Changing Identities and Practices? Transitioning from the role of supervisor to placement tutor in Initial Teacher Education.
Moving from an era of policy development to its translation into practice within initial teacher education in Ireland, the roles and responsibilities of the various partners in schools and higher education institutions are in transition. Initial teacher education (ITE) for post-primary teachers has been extended to a two-year Professional Master of Education (PME) programme from 2014, allowing additional focus to be placed on the central component of school placement. Within this context, the traditional role of ‘supervisor’ has been changed to that of ‘placement tutor’ with a defined and nationally agreed set of responsibilities provided by the Teaching Council (2013).
Recent developments in Ireland are reflective of wider European and international developments in ITE which sees the role of teachers as ever-changing and increasingly challenging (Sahlberg et al. 2012; European Commission, 2014; Teacher Education Group, 2016). The role of teacher educators is under-researched both internationally and specifically in Ireland (Dolan, 2011), referred to as an “unexamined occupational group” by Martinez (2008). Swennen et al. (2010) note the multiple professional identites of teacher educators, with many identifying as school teachers, teachers in higher education, researchers or teachers of teachers. This identity is often developed and revised within the role as teacher educator and can be challenged as roles and responsibilities change (Murray and Male, 2005).
This study explores the perspectives and identity of current placement tutors on the PME course in Maynooth University in relation to their role, past and present. The key research question is: “What impact have the recent changes to ITE and a change in role title had on the professional identity of current placement tutors?” The research was undertaken with tutors who previously worked as supervisors and then as placement tutors to explore the similarites and differences between the roles and the shifts in identity they perceived as they transitioned between the roles. Specifically, the objectives of the research were to examine the views of placement tutors on their overall role and identity, their role and identity in the context of placement schools and their role and identity in terms of the university course. The research is situated within a theoretical frame pertaining to the development of teacher educator identity. It builds upon Murray (2002) in relation to the professional development of second order practicitoners, Murray and Male’s (2005) changes in professional identity, knowledge and understanding, Loughran’s theory of professional development of teacher educators (2014) and Berry’s (2007) tensions in teaching about teaching.
The research is timely as it captures the perspectives of placement tutors on their identity as they transition between their previous and current roles in 2015. It also fits into the wider European agenda (European Commission, 2013) of exploring and developing the professional awareness and identity of teacher educators.
Seven placement tutors who have worked on both the PDE programme as supervisors of teaching practice and on the PME as placement tutors were interviewed for this research. Semi-structured interviews were used with research participants to elicit their perspectives. Semi-structured interviews were chosen as the preferred methodology as this allowed core content to be covered with each of the research participants while also allowing the interviewee the opportunity to develop ideas and speak more widely on the issues raised by the interview. Arising from the literature, questions were designed in the following areas:
View of Placement Tutor role
Role of Placement Tutor within context of school
Role of Placement Tutor within context of university
All interviews were transcribed and initially analysed on a thematic basis, using the interview questions as the initial themes for coding. Followng this, each transcript was reread, using a grounded theory approach, to elicit themes that might not have been visible when using the interview themes. Data were triangulated by document analysis, including analysis of core documents related to placement and of reports written by the research participants when they were supervisors and in their new positions as tutors.
Initial results from the analysis show that there have been some small changes to practice arising from the change in role. There are also tensions within the role, some similar to Berry’s (2007) tensions and others that have not previously been described.
The main expected outcome of the research is to gain an insight into the shifting identity of current placement tutors as their roles and responsibilities change in light of recent developments in ITE. It is envisaged that this will impact positively on the professional development of placement tutors, present and future, as they begin to articulate aspects of their professional identity. Data will be used at the monthly professional development meetings with placement tutors as a basis for dialogue and discussion on their role, with a view to deepening the community of practice (Wenger, 1998 ) that is emerging among the group. It is also envisaged that the research into identity will be replicated with current and future placement tutors to examine the impact of evolving changes in ITE on their professional identity. This will impact on the recruitment and induction prcoedures in place in Maynooth University for placement tutors and support the identification of the ongoing continuing professional development needs of placement tutors into the future.
Berry, A. (2007) Tensions in Teaching about Teaching Verlag: Springer
Dolan, R. (2011) A step away from where you used to be – The Development of Teacher Educators’ Professional Knowledge in an Irish University. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Cambridge University.
European Commission (2013). Supporting Teacher Educators for Better Learning Outcomes. Brussels: European Commission.
European Commission (2014). Initial Teacher Education in Europe: An Overview of Policy Issues. Brussels: European Commission.
Martinez, K. (2008). Academic induction for teacher educators? Asia-Paciﬁc Journal of Teacher Education, 36(1), 35-51.
Murray, J. (2002). Between the chalkface and the ivory towers? A study of the professionalism of teacher educators working on primary initial teacher education courses in the English education system. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Institute of Education, University of London, London. Retrieved from Collected Original Resources in Education (CORE), 26(3), 1–503
Murray, J. and Male, T. (2005). Becoming a Teacher Educator: Evidence from the Field. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, 125-142.
Sahlberg, P., Munn, P. and Furlong, J. (2012). Report of the International Review Panel on the Structure of Initial Teacher Education Provision in Ireland: Review conducted on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. Dublin: DES.
Swennen, A., Jones, K. and Volman, M. (2010). Teacher Educators: their Identities, Sub-identities and Implications for Professional Development. Professional Development in Education, 36 (1–2), 131–148.
Teacher Education Group (2016). Teacher Education in Times of Change. Bristol:Policy Press, University of Bristol.
Teaching Council (2013). Guidelines on School Placement – 1st Edition. Maynooth: Teaching Council.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.