Communication and relations
Helma Oolbekkink-Marchand, Paulien C. Meijer and Amber Walraven
Introduction: setting the scene
“So, Linda, how do you think this lesson went?” “Well… I was proud about the way I responded to Eric, and got him to engage in the lesson more, that was something I…” “Yes, but you forgot to mention learning goals, you did not see Allison staring out of the window the entire lesson and the way you explained that concept of osmosis was just way too difficult for these kids” “Ok,… but for me it was more important to …” “So, next time I want to see you mention learning goals, and reread the students textbook to get an idea about the level you need to explain osmosis in. Ok?” “Ok…”In this example, student teacher Linda wanted to talk about an aspect of the lesson that was important for herself, but the mentor only drew conclusions about flaws based on his own perception of a good lesson. This could result in a decrease in self-esteem, an adaptation of her teaching practice based on the view of the mentor and a less developed professional identity. This becomes even more of a problem when the teacher education institutes provides feedback on different aspects or even conflicting feedback on the same points as the school educator. Leaving Linda discouraged, confused and feeling left alone.
The relevance and consequences for teacher educators
In teacher education both communication and relations with different parties are crucial for the successful preparation of student teachers and for the development of teacher educators. In this contribution we discuss teacher educators relations and communication with students, the relationship between institution-based and school-based teacher educators, and the relation and collaboration with managers and colleagues related the professional development of teacher educators.
Teacher educators work evolves around educating student teachers, therefore communication and relations with student teachers are crucial. Teacher educators need to invest in their relations with students and help create relations between students in order to establish ‘a safe environment for unsafe learning’. “…the warmth, acceptance and satisfactory conditions offered to these newcomers may determine not only their growing sense of belonging, but also (partially) their self-fulfilment regarding the teaching profession or the reasonable sense of professional identity acknowledged by these student teachers” (Caires et al., 2012, p. 172). Sharing experiences with teacher educators and other trainees (eg. communicating), exploring education and educational beliefs and perceptions together, and construction meaning are all opportunities for self-exploration and exploration of the profession and thus for becoming a teacher (Caires et al., 2012; Beck & Kosnick, 2000; Caires & Almeida, 2001b; Floresand Day, 2005; Krecic & Grmek, 2008; McNally et al. 1997). Teacher educators are often the ones facilitating and guiding these opportunities. In this part we focus on two aspects of the communication and relation with students: the essential role of feedback and the tension between coaching and assessment.
Good communication with students is not only beneficial for the students, it is also necessary in order to learn and grow as an educator. Especially feedback and feedforward play an important role both in the process of learning to teach and the professional development of the teacher educator. When it comes to improving future learning, the feedback a student receives is potentially the most powerful aspect of education (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Carless et al., 2011; Hattie, 1987). Feedback in teacher education should be immediate, specific, positive and/or corrective.
According to Ferguson (2011), quality feedback in the perception of students in teacher education is written, timely and personalised. It should be positive, clear and constructive with acknowledgement of success and addressing future improvements. A clear link between assessment tasks and guidelines, assessment frameworks and criteria and the feedback is the most important factor. However, the response to written feedback is mediated by emotions and the perceived degree of support in the learning context (Dowden et al., 2013). Relation and communication is vital for feedback to become helpful in improving student teachers ´practice. Most of the work teacher educators do is focussed on helping the student to become a teacher. Teacher educators provide support, explain theory, help students link theory to practice, etc. One could say that this is mostly assessment for learning: formative feedback to help the student teacher forward. Teacher educators most of the time take on this role of mentor, but inevitably will also have to assess the trainee (eg. assessment of learning).
Clear communication on expectations and whether assignments or actions are mandatory or advised is essential. The fact that a teacher educator is committed to helping the student become a teacher can make the summative assessment difficult. Ciuffetelli Parker and Volante (2009) describe the tensions most educators feel between the roles as counsellor and evaluator. To illustrate this, they give the following anecdote: “Feeling increasingly uncomfortable with being both a ‘counselor/advisor’ and evaluator of my candidates is depicted through themes of relationship with learners, relationship between candidates and associates, conforming to the associates’ ‘working practices’ of curriculum by the candidates, organization of materials and evidence of such through lessons NOT observed, and bias that I bring into the observation from visit to visit, site to site, and lesson to lesson. How authentic are our evaluations? Our margin of error may indeed be very large when the above factors are taken into consideration”. (p. 39).
