Research in teacher education
Hanne Tack, Ainat Guberman, Paulien Meijer, Helma Oolbekkink-Marchand, & Ruben Vanderlinde
Teacher educators’ role as researchers is a contested area. This text provides a short introduction to research in teacher education. It introduces the types of research teacher education can chiefly benefit from, why research is important for teacher educators, and it provides a short overview of some of the main issues related to research in teacher education. Three main debates seem to re-occur: (1) why teacher educators should engage in research, (2) what teacher educators’ engagement in research involves, and (3) how teacher educators’ engagement in research can be meaningfully supported.
Setting the scene
Research is a complex and very broad concept as such. Also in teacher education, hence when we use the concept ‘research’ it is important to define what we refer to. Therefore we need to consider its purposes and its value in contributing to the development of new knowledge about teacher education. Before moving towards the purposes and value of research for teacher educators, we give at least three reasons why ‘research’ is of particular interest for teacher educators. First, a growing number of teacher educators around the world are engaged in various form of practice-oriented research, as indicated by both the professional literature and proceedings of professional conferences. These various forms of research include, for instance, teacher research, self-study research, and practitioner research.
Although these terms are by no means synonymous, they are all closely related forms of practice-oriented research that are characterized by knowledge development about teacher educators’ practice as second-order teachers; a contribution to the knowledge base on teacher education and, finally, are conducted by teacher educators themselves (Berry, 2007). An important example of the growing group of teacher educators engaged in research on their own practice is the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices (S-STEP), one of the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) largest Specialist Interest Groups (SIGs). Second, a growing body of research literature on teacher educators’ professional development emphasizes that teacher educators’ engagement in research is a key component in their professional development (Berry, 2007; Loughran, 2014; 2016, Smith, 2015). Third, and despite the increased attention for teacher educators’ engagement in research to improve their practice, the field clearly lacks a common language to describe what the adoption of one’s ‘researcher’ role as a teacher educator exactly entails. We are convinced that conceptual clarity about the position of research is a much-needed first step in uniting the community of teacher educators, policy makers and researchers in teacher education.
Relevance for teacher educators
In defining ‘research’ it is important to consider its purposes and its value in contributing to the development of new knowledge. For teacher educators (and teacher education in general), research mainly (should) serve a two-fold goal: (1) improving one’s practice and knowledge about teacher education, and (2) contributing to the broader knowledge base on teacher education (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). The first goal refers to the development and improvement of local knowledge and practice. The second goal refers to the generation of public knowledge and its dissemination to the research community in teacher education (i.e. through research reports, articles in professional or academic journals, conference presentations). To put differently, next to knowledge generation, ‘research’ in teacher education always focuses on changing/developing one’s practice. In this respect, practitioner research and other forms of research (e.g. self-study research, action research, teacher research) are beneficial forms of research in teacher education.
In discussions on teacher educators’ role as a ‘researcher’, three debates seem to re-occur: (1) why teacher educators should engage in research, (2) what teacher educators’ engagement in research involves, and (3) how teacher educators’ engagement in research can be meaningfully supported.
The debate on why teacher educators should engage in research is inherently linked to developing teacher educators’ core practice as ‘teachers of teachers’ (Kelchtermans, Smith & Vanderlinde, 2017). As ‘teachers of teachers’, teacher educators need to generate a second level of thought about teaching, one that focuses not (just) on the ‘what’ of teaching, but also on ‘how’ to teach. The argument regarding why the ‘how’ of teaching is as least as important as the ‘what’ of teaching for teacher educators, involves what Russell (1997) called ‘How I teach IS the message’. In this respect, teacher educators’ work comprises a unique body of knowledge that requires teacher educators to move beyond seeing teaching as solely ‘doing’ and ‘telling’. To develop that knowledge of their own practice and make tacit aspects of that practice explicit to their student teachers and the broader community in teacher education, teacher educators should become researchers of their own practice (see for instance, Loughran, 2014).
The second debate is related to what it means to engage in ‘research’ as a teacher educator. In this respect, it is apparent that there are different interpretations among researchers, policy-makers and teacher educators themselves. These interpretations range from occasionally engaging in self-reflection and sporadically exploring published research literature to conducting and publishing research in research journals. The existing literature on teacher educators’ professional development (for a more detailed overview, see Tack & Vanderlinde, 2014) indicates that teacher educators’ role as a ‘researcher’ is at least three-fold: (1) ‘smart’ consumers of research, which means that they have to critically use the existing research literature on teacher education to inform their own practice; (2) producers of research, which means they have to conduct research to inform their own practice and the broader knowledge base on teacher education; and (3) valuing the importance of a research identity as a teacher educator. A question closely related to this debate concerns the development of theoretical concepts that capture what it means to engage in ‘research’ as a teacher educator or develop one’s role as a teacher educator-researcher. In this respect, several authors have conceptualised teacher educators’ professional development as an ‘inquiry as stance’ (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009), a ‘research journey’ (Loughran, 2014) or a ‘researcherly disposition’ (Tack & Vanderlinde, 2014).
