Source: Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, Vol. 21, No. 6, 641–659, 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
The current study examines how the perceived learning environment in teacher education contributes to the sense of professional agency in the classroom among first-year student teachers.
The participants were 244 first-year primary school teacher students from three teacher education institutes in Finland. The students had participated in the theoretical courses in their teacher education programmes and had completed their first teaching practice period in teacher education.
The participants completed the student teachers’ professional agency (STPA) survey, which was adapted from the Teacher’s Sense of Professional Agency survey (TPA). The student teacher professional agency in the classroom scale was designed to measure the key integrated elements of teachers’ professional agency, including motivation to learn, efficacy beliefs about learning, and intentional acts for facilitating and managing learning in the classroom.
The results revealed that the sense of professional agency in the classroom requires motivation to learn about teaching, efficacy beliefs about learning, and activities for facilitating and managing learning in the classroom. The results also demonstrate that these basic elements of professional agency were embedded in the contextualised components of student teachers’ sense of professional agency in the classroom.
This study showed that the quality of peer relations is a key regulator for student teachers’ sense of professional agency from the very beginning of teacher studies. Peers are also shown to play a central role when facing challenges.
Reflecting on one’s teaching and modelling, i.e. learning through observing and following a more experienced teacher, was the strongest component of the student teacher’s sense of professional agency in classroom. This reflects the pedagogical design of Finnish teacher education, whereby the first teaching practice is strongly built around classroom observation. The development of strong professional agency requires shared meaning-making. This requires the student teacher to address questions such as why pedagogical practices are constructed in the way they are, and if needed what could I and we do differently instead of mere self-reflection.
The results showed that first-year student teachers perceived peer support as being highly significant in the development of their professional agency in the classroom. The findings imply that intentionally developing peer relations provides an important resource for the learning of strong professional agency and should be taken seriously and further utilised in teacher education.