The professional development of higher education-based teacher educators

Nurturing teacher educators’ communities of enquiry
February 24, 2019
Collaborative Learning and the TEC (Tecnology, Education and Cultural Diversity) Projects
March 10, 2019

The professional development of higher education-based teacher educators


Current literature suggests that while teacher educators perform a multitude of complex roles, they receive minimal preparation or possibilities for professional development to fulfil these roles. As a result, they need to acquire relevant knowledge and skills after taking on the position of teacher educators. Therefore,

it is important to learn what skills and knowledge teacher educators need and how they acquire such skills and knowledge throughout their career.

This blog reports findings from a study that describes the professional development needs and activities of 61 teacher educators across six national jurisdictions (England, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Scotland and The Netherlands) and to reveal influencing factors and affordances conducive to professional development (MacPhail, Ulvik, Guberman et al., 2018). Semi-structured interviews constituted questions on professional learning opportunities and teacher education and research. Results from the interviews convey themes around the areas of (i) self-initiated professional development, (ii) the importance of experiencing professional development through collaboration with peers and colleagues, (iii) accessing opportunities to improve teacher education teaching practices, and (iv) the inextricable link between teaching and research and, consequently, the need to upskill in research skills. Four related discussion points are shared here.


The induction period

The infrastructure of institutes appeared not to provide time to support or mentor beginning teacher educators, with many teacher educators reporting that they were expected to ‘hit the ground running’ from day 1 of their appointment. This finding is consistent with other reports claiming that beginning teacher educators experience a period of ‘de-skilling’, as they try to adapt to their new roles as higher education-based teacher educators.


Frustration and tension in navigating the role of teacher educator

Tensions in navigating their roles as teacher educators were evident when considering their teaching and research remits. While teacher educators conveyed a passion for teaching and improving their teaching practices, it was clear that institutes preferred to invest their support and associated structures towards research activities.

The pressure towards research made it difficult to focus on teaching as much as many of the teacher educators wanted to.

Haphazard professional learning

There appeared to be no considered or sequenced programme for teacher educators’ professional learning which led to a somewhat haphazard approach to accessing any general professional learning opportunities when they arose. There was a clear reliance on the individual teacher educator to seek out appropriate professional learning opportunities.


Learning with and from each other

Accessing colleagues who could support teacher educators’ professional learning was a preferred way to increase teacher educators’ skills and knowledge. Few teacher educators reported they participated in professional communities that played a crucial role in their capacity building. Others positioned themselves as individual academics, focusing more on individual rewards, research metrics and outputs. They appeared to favour a more informal way of connecting with colleagues when necessary and appropriate.



Three main ‘headlines’ emerge from this study. First, there appears to be an undercurrent (perpetuated by institutes and in turn individual teacher educators) that all teacher educators excel in multiple roles and responsibilities related to teaching, research, administration and leadership. Second, there is a strong desire from teacher educators to avail of the opportunity to learn from each other, appreciating that the pressure of finding time to meet and discuss with colleagues is a continual barrier to such aspirations. Third, disconnect from school practice experienced by teacher educators appears, in their own minds, to diminish the currency of the teacher educator in espousing the reality of teaching in schools.

It is therefore recommended that teacher educators receive mandatory formal preparation before they start working as teacher educators, and later participate in professional learning and research communities, either within or outside their institute.

Such opportunities need to be cognizant of the different backgrounds from which teacher educators are being recruited as well as the self-contradictory expectations of teacher educators that are reported (Ulvik and Smith 2016). It is further suggested that teacher education institutes review teacher educators’ roles, and provide a structured and balanced work schedule, that allows time for professional development.



MacPhail, A., Ulvik, M., Guberman, A., Czerniawski, G., Oolbekkink-Marchand, H. & Bain, Y. 2018. The professional development of higher education-based teacher educators: needs and realities, Professional Development in Education, DOI: 10.1080/19415257.2018.1529610

Ulvik, M. and Smith, K., 2016. Å undervise om å undervise: lærerutdanneres kompetanse sett fra deres eget og fra lærerstudenters perspektiv. [Teaching about teaching. Teacher educators’ competence from their own and their student teachers’ perspective)]. UNIPED, 39, 1.

Ann MacPhail
Ann MacPhail

Ann MacPhail, University of Limerick, Ireland ( Ann is Assistant Dean Research in the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences and a member of the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Ann’s research interests include the professional learning needs of teacher educators, practices in (physical education) teacher education programmes, instructional alignment and self-study. Ann has a presence on Twitter (@AnnMacPhail1) and her research interests can be accessed at her ResearchGate profile

Ann MacPhail, Melanie Ní Dhuinn and Rose Dolan have, since 2017, facilitated the National Teacher Education and Teacher Educator Forum in Ireland with a view to support the professional development of teacher educators and to contribute to the development of the continuum of teacher education in Ireland. In re-connecting recently in response to an online catch-up meeting, unsurprisingly our conversation quickly turned to our respective observations of the reality of negotiating teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. We share our conversation contributions here in anticipation of initiating conversation on how we can best engage as a community of teacher educators in the pandemic context and subsequently consider how such conversations might confirm or challenge our practices as teacher educators. Read post 2 and post 3

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