Dr Emma Rawlings Smith, Department of Education, University of Oxford and Dr Elizabeth Rushton, Institute of Education, University College London
In this blog we discuss a recently published paper in International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education titled ‘Geography teacher educators’ identity, roles and professional learning in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world’, in which we explore the role, identity and professional learning of geography teacher educators, through a subject lens.
Initial teacher education (ITE) systems worldwide have been the subject of significant government review and reform driven by the development of neoliberal discourses, policies and practices across the sector. For teacher educators, this ‘policy turn’ (Cochran-Smith, 2016) has resulted in increased centralisation, the narrowing of ITE curricular and a complex, fragmented and challenging context in which to work. Yet, teacher educators – those who teach teachers through initial or continuing teacher education programmes – are not always recognised for the vital role they play in the sector and the significant impact they have on the quality of teachers entering the profession.
Critics have argued that current policy reform is de-professionalising and allows the continued reproduction of social inequalities (Dwyer, Willis, & Call, 2020). At the same time, sustainability continues to be absent in teacher education policy in England (Dunlop & Rushton, 2022). We find these aspects troubling when considering the key role of education in creating a socially just and sustainable world (UN, 2021). Teacher educators worldwide continue to work in contexts which are shaped and informed by persistent policy reform and global environmental crises which we argue, combine to create a professional life that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Although, the contribution and identities of teachers, especially geography teachers, to the teaching of climate change and sustainability in formal education has been widely recognised (Rushton, 2021), the important context of teacher education, and geography teacher education, has received far less research attention. Our research study addresses this gap and explores the professional role, identity and professional learning of Geography Teacher Educators (GTEs) based in England.
A full account of our research study is available in Rawlings Smith and Rushton (2022). Here, we outline the key findings. Drawing on data from an online questionnaire, a practitioner workshop and semi-structured interviews, our findings highlight the diverse nature of a GTE’s role with three broad aspects including a focus on geography; the development of pre-service teachers’ pedagogy; and provision of pastoral support. During interview, participants placed emphasis on the subject specialist element of their work – this was a thread running through their professional life – and they wanted to support pre-service teachers to build their own relationship with geography during ITE. They also emphasised the importance of pastoral care, compassion and kindness as teacher education is a challenging and intense period of professional transition and development for pre-service teachers. In terms of knowledge, GTEs articulated the importance of having secure and substantive geographical knowledge; knowledge of teaching school geography; and engagement with geography education.
Drawing on diverse experiences and expertise, GTEs discussed the broader aims of education and how their role allowed them to promote social and environmental justice. Maintaining subject knowledge was seen as important but knowing where to source this was not always obvious. The forms of professional development GTEs recognised as key to their professional growth included engaging with research; professional learning within and beyond their institution; and being a member of the wider GTE community. With an appreciation of the serendipitous nature of professional learning activities, participants recognised the importance of the GTE community as a source and conduit for ongoing professional development.
Ahead of concluding this blog, we would like to invite readers to consider the following two questions:
- How can a geographical lens support new understandings of teacher education in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world?
- Is there the will from teacher educators and policy makers to make social justice and sustainability more visible in teacher education policy in England?
In the time taken to complete and publish this research study, the context of ITE in England has significantly changed. Following policy reform, a Market Review and ITE reaccreditation process has seen long-established and highly regarded providers of ITE lose their accreditation for 2024, meaning parts of the country will have teacher supply cold spots (DfE, 2021; Adams, 2022). This VUCA context has affected everyone across the sector and has impacted the professional roles and identities of teacher educators, felt more acutely by those whose jobs may no longer exist in 2024. This reduction in provision seems illogical when the government want schools to be increasingly research-informed (Rawlings Smith, 2022) and counterproductive particularly amid a teacher recruitment crisis, for example postgraduate teacher recruitment was 29% below target in 2022/23 (DfE, 2022).
Teacher education is a multi-faceted partnership involving schools, universities, policy makers, subject associations, professional bodies, unions and local communities to name but a few. We argue that teacher educators, and especially geography teacher educators, have a responsibility to work together to question and bravely challenge policy making which limits our capacity to leverage our professional roles to enable a socially and environmentally just future for all. There are many ways in which such questioning and challenge can occur, and we encourage that challenge to be constructive and collective. For example, active membership of professional bodies and subject associations and sharing perspectives and inviting future conversation and collaboration through blogs which are widely accessible are two possible ways. The VUCA context of teacher education in England can make engaging with policy change all the more challenging however, teacher educator communities of practice provide a vital space for this to continue.
Adams, R. (2022). Teacher shortage could worsen after DfE rejects dozens of training courses, The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2022/dec/09/teacher-shortage-worsen-dfe-rejects-dozens-established-trainers Accessed 10 December 2022.
Cochran-Smith, C. (2016). Teaching and teacher education: Absence and presence in AERA presidential addresses. Educational Researcher, 45(2), 92–99.
Department for Education (DfE). (2021). Initial teacher training (ITT): Accreditation. London: HM Government. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/initial-teacher-training-itt-accredita-tion#accreditation-process Accessed 12 December 2022.
Department of Education. (DfE) (2022). Postgraduate initial teacher training targets. London: HM Government. https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/postgraduate-initial-teacher-training-targets/2022-23 Accessed 12 December 2022.
Dunlop, L., & Rushton, E. A. C. (2022). Putting climate change at the heart of education: Is England’s strategy a placebo for policy? British Educational Research Journal, https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3816
Dwyer, R., Willis, A., & Call, K. (2020). Teacher educators speaking up: Illuminating stories stifled by the iron-grip regulation of initial teacher education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 48(5), 572–585.
Rawlings Smith, E. (2022). Breaking the theory-practice relationship: why decoupling universities from ITE would be illogical, CollectivED working papers, Leeds Beckett University. https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/research/collectived/working-paper-series/
Rawlings Smith, E., & Rushton, E.A.C. (2022). Geography teacher educators’ identity, roles and professional learning in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education.https://doi.org/10.1080/10382046.2022.2153988
Rushton, E. A. C. (2021). Building Teacher Identity in Environmental and Sustainability Education: The Perspectives of Preservice Secondary School Geography Teachers. Sustainability, 13(9), 5321.
United Nations (UN) (2021). Climate Change Conference: Co-chairs conclusions of education and environment ministers’ summit at COP26. https://ukcop26.org/co-chair s-conclusions-of-education-and-environment-ministers-summit-at-cop26/Accessed 12 December 2022.