Israeli teacher educators’ perceptions of their professional development paths in teaching, research and institutional leadership


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 42:4, 507-522

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Teacher educators fulfil many roles (Lunenberg, Dengerink, and Korthagen 2014).
The current study views teaching, academic career and institutional leadership as three distinct developmental paths and focuses on their interrelationships.
The current study examines the perceptions of experienced teacher educators who are engaged in research regarding the three professional development paths, the interrelationships between the three, and their institutions’ positions concerning them.

The context of the study
This study was conducted among teacher educators working in teacher education colleges in Israel.
In 1983, the Ministry of Education established The MOFET Institute as a national intercollegiate centre to support the professional development of teacher educators (Golan and Reichenberg 2015).
The Institute supports all three professional development paths:
It provides study programs in teaching student teachers and in educational leadership, and hosts professional learning communities of teacher educators who hold similar leadership positions in different teacher education colleges (such as deans and heads of age related programs).
The Institute supports teacher educators’ research by providing study programs and a consultation service in research and academic writing, and awarding research grants.
Experienced researchers are recruited to conduct applied research projects commissioned by the Ministry of Education.
The current study examines experienced teacher educators’ professional development and needs in order to provide adequate support to teacher educators throughout their career.
It explores how experienced teacher educator researchers who work in teacher education colleges in Israel perceive their roles and professional development in research, teaching and institutional leadership as well as their interrelationships.
In addition, the researchers tried to find out how they perceive the influence their colleges have on these issues.

Research method
Participants - The participants for this research are sixteen teacher educators who are actively engaged in research in Israeli teacher education colleges.
Interviews - The research tool was a semi-structured interview, consisting of four parts.
In the first part, the participants were asked how they became involved in teacher education and about their job remit.
In the second, the interviewees’ were asked about their professional development, opportunities, barriers and needs concerning these roles.
The third part focused on research: their attitudes towards research in teacher education, their own research-related activities, professional development needs, and factors that either enhance or hinder their involvement in research.
Finally, they were asked to add anything they thought was relevant to their roles as teacher educators, their professional development or research.
The non-structured part followed interviewees’ descriptions of their roles and their professional development in each of these roles, probing their perceptions of the interrelationships between these roles. In addition, they were asked how their roles and professional development are influenced by their colleges.
Data analysis - Thematic analysis was used to analyse the interviews (Guest, Macqueen, and Namey 2012).

Findings and discussion
This study examined the positions of teacher educators who work in teacher education colleges in Israel on research, and its relations with teaching and institutional leadership roles.
Findings indicate that the three are perceived as important areas for professional development and that the relationships between them range from mutual support and complementation to conflict over limited time resources.
Teacher educators, and especially those who were previously schoolteachers, feel obligated to high standards of teaching and are committed to their students.
These obligations may be supported by their research or interfere with it.
This conflict, initially described as typical of the transition into teacher education (Murray and Male 2005), does not subside as teacher educators accumulate experience.
Teacher educators’ reasons for engagement in research are a combination of internal and external motivations.
They include personal interest; contribution to practice, as well as the desire to obtain academic recognition and influential positions within the institution.
Over-emphasis upon research and publications that is disconnected from practical issues may come at the expense of other important areas of professional development, and eventually hamper the quality of research.
College authorities encourage teacher educators to develop in all three paths, but it seems they consider teacher educators’ professional development to be a personal endeavor.
They do not require teacher educators to collaborate as teams, nor do they introduce changes based on the results of studies conducted by their own academic faculty.
These behaviors send contradictory messages concerning the colleges’ commitment to research.
It is widely agreed that teacher educators’ research does not receive proper attention, because it is viewed as too limited in scope and lacking rigor. (Cochran-Smith 2005; Lunenberg, Dengerink, and Korthagen 2014).
Zeichner (2007) claims that practitioner studies dealing with similar issues need to be linked to gain attention and influence.
The current paper suggests that, in addition to individual actions, colleges may be the ‘missing link’ at the mezzo level, between individual practitioners’ research and global recognition and impact.
By forming research teams and paying attention to their findings, colleges can transform their practices, thus amplifying the impact of studies conducted within their institutes and providing opportunities to test their recommendations.
Such policies may provide researchers with the institutional support and engagement they need.
Teacher education colleges in Israel are in a process of raising their academic standards (Hofman and Niederland 2012).
In recent years, colleges have recruited young teacher educators, who hold doctorates, but who have no previous teaching experience in schools.
The teaching load is still far greater compared to universities, yet promotion ranks are based mainly on academic publications.
Lacking a previous identity as school teachers, the young generation of teacher educators may prefer to conduct research at the expense of other important tasks, such as community involvement or excellence in teaching.
Since they lack true involvement in teaching, the contribution of future research conducted in colleges to teacher education may be limited.
Institutional leadership emerged as a distinct career path that leads to influential positions (Laudel and Glaser 2008).
Although institutional leadership positions are generally considered to be an achievement attesting to excellence, particularly in research, they are time consuming and require skills that many teacher educators are unwilling to acquire (Czerniawski, Guberman, and MacPhail 2017).
The authors therefore recommend devising differential promotion paths that will take into account teaching achievements, research and leadership roles in the academic institution, professional organisations and in the community.
Many studies have recommended allocating designated time for research and professional learning and participation in learning or research communities to improve teaching on both individual and departmental levels (Czerniawski, Guberman, and MacPhail 2017; Meeus, Cools, and Placklé 2018; Tack et al. 2018).
The authors wholeheartedly support these recommendations.
Furthermore, college authorities must take responsibility for their academic faculty learning and professional development, and help them plan their careers.

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Updated: Apr. 22, 2020