Considering Implications for Self and Institutions in Navigating Transitions in Teacher Education Administration

August 2021

Source: Studying Teacher Education, 17:2, 143-161

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This self-study documents the authors’ transition back to full time faculty roles in teacher education after having served as mid-level administrators.
Drawing from their three unique contexts, they reflect collaboratively on the changes they see in themselves, their practices, and their values.
They explore the similarities and differences in their experiences in order to better understand the implications for themselves–both as teacher educators and as leaders;
and for teacher education more generally.
Drawing on their experiences, they raise questions regarding what is needed to ensure those serving in administrative positions are supported in meaningful ways.
This study highlights where they are now, how they arrived at this crossroad, and what they learned from their experiences.

Self-study allows teacher educators to examine beliefs, practices, and interconnections between the two (e.g. Berry, 2008; Samaras, 2011).
As self-study teacher researchers, the authors have always committed to aligning their research and teaching, making the two mutually informative and embracing study of their own practice with the goal to ‘improve teaching and teacher education and the institutional contexts in which they take place’ (LaBoskey, 2004, p. 844).
Challenges within their institutions and their roles can evoke powerful emotions that make it difficult to fully understand the interconnections between their beliefs and practices.
Because they each struggled with their experiences, they sought to unpack their emotions in order to more fully understand what they signified in regards to their beliefs about teacher education and themselves. None of them intended to go into leadership.
None of them wanted to be administrators.
Because they each found themselves in administrative positions at the same time and left these positions at similar times, through this study they sought to make sense of the experiences and emotions in order to better understand themselves as teacher educators and leaders, and to critique leadership in teacher education more generally.
Self-study allowed them consider their emotions, practices, and enactments of beliefs and values in teaching and leadership without the methodological constraints of other types of educational research (Roose, 2010; Zeichner, 2007).
Data sources for this inquiry included journals and email communication, an online collaborative space, and regular online meetings via Zoom.
The authors prioritized journaling, envisioning it as asynchronous dialogue, since they are in three different regions of the U.S.
Framing their journaling around critical incidents (Brandenburg & McDonough, 2017), they wrote individual reflections when something occurred that caused them to think, feel, and reflect on their own experiences as leaders.
Often this happened when they were faced with a problem or dilemma in their work that needed leadership enactments (Allison & Ramirez, 2016), but were either met with a managerial approach or were ignored. In their writings, they focused on describing the event(s), who was present, what happened, and how they felt.
They posted their journals to the online shared platform and worked to ‘maintain a heightened sensitivity to both the identification of and the personal response to situations as they arise’ (Brandenburg & McDonough, 2017, p. 227).
Across the span of the study they read one another’s online journals as they were posted. As they read one another’s online journals, they processed collaboratively as friends, colleagues, and research partners (Volckmann, 2012, 2014).
Data analysis was iterative, ongoing, and collaborative (Crowe et al., 2018; LaBoskey, 2004).
They discussed the most recent journals in their weekly Zoom meetings, asking clarifying questions and working to reframe their experiences and probe both similarities and differences.
They discussed the meaning they ascribed to particular experiences and worked as co-critical friends to challenge one another to interrogate both their experiences and their emotional responses to them from multiple perspectives.

Through this collaborative work the authors hoped to better understand the impact leaving administration had on them both personally and professionally.
Their analysis has revealed four major themes:
1) contradictory emotional responses to separating from administrative roles/responsibilities in different ways,
2) the mediating influence of their distinct institutional contexts,
3) challenges in seeking to regain personal and professional balance, and
4) the untenability of the positions themselves.
While the final theme does not speak as directly to what they learned about themelves as the first three themes, it is important for understanding the contextual factors that make leadership in teacher education particularly challenging and for understanding the larger systemic forces that impacted our personal and professional selves.

