Rethinking teacher education in a VUCA world: student teachers’ social-emotional competencies during the Covid-19 crisis

From Section:
Preservice Teachers
Jan. 06, 2020

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:4, 573-586

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The aim of this study was to examine the extent to which student teachers (STs) were able to cope with the dramatic changes brought by the COVID-19 outbreak as seen from the perspectives of both students and teacher educators (TEs).
Specifically, their research question was:
How well are STs’ equipped with skills for coping with the dramatically changing learning processes during the COVID-19 outbreak as seen from the perspective of both students and TEs?


The study took place at a large college in central Israel, in which the authors serve as faculty members.
The college’s faculty of education prepares undergraduate and graduate students to teach all school subjects to all ages, from birth through 12th grade, in all sectors of the society.
54 students and 33 college-based TEs voluntarily participated in this study.
The participating students were postgraduate students.
TEs were experienced with mean seniority of 18.5 years.

Data collection
The authors applied three data collection methods at the end of April, 2020 (4–5 weeks after the Coronavirus outbreak in Israel):
(1) An open-ended questionnaire asked students to reflect on their experience of learning in courses they took after every instruction that went on-line (e.g. describe feelings, challenges and requests).
The questionnaire was formatted on a Google-form and sent to 200 students of elementary and secondary teacher education departments; 54 completed it.
(2) An open-ended questionnaire asked TEs to:

(a) reflect on how the COVID-19 outbreak affected their teaching, and how they responded to the changing conditions;
(b) explain how the COVID-19 outbreak affected their STs’ learning.
The questionnaire was sent as a Google-form to 60 TEs of elementary and secondary teacher education departments; 24 completed it.

(3) A semi-structured interview was conducted with 16 TEs (7 also completed the questionnaire and were not counted twice).
The interviews lasted one and a half hours on average.
Each TE described their teaching and their student learning during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Interviews were conducted as phone video calls and were later transcribed.

Data analysis
The authors applied a qualitative approach to the analysis of the data.
To explore students’ experience and TEs’ perspectives, they applied grounded theory methodology as an inductive approach.

