What the resource is:
This research paper outlines the findings of a small scale research project focussing on the developing research trajectories of six teacher educators and their mentors in two different higher education institutions, an old established university and a new university.
The aims of the resource:
The aim of the research was to identify effective mentoring practices and other forms of support as well as identifying potential barriers to the development of a research identity.
Key findings or focus:
The focus of the paper is on the mentoring practice and methods of support for new teacher educators, and how this impacts upon the development of teacher educator research identities.
The researchers reported that:
- Mentors identified issues related to the perceived importance of research in their different institutions. In the old university, research activity was seen as a priority and an expectation. In the new university, teaching appeared to be the main activity with intense timetabling because of the large amount of Initial Teacher Education programmes offered. Teacher educators from both institutions reported a tension between their teaching and research activity, and this created a lack of confidence and understanding of their role.
- Different types of research were reported to be valued differently in the two institutions, particularly in relation to practitioner research.
- The range of strengths that teacher educators had previously developed in schools was recognised as valuable within both university research cultures. Areas such as subject knowledge, up-to-date knowledge of schools and children, and access to schools were seen to be particularly valuable. Although these strengths were recognised, there was a perception, particularly by mentors in the old university, that the teacher educators lacked an understanding of the theory underpinning their practice.
- The teacher educators in both institutions reported that mentor support was essential in order to encourage their emerging research identities. Formal training through Masters programmes or doctoral study was highly valued, because of the formal support and structure involved. Different types of collaborative research groups were also seen as very important.
- New teacher educators recognised that they had differing needs depending on the stage they had reached on their individual research journey, and referred to the experience as a process. Mentors reported, particularly in the old university, that a change of mindset was required by the teacher educators, for instance not being so available for students or meetings, having determination, passion and ‘being ruthless'. Some mentors thought that the qualities needed to be a good researcher seemed to be opposite to those of a good teacher.
- Teacher educators reported key landmarks such as gaining a masters qualification, first conference paper or journal article, which were significant in developing their confidence as researchers.
Barriers to research included the following:
- Teacher educators from both institutions reported a difficult transition from school context to university context - boundary crossing. There was a tendency for new teacher educators to initially position themselves as teachers within a university context rather than academics.
- Self-confidence about their ability to research was generally low amongst teacher educators. They reported that developing a research identity was a huge challenge, although how this altered for individuals over their first seven years in post is unclear from the paper.
- Time was seen as the most significant barrier, especially in the new university, where teaching was seen as the priority. Lack of sustained time for research activity was cited as an issue in the old university, although the teacher educators blamed themselves for poor organisation and an inability to defend research days effectively.
The authors make several key recommendations, which include designing a structured and supportive induction process and providing dedicated research time in which to develop an emerging research identity. Particular strategies such as peer support, research ‘buddying' and collaborative research are viewed as especially supportive, enabling mentors to model research practice and develop the confidence of their mentees. In addition, they suggest that providing opportunities for in-house output and a change of culture that values practitioner research, as well as more formal research practices, would enable teacher educators to utilise the skills they have developed as teachers and provide a secure field in which to work before extending to other types of research.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource in relation to ITE:
This paper contributes to a growing interest in the academic development and workplace learning of teacher educators, and provides insight into the development of research identity focusing on mentor support. Although this is a small scale study, the authors usefully compare and contrast two different institutions. The methodological approach is innovative, in that the new teacher educators were encouraged to develop their research identity by taking part in the data collection process as well as being the focus of the study, although information on how this worked in practice would be helpful. This approach is reflected in the report's recommendations, and demonstrates how opportunities to enable new researchers to develop their research identity in collaboration with more experienced academics can be implemented. The subjects were within their first seven years as teacher educators, and it could be argued that their research trajectories would be at different stages, making it difficult to reach generalisations in terms of experience, although the report does advocate taking an individual approach. This paper is a summary of a longer article, so more detail on the individual teacher educators may be evident in the full journal article. Effective mentor support is regarded as a critical factor in the formation of teacher educators' research identities, and all of the subjects interviewed appear to have gained some confidence through mentoring, particularly when this is combined with a formal course of study. In many ways, this seems to have enabled the educators to defend the time that they allocated to their research activity because of their course expectations. However, the overall focus of the research was to identify effective mentoring practices and other forms of support as well as potential barriers to the development of a research identity, and this will possibly have more impact on future teacher educators than those interviewed for this study. It would be interesting to consider the methods that the six different mentors adopted with regard to their mentees' experience, and whether they encountered similar time management pressures.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
Issues explored in this paper will resonate with teacher educators developing an emerging research identity in all types of higher education institution, and may provide positive solutions or at least some comfort that this experience is not unusual. The paper provides recommendations for good practice that both tutors and mentors could implement, although for many this will need the support of the institution in which they work. Based on the findings of the paper, my view is that in order to achieve the greatest impact, the recommendations should be implemented for mentors and teacher educators within the first year of a new appointment.
The relevance to ITE students:
This paper does not have direct relevance to ITE students, although it may be of interest for them to gain an insight into the working lives of their tutors, and how research is seen as an integral part of teaching and learning within the universities. In addition, teacher educators sharing and modelling practitioner research activity with their students could help to support the development of academic identity for Newly Qualified Teachers embarking on the newly established Masters in Teaching and Learning.
The following might be useful to read in conjunction with this resource:
Boyd, P., Harris, K. and Murray, J. (2007) Becoming a Teacher Educator: Guidelines for the induction of newly appointed lecturers in initial Teacher Education. Bristol: Escalate [Online: http://escalate.ac.uk/downloads/3662.pdf]