Navigating the Terrain of Third Space: Tensions With/In Relationships in School-University Partnerships

May. 02, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(3), 299-311, May 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors wanted to understand the challenges hybrid teacher educators face in efforts to foster third spaces in partnerships.
They investigated the ways university-based teacher educators foster and mediate relationships to work toward a collective third space.

The questions they asked include the following:
• What challenges does teacher educator face in the school setting as he works toward developing and navigating a collective third space in a partnership setting?
• What challenges does teacher educator face in the university setting?
• What practices does teacher educator use to work toward developing and navigating a collective third space in a partnership setting?

Participants and Method
The authors are three female university-based teacher educators, serving as liaisons to partner elementary schools.
They work as hybrid teacher educators in student teaching partnership settings.
The authors engaged in a collaborative self-study to examine their practices as university-based teacher educators and how they worked toward developing and navigating a collective third space in partnership settings.

Data Sources
Data sources included individually written self-reflections, transcriptions of audiotaped group conversations, e-mail conversations, individual descriptive memos, and early outlines and papers from which this study’s findings emerged.

Findings and Discussion

The authors investigated the relationships encountered in partnership contexts, challenges and tensions faced in these relationships, and ways they negotiated tensions and worked to overcome impediments to developing third space over time.
The analyses revealed that building and navigating relationships in university-school partnerships entailed more complexity than the authors expected.
Four aspects of liaison relationships emerged as foundational to this complexity:
three within-school settings (relationships with individuals, relationships within similar groups of people, and relationships across groups of people) and interactions within the university–elementary school interface.

In addition, the authors propose a framework for moving beyond traditional notions of oppositional triadic relationships of student teacher, mentor teacher, and supervisor in recognition of complex social ecologies in the third space.
The analyses suggest that conceptions of social interactions must go well beyond understandings of the traditional triad.
Broader conceptualizations that include others in the school setting, relationships within and across groups, as well as institutions, are fundamental to efforts in providing teacher candidates with rich educative opportunities.

The authors sought to influence the nature of interactions between others by fostering norms of interaction in which trust could develop among all group members.
As these findings indicate, development of collaborative and trusting relationships is a complex and ever shifting process, fraught with challenges that require proactive and conscious effort.

The authors summarize that through individual and group conversations with others in the school settings, we, as university-based educators, played critical roles in developing and fostering interactions that could move the student teaching context from one of cooperation to one of collaboration.
Through these processes, they played a critical role in bringing together diverse interests and groups of people into a common focus: teacher and student learning.

Furthermore, the work of facilitating collaborative interaction and bridging gaps between university expectations and school contexts demonstrated concerted effort to foster focused, coordinated activity.

Implications for University Settings

Most obvious is the need for both teacher education programs and university-based teacher educators to understand the complex nature of liaison work.
This collaboration has provided a wonderful opportunity for the authors to understand their work, to consider more critically their own practices, and to make changes in what they do. They believe that these collaborative opportunities should have been institutionally supported, embedded in our work as liaisons, through the cultivation of another community of practice.
The authors claim that these analyses clearly indicate the development of communities of practice over time and ongoing development of our abilities to meet the challenges of this complex work.


The authors conclude that hand in hand with focusing attention on creating structures to provide clinical practices, there must be understandings of how to construct and support rich, clinical contexts that serve as transformative settings for teacher learning.

Updated: Feb. 25, 2014