Findings and discussion
While TEs reports were not sifted to the four components of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), together with the students’ reports that were thus sifted, the overall situation as reflecting a VUCA world are clearly conveyed.
Based on both students’ and TEs reports the authors found that many students had significant difficulties in managing the situation.
It is possible that at least some of them lack the necessary skills that they are expected to have and possibly even teach to their students.
These findings should clearly be viewed in light of the fact that Covid-19 has been posing objective difficulties, which for many exceed normal day-to-day challenges by far.
As seen in their findings their students are aware of both the unusual circumstances and of their deficiency and literally call the TEs for help.
When considering well-established models of stress these findings are not surprising.
Such models indicate that when a subject’s perception of external demands exceed his or her internal coping resources the result is stress and a sense of lacking control (Lazarus and Folkman 1984).
The COVID-19 outbreak, which is still ongoing at this point, has been described as a disaster by some world-leaders (e.g. UKs’ Borris Johnson) hence it is unlikely that one would be prepared for such events, or easily cope with them. In light of this TEs response to these calls and their shifting their curriculum to support the social-emotional needs of the students seem to them to be a very natural and expected and in fact desirable scenario.
The authors, in fact, would not expect anything else from them.
On the other hand, in light of their research aim of informing their teacher preparation curriculum, they believe that this situation gives them some food for thought.
There is a need to remember that although COVID-19 is a very dramatic event, it is nevertheless here, and it does not leave us with a choice of whether we need to handle it or not. We know not whether epidemics, such as COVID-19, are our ‘new normal’.
It is this world, along with its VUCA characteristics and Black swans, for which teachers are to be prepared.
Hence, the uniqueness of these current conditions cannot serve as an excuse for not addressing social-emotional competencies.
Teachers are the engine that drives social and emotional learning practices in classrooms; their own social-emotional competencies and well being does not only protect them from burnout and allows them to teach better (Gustems-Carnicer, Calderón, and Calderón-Garrido 2019), it also strongly affects their students (Jennings and Greenberg 2009; Hulburt, Colaianne, and Roeser 2020).
In light of this, the authors’ findings are troubling; they require the prioritisation of social-emotional competencies in the teacher education curriculum.
However, this does not merely apply to teachers’ theoretical knowledge about social-emotional competencies.
If we want to optimise teachers’ ability to model and promote social-emotional competencies in their own classrooms, we need to help them build their own.
This implies incorporating practices, such as mindfulness that have been shown to cultivate these skills (Ergas and Hadar 2019; Hulburt, Colaianne, and Roeser 2020; Jennings et al. 2017; MGIEP 2020).
As the authors’ findings indicate, their TEs were very attentive to the social-emotional needs of their students.
However, the students’ accounts lead them to assume that they might not be able to emulate the TEs’ modelling as they enter the teaching profession.
They speculate that some of them may ‘rise up the occasion’ as they take on the responsibility of teaching but speculation is not a good policy for teacher education; as teacher educators, they feel responsible for guaranteeing that this happens.
One possible direction has been emerging from professional development programs for teachers that focus on mindfulness practice in the teaching of social-emotional competencies, given that they are often directly framed within the context of coping and resilience (Ergas and Hadar 2019; Jennings et al. 2017; Hulburt, Colaianne, and Roeser 2020).
The findings show that there is an urgent need for, as well as a specific request from the students that these aspects be integrated within their teacher training curriculum. Therefore, notwithstanding the merit of programs that have shown to reduce teachers’ stress and enhance their sense of self-efficacy, a serious consideration of this domain suggests the need for addressing social-emotional competencies at the pre-service level and possibly with a curriculum that develops throughout their years of training and across their curriculum.
This approach acknowledges the importance of this domain to be included throughout the preparation -induction -professional development continuum.
Teacher education curriculum should enable and develop students, social-emotional competencies.
Using a variety of methods, such as mindfulness, stress management techniques, case studies, teamwork around problems that happened in education during the Coronavirus pandemic, digital support platforms and familiarity with research on crisis management – are just some examples that teacher education can borrow from other fields.
TEs, in particular, are key figures in teacher education to help scaffold the skills, dispositions and know-how of prospective teachers to be better prepared for other Black swans they might meet in their teaching career.

Ergas, O., and L. L. Hadar. 2019. “Mindfulness in and as Education: A Map of A Developing Academic Discourse from 2002 to 2017.” Review of Education 7 (3): 757–797.
Gustems-Carnicer, J., C. Calderón, and D. Calderón-Garrido. 2019. “Stress, Coping Strategies and Academic Achievement in Teacher Education Students.” European Journal of Teacher Education 42 (3): 375–390.
Jennings, P. A., J. L. Brown, J. L. Frank, S. Doyle, Y. Oh, R. Davis, D. Rasheed, et al. 2017. “Impacts of the CARE for Teachers Program on Teachers’ Social and Emotional Competence and Classroom Interactions.” Journal of Educational Psychology 109 (7): 1010–1028.
Jennings, P. A., and M. T. Greenberg. 2009. “The Prosocial Classroom: Teacher Social and Emotional Competence in Relation to Student and Classroom Outcomes.” Review of Educational Research 79: 491–525.
Hulburt, K., B. Colaianne, and R. Roeser. 2020. “The Calm, Clear and Kind Educator.” In Exploring Self toward Expanding Teaching, Teacher Education and Practitioner Research, edited by O. Ergas and J. Ritter, 17–36. Bingley: Emerald.
Lazarus, R. S., and S. Folkman. 1984. Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. New York: Springer.
MGIEP. 2020. “Rethinking Learning - a Review of Social and Emotional Learning for Educational Systems.” Accessed July 1 2020. 

Updated: Apr. 26, 2021
Competencies | COVID - 19 (Coronavirus) | Curriculum | Emotions | Student teachers | Teacher education