Institution-based and school-based teacher educators

Ann Deketelaere, Geert Kelchtermans, Mary O’Sullivan and Ruben Vanderlinde

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Setting the scene

The phrase “Teacher educator, what’s in a name?” could have been an alternative title for this piece. Although the word teacher educator is widely used in a common sense way, the reality underneath the label is much more varied than it seems. This is nicely reflected in a recent document from the European Commission (2013, p.8), defining teacher educators as “all those who actively facilitate the (formal) learning of student teachers and teachers”. The definition includes all professionals responsible for the instruction and supervision of future teachers, all mentors responsible for the support of teachers, and all other professionals involved in the preparation and support of (student) teachers are teacher educators (European Commission, 2013; Shagrir, 2010). In this respect, the European Commission’s (2013) mirrors the increased diversification of ‘teacher educators’ as an occupational group. It recognises that teacher educators are a group of professionals who can differ significantly from one another in several ways, for example, qualification level (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, PhD), (subject) area of specialism, work experience (teachers, lecturers, researchers), contractual arrangements (part-time, full-time, …) and institutional settings.

The increased diversity in the institutional contexts is maybe the most recent and pervasive change in the meaning of the word “teacher educator”. Institution-based teacher educators are those working in a higher education context of universities or university colleges, engaged in the education of student teachers who have enrolled in a formal, institutionalised program that qualifies them for teaching. School-based teacher educators, also called ‘mentors’ or ‘workplace facilitators’, are mainly responsible for the on-going support and facilitating learning of (student) teachers in the workplace (European Commission, 2013). Traditionally both types of professionals operated in a complementary way: the school-based teacher educators being the supervisors of internships, thus complementing the course work of the institution-based teacher educators.

Recent developments in educational policy, however, have fundamentally challenged and changed this relationship. Government reforms have resulted in different levels of state control over teacher education. This has meant increasing levels of control over initial teacher education (ITE) programme content (more or less academic content) or more control of other aspects of ITE including recruitment of academic staff, teacher candidate selection, and/or the structures of teacher education. This aspect of structural control, referred to as the practicum turn in teacher education (Mattsson, Eilertsen, & Rorrison, 2011), places increasing value on workplace learning in learning to teach. The extreme example of this has been School Direct policy in England where teacher education has become the primary responsibility of schools with school based teacher educators taking greater responsibility for the next generation of teachers ( School Direct: guidance for schools (GOV.UK) ).


Relevance/consequence for teacher educators

While there is universal acceptance that learning to teach requires sustained time in school-based work placements under the supervision of experienced teachers who are educated on how to mentor novice teachers, how that is arranged and who controls these priorities of such programmes is contested. BERA (2015) review of the teaching profession suggest the need for an education system that supports prospective teachers’ preparing to teach within research-rich organisational culture of both school and colleges of education has major implications for teacher educators (be they school or institution based).


Main debates

Establishing partnerships for complementary competence

Evidence suggests that time spent in schools with knowledgeable and experienced mentors contributes to the confidence and competence of prospective teachers learning to teach (Burn and Mutton, 2015). The beginning teachers who gain access to the practical wisdom of experts (school based teacher educators) during supervised school placement experiences are supported in a process of enquiry allowing them to interpret and make sense of the needs of particular students and to implement particular pedagogical actions and evaluate the outcomes (Burn and Mutton, 2015).

There is a consensus that partnerships with schools are critical to determining the success of prospective teachers in learning to teach and that every university (or university college) that offers pre-service teacher education have partnerships with one or more schools akin to the concept of teaching hospitals. There are different structural options to achieve this authentic ‘research informed clinical practice’. One model is where (ITE) institutions work in close partnership with select schools. They become places for teaching practice similar to teaching hospitals that are part of faculties of medicine in many countries. School become sites of professional learning, where teachers collaborate in curriculum development, student assessment and school improvement, and the notion of teacher as researcher is reinforced continuously. School and university based teacher educators support the early career teachers to draw on appropriate theory for application to the particular circumstances school settings where they are developing their competence and identity as a teacher.

Although there is universal support for these partnerships, their actual implementation has caused significant challenges (and some opportunities) for both sectors of the educational system and for the work responsibilities of teacher educators. Better coordination between schools and ITE is critical if there is to be mutual benefits for all stakeholders (i.e. teachers and their students as well as pre-service teachers and teacher educators). The need for transparent and respectful communications about the mutual roles and positions of lecturers, mentors and students is well documented (Bullough & Draper, 2004).


Integrating research demands and teaching practice in teacher educators’ professional profile

The practicum turn as noted earlier is particularly challenging for those teacher educators drawn mainly from academic disciplines and lack practical experience as teachers. These major changes to teacher education are having significant impacts on the lives and careers of teacher educators. First, the nature of the partnerships agreed between schools and universities in the preparation of the teachers is having significant consequences for how staff members spend their professional time. The university system has placed greater expectations on academics to be research active, to supervise postgraduate students and to build international research networks that produce high quality research publications. Many teacher educators feel these new research expectations are at odds with the time and energy needed to build positive professional relationships with schools while sustaining quality campus based teacher education programs. Given these changing circumstances, the nature of professional learning for teacher educators particularly at the university level has become particularly challenging.


Balancing theory, practice and professional judgment in teacher education

One of the major pitfalls of the practicum turn is the lack of theoretical training in teacher education curricula. The balancing of theory and practice is a longstanding and central issue in the pedagogy of teacher education and that challenge remains. The development towards more school based teacher education may have the benefit of placing future teachers at an early stage in the full complexity of the classroom reality. This definitely enhances the ‘ecological validity’ of the training context. Yet, responsible and professional teaching also requires mastering, to a sufficient level, a series of theoretical frameworks on curriculum content, educational relationship, learning, but also on the dynamics of schools as organizations (school culture, collegiality and collaboration, etc.). Finally, the enactment of professional practice requires teachers’ professional judgement, based on a careful reflective analysis of a particular situation (implying ‘reading’ that situation through the lens of relevant theoretical frames) and deciding on which particular action would be most appropriate for that situation. Critical professional analysis of complex practical situations is not possible without the lens of solid, research based theory.

There are implications then for how the professional learning of teacher educators is conceptualised. Those involved in the provision of professional development of teacher educators must recognise the diversity of their needs. Context matters in the design of such professional development provision and the voices of experienced and novice teacher educators working in institution based or school based teacher education programmes must inform the nature of professional learning programmes provided.



BERA-RSA (2015). Research and the Teaching Profession: Building the capacity for a self-improving education system. London, BERA (PDF)

Bullough, R & Draper, R.J. (2004). Making sense of a failed triad. Mentors, University supervisors, and positioning Theory. Journal of Teacher Education v 55 (5).

Burn, K & Mutton, T (2015). A Review of “Research-Informed Clinical Practice” in Initial Teacher Education. Oxford Review of Education, v41 n2 p217-233.

European Commission (2013). Supporting Teacher Educators for Better Learning Outcomes. (PDF). Brussels: European Commission.

Mattsson, M, Eilertsen, T.V. & Rorrison D. (2011). A practicum turn in teacher education. Sense Publishers DOI: 10.1007/978-94-6091-711-0_1

Shagrir, L. (2010). Professional development of novice teacher educators: professional self, interpersonal relations and teaching skills. Professional development in education 36 (1/2) p. 45-60.


Key words school based TE, institution based TE, practicum turn

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