The Induction and Development of Teacher Educators: Responding to the InFo-TED Symposium at BERA

InF0-TED is an emerging European (and increasingly international) cooperation between teacher educators interested in the improvement of their field, particularly in relation to the induction of and continuing professional development for the large number of school teachers who, in so many countries, begin second careers in higher education settings to work on pre-service or initial teacher education programmes. You can find the InFO-TED website with information and resources if you click here.

The three papers to which I responded at the BERA conference were all based on an initial questionnaire survey across teacher educator populations in the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and England and then, specifically for these papers, follow-up interviews with smaller samples in Ireland, Scotland and England. These samples of teacher educators were essentially self-selecting but, given the alignment of the findings with previous research, I think the papers gave a reliable sense of how teacher educators generally can talk about their work and their situations as academics. Each paper presented rich data about these teacher educators’ feelings about their positioning in universities. There was some variation in their perspectives on this positioning – for example the overwhelming majority of the Irish sample (83%) had their doctorates whereas the majority of the Scottish and English samples didn’t – but mostly, these interviewees reported a lack of a sense of direction; felt more or less inadequate in relation to some unarticulated idealised norm; also sometimes expressed guilt that they were not research active with some, implicitly perhaps, regarding this as a personal failing rather than as a consequence of structural constraints. These perspectives were advanced to varying but fairly consistent degrees across the three papers with the overall implication – and one that drove the symposium – that better induction and professional development will improve the teacher educators’ lot. This seems to be the aim of InFo-TED as a movement and InFo-TED will be offering such induction and CPD opportunities across Europe in summer schools and through other means, funded in part by the EU’s Erasmus + programme.

Together, these papers – and the InFo-TED idea as a whole – raised some really interesting questions for me which I tried to articulate in my contribution to the discussion. Here they are:

First, teacher educators are a heterogeneous group of academic workers even within the same country – actually, even within the same institution, in my experience. So, I’m wondering whether the InFo-TED project as a project inevitably has to assume a homogeneous group whose professional development can be planned for across not only a single country but across Europe? Or not? Do the arguments of these papers lead, for example, to proposals for a set of professional standards for teacher educators, a move that has been apparent in some countries like the Netherlands? Is the implication that there is a single, transferable ‘skill-set’ for teacher educators that can be generalised and planned for transnationally? Does attention to teacher educator development necessarily require a degree of standardisation that people would feel very uncomfortable about in other parts of the university, and across professional schools particularly? I’m reminded of the introduction to AERA’s report Studying Teacher Education (that huge door-stop from 2005) in which the editors suggested this idea even while they noted that no other professional school (law, accountancy, etc) was going down this route. Their suggestion at the time – I think their opinions might have changed on this – is that developing common standards and expectations around the essential ‘knowledge-base’ for ‘effective’ teacher educators would address and perhaps fend off the challenges of unwanted politically-driven reforms. So standards for teacher educators become a protective or defensive measure in high-accountability regimes.

You can also argue for greater standardisation and for having common expectations for reasons of  equity and social justice and I have heard Professor Etta Hollins from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and a former AERA Division K Vice-President make just this argument at this year’s conference. Preparing teachers for racially and culturally diverse schools, so the argument goes, requires essential content and skills and – vitally – dispositions such as racial self-awareness that nice, privileged, white people (still the majority of the teaching profession) generally don’t have when they arrive in Ed school. “So my goodness, you student teachers are all going to have to meet this basic threshold level of competence before you might be regarded as ‘safe’ to teach in racially diverse, sometimes but not always ‘high-needs’, schools. And you, the teacher educators, are all required to be able to deliver that. Period”. This is a slightly different argument to the standardisation argument in the face of accountability pressures but, again, one worth considering for good reasons of justice – social and educational – that I see as related to InFo-TED’s broader aspirations.

Secondly, if InFo-TED’s interest is in teacher educators’ induction and CPD, what are these people being inducted into and to what ends are they being offered development activities? There are two aspects to this question. First, fundamentally, they are being inducted into a job, into work, work that is at least nominally academic work (only the Irish paper really gets at this key issue in reporting on a strike by teacher educators over their conditions of service when their college was being amalgamated with the National University of Ireland). Where in these papers overall is the sense of what these people are doing, will be doing, or should be doing in their job of preparing teachers? What does the work of educating beginning teachers involve but more importantly what should it involve? Because what it currently involves might not be very good; it might be silent or worse about issues of ‘race’, class, gender, sexuality, disability, religious faith and so on. Why would we want to build a professional development structure that had an inherent conservatism built into its architecture? What if, as many of us increasingly believe, teacher education is overwhelmingly implicated in the maintenance of White privilege, an activity in which teachers of colour have to leave their identities, languages and indigenous knowledges at the classroom door alongside those of the young people they are there to teach?

