Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 39, Issue 3, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article investigates how and what type of relationships cooperating teachers (CTs) can develop with student teachers (STs) and university tutors (UTs) to enhance the school placement process.
The participants were eighteen physical education CTs, ten female and eight male, from fifteen schools in the Republic of Ireland. This paper draws from the experiences of the eighteen CTs over the period of the five phases.
To produce an environment where the potential for the development of relationships existed, the CTs were asked to initiate structured support for the ST throughout the school placement. This support involved formally observing the ST a minimum of twice a week (providing both written and verbal feedback) and facilitating a weekly meeting with the ST.
Data were collected through reflective journals, individual interviews and focus group interviews.
Describing learning as a social process, this research implies the significance of the development of relationships, membership within communities and identity construction. By facilitating collaborative relationships, a CT’s learning experience can be positively enhanced and a ST is provided with a scaffolded entry into the teaching profession. As the relationships in the study had various degrees of mutual engagement, joint enterprise and a shared repertoire, it allowed the ongoing interactions between various stakeholders to be labelled ‘communities’. The approaches of the CTs in developing communities were either enabled or challenged by other members in the school placement process.
The development of CT/ST learning communities evolved throughout the study and their success was determined by a number of factors. Firstly, the extent to which CTs and STs engaged with the key properties of a community of practice; mutual engagement, joint enterprise and identity and a shared repertoire. Secondly, the level of engagement was determined by the existence of characteristics which work to scaffold the development and existence of a community, and thirdly, the presence of enablers and/or challenges to the attempts made to progress the development of learning communities.
Communities consisting of a CT and a ST were the strongest and resulted in an enhanced level of learning. Where communities were successfully established, evolving forms of mutual engagement, understanding and negotiating an enterprise, and developing and inventing a shared repertoire were evident. In many instances, the emergence of communities was part planned and part serendipitously created, as stakeholders progressively learnt each other’s characteristics, strengths and weaknesses and realised the extent to which communities could be developed.
Enablers and challenges to the development of communities
The opportunity for CTs to learn, based on collaboration with STs and UTs, was enabled or challenged by a number of factors. The enablers included acceptance and support from principals and colleagues, the introduction of a supervision structure and provision of a university-generated school placement booklet, positive interaction with UTs and positive previous experience in the supervision process. The challenges included time constraints, the absence of reciprocal relationships, poorly defined roles and expectations and limited school–university partnerships.
The development of effective learning communities can be hindered when there is a clear breakdown in communication and an obvious lack of interaction, resulting in dysfunctional relationships and inadequate learning opportunities for CTs. The relationships between each of the stakeholders can constitute some form of communities as they were underpinned by a number of the characteristics required to create communities and were all based on aspects of social interaction and closeness.
However, this study reveals that the school placement process lacks an infrastructure which supports change, exchange of knowledge and few opportunities for the CT and UT to work together. While the study revealed some interaction between the CT and the UT, it demonstrated the potential for the development of various forms of relationships/communities between the two where learning can take place.
This article suggests a number of implications for future research. Firstly, there is a need for teacher education institutions to clearly define and communicate the roles and expectations of all school placement stakeholders. Secondly, teacher education institutions must establish effective working partnerships with schools. Thirdly, stakeholders must be supported and prepared to establish relationships that promote professional growth and learning.