How I teach is the message

Gerry Czerniawski and Warren Kidd


[tabby title=”Introduction”]


Setting the scene

It was Tom Russell (1997) who argued that ‘how I teach is the message’ should become a keystone in the pedagogy of teacher education. Writing about his many discussions with John Loughran about teaching and learning, Russell noted how one dialogue in particular “led to the idea that becoming a teacher educator (or teacher of teachers) has the potential (not always realised) to generate a second level of thought about teaching, one that focuses not on content but on how we teach” (p.32). Russell argues that this ‘pedagogical turn’ is part of a journey on which teacher educators think long and hard about how they teach and the messages they convey when teaching:


There is and always will be a ‘content’ of teacher education, and teacher educators will make a content turn as they come to terms with presenting that content. For some, and perhaps for many, that may be enough. Others go further, moving beyond the various content pieces of the formal teacher education curriculum to begin to make the pedagogical turn, realizing that how we teach teachers may send much more influential messages than what we teach them (Russell, 1997, p.32).


So what might that message be? What might inform its construction? Teaching is a complex, challenging and intellectual emotional endeavour (Day & Sachs, 2005). For teacher educators, this complexity becomes apparent to those who experience the transformation from being first-order practitioners (as teachers) to second order practitioners (as teacher educators) (Murray, 2002). From this perspective pedagogical work in higher education as a teacher educator is “still the same yet different” (Kosnik, 2017, p. 18) from that of a first-order practitioner. Kosnik argues that what distinguishes this second order practice is the need to have “intentionality about making the thinking behind my teaching visible” (Kosnik, 2007, p.18). Thus, the notion that ‘how I teach is the message’ becomes inextricably linked to both the intentionality and positionality of teacher educators and their ability to communicate that intentionality to their students. The work we do as teacher educators in our classroom spaces is made more challenging by its poly-contextuality (Kidd, 2012). In such spaces, Korthagen, Loughran and Russell (2006) suggest teacher educators hold “three different perspectives simultaneously: the perspective of the individual learning to teach, the perspective of the teacher in a school and the perspective of the teacher in the university setting” (p. 1034). In determining what sort of message (or messages) teacher educators, should communicate to their students, we add a fourth perspective – one that must be informed by the cultural contexts in which that space is situated.


The relevance for teacher educators

Kelchtermans (2009) recognizes in the work of Russell that his keystone is an acknowledgment of teaching as a relational, social and public act. Teacher educators, he argues, want to be seen by their students in a particular way and their ideas about themselves as teacher educators are influenced by what others think about them. Any conceptualisation about teaching, from the point of view of teacher educators (many of whom are former teachers), must therefore include a concept of the teacher as a person as well as their sense-of-self:

Who I am in how I teach is the message’. And that’s why a teachers’ self-understanding is of key importance in the scholarship of teaching

(Kelchtermans, 2009, p. 259)


This emphasis on identity, knowledge-of-self and the significance of both for the pedagogy of teacher education is made, for Loughran (1996) all the more powerful when critical professional reflection is added into the mix:


If student-teachers see their teacher educators as reflective practitioners, if they experience the development of professional practical knowledge by being a part of that learning, then they might be helped to address the paradox in their own learning about practice (Loughran, 1996, p. 14)


Loughran (2016) argues that teacher education can rightly be criticised for reinforcing transmission as the dominant mode of pedagogical practice rather than challenging it. Simply telling student teachers to not engage in this sort of practice is, for Loughran, not enough:


Teacher educators need to embrace what it means to genuinely model teaching for understanding in order to consistently reinforce the development of pedagogical relationships that result in quality learning (Loughran, 2016, p. 257).


The importance that modelling can play in addressing the gap in practice between what teaching techniques teacher educators use in their classrooms and those adopted by beginning teachers has long been acknowledged:


Teacher educators (…) must model these techniques in their educational courses. In this way, the message clearly comes through, that what is modelled in the college classroom is what should be evident in the classrooms in which they teach (Schuman & Relihan 1990, p. 107).


