‘Do you mean besides researching and studying?’ Finnish teacher educators’ views on their professional development


Source: Professional Development in Education, 46:1, 35-48

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present qualitative case study is particularly interested in finding out what Finnish teacher educators think about their professional development.
Fifteen teacher educators were interviewed for this research, in which the main research question was:
What elements are involved in a teacher educator’s professional development in Finland?

Research methods, data, and analysis
This is a qualitative case study of a Faculty of Education in a Finnish research-intensive university.
The participants in this study were 15 teacher educators who volunteered to be interviewed about their professional development.
The data comprise 15 semi-structured interviews, which were digitally recorded and transcribed.
For this article the authors analysed questions related to the participants’ professional development activities, five questions in all.
All the interview materials were combined, being analysed as a combined matrix of interviews rather than from an individual’s point of view.

The results
Research activity
In the main category research activity, the authors were able to distinguish two generic categories - the professional aspect to research activity and the personal aspect to research activity. The professional aspect to research activity consists of categories that describe the producing and consuming of research, whereas the personal aspect to research activity consists of categories which express a more individual perspective on research, for instance suffering from pressure, not having enough time, and choosing to collaborate in projects.

Professional research aspect
In the professional aspect, the most frequently mentioned way to be research active was project work, which includes being a part of a research project that is either externally funded or another type of larger research project in which the teacher educator participates. Writing journal articles is a major part of Finnish teacher educators’ work, and it was also one of the most frequently mentioned activities.
Consuming research meant that the teacher educators read journal articles as part of their work, and they also followed what their colleagues did regarding research.
Some also mentioned following different media to keep up to date with recent advances in the sector, as well as participating in research conferences.

Personal research aspect
In the personal research aspect, the teacher educators most often mentioned working collaboratively with international colleagues or being a part of a collaborative research group.
Dissertations were mentioned both as continuing to do research with the same theme as in the dissertation work, as well as doing PhD at that moment as the main full-time task.
A few participants mentioned a lack of time for research as well as not having enough time to read research literature broadly enough, though one teacher educator did mention that here was enough time to do research.
A few interviewees experienced pressure regarding either applying for external funding, starting a new research project, or applying to become an associate professor.
Only five teacher educators mentioned having conducted some sort of self-study research.
It seemed that the concept and definition of self-study research was unclear to many.

Development as a teacher educator
The three generic categories that were formed for development as teacher educator are: formal professional development, informal professional development, and plans for professional development.

Formal professional development
Formal professional development consists of research as professional development, which many teacher educators mentioned.
Mostly the teacher educators mentioned conducting research, but also reading research literature, as well as participating in conferences, and supervising theses.
Formal professional development included professional development courses, which about half had participated in and half had not, at least in recent years.
One teacher educator had organized a staff development course for the faculty, where an outside expert came to teach the course, and the teacher educator was also able to learn from the course himself.
However, most of the professional development courses mentioned were technically oriented, such as learning new ICT tools.
The teacher educators also mentioned that they develop their teaching, by, for example, systematically collecting feedback from students and reflecting on that.
Various other ways of developing teaching were also mentioned, for instance, listening to international web lectures, borrowing ideas from other courses, and developing an experimental practicum.

Informal professional development
Informal professional development included a theme such as personal learning.
Many teacher educators had participated in voluntary, free-time education.
For instance, they mentioned taking drama education courses, and arts, theatre, interaction courses, as well as studying some ICT programs in their own time and on their own.
Crossing borders means that these teacher educators considered their own personal professional development took place through, for example, working abroad, or outside of the university, as well as collaborating with people from other faculties.

Plans for professional development
The teacher educators had professional development plans for the future.
Most of the plans were teaching related, meaning that they aimed to continue developing their courses, and wanted to integrate ICT and blended learning, as well as renew the doctoral students’ programme, and keep up to date with school-life as well as their own field of specialty.
The professional development plans for the future also included further research. Some mentioned writing books, and some enhancing their own research methodology knowledge.
The plans also included more personal aspects to professional development. This means, for example, that the teacher educators mentioned wanting to engage more in internationalization in the future, as well as the intention of applying for an associate professorship in the near future.
One teacher educator mentioned the need to learn Swedish better, another to grasp the social and political framework of teacher education better, and one mentioned the wish to have a mentor at work. One teacher educator also stated that she wished she just could cope under all the pressure and workload and thus not experience burnout soon.

