What’s the point of me (3) – HE fights back!

Zamyatin at the University of Leeds

In previous blog posts I’ve written about the way that HE ITE tutors are caught between practice and theory – and at home in neither, and about the central problems of initial teacher education that interact with the marginal status of ITE HE tutors. Having dug ourselves into a slough of difficulties I think it’s time we thought about the ways that HE brings distinctive and valuable approaches to these issues.

University should be in a position to examine the notions of ‘practice’ and ‘theory’ in ITE. However, this examination might not result in a convenient or stark differentiation between the work of HE and School – and this might be a good thing, considering the difficulty that trainees have in perceiving a coherent PGCE in a course split between university and school. Our position suspended between school and university, between practice and theory might also give us unique perspectives on both.

We need to explore the way that we “theory” is conceptualised. Rather than looking for ‘implementable’ research, derived from the foundation disciplines of Education (and perhaps their successor ‘cognitive science’), we need to recognise that nature of research in education has changed dramatically over the past 100 years(furlong).

Burn and Mutton argue that a ‘practiuum turn’, simply cutting down on the amount of time spent in University, and increasing that spent on ‘practice’, on its own will be ineffective. Learning by doing may ‘imply a rejection of research-based knowledge, rather than a concern to integrate this more effectively in professional knowledge’[1]. They suggest three ways in which theory is brought to bear on ITE programmes, or in which they might claim to be ‘research-informed’:

  • the use of insights from research evidence that seem most relevant to trainees so that these can be brought to bear on their decisions and actions as they begin to practice;
  • the use of research in to the nature of teachers’ professional knowledge to find ways to make that expertise explicit to learning trainees;
  • the use of research into beginning teachers’ learning to inform the construction of learning opportunities and assessment;

This is far beyond the notion of ‘what works’, the agenda that’s been haunting the corridors of policy and of MAT offices. It requires the recognition by teacher educators that context is king – and that whilst there are approaches which across contexts and over time will bring advantages, even these have to be implemented contextually – and crucially brought to bear on the trainees’ practice at the right time. Too soon and these ways of thinking are lost in the struggle of the first weeks of placement, too late and we risk either the resentment of ‘why didn’t you tell me that earlier’ (you can often see this on twitter when experienced teachers talk about their PGCEs), or by that point trainees have discovered work-arounds, or un-critically accepted the practice that they see in their placement schools.

At the same time our understanding of the idea of ‘craft knowledge’ or ‘practical wisdom’ of teachers has also developed. Rather than only considering routine ways of working should we focus on the ways that teachers make judgements about what they do and the range of influences on these judgements. For instance, the use by Burn and Mutton of the term ‘clinical practice’ highlights particular features of effective ‘clinical’ professional training:

  • Centrality of clients needs
  • Knowledge demands on the practitioner
  • Requirement for judgement
  • Conducted in a community of practice with shared standards.

Similarly Korthagen and Kessel seek to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and also want us to move beyond conceiving of placement as an opportunity to perfect technique or implement theory. In their view professionals use ‘Gestalts’, instantly created and deployed mental frameworks, to help them understand and make decisions about the contexts in which they are working. These Gestalts are created in the light of the professional’s knowledge and experience, and their reflection on that experience. We know that trainee’s practice is hard to alter, that their views and underlying attitudes are sustained in the face of contrary experience and evidence. This suggest that it is the role of the teacher-educator to create suitable learning experiences in order for trainees to create and examine their Gestalts[2].

Gestalts offers a powerful way of thinking about the learning experiences that we create jointly with our mentors in School, and the way that we should be using our time in University to work with these experiences developmentally. However, we need to be careful about relying on the notion of ‘Reflective Practice’ in order to achieve this. As Furlong and Maynard point out this ‘slogan’ of ITE needs to be deployed carefully and clearly[3]. Purposeful reflection requires knowledge and a store of experience that trainees simply lack – asking them to reflect often means asking them to fall back on their own resources and experiences, which may make it even harder for their learning to impact on their beliefs and actions [4].