Through their work together, they discovered similarities in their challenging experiences with middle level administration in teacher education, challenges that echoed those noted by Gore (2015), Kitchen (2016), and Roose (2010) in their respective administrative positions.
In their case the costs were high–personally and professionally; while the benefits were few.
Their assessment of their former roles as untenable aligned with the self-assessments of Gore as she stepped away from serving as dean, of Kitchen as he relinquished his position as a director, and of Roose as she reflected on her lengthy tenure in a variety of administrative positions:
‘I lived in a reactive mode, doing the work and reflecting on it in the moment.
Are there too many demands of teacher education at this point for any administrator to be able to do the work well?’ (Roose, 2010, p. 277).
The burdens associated with serving as middle-level administrators are unsustainable for teacher education and for teacher educators, as evidenced in particular by Laura’s institution where there is still no program coordinator for secondary education nearly two years after her resignation.
How can we create systems and structures that support thoughtful, research-based leadership that has the potential to grow and transform teacher education, rather than merely perpetuate the status quo? We simply cannot continue to expect faculty to take on these roles as they currently exist.
Given the decrease in full time tenure-line faculty and an increasing reliance on part-time instructors, the pool of faculty available for leadership positions grows smaller and smaller.
What happens to faculty governance when there are fewer and fewer faculty available to govern?
The authors’ findings point to the importance of support for those leaving leadership roles.
Just as there needs to be intentional support and mentoring for people new to leadership roles attention and thought should be given to transitions and exits (Gore, 2015; Kitchen, 2016; Mills, 2015). This support and attention can help provide the type of continuity that Valerie’s institution experienced through the changing of department chairs.
It also ensures that faculty do not feel marginalized and further alienated in their own programs and departments in the way that Laurie and Laura did.
The authors’ found support in one another through the transitions, but they are also at different institutions spread across the U.S.
Attention to transitions could also enable programs and departments to ensure work is progressive and that initiatives and procedures started under one leader are built upon, rather than each new administrator needing to reinvent the wheel.
These realizations came to light in their online conversations and journals.
They began to see the lack of meaningful, intentional transitions and the pattern across institutions was that conversations only happened in times of crisis.
These processes and procedures are not only ineffective, but likely create unsustainable leadership over time.
Having served in the roles they did, they were acutely aware of the tasks that needed to be accomplished which suffered from the starts and stops of inadequate transitional thought, often affecting them as well as their students.
The authors conclude that what is needed in teacher education leadership is a sense of shared responsibility and sacrifice.
Everyone working within teacher education should be expected to hold a leadership role at some point, for a specified amount of time. Too often there are some faculty who do not step up to take on these roles and are not asked to take them on either.
No one should be allowed to sidestep the work and the sacrifice required in teacher education.
The work is too great, the faculty too few, and the stakes too high.

Allison, V. A., & Ramirez, L. A. (2016). Co-mentoring: The iterative process of learning about self and “becoming” leaders. Studying Teacher Education, 12(1), 3–19.
Berry, A. (2008). Tensions in teaching about teaching. Springer
Brandenburg, R., & McDonough, S. (2017). Using critical incidents to reflect on teacher educator practice. In R. Brandenburg, K. Glasswell, M. Jones, & J. Ryan (Eds.), Reflective theory and practice in teacher education (pp. 223–236). Springer.
Crowe, A. R., Collins, C., & Harper, B. (2018). Struggling to let our selves live and thrive: Three women’s collaborative self-study on leadership. In D. Garbett & A. Ovens (Eds.), Pushing boundaries and crossing borders: Self-study as a means for researching pedagogy (pp. 311–318). University of Auckland.
Gore, J. (2015). The impossible dream: Doing deanship with pessimistic optimism. In R. T. Clift, J. Loughran, G. E. Mills, & C. J. Craig (Eds.), Inside the role of the dean: International perspectives on leading in higher education (pp. 160–175). Routledge.
Kitchen, J. (2016). Enacting a relational approach as a university administrator: A self-study. Teacher Learning and Professional Development, 1(2), 73–83.
LaBoskey, V. K. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practices (pp. 817–869). Kluwer Academic
Mills, G. E. (2015). Outside the circle of knowing: Life beyond the dean’s office. In R. T. Clift, J. Loughran, G. E. Mills, & C. J. Craig (Eds.), Inside the role of the dean: International perspectives on leading in higher education (pp. 149–159). Routledge.
Roose, D. (2010). A few steps forward in the process of looking back: Setting parameters for a self-study of administrative and program development work over 18 years. Studying Teacher Education, 6(3), 269–279.
Samaras, A. P. (2011). Self-study teacher research: Improving your practice through collaborative inquiry. Sage.
Zeichner, K. (2007). Accumulating knowledge across self-studies in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 58(1), 36–46.  

Updated: Dec. 28, 2021