From a student point of view the roles of the teacher educator (both mentor and assessor) can cause tensions as well. Being in the process of finding your own vision on education and the way you want to be(come) a teacher often involves discussion on vision, tasks, the way to teach with others. It takes courage to disagree with your mentor, when he still has to assess you. It is crucial for educators to talk about this with students. This can only be done when the relationship between a teacher educator and student teacher is positive. With regard to communication, the two roles can cause confusion in student teachers. Chetcuti and Buhagiar (2014) cite Vincent, an administrator: “…The formative aspect of assessment is being lost on student-teachers. All that student-teachers want is to pass their field placement and they feel that any comments of encouragement that have been given to them by lecturers (in a formative manner) give them the right to pass.” (p.45). This could be due to a lack of communication between teacher educators and student-teachers. Formative feedback is for instance communicated in a summative context, resulting in mixed messages. Furthermore, students are often only very interested in the pass or fail message and in their study Chetcuti and Buhagiar conclude that teacher educators and administrators perceived student-teachers to be misusing the received feedback by trying to turn it into a measure of a summative performance.
Teacher Education Institutions and Schools
The partnership between teacher education institutes and schools has developed over the past years. Partnership has generally broadened from a triad (mentor, teacher educator and student teacher) to a broader cooperation between teacher education institutions and schools, for example around workplace learning. Murray (2016) describes this development also as a ‘turn to the practical’, an increased focus on teacher education in and with schools. In relation to this she describes an increased ‘focus on both teacher educators and mentors’ as those who play a role in the preparation and professional development of (student) teachers. Important to note however, is that this development is different per country.
In general, this development has consequences for communication and relations. Institution based teacher educators have to be able to cooperate with school-based teacher educators and mentor teachers to support the learning of student teachers (White & Murray, 2016). Thus institution-based teacher educators and school-based teacher educators and mentors have to investigate in communication and relation with each other. In their literature review Lunenberg et al. (2014) describe six roles of teacher educators, one of these roles is the broker, i.e. the teacher educator responsible for the collaboration between teacher education institutions and schools. In the role of broker communication and relations are important as there is an increased collaboration between teacher educator institutions and schools. Competencies required to fulfill this role are according to Lunenberg et al. focusing attention on specific themes, consolidating joint accomplishments, attention for relations and encouraging an inquiry stance.
Learning teacher educators
Communication and relations between teacher educators also play an important role in their learning and professional development. Especially studies show the importance of professional learning communities in which teacher educators study and talk about their practice as teacher educators. For example a study of Meijer et al. (2016) describes a teacher educators professional development intervention focused on encourage student teachers inquiry-based attitude. In the intervention teacher educators had to study their own practice and were encouraged to learn with and from peers. Recent research of Hadar and Brody (2016) also shows the importance of communications and relation for teacher educators’ development In their study teacher educators talk about student learning within a professional learning community which provided a platform for the teacher educators involved to use theory in examining their practice. Also, talking about students promoted an inquiry stance towards their practice.
In this contribution we aimed to elaborate on the importance of communication and relations for teacher educators both with regard to student teachers, in partnership with schools and in relations with fellow teacher educators. Throughout the different relations, teacher educators have a responsibility for good relations and communication. This includes handling tensions , for example in combining their roles as both evaluator and assessor of students. In these roles, but also in relation with schools, one important challenge seems to be to develop an inquiry stance. Collaborative professional development for teacher educators can promote this inquiry stance.
Caires, S., Almeida, L., & Vieira, D. (2012). Becoming a teacher: student teachers’ experiences and
perceptions about teaching practice. European Journal of Teacher Education, 35(2), 163-178.
Ciuffetelli Parker, D., & Volante, L.(2009) Responding to the Challenges Posed by Summative Teacher
Candidate Evaluation: A collaborative self-study of practicum supervision by faculty. Studying Teacher Education, 5 (1), 33-44.
Dowden, T., Pittaway, S., Yost, H., & McCarthy, R.(2013). Students’ perceptions of written feedback in teacher education: ideally feedback is a continuing two-way communication that encourages progress. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38 (3), 349-362.
Ferguson, P. (2011) Student perceptions of quality feedback in teacher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36 (1), 51-62.
Hadar, L. L., & Brody, D. L. (2016). Talk about student learning: Promoting professional growth among teacher educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 59, 101-114.
Lunenberg, Dengerink & Korthagen (2014). The Professional teacher educator: Roles, behaviour and professional development of Teacher Educators. Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.
Meijer, M. J., Kuijpers, M., Boei, F., Vrieling, E., & Geijsel, F. (2016). Professional development of teacher-educators towards transformative learning. Professional Development in Education, Professional Development in Education, 42(5), 1-22.
Murray, J. (2016). Trends in teacher education across Europe: an initial analysis. In I. Falus & J. (Eds.), New Aspects in European Teacher Education. Eger, Hungary: Líceum Kiadó.
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 (pp. 341-364) Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.
White, S., & Murray, J. (2016). Fostering Professional Learning Partnerships in Literacy Teacher Education. In Building Bridges (pp. 135-148). Rotterdam/Boston/Taipei: Sense Publishers.
Key words: feedback, formative and summative assessment, broker, inquiry stance, professional learning community