The professional development of higher education-based teacher educators: needs and realities

Published: 
2019

Source: Professional Development in Education, 45:5, 848-861

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The study reported in this paper explores the professional development needs and activities of a sample of teacher educators over seven national jurisdictions, attempting to gain insight in professional development activities aimed at addressing the needs of teacher educators.
Identifying such influencing factors is a first step towards the formation of effective opportunities for teacher educators’ professional development. It describes a variety of professional development activities in which teacher educators engage, such as participation in formal study programmes, informal consultations with colleagues and conducting research.

The context of the study
The study was conducted by members of InFo-TED (International Forum for Teacher Educator Development).
InFo-TED is a group of experienced teacher educators from seven national jurisdictions (England, Flanders, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Scotland, and The Netherlands).
The group was formed to promote international, as well as national, initiatives to support the professional development of teacher educators (Vanassche et al. 2015, Kelchtermans et al. 2018).
In this paper, the authors look into teacher educators’ professional development activities, aimed at addressing their professional needs.
That is, how they conceive of these needs, what opportunities they have, and what influences participation in professional development activities.

Methods

Participants 
A sample of 61 higher education teacher educators (15 from England; 10 from each of three countries – Ireland, Israel, Norway; 11 from Scotland; 5 from The Netherlands) were sourced after completing a European survey that set out to establish the professional learning experiences and needs of higher education-based teacher educators. 

Interviews
The interview questions closely mapped the sections of the previously completed survey and constituted questions on
(i) background and demographics,
(ii) professional learning opportunities, and
(iii) teacher education and research. Interviews were conducted in each participant’s native language in a setting of their choosing.

Results
Results from the higher education-based teacher educators’ interviews convey themes around the areas of
(i) self-initiated professional development,
(ii) the importance of experiencing professional development through collaboration with peers and colleagues,
(iii) accessing opportunities to improve teacher education teaching practices, and
(iv) the inextricable link between teaching and research and, consequently, the need to upskill in research skills.

Conclusion
Three main ‘headlines’ emerge from this study.
First, there appears to be an undercurrent (perpetuated by institutes and in turn individual teacher educators) that all teacher educators excel in multiple roles and responsibilities related to teaching, research, administration and leadership.
Such an undercurrent indicates an underestimation of the complexity of being a teacher educator.
This assumption results in an individualistic focus on the teacher educator at the expense of considering the advantages of bringing together unique and complementary skillsets of teacher educators to work as a team of teacher educators and share the expected deliverables of a teacher educator in an academic setting.
A prerequisite for sharing competencies is respect and acknowledgement of diverse competences.

Second, there is a strong desire from teacher educators to avail of the opportunity to learn from each other, appreciating that the pressure of finding time to meet and discuss with colleagues is a continual barrier to such aspirations.
Consideration could be given to proactively recruiting teacher educators new to the profession who complement the current skill-sets of those currently in post.
This would allow colleagues to acknowledge the different skill-sets each possess as well as learn from each other.
The application of this recommendation requires that teacher education institutes set specific time slots for interaction and learning among colleagues.
Such time slots will enable teacher educators to overcome time pressures and coordination difficulties and express the institute’s support and appreciation for teacher educators’ professional development.

Third, disconnect from school practice experienced by teacher educators appears, in their own minds, to diminish the currency of the teacher educator in espousing the reality of teaching in schools.
Ways in which this can be addressed can be considered through shared teacher education contractual agreements and cooperation between schools and higher institutes.
It is therefore recommended by the authors that teacher educators receive mandatory formal preparation before they start working as teacher educators, and later participate in professional learning and research communities, either within or outside their institute.
Such opportunities need to be cognizant of the different backgrounds from which teacher educators are being recruited as well as the self-contradictory expectations of teacher educators that are reported (Ulvik and Smith 2016).
It is further suggested that teacher education institutes review teacher educators’ roles, and provide a structured and balanced work schedule, that allows time for professional development. As Loughran (2014) justly claims, too many of those who hold leadership roles in teacher education institutes have quit teaching for research and therefore cannot be perceived as role models.

In the future, it will be interesting to follow teacher educators’ professional development trajectories and compare the professional development needs and activities of higher education-based teacher educators with those who are based at schools.

References
Kelchtermans, G., Smith, K., and Vanderlinde, R., 2018. Towards an ‘international forum for teacher educator development’: an agenda for research and action. European journal of teacher education, 41(1),pp.120-134. doi:10.1080/02619768.2017.1372743
Loughran, J., 2014. Professionally developing as a teacher educator. Journal of Teacher Education, 65 (4), 271–283. doi:10.1177/0022487114533386
Ulvik, M. and Smith, K., 2016. Å undervise om å undervise: lærerutdanneres kompetanse sett fra deres eget og fra lærerstudenters perspektiv. [Teaching about teaching. Teacher educators’ competence from their own and their student teachers’ perspective)]. UNIPED, 39, 1
Vanassche, E., et al., 2015. InFo-TED: bringing policy, research and practice together around teacher educator development. In: C. Craig and L. Orland-Barak, eds. International teacher education: promising pedagogies (Part C). Brinkley, UK: Emerald Books, 341–364  

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020
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