The questions that Korthagen and Kessel provide for helping trainees reflect on their practice in their ALACT model (Action, Looking back, Awareness, Creating alternative methods of Action and Trial) suggest that the value is not in the student’s first reaction or reflection, but in the structured responses designed to open up alternative ways of looking at the situation. Unless we are clear that this is our aim, and without the store of experience that trainees lack, as Anna Pendry points out, we risk asking the trainee to make sense of an incoherent experience, without giving them ‘adequate means to achieve this. At best it seems they will learn to critique practice, but often only in deficit terms’[5]. Burn’s work on the role of mentors in school suggests that such reflection is difficult to do in school, that trainees find it hard to challenge the Gestalts of their mentor or the practices of their school, and that mentors often deflect both questions and challenges of the trainee’s views and practices[6]. Not everything can be done in school.

What comes out of these considerations are the crucial roles that HEI tutors have in providing the knowledge, evidence, tools, and space for reflection on the experiences that the trainees gain in school. By using research informed insights to help trainees reflect on the professional dilemmas they face in practice, and encouraging challenge, discussion and debate these ways of working can be both contextualised and understood in relation to wider issues of policy, ethics, and subject, as well as the often foregrounded question of whether they ‘work’ in relation to those concerns of behaviour, results, practical implementation and resourcing that rise to the surface in schools.

[1] Katharine Burn and Trevor Mutton, “A Review of ‘Research-Informed Clinical Practice’ in Initial Teacher Education,” Oxford Review of Education 41, no. 2 (2015): 217–233.

[2] Fred. A.J. Korthagen, “Linking Practice and Theory: The Pedagogy of Realistic Teacher Education” (Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, 2001), educ.queensu.ca/~ar/aera2001/Korthagen2001.pdf.

[3] J. Furlong and T. Maynard, Mentoring Student Teachers: The Growth of Professional Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1995).

[4] Anna Pendry, “Dilemmas for History Teacher Educators,” British Journal of Educational Studies 38, no. 1 (February 1, 1990): 47–62, https://doi.org/10.1080/00071005.1990.9973834 cited in Hayward 1996.

[5] Pendry.

[6] Katharine Burn, “Promoting Critical Conversations: The Distinctive Contribution of Higher Education as a Partner in the Professional Preparation of New Teachers,” Journal of Education for Teaching 32, no. 3 (August 1, 2006): 243–58, https://doi.org/10.1080/02607470600782252.

What’s the point of me (2) – what’s my position in HE?

I’m using this series of posts as a way of thinking through the development of my professional identity and position. In my last post I talked about moving from teaching to HE. In this post I’ll consider this a little more, but also move on to thinking about the kinds of knowledge that I bring to HE, and the liminal position I feel I have, sometimes.

These are complicated issues, and sometimes it is hard to work out where these vague feelings of discomfort or uncertainty come from, or even where to look to find out more about whether others feel the same. Fortunately, whilst I have been puzzling over these ideas and problems, Jason Todd (https://twitter.com/JJtodd1966) has hoved into view with some reading, thanks to a conversation between him, Alex Ford (https://twitter.com/apf102) and Helen Snelson (https://twitter.com/SnelsonH) in the dinner queue at the SHP conference.  I suspect if there’s a Phd in someone mapping out the informal sources of ‘leaps forward’ in the thinking of History teacher educators, then the SHP dinner queue will feature quite heavily in it.

In the dinner queue they talked, I gather, about what it means to be a HEI history teacher educator, rather than a school-based mentor, the need for a community of practice, and a way of inducting new tutors into this community (I wasn’t there, so may have got this wrong –  Jason, Helen, Alex?).  As a result of this conversation Jason sent round a few bits of reading to a few interested parties.  Earlier this week we joined forces with other fantastic HE history teacher educators (https://twitter.com/mrwbw, https://twitter.com/viccrooks https://twitter.com/rachelfoster08, and https://twitter.com/UoNSoEHistory)

One of the key pieces was Geoff Hayward’s chapter in the venerable but brilliant Mentoring for Science Teachers[1].  He identifies three central issues of Initial Teacher Education, which are echoed in multiple places in the literature as:

  • A lack of coherence and discontinuities between school and HE as sites for learning – and the different characteristics of the knowledge valued in each.
  • Schools are environments not well suited for trainee learning.
  • Student teachers bring their own agendas, which are very resistant to change[2].

Reflecting on this list now, it is remarkable how many of our conversations at Uni, about our trainees, our placements, our training and our knowledge, fit within these three big issues. However, I think there’s the risk that as a teacher who finds themselves at University, we’re not able to access the positions or strengths of a lecturer because we are not aware of the systematic thinking about such issues that people like Geoff Hayward have done before us.

