Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Educator Professional Learning in the Third Space: Implications for Identity and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Educator Professional Learning in the Third Space: Implications for Identity and Practice

Article excerpt


The professional learning of teacher educators has received increasing attention in the research literature in recent years (Murray & Male, 2005; Swennen, Shagrir, & Cooper, 2009; van Velzen, van der Klink, Swennen, & Yaffe, 2010), after many years of being seen as under-researched and poorly theorized (Davey, 2013). While the work of teacher educators is becoming more clearly understood in respect to the transition from teacher to teacher educator (Williams, Ritter, & Bullock, 2012), one aspect of their pedagogy that is still relatively unexamined is that of working in schools with mentor or cooperating teachers and preservice teachers, particularly during professional experience programs. It is easy to assume that this dimension of teacher educator practice is relatively straightforward and unproblematic for former schoolteachers now working as teacher educators. However, just as the literature on the transition from teacher to teacher educator has revealed (Boyd & Harris, 2010; Williams et al., 2012; Wood & Borg, 2010), the work of teacher educators in the space between universities and schools is anything but straightforward and unproblematic. It is an area of professional practice that is increasingly revealed as complex and challenging, even for experienced teacher educators (Cuenca, Schmeichel, Butler, Dinkelman, & Nichols, 2011; Martin, Snow, & Franklin Torrez, 2011).

The importance of understanding the nature of working in this third space is underlined by the changing educational policy context of many governments in relation to teacher education programs and teacher quality. For example, in Australia, the Federal government has allocated extensive resources to assist universities and schools to work together in partnership to develop models of teacher education that involve closer links between teachers in schools and teacher educators in universities. In Victoria, the School Centres of Teaching Excellence, and the more recent Teaching Academies of Professional Practice, require schools and universities to form innovative partnerships where teachers, teacher educators, and preservice teachers work together to "facilitate strong school-university partnerships to deliver a quality professional experience for pre-service teachers; [to] adopt an onsite learning approach; [and to] foster a community of practice on pre-service education" (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2014). Similarly, in the United Kingdom, the Schools Direct program is the latest step in the gradual shift of initial teacher education from tertiary providers to schools. Teacher educators in universities are increasingly required to work closely with schools in the provision of preservice programs. Such shifts of policy direction, requiring closer collaboration between teachers and teacher educators, make it essential for teacher educators to be well equipped to work effectively in these newly emerging third spaces and to recognize and manage the challenges that this brings.

As a former primary teacher and mentor of student teachers for many years, and now working as a teacher educator in university-based professional experience programs, I was interested to examine my own experiences in the third space created by practicum supervision in schools and the impact of this work on my evolving professional identity and practice as a teacher educator (Williams, 2012, 2013). After undertaking a self-study to this end, I was prompted to find out whether or not other teacher educators had similar or different experiences to me and to explore what could be learned from their experiences to inform the professional learning of teacher educators into the future. This article reports on the results of that research project, involving teacher educators from five different universities in three different countries (Australia, United Kingdom, and The Netherlands).

Literature Review

The concept of a third space derives from the boundary crossing work of Bhabha (1994) and later of Engestrom. …

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