Smith and MacPhail identify one of the multiple and complex functions of assessment in teacher education as “ensuring student teacher graduates are professionally competent” (InFo-TED Assessment Building Block). This function of assessment “is practiced in different ways, and today many national contexts have developed standards for teachers” (2016, p.411). I recently presented a paper examining the Core Competencies of the Beginning Teacher: A Synthesis of the Research at an event (Teacher Education and Teacher Educator National Forum: Research and Practice in Ireland, November 2017) hosted by colleagues in the School of Education and the Department of Physical Education and Sport Science at the University of Limerick, Ireland. The event also included invited colleagues from the MOFET Institute Tel Aviv, Israel. I want to acknowledge that as you read this blog you may have an expectation of an answer; I can tell you that the drive to explore this area has resulted in more questions than answers. However, as a result of reading, inquiry and engagement with professional networks my questions are now more nuanced and the direction for potential answers more focused!
Teacher competency frameworks comprise of a number of competencies, which can be the knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable an educator to develop effective teaching practices. They exist in various forms and degrees of development in the vast majority of countries. They provide goals for teachers’ professional development, can serve as measures to assess the quality of teaching (European Commission, 2013) and can be used for guiding the development of the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) curriculum.
My interest in this area emerged from a number of factors. I began to engage with national and international literature in the areas of: competencies for teacher preparation, evaluation of teacher preparation programs, assessment of teacher effectiveness and teacher performance and how these approaches align with teacher preparation practices. This reading was framed by a ‘live’ policy context where competencies are determined by agencies largely external to teacher education. Also, through reflection on my own practice as a teacher educator I began to question the selection of competencies for inclusion in ITE; their particular rationale or justification and what the relationship, if any, is between competencies included in ITE and second-level student outcomes?
Initial Teacher Education marks the first stage of a teacher’s professional journey. It is within this setting pre-service teachers engage with the complexities of the profession. It is an intensive experience requiring students to take the role of both learner and teacher simultaneously. However, trends of ‘comparability and compatibility’ in teacher preparation have resulted in increased pressure towards convergent teacher education practices, as well as consistent guidelines for teacher education programs and competence-based outcomes (TUNING, 2005). Convergent teacher education practices are being realised through the proliferation of National/State standards and “teacher competence frameworks”. With this in mind I decided to complete a review of the literature to ascertain what [core] competencies have been identified for inclusion in pre-service teacher preparation? The purpose of this qualitative synthesis was to understand the nature of the evidence in the literature, interpret convergence and divergence among studies and inform my own professional development as a teacher educator.
Results from the synthesis reflected the breadth of competencies selected for inclusion in teacher preparation. Examples included managing the classroom environment; planning and providing effective instruction; developing a safe, respectful environment for a diverse population of students; engaging students in higher order thinking; and social and technological competencies. While some consensus emerged in grouping the competencies of the beginning teacher into areas of knowledge, skills and attitudes - population of these broad categories is subjective and context specific. Examples included subject competencies, pedagogical competencies, competences for learning and growing. In addition, many authors acknowledged that the whole set of competences that teaching professionals require cannot be fully ‘mastered’ by any individual, let alone at the very beginning of the career. One of the most interesting findings that emerged is the suggestion that a mismatch exists between the competencies selected for inclusion and those the students actually acquire. For example, students often struggled with planning instruction and integrating technology and media in the classroom.
Throughout the review process, I was left with a number of questions regarding the selection and assessment/measurement of particular competencies included in teacher preparation: the appropriateness and relevance of the competencies selected / mandated in ITE and the appropriateness of assessment modalities employed to assess these competencies. With these questions in mind, what do we know about pre-service teachers in the Irish context?
I have worked with a variety of colleagues across different research projects and taken together our evidence suggests significant declines in academic, interpersonal, behavioral, and emotional functioning during pre-service teacher preparation. In sum, many students are now graduating without the competencies necessary to handle the increased moral, social and emotional demands of schooling (see my university profile for more detail).
So where does this leave us in terms of speaking to the selection of competencies for inclusion in teacher preparation? I find myself left with further questions: what competencies do we want included in ITE? Who determines what gets included? How does this process occur? Do we place appropriate focus on moral, social and emotional competencies? What competencies are our pre-service teachers emerging with and do they align with intended learning outcomes? What measurements/assessments are we using to garner this information (are they relevant and appropriate)? What, if anything are the teacher educator community saying in response to these issues?
The answer to these questions is unclear and requires exploration. We do not have sufficient evidence of what works and what does not work in teacher preparation programs. Our contention, therefore that pre-service teachers enter the work force with particular competencies is flawed. However, with a shift and commitment to evidence-based teacher preparation, we can ensure our beginning teachers have the competencies required to become effective teachers equipped with the knowledge and practices that will serve to meet the increasing demands of the teaching profession. As teacher educators, we cannot begin to plot a way forward without truly understanding where we are.
European Commission. (2013). Supporting teacher competence development for better learning outcomes. Brussels: European Commission.
Smith, K. (2016). Functions of Assessment in Teacher Education. In M.L. Hamilton and J.J Loughran (Eds.) The International handbook of teacher education, Volume II, (pp.405-428). Dordrecht: Springer.
TUNING. (2005). Reference Points for the Design and Delivery of Degree Programmes in Education. Bilbao and Groningen: University of Deusto and University of Groningen.