What’s also interesting is the way that these issues interact with the liminal position that HE initial teacher educators also face in their own work. At university long term generalisable knowledge is preferred over the context bound short term effectiveness and action-oriented knowledge valued in schools[3].  In the last post I exposed my own worries about my ‘classroom’ knowledge fading and losing its value for trainees as the years out of school teaching slowly mount.

However, even when an ITE tutor in HE takes steps to carve out a research profile or orientation this can fail to secure their identity as ‘University’ tutor.  Administration in HE and policy makers in government place value on highly generalizable ‘big ticket’ research, often with experimental, quantitative approaches – the kinds of work that is ‘ref’able[4]. This means that the kinds of knowledge, even the kinds of research that practitioners undertake and value as they move into HE mean that they’re occupying liminal positions in Academia.

Finally, student teachers as learners bring with them a legacy of their apprenticeship as pupils, their understanding of their subject and what it means to teach it.  These ideas are really resistant to change in the circumstances of a normal school placement.  Hayward raises the danger that the trainees react by seeing the course as requiring that they meet the different criteria of the different personnel on different occasions”[5] – seeing each as a test to pass, rather than a coherent opportunity for development.

In a policy context which places value on practice and action above thinking this can easily lead to trainees focusing on ‘gathering evidence’ in school. In turn this means that the expertise of the University lecturer is under-valued, deprecated as ‘out of date’ or ‘too theoretical’ – especially where our courses are actually out of date, and are actually too focused on decontextualized theory in the way that lends itself to large, cost effective lectures!

In the next few posts I hope to work through some of the implications for our work of these problems, and to explore some possible solutions.

[1] Geoff Hayward, “Principles for School Focused Initial Teacher Education,” in Mentoring for Science Teachers, ed. T Allson and A Benson (Buckingham [England]; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1997).

[2] Hayward.

[3] Fred. A.J. Korthagen, “Linking Practice and Theory: The Pedagogy of Realistic Teacher Education” (Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, 2001), educ.queensu.ca/~ar/aera2001/Korthagen2001.pdf.

[4] John Furlong, Education: An Anatomy of the Discipline (Routledge, 2013).

[5] Hayward, “Principles for School Focused Initial Teacher Education.”

What’s the point of me, a HE lecturer in Inital Teacher Training?

Moving from school to university as an ITE tutor is an important personal and professional change. Apart from the weirdness of no-one giving a monkeys about you telling them about what time you go home, or what you’re doing from minute to minute, or the liberation of being able to get a cup of tea or go to the toilet whenever you want, there’s a question of identity. What am I, if I’m not interacting with hundreds of different individuals each week? What do my students value? What should they value?

At first I found that it was enough to play off my cache as hard-bitten (moth-eaten?) classroom hack. Trainees are very keen to hear war-stories and ‘the best way to do x or achieve y’. Overtime I realise that as my INSET uniform of levis, satirical t-shirt and lumberjack shirt fade, my continued authority might require me to develop new forms of expertise and knowledge. Formulating and emphasising a distinctive nature for my role in ITE as a university lecturer, and pointing out the value of this role are key ways in which I can develop and continue to improve my contribution.

However this expertise and knowledge is different from that which we bring with us from our time as teachers in school and needs to be nurtured and developed in different ways from the expertise of teachers. It should also be used in different and particular ways in school and university partnerships, in order to have the best impact. The studies considered in the next few blog posts suggest particular ways of working: pedagogical and pastoral approaches that we need to develop in our practice and in the practice of our mentors and tutors in the wider partnership.

However, I found that a source of such authority and knowledge is not immediately clear on entry to HE Education Departments. HE based ITE has faced constant challenges from policy makers and politicians for decades[i]. Falling numbers of applicants and the entrance of a broader range of competitors into the sector makes it harder for universities to sustain ITE provision[ii]. Changes to regulation and compliance frameworks can make running an ITE programme seem like walking a tightrope. Regulation and competition has increased the diversity of providers and those who work in them, but has flattened the work of teacher education itself. Complexity in particular has been flattened out of the system, leaving HEI Education departments with ITE work increasingly vulnerable[iii]. As an example, in the last couple of weeks we have seen guidance on workload in schools and during Initial Teacher Education which acts as an excellent illustration of this flattening[iv]. In seeking to reduce the pressures of work on ITE trainees the guidance calls (requires) partnerships to allow trainees to use pre-prepared lesson resources, and to eschew planning lessons.