Conclusions and discussion
The authors note that the results of this study show that the Finnish teacher educators studied identify very strongly with research.
They were all active in producing research, publishing journal articles, book chapters, or books.
They had applied for external funding and belonged to research groups.
They were all experts in a certain field, though that field was not necessarily what their teaching was mostly about.
They aimed for high-quality publishing and had already proved to be highly qualified researchers.
They considered research to be professional development.
The Finnish teacher educators had hardly any experience of conducting self-study research, and many did not even have a clear idea what self-study is. In this way the Finnish teacher educators clearly differed from many colleagues abroad.
Based on this study the focus of their research was on their own field specialization, not on their daily work as lecturers.
However, besides positive feelings, these teacher educators also expressed pressure about a lack of time to do research, about advancing in their career or being able to concentrate on applying for research funding.
These pressures were created by the current financial model at the university, in which rewards are based on publications, external funding, and speedy graduation of students, i.e. management by results.
Lunenberg et al. (2013) identify six professional roles of teacher educators: teacher or teachers, researcher, coach, curriculum developer, gatekeeper, and intermediary (Meeus et al. 2018, p. 16–17).
Loughran (2014) and Tack et al. (2018) claim that the role of the researcher is lacking from most teacher educators’ practices, but this cannot be said to be the case in Finland, or with the participants in this study.
Judging from the professional roles listed by Lunenberg et al. (2013), this study showed that the role of researcher came up strongest.
Research appears to be an integral and self-evident part of Finnish teacher educators’ work and professionalism.
In addition, when developing teaching is discussed, the idea of being ‘a teacher or teachers’ is strongly present.
The authors note that in Finnish teacher education teachers teach what they research, or they are otherwise experts in a certain field (though that field was not necessarily what their teaching was mostly about).
The Finnish teacher educators’ research activities derive not only from the demands of the employers or the Ministry of Education, but also from the idea of being able to educate future teachers in the best possible way.
In Finland, education is strongly connected to the idea of the welfare state.
The teaching profession is highly respected and education is still understood as a key to successful life. As Toom and Husu (2016, p. 48) put it, trust and hope are the two central interdependent facts of this Finnish educational mindset:
teachers can work independently and locally in a collaborative way, enabling them to deliberate about and make decisions on issues that affect them and their students, as schools are given almost full autonomy in developing their daily delivery of education services.
Also, the hope that education can promise brighter individual and societal futures and increase the level of social capital among citizens, is a remarkable value factor for Finnish teacher educators, motivating them to act as active research agents in the global field.

Loughran, J. 2014. “Professionally developing as a teacher educator.” Journal of teacher education 65 (4): 271–283. DOI: doi:10.1177/0022487114533386
Lunenberg, M., Dengerink, J., and Korthagen, F., 2013. Het beroep van lerarenopleider, professionele rollen, professioneel handelen en professionele ontwikkeling van lerarenopleiders [The teacher educator’s profession: professional roles, professional action and professional development for teacher educators]. Amsterdam: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Meeus, W., Cools, W., and Placklé, I., 2018. Teacher educators developing professional roles: frictions between current and optimal practices. European journal of teacher education, 41 (1), 15–31. doi:10.1080/ 02619768.2017.1393515
Tack, H., et al., 2018. Uncovering a hidden professional agenda for teacher educators: a mixed method study on Flemish teacher educators and their professional development. European Journal of Teacher Education, 41 (1), 86–104. doi:10.1080/02619768.2017.1393514
Toom, A. and Husu, J., 2016. Finnish Teachers as ‘Makers of the Many’: balancing between broad pedagogical freedom and responsibility. In: H. Niemi, et al., eds. Miracle of education. 2nd Revised Ed. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 41–55 

Updated: Jul. 29, 2020


Facebook comments:

Add comment: