Stages of professional development

Marit Ulvik and Mieke Lunenberg

[tabby title=”Introduction”]

Setting the scene

“Teacher educators enter the profession from a range of different backgrounds. Some have been working as school teachers or as educational consultants, others as researchers, but for almost all becoming a teacher educator is a second career. Teacher educators’ work is also embedded in diverse institutional contexts – universities, colleges, schools – which influence teacher educators’ roles and task-perceptions (Murray, 2014). Furthermore, the diversity of national contexts and policies for teacher education and schooling profoundly influence teacher educators’ work, their identities and positions and their opportunities for professional development. A brief example of the differences in these opportunities is that, whilst in some countries, teacher educators’ professional development focuses on the acquisition of further pedagogical expertise and encourages inquiry into personal practice, in other countries teacher educators working in Higher Education Institutions may be encouraged to focus their professional development on obtaining a doctorate and / or publishing their research.

Relevance/consequences for teacher educators

In Europe, teacher educators are not required to undertake any formal preparation for their roles, rather they develop expertise after taking up their new work. New teacher educators may be expert practitioners in their previous occupation, but on entry to teacher education, it is not uncommon for them to feel deskilled. Some might feel like only aspirant academics or researchers, other like novices in teaching, guiding and coaching beginning teachers, and even those who have a background in school teaching might never have taught adults before. For all new teacher educators, teaching about teaching (or ‘second order teaching’, Murray & Male, 2005) – that is, often being expected to teach as you preach – is new (Loughran & Berry, 2005). In sum, being a teacher educator can be described as multi-faceted work; and it can be challenging to acquire the unique competences that are required (Smith, 2011) to do the job well.

Murray and Male (2005), in a study of the professional development of teacher educators, conclude that it took up to three years to establish a full and secure sense of identity as a teacher of teachers. This process could be long and sometimes difficult: “feelings of professional unease and discomfort were particularly acute . . . [especially] when the substantial and situational selves of the teacher educators were seen as distinctly out of alignment” (p. 139). Hence, it is understandable that the interest in professional learning among teacher educators is high.

An InFo-TED survey among 1158 teacher educators (Czerniawski, Guberman, & MacPhail, 2017) shows that 89% scores positive on interest in future professional learning activities (mean value 4.85 on a 6-point scale; SD = 1.08). In the sections below we will discuss how the induction and early career stages of teacher educators could be supported; we then look at the choices and possibilities for further learning, being mindful of the fact that some of these ideas are not yet implemented in practice. By adopting the term ‘stages of professional development’, we do not mean that imply any kind of fixed ‘stage’ structure or a typology of learning which all teacher educators necessarily follow.

Stages of professional development


Because teacher educators who enter the profession have not had any formal preparation for their roles, the induction phase is often crucial in developing knowledge and understanding. In the UK, Boyd, Harris, and Murray developed a series of ‘Guidelines for induction’ (2007; 2011). They state that the priorities of most teacher educators in the first year are survival, shifting the lens, and laying the foundations: that is, ‘survival’ in terms of understanding the teacher education system in which they work, including the department and the institution; ‘shifting the lens’ in terms of developing any existing expertise in teaching by learning about the differing pedagogical demands of working with adults; and ‘laying the foundations’ in terms of establishing the baseline for scholarship and research activity by building on existing expert knowledge (p. 19).

Given the diverse background of teacher educators, personalised induction programmes, tailored to the needs, experience and expertise of individual teacher educators, are often required. According to a report from the European Commission in 2013, such a programme should include a variety of integrated tasks within differing settings, both within and away from the workplace; above all, the programme should build in adequate time for reflection. To develop professional confidence, the induction phase should highlight the development of key aspects of being a teacher of teachers, whether in universities and colleges as an academic or in schools as a mentor. This should include knowledge and understanding of adult learning and of the professional development of teachers across their life-course.

It is important to remember that induction also happens ‘by immersion’, that is, through learning from everyday teaching and informal inquiry activities in the workplace (Murray, 2008). Collaborating with other teacher educators within the institution and in micro-communities of practice to share interests, to reflect and to discuss professional challenges might is therefore very important too, but this informal learning cannot replace more formal, structured professional development.