So the question of what should the work that teacher educators do becomes really important and it’s then not only the teacher educators in universities who should be consulted about what that is. Who else has the right to contribute to a vision for what kind of work teacher educators should do and to what ends and therefore the work that an organisation such as InFo-TED is supporting them into and helping them to become more advanced in skills and also more critical? One would hope that the teaching profession is involved, simultaneously helping to make some useful distinctions between the work of a school-based teacher educator and that of a university-based one. But I’d hope it went wider than that and that teacher educators were accountable, albeit indirectly, to communities in local contexts, taking the democratic responsibilities of what is still a programme of higher education more seriously.

But the second aspect of this question is related to the job as a university-based one: what should teacher education as academic work look like? And why, if indeed it is, is it important that teacher education remains at least in part university-based or university-partnered? What’s the ‘higher’ part of the education? Some of the usual arguments are that university-based teacher educators get teachers to reflect – which I’ve always found incredibly patronising. Another argument is that teachers come into contact with cutting edge researchers if they do a university-partnered programme. When Jane McNicholl and I studied the work of teacher educators in England and Scotland – published as Transforming Teacher Education: Reconfiguring the Academic Work (2015) – we found that the defining characteristic of their work was what we called ‘relationship maintenance’ – making complex, multi-levelled, high accountability and distributed partnerships with schools work relationally rather than producing research of any type, never mind ‘cutting edge’ work. In terms of research and how they are valued in the academy we described teacher educators as proletarianised – by which we meant that as a class of worker, they were denied the opportunity to accumulate academic capital (publications, grants, fellowships, promotions, prizes) etc. within the academic staffing system. This phenomenon has been observed in many countries including Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, where the New Zealand Research Council funded a national replication of Jane’s and my study led by Prof. Alex Gunn from Otago University.

Available from all good booksellers – makes an ideal Christmas present

So if we want to induct and develop teacher educators into a form of academic work and design a system in which they might thrive, we could perhaps follow the Norwegian example of a National Graduate School for Teacher Education (NAFOL, currently led by InFo-TED Council chair Prof. Kari Smith) through which over 150 university-based teacher educators in several cohort groups have been supported on a fully-funded basis to do their PhDs with expert supervision from successful Norwegian teacher education academics and regular summer and winter school workshops featuring international researchers. I think this is a fantastic initiative and one to which I have been fortunate to contribute. But research production by teacher educators is not the whole story about the job of preparing teachers in the university setting.

Which brings me to my final question: if we think the induction and professional development of teacher educators are important activities and that it’s also important to study this phenomenon, why? Who gains? I’m assuming the teacher educators do – but who else? And to what ends – who else’s benefit? Because as much as it is a worthwhile aim to improve the opportunities and job satisfaction of people who work in higher education, I think there needs to be stronger arguments about why policy makers, tax-payers, university and school leaders and others should make this investment – and arguments that go beyond the flourishing of the teacher educator as an individual academic. I don’t want teacher educators to be unhappy or feel unfulfilled. But who are the eventual beneficiaries of this increased attention to teacher educator professional development. I don’t think it can be just teacher educators alone if we describe them as professionals nor, indeed, if we want to win the argument. Professions have relations of both trust and responsibility to the wider society for a start.

In fact, the new private teacher education outfits in the US and the UK take this question of teacher educator development very seriously because they see the ultimate beneficiaries as the students in schools and, particularly, whatever we may make of the connection, their ‘social mobility’. In both the US and the UK they have prepared (or are preparing) certificate courses for intending teacher educators and they are recruiting these people now in relatively large numbers. I would disagree with the easy link these start-ups often promote between training people to train intending teachers in easy moves (on the Doug Lemov model) or even in using ‘high-leverage instructional practices’ (on the Deborah Ball model) and social justice. Ripping practices out of their sociocultural and historical contexts as tips or ‘things to do’ without them being embedded in what Schwab called, in another context, the ‘syntactic structure’ of the professional knowledge of teacher education short-circuits something that can’t be short-circuited if the activity is going to be sustainable at any level of quality over time. I also think, ultimately, these approaches are both anti- and de-professionalising in terms of both the work of the teacher educator and the job of being a teacher. But these private, self-styled ‘reforming’ teacher educator organisations have nonetheless argued the link between inducting and developing teacher educators and improving teaching and improving schools in a way that I think any organisation interested, like InFo-TED, in teacher educator induction and development needs to. And it probably has to do so on the basis of having a worked-out view of what the job of preparing teachers in a university should involve and also acknowledge that the job and its demands have probably changed enormously in the last twenty years – even if we don’t always acknowledge this fact.

So I am looking forward to what’s next for InFo-TED because, together, I think these papers identify amongst the teacher educators interviewed what is sometimes called, in social psychology, a ‘need-state’, a felt need that something has to change, that things need to be done differently, even if the direction of that transformation isn’t yet clear. A need-state is an indicator of emerging change conditions and endogenous innovation. So, recognising that teacher educators are a heterogeneous group, how will InFo-TED respond to this need-state among a highly distributed and diverse occupational group? Not just across Europe but within countries and within the different sectors of higher education; in the distance between Sligo and Galway, for example?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s