The Professional Agency of Teacher Educators amid Academic Discourses

Feb. 03, 2012

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 38, No. 1, February 2012, 83–102
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article examines how teacher educators exercise professional agency in negotiating their teacher and researcher identities.
This paper also examines how professional agency is manifested in their local work contexts at individual level, at work-community level and at organisational levels.

The study is based on a sociocultural approach, and it seeks to conceptualise the interplay between individual actors and the social context.

The study questions addressed to the following research questions:
(1) How do teacher educators exercise agency in terms of their teacher and researcher identity at individual, work-community and organisational levels?
(2) What kind of relationships exist between teacher and researcher identities in the manifestation of agency?

The study reported here was conducted in one teacher education department in a large multidisciplinary Finnish university. 

The main data for this research were collected through open-ended interviews with eight teacher educators in 2005.
The research data were supplemented by means of a research diary that first author kept while working in the department.


This study has presented some critical aspects concerning the interplay between social context and the opportunities and obstacles offered regarding teacher educators’ exercise of agency in their identity negotiation and work.
This study focused on understanding the social and culturally shared resources for exercising professional agency, rather than on examining agency in individual identity negotiations.

The main finding was that that teacher educators manifested a strong sense of agency when describing their work as teachers.
This implies that being an active agent requires negotiation of one’s own position in the work community, primarily as a teacher.

However, the construction of their researcher identity was subjugated, complex and characterised by a lack of resources.
The accounts reflected a lack of agency, with minor resources for identity construction or for working as a researcher.

Furthermore, teaching and researching were mainly described as two separate functions.
It seemed that organisation and subject groups offered support for educators’ identity negotiations as teachers, but that these contexts did not support the negotiation of researcher identity.

There is a discrepancy here: the university context requires teacher educators to work as academic researchers and to produce international research reports.

However, the university offers only limited resources for them to practise their agency as researchers, or to exercise agency in researcher-identity negotiations.
The lack of agency as a researcher may affect the wellbeing of teacher educators in a situation where they are expected to be active academic scholars producing high-quality research, and this despite a lack of adequate resources for research or possibilities for researcher-identity negotiations.

Hence, this paper highlights the importance of a balance between the social demands imposed on teacher educators and the resources they can utilise in negotiating or renegotiating their professional identities.
In the case of teacher educators as academic professionals, the study showed that teacher educators’ agency in researcher-identity negotiations is restricted and complex.
Practical conclusions
This study emphasises the need to find new ways to strengthen the connection between teaching and research activities in teacher educators’ work.
Consequently, it is important that research should be made attractive to individual teacher educators.
All this implies that new ways are required to support teacher educators’ researcher identities at different levels of their local practices.

At the individual level, teacher educators should have opportunities to develop their researcher competencies, for example by participating in methodological courses, with the updating of competencies that such courses can provide.

At the work-community level, there is a need to emphasise the importance of intensive, small-group research teams.
At the departmental level, it would be important to support structures for boundary-crossing between subject matter groups, with shared practices for common research efforts and activities.

Updated: Nov. 18, 2013