Another aspect of flattening can be seen in the mimetic use of buzzwords and silver bullet searching that have affected the mainstream of education practice and policy in recent decades and which has inevitably infected Initial Teacher Education. Slogans such as ‘partnership’[v], and ‘reflection’[vi] “have revealed a superficiality in theoretical rationales of many of those engaged in professional education which inevitably leave their practice open to attack”[vii]. In addition the policy maker’s quick fix for ITE has been to increase competition between providers and extend the time that new teachers spend training in schools. The underlying assumptions are that more time in practice will lead to trainees becoming better teachers and that the market will guarantee that the best providers will thrive, whilst others go to the wall.

The focus on quick fixes, the practicuum turn and the hope that a market will solve the central problems of professional education of new teachers, suggests that there is an unwillingness to actively engage with what the central problems of Initial Teacher Education. Indeed recent policy decisions about ITE have downplayed these issues, and framed the problem as one of ‘what to teach’ – what items of knowledge should teachers have in their heads that can be deployed as deliberately practiced techniques in the classroom. Many courses favoured by policy makers involve less and less ‘tuition’ and, as Childs predicted in 2013, rely on the mentoring and coaching skills of teachers and the ability of new teachers to learn on the job. The latest call to avoid the complexity inherent in planning learning, by insisting on delivering materials and lessons prepared by others, is perhaps an example of this tendency[viii].

When ITE is delivering a centrally mandated technical curriculum and the vast majority of time on PGCE courses are spent on placement in school, it is not immediately clear what HEI’s distinctive role in the process is, or should be. The implications of Child’s conclusions are that ITE becomes merely an extension of the School Improvement agenda through the sharing and implementation of good practice, using mentors to show new teachers the ‘craft of teaching’, and that HEI’s role is thereby limited only to accreditation.

Being clear as to what this contribution is has the potential to help us outline a clear path to nurture and further develop a distinctive academic capital. University Teacher Educators can provide a unique and valuable range of insights derived from the knowledge not only of ‘practice’ but also of research and their own subject-pedagogy expertise, as well as their understanding of the limitations of the research and literature that they use with the trainees.

However, in order to meet the challenge of these implications, and examine our role in the sector, it is vital that we act from a position of informed strength about what makes for good ITE provision. We therefore need to examine the central issues of initial teacher education, and explore the buzzwords and policy formulations which accrete to it. In order to maintain our impact and importance in the sector and husband our resources most effectively we should consider important questions such as ‘where does HEI’s independence spring from?’ and ‘what kinds of expertise do we bring that differ from that of our school colleagues?’

[i] John Furlong, Education: An Anatomy of the Discipline (Routledge, 2013).

[ii] James Conroy, Moira Hulme, and Ian Menter, “Developing a ‘Clinical’Model for Teacher Education,” Journal of Education for Teaching 39, no. 5 (2013): 557–573.

[iii] Ann Childs, “The Work of Teacher Educators: An English Policy Perspective,” Journal of Education for Teaching 39, no. 3 (July 1, 2013): 314–28, https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2013.799848.

[iv] “Addressing Workload in Initial Teacher Education (ITE),” GOV.UK, accessed November 11, 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/addressing-workload-in-initial-teacher-education-ite.

[v] Conroy, Hulme, and Menter, “Developing a ‘Clinical’Model for Teacher Education.”

[vi] James Calderhead, “Reflective Teaching and Teacher Education,” Teaching and Teacher Education 5, no. 1 (1987): 43–51.

[vii] Geoff Hayward, “Principles for School Focused Initial Teacher Education,” in Mentoring for Science Teachers, ed. T Allson and A Benson (Buckingham [England]; Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1997).

[viii] Caroline Daly, “DFE Advice on Student Teacher Workload Misses What Is Learnt by Planning Lessons,” IOE LONDON BLOG (blog), November 9, 2018, https://ioelondonblog.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/dfe-advice-on-student-teacher-workload-misses-what-is-learnt-by-planning-lessons/.