Early career stages

After the first year, further extension of pedagogical knowledge and skills for teacher education and further building of scholarship and research activities should continue. Teacher educators should also extend their knowledge of the contexts in which they work in and develop their professional networks. As the European Commission (2013) emphasizes, it is important that in this early career stage opportunities and time for professional development continue to be provided.

Both the Flemish and Dutch Associations of Teacher Educators offer Frames of Reference that can help teacher educators to focus the direction of their professional development. Both countries also offer activities such as a programme for teacher educators or workshops related to the Frames of Reference. In the Netherlands teacher educators with two or more years of experience can register as teacher educators after completing a portfolio of work.
Both associations, as well as many subject-specific associations, offer opportunities for teacher educators to collaborate. These kinds of networks then offer many opportunities for informal professional learning.

We want to emphasize that teachers in schools who take on teacher educator roles also need to go through the process of learning to be a teacher educator and experience a considerable shift in identity too (Clemans, Berry and Loughran, 2010). Whilst staying in the same – first order – environment of the school, when working with beginning teachers, they too have to become teachers of teachers. This requires a supportive work environment and opportunities for professional development, as Eva’s story illustrates:

Eva is a school-based teacher educator. As an experienced teacher, she had worked as a mentor with student teachers for several years before entering a teacher educators’ programme. She enjoyed mentoring student teachers, but wanted to develop and formalise her knowledge. She experienced that the education offered by the programme changed her understanding. During the year in which she participated in it, she gained more conceptual understanding of mentoring. She developed new ways to legitimate her practice and enhanced her feeling of security by being part of a community of learning. She learned through input from theory in combination with working on diverse projects with her peers. The programme offered her a base and underpinning for her role as school-based teacher educator. Now she feels she has more professional tools to choose from, and she has become more conscious of her mentoring practice, about knowing what and knowing why.

In a discussion of teacher educators’ roles, Cochran-Smith (2005, p. 219) asserts that “part of the task of the teacher educators is functioning simultaneously as both researcher and practitioner”, and she refers to the: “reciprocal, recursive and symbiotic relationships” between scholarship and practice as “working the dialectic”. Tack (2017) extensively studied the variety of views about the meaning of research for teacher educators and their professional development. She distinguishes four ‘researcherly’ dispositions: 1) valuing research, 2) being a smart consumer of research, 3) being able to conduct research, and 4) conducting research. In line with Cochran-Smith and others (Lunenberg et al., 2014; Smith, 2015), Tack also states that if being ‘teachers of teachers’ is the starting point is of teacher educators’ professional development, it is a logical step to analyse and reflect on this development by doing research.

Several authors, among them Zeichner (2005) and Loughran (2014), point to the findings that studying one’s practice is an excellent way for teacher educators to systematically reflect on and improve their practices, and thus engage in practice-oriented research. S-STEP (Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices), one of the largest special interest groups of the American Educational Research Association, has supported self-study since the 1990s. When conducting self-studies, it is important to be embedded in a research culture, to have good role models and to receive strong support. In Belgium (Flanders) and the Netherlands, trajectories are offered to teacher educators who want systematic support to study their own practice (Lunenberg, Korthagen, and Zwart, 2010; Vanassche, 2014).

Another approach can be found in Norway, where the Norwegian National Graduate School in Teacher Education (NAFOL) helps teacher educators to gain a doctorate. In this respect, NAFOL not only empowers Norwegian teacher educators as researchers, but also focuses on the development of a national knowledge base in teacher education (Smith, 2015). Anna was one of the participants in this programme:

Anna taught mathematics and physics in upper secondary school and entered teacher education because she wanted to improve teaching and provide schools with good mathematics teachers. Anna describes that she was very engaged in mathematics and perceived the subject as the most interesting and important school subject. The move to teacher education was a great shock for her as she experienced a shift of position from one of the most important people in her school to someone who felt she hardly even belonged to the staff of her new institution. Today she thinks that what she did then – as a beginning teacher educator – was not good enough. She did not know anything about the pedagogy of teacher education at that time, as she explained. But now, with a greatly wider knowledge base, she can still draw on her mathematical knowledge, developed over many years, but her task as a teacher educator is broader and more interdisciplinary. When she got an opportunity to apply for a PhD-position she seized it; her research has always been related to education and she has initiated and participated in several research and development projects, together with teachers.