These concepts broadly refer to teacher educators’ habit of mind to engage with research (Tack & Vanderlinde, 2014). Tack and Vanderlinde (2014) further specify teacher educators’ researcherly disposition as ‘teacher educators’ habit of mind to engage with research – as both consumers and producers of research – to improve their practice and contribute to the knowledge base on teacher education.’ (p.301) Theoretically, teacher educators’ researcherly disposition involves three inter-related dimensions (Tack & Vanderlinde, 2014): (1) an affective dimension, (2) a cognitive dimension, and (3) a behavioural dimension. The affective dimension refers to the extent to which a teacher educator values a research-oriented approach towards his/her daily practices, and, as such, recognizes his/her role as a researcher. The cognitive dimension refers to the extent to which a teacher educator is able to engage in research in his/her daily practice, as both a consumer and a producer of knowledge. The behavioural dimension refers to the extent to which a teacher educator engages in research activities in his/her daily practice, as both a consumer and a producer of knowledge.
This brings us to the question how we can operationalize and assess teacher educators’ researcherly disposition or teacher educators’ role as a researcher. Building on their theoretical conceptualisation, Tack and Vanderlinde (2016a) attempted to operationalize teacher educators’ researcherly disposition and developed TERDS (Teacher Educator Researcherly Disposition Scale). Their 20-item questionnaire provides one of the first measurement instruments to assess teacher educators’ self-reported researcherly disposition.
The final debate is related to how teacher educators’ role as a researcher can be meaningfully supported. It seems that concerted efforts are needed to address the multi-faceted nature of researcherly disposition. Within the cognitive domain, teacher educators need to acquire for instance knowledge about research methods. Some acquire that knowledge before they start working as teacher educators, during their MA or PhD studies, or as part of the induction phase. Others need opportunities to acquire research skills while working (Vanassche, Rust, Conway, Smith, Tack & Vanderlinde, 2015).
Conducting research (the behavioral aspect), requires adopting a researcher identity and may involve emotions of insecurity and frustration for some teacher educators, who feel they lose their previous status of expert teachers in order to become novice researchers (Murray & Male, 2005). Participation in professional learning communities (see Tack & Vanderlinde, 2016b) is a beneficial strategy to further teacher educators’ role as a researcher, and support the development of teacher educators’ researcherly disposition (e.g. Hadar & Brody, 2016). In this respect, it is important to note that the need to develop one’s researcherly disposition is a fundamental aspect in the discussion about the relevance of ‘practitioner research’ (and other forms of practice-oriented research). Furthermore, learning with and from peers is teacher educators’ preferred way of learning (Czerniawski, Guberman & MacPhail (2017). However, these terms are not interchangeable, but complementary. In this respect, practitioner research should be seen as a promising methodological strategy to ground one’s researcherly disposition. By conducting practitioner research, teacher educators’ decisions in their day-to-day practice are supported by rigorously collected and analyzed data. Framed and approached this way, practitioner research can have the power to be transformative at the individual, interpersonal, communal and institutional level.
Berry, A. (2007). Tensions in teaching about teaching: Understanding practice as a teacher educator (Vol. 5). Springer Science & Business Media.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Czerniawski, G., Guberman, A., & MacPhail, A. (2017). The professional developmental needs of higher education based teacher educators: an international comparative needs analysis. European Journal of Teacher Education, 40(1), 127-140.
Hadar, L. L., & Brody, D. L. (2016). Teacher Educators’ Professional Learning in Communities. Taylor & Francis.
Kelchtermans, G., Smith, K., & Vanderlinde, R. (2017). Towards an ‘International Forum for Teacher Educator Development’: An Agenda for Research and Action. European Journal of Teacher Education. DOI: 10.1080/02619768.2017.1372743
Loughran, J. (2014). Professionally developing as a teacher educator. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(4), 271-283.
Murray, J., & Male, T. (2005). Becoming a teacher educator: Evidence from the field. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 125-142.
Smith, K. (2015). The role of research in teacher education. Research in Teacher Education, 5(2), 43-46.
Tack, H. & Vanderlinde, R. (2014). Teacher educators’ professional development: Towards a typology of teacher educators’ researcherly disposition. British Journal of Educational Studies, 62(3), 297-315.
Tack, H., & Vanderlinde, R. (2016a). Measuring teacher educators’ researcherly disposition: Item development and scale construction. Vocations & Learning, 9(1), 43-62.
Tack, H., & Vanderlinde, R. (2016b). Teacher educators’ professional development in Flanders: Practitioner research as a promising strategy. Research in Teacher Education, 6(2), 6-11.
Vanassche, E., Rust, F., Conway, P., Smith, K, Tack, H., & Vanderlinde, R. (2015). InFo-TED: Bringing policy, research, and practice together around teacher educator development. In: C. Craig & L. Orland-Barak (Eds.) International teacher education: promising pedagogies (Advances in research on teaching, Volume 22C, pp.341 – 364). Bingley, UK: Emerald.
Key words: inquiry as stance, researcherly disposition, research journey, teacher research, self-study research, practitioner research
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