus group data is supplemented by a review of policy at each institution in relation to ITE, with a specific focus on teaching and research expectations of TEs and the goals of ITE programmes. Thematic analysis is used to identify key themes emerging from the data across institutional contexts which represent conceptions of the TE role as held by novices and by experienced teacher educators.
Initial analysis suggests experienced and novice TEs hold different conceptual understandings in three key areas related to the role of the TE, which appear to shape overall perspectives on personal learning needs and, therefore, what PD should involve: Actions – what TEs do Beliefs – what TEs believe Identity – who TEs are Novice TEs’ conceptions orientate towards observable behaviours and actions, referencing personal experience and demonstrating limited understanding either of the first- to second-order practice shifts identified by Murray and Male (2005) or of the defining influence of their location in a research-intensive university. Experienced TEs more clearly articulate the TE role as complex, debated, and firmly located within their specific context. The two groups conceptualise teacher education and their role as a TE within the institution differently. Experience appears to shift the locus of the TE identity from the activity undertaken to the context in which this activity is rooted. These different identities are characterised as ‘TE as practitioner’ working within a university, and ‘Academic as TE’ working in the field of ITE. Whilst the data indicate that different identities dominate at different levels of experience, this is seen as a continuum rather than dichotomous positions. This suggests that a significant aspect of any PD programme should be identity work. These findings reflect Korthagen’s (2004) emphasis on addressing change in personal beliefs and professional identity when developing teachers, rather than focusing on more observable aspects of competencies and behaviours. They suggest that this insight is equally as important in developing TEs as teachers. Through ongoing data collection and analysis these themes will be developed and refined to provide more nuanced insight into the PD needs of TEs working in research-intensive universities in different national and international settings, and to examine how consistent and generalizable themes are across contexts.
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