Lifelong learning

It is obvious that teacher educators’ professional development needs to continue over the professional life course, with emphases on both second order teaching and research. In addition, many teacher educators also focus on the implications of new developments in society for teaching and teacher education, for instance, increasing social diversity in schools and renewed demands for social justice, or the pedagogical opportunities offered by new technological developments. In addition, the increasing co-operation between teacher education institutions and schools requires the development of new knowledge, skills and expertise, which the European Commission report of 2013 refers to as ‘transversal competences’. The development of new curricula for teacher education programmes and the further improvement of the quality of assessment are also areas that require further development of teacher educator knowledge and expertise (Lunenberg, Dengerink, Korthagen, 2014).


In his article about the professional development of teacher educators, Loughran (2014) states that:

“Professional development of teacher educators must be purposefully conceptualized, thoughtfully implemented, and meaningfully employed. However, for that to be the case, there is an overwhelming need for teacher educators to have a vision for their professional development that affords them agency in the active development of their scholarship” (p.10).

In the sections above, we have indicated that the different backgrounds and contexts of teacher educators require tailored pathways for learning, and we have given a brief overview of what we think are productive ways to walk such a path. Hence, the core question for every teacher educator is:

Where are you on your professional development path and what would be the best next step?


Boyd, P., Harris, K. & Murray, J. (2011). Becoming a Teacher Educator: Guidelines for induction (2nd Ed.). ESCalate, Higher Education Academy: Bristol.

Clemans, A., Berry, A., & Loughran, J. (2010). Lost and found in transition: the professional journey of teacher educators. Professional development in education, 36(1-2), 211-228.Cochran-Smith, M. (2005). Teacher educators as researchers: Multiple perspectives. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21(2), 219-225.

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.

Europese commissie (2013). Supporting Teacher Educators for better learning outcomes. European Commission, Brussels.

Loughran, J., & Berry, A. (2005). Modelling by teacher educators. Teaching and teacher education, 21(2), 193-203.

Loughran, J. (2014). Professionally developing as a teacher educator. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(4), 271-283.

Lunenberg, M., Dengerink, J., & Korthagen, F. (2014). The professional teacher educator: Roles, behaviour, and professional development of teacher educators. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Lunenberg, M. L., Korthagen, F. A. J., & Zwart, R. (2010). Critical issues in supporting self-study. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(6), 1280-1289. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.11.07

Murray, J., & Male, T. (2005). Becoming a teacher educator: evidence from the field. Teaching and Teacher Education 2, 125–142.

Murray, J. (2008). Teacher educators’ induction into Higher Education: work‐based learning in the micro communities of teacher education. European Journal of Teacher Education, 31(2), 117–133.

Murray, J. (2014). Teacher educators’ constructions of professionalism: A case study. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 42(1), 7-21.

Smith, K. (2011). The multi-faceted teacher educator – a Norwegian perspective. Journal of Education for Teaching, 37(3), 337–349.

Smith, K. (2015). The role of research in teacher education. Research in Teacher Education, 5(2), 43-46.

Tack, H. (To be published in 2017). Towards a better understanding of teacher educators’ professional development: Theoretical and empirical insight into their researcherly disposition. Ph.D. Dissertation Ghent University.

Vanassche, E. (2014). (Re)constructing teacher educators’ professionalism: Biography, workplace and pedagogy. Leuven: Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences.

Key words: induction, early career, lifelong learning, professional development, second order teaching, (self-study) research, identity

[tabby title=”Further Reading”]

Stages of professional development (PDF)

[tabby title=”Blog Posts”]

[wp-rss-aggregator source=”2978″]