International mobility and cultural perceptions among senior teacher educators in Israel: ‘I have learned to suspend judgment’

September, 2019

Source: Journal of Education for Teaching, 45:4, 461-475

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study deals with teacher educators who have experienced temporary international career mobility and who thereafter returned to the parent institution in Israel.
It focuses on the motives underpinning the transition, and the changes in perceptions which accompanied the process.
The author notes that the changes in Israel teachers’ colleges confront them with new challenges, the first of which is adapting the learning environment, curricula and teaching methods to students’ (immediate and future) needs.
The second challenge, created through the accessibility of advanced degrees, is finding a balance between the need for the college to meet the criteria for academic recognition whilst at the same time adhering to the ideological values it wants to instill in its particular population of graduates (Davidovitch and Iram 2014).
The author also notes that these challenges undoubtedly cast a shadow over the professional identity of teacher educators in Israel, and distinguish them from their counterparts around the world.
This study attempts to examine the skills of internationalisation and cultural concepts, which create binding conditions for success in a variety of aspects described above and raises a question about the contribution of international mobility in this group.
This is based on the assumption that those who have experienced the practice of teaching, research or management in an institution with a different culture than theirs will develop internationalisation and resilience that will enable it to meet the challenges of the changing reality in the parent institution.

The study included five internationally-oriented senior teacher educators (one female and four male) from five teacher training colleges throughout Israel.
This constitutes a representative sample of this rare group.
Their ages range between 47 to 65 years.
All of them hold leading positions in their parent institutions and have in the past held various positions in academic management.
Their career experience in teacher education ranges from 16 to 30 years, including a period at an international institution ranging from one to five years.
A meeting with the interviewees took place in their offices in a comfortable and quiet atmosphere.
In this qualitative study, the author employed a narrative approach which was based on the teacher educators’ life stories and their accounts of their experiences of international career mobility at mid-career stage.
During the semi-structured interviews, the interviewees were asked about the motives for international career mobility, their initial experiences during their integration into the host institution abroad, the process of integration and acclimatization, and especially changes in their perceptions when they returned to Israel.
During the data analysis stage, the author applied an approach to thematic analysis (Percy, Kostere, and Kostere 2015) according to which she drew from the narrative data the prominent themes with respect to the current research question about international career mobility experiences.
This approach assisted the author in mapping the main issues that led the interviewees to decide to move their careers abroad and the core areas in which their perceptions changed.

The findings are divided by the author into two parts: the first refers to the motivation factors underpinning career mobility and the motives for developing one’s career abroad; the second part deals with the teacher educators’ changing perceptions which resulted during this stage of their careers.
This second part divides into two sub-themes:
(a) pluralistic perceptions in a multicultural environment of higher education;
(b) culture of learning among the younger generation.

Motives for developing a career abroad
In the interviewees’ testimonies, references were made to the factors that make careers overseas attractive, such as opportunities for professional development, experiencing new managerial and academic challenges, breaking old boundaries and adopting a multicultural working style.
The author notes that looking at the life stories that preceded the decision to move a career to an overseas institution, one can identify a pattern of coping with professional stagnation and opening up new avenues of momentum.
The interviewees took on new challenges after considering their alternatives, and decided to take advantage of the opportunities abroad.
In the course of the interviews, issues related to the challenges of management were raised, mainly in the development of leadership skills in professional and managerial contexts, while integrating into different cultures.

Career mobility and changing perceptions

Pluralistic perceptions in a multicultural higher education environment

The author notes that the participants shared the changes in consciousness they underwent as a result of exposure to the multicultural environment at the host institution abroad, while trying to adapt to the culture there.
According to their accounts, three factors shaped their pluralistic approach when returning to Israel:
(a) openness on the part of the faculty members of the host institution abroad towards their cultural identity;
(b) developing sensitivity to intercultural needs with the understanding that commonality prevails over difference and the factors that separate people from different cultures; and
(c) the need for fresh preparation for the changes that had occurred in the socio-cultural fabric of the Israeli colleges in which they work today.
The interviewees also shared insights into the changes in perception that developed as a result of their experiences at the host institutions.
Some of the professors said that they have adopted a more tolerant and pluralistic approach than they had before, with an emphasis on sensitivity to the needs of different cultural groups.
The teacher educators referred to the fact that the entry of people from different cultures into the Israeli institutions where they work signifies a trend of integration that creates new opportunities for them to participate in the process of cross-cultural understanding.
According to them, their past experiences abroad taught them to adopt greater sensitivity to multicultural needs and appropriate work patterns.
The period spent overseas served as a preparation for the expected change in the social-cultural fabric that had been created in Israeli colleges upon their return.
On this issue, the trend is towards the positive influence of an overseas institution on the sense of belonging to a multicultural society.
Professional experience in this regard exposed the interviewees to the kind of expression necessary for a tolerant society that also resonated when they returned to the parent institution.

Culture of learning among the younger generation
The author reports that the culture of learning, the effort exerted by the students to integrate into higher education and the perception of achievement, were issues that concerned the interviewees, and these were raised in the testimonies as some of the central components that changed their perceptions.
In some of the testimonies these were perceived as distinctions between cultures; whereas among others, the generational differences in the culture of learning and the concept of achievement were perceived as a cross-cultural phenomenon among the younger generation.
In both cases, according to the interviewees, these led to rethinking and sometimes changing their pedagogical perceptions after coping with the challenges of interaction with their students, both in the parent and in the host institutions.
The interviews raised three topics: the differences in the culture of learning between higher education institutions, the common denominators, and the related challenges in the development of appropriate pedagogy.
The author claims that in these testimonies we can see a uniform line indicating that some of the significant insights that were reached during the teaching and education of students in an overseas institution were based on a perception of achievement versus the nature and joy of doing the work, and the ability to generate empowerment in the process.

Davidovitch, N., and Y. Iram. 2014. “Regulation, Globalization, and Privatization of Higher Education: The Struggle to Establish a University in Israel.” Journal of International Education Research 10 (3): 201
Percy, W. H., K. Kostere, and S. Kostere. 2015. “Generic Qualitative Research in Psychology.” The Qualitative Report 20 (2): 76–85. 

Updated: Jan. 13, 2020