However such modelling cannot focus purely on the reproduction of techniques artistically displayed by mannequins versed in their experiential knowledge and informed, in part, by more popularised versions of academic educational theory. Modelling must be embedded within a profession of teacher educators who are given the resources (including time) to research, reflect and rehearse how best their own pedagogic practice can inspire critical reflection, adaptation and transformation by and in those they teach. It is this critically reflective aspect of modelling that makes it a fundamental element in professional learning. Modelling, in this sense, extends beyond the pedagogical to embrace and display the very best professional attributes and ethics of care in teaching (Noddings, 1992; Murray & Kosnik, 2014). It must also draw from the very best practices shared locally, nationally and internationally while being sensitive to both the cultural contextuality and specificity of those practices.


The full value contract for a safe learning environment

– Ann MacPhail, University of Limerick, Ireland


What might the message be for teacher educators?

Teaching is an act, enacted by someone who matters hugely in the lives of those they teach. This relatively straightforward assertion draws together elements related to the identity, knowledge, pedagogy, positionality and professional learning of both teachers and their educators. Loughran is absolutely correct when he states that teacher education “must primarily be a site in which practice is opened up for scrutiny, exploration and research” (Loughran, 2016, p. 257). If Russell is also correct in his assumption that, as teacher educators, how we teach is the message, then what might that message look like? First, it must embody the reflections of a teacher educator’s professional stance and one that is inquiry oriented, self-regulated, contextually responsive and research informed (Vanassche et al., 2015). Second, it must surely be that, as professional learners, teachers and teacher educators need to constantly and critically reflect on both the formal and informal processes that will enable them to improve their own professional practice throughout their careers with a commitment to transform education for the better.



Czerniawski G., A. MacPhail, and A. Guberman (2017). “The Professional Development Needs of Higher Education-Based Teacher Educators: An International Comparative Needs Analysis.” European Journal of Teacher Education, 40 (1), 127–140.

Day C. Sachs J., (2004). International Handbook on the Continuing Professional Development of teachers. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Kelchtermans G. (2009). Who I am in how I teach is the message: self-understanding, vulnerability and reflection. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 15(2), 257-272.

Kidd W. (2012). Place, (cyber) space and being: the role of student voice in informing the un-situated learning of trainee teachers. Research in Secondary Teacher Education, 2 (1), 3-7.

Kosnik, C. (2007) Still the Same Yet Different. In Russell, T. and Loughran, J. (Eds.) Enacting a Pedagogy of Teacher Education: Values, relationships and practices. London: Routledge.

Korthagen F., Loughran J., and Russell T. 2006. Developing fundamental principals for teacher education programms and practices. Teaching and Teacher Education. 22, 1020-1041.

Loughran J. 1996. Developing Reflective Practice: Learning about teaching and learning through modeling. London: Falmer Press.

Loughran J. (2016) Teaching and Teacher Education: The Need to Go Beyond Rhetoric. In: Brandenburg R., McDonough S., Burke J., White S. (Eds), Teacher Education. Springer, Singapore.

Murray, J. (2002) Between the Chalkface and the Ivory Towers? A study of the professionalism of teacher educators working on primary Initial Teacher Education courses in the English education system. Collected Original Resources in Education (CORE) 26 (3)./p>

Murray J., Kosnik C. (2014). Academic work and identities in teacher education. London: Taylor Frances.

Noddings N. (1992). The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education. Advances in Contemporary Educational Thought series, vol. 8. New York: Teachers College Press.

Russell T. (1997). Teaching teachers: How I teach IS the message. In: John Loughran & Tom Russell (Eds.) Teaching about teaching: Purpose, passion and pedagogy in teacher education, pp. 32-47. London: Falmer Press.

Schuman D. R., Relihan J. (1990). The Role of Modeling in Teacher Education Programmes. Reading Horizons, 31 (2), 105-112.

Vanassche E., Rust F., Conway PF., Smith K., Tack H., & Vanderlinden R. (2015). “InFo-TED: Bringing Policy, Research, and Practice Together around Teacher Educator Development”. In International Teacher Education: Promising Pedagogies (Part C), 341-364.


Key words: Pedagogy; teaching and learning; professional learning; critical reflection; teacher educators; positionality.

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