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Identifying school-based teacher educators’ professional learning needs

Ann MacPhail, Associate Vice President Doctoral College at University of Limerick Eline Vanassche, Associate Professor at KU Leuven

Globally, there is a growing focus on school-based teacher education models (Lunenberg et al., 2014). The ‘pendulum swing’ between theory and practice has made schools and teachers far more influential stakeholders in the development of teachers (Murray & Mutton, 2016). In this context, it is crucial to understand the professional learning needs of school-based teacher educators (SBTEs) and the activities they consider effective in meeting those needs. Many SBTEs working in schools engage in activities supporting student teachers and experienced colleagues as a secondary professional role in addition to their primary role as schoolteachers – a role that, understandably perhaps, is more likely to be prioritised in terms of their professional learning opportunities.

Surveying school-based teacher educators’ professional learning needs

A recent study conducted by the International Forum for Teacher Educator Development (InFo-TED) connected to these questions. It examined the professional learning needs of SBTEs, through an international survey, building on earlier work exploring the professional learning needs of higher education-based teacher educators (HBTEs) (Czerniawski et al., 2017).

A total of 1,680 SBTEs from 12 countries (Australia, Austria, Belgium, England, France, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Scotland and the Netherlands) associated with InFo-TED participated in the survey. The participants included teachers who self-identified as SBTEs and teachers who mentor student teachers, interns and early-career teachers, as well as teachers who lead and facilitate their colleagues’ professional learning.

‘Our findings reveal you are more likely to receive some form of professional development activity to become a teacher educator in schools than in universities.’

Headline findings

One of the immediate surprises from our data, in sharp contrast to our survey findings with HBTEs, is the significant degree of preparation that many (but not all) SBTEs have for their role as teacher educators. In other words, you are more likely to receive some form of professional development activity to become a teacher educator in schools than in universities.

Three distinct factors became evident when participants were asked about their learning preferences:

  • Academic interests that comprise research-related activities such as attending and presenting at conferences and scholarly writing
  • Pedagogical interests that consist of acquiring knowledge and skills related to teaching and mentoring
  • Learning with and from colleagues includes observations of and by colleagues and informal conversations with them.

While the first two factors cast light on what SBTEs want to focus on in their professional learning, the third factor reveals how they want to learn and develop.

The analysis highlighted the importance placed on informal learning opportunities. These preferred modes of learning were, in many cases, similar to those of HBTEs described by MacPhail and colleagues (2018), such as informal learning conversations, personal reading and observations by/of other colleagues (providing those observations were not connected to some form of performative assessment). Academic and pedagogical interests received medium to medium-high rankings, with higher rankings being aligned with writing and publishing for teachers and students (academic) and coaching and mentoring students and teachers (pedagogical). There was a greater level of variability from low to high rankings for learning with others with observations of and by colleagues ranked higher.

Our findings evidence that SBTEs have generally acculturated the importance of research in informing their work. Yet, their actual involvement in research is low, and significantly smaller than we had found in our earlier study with colleagues working in higher education institutions (Czerniawski et al., 2017). This suggests that actual involvement in research is contingent, at least in part, on the working conditions in schools in particular, the degree to which SBTEs consider their school leadership and colleagues as supportive of research.

A call for wider recognition and professional learning support for SBTEs

Our study (see Czerniawski et al., 2023) acknowledges and celebrates the integrity, dedication and enthusiasm that SBTEs bring to their work, supporting teachers in all stages of their professional development. It offers empirical evidence of the pressing need for much wider recognition and enhance professional learning support for SBTEs. This demand arises as many countries are progressively adopting school-based models of teacher education as part of a wider international practice or practicum-turn. If policy promotes a more significant role for schools and teachers in the education of teachers, they must also provide substantial resources to support SBTEs in their new identities and practices as a teacher of teachers. Furthermore, research should extend its focus beyond HBTEs and explore further the relationship between professional learning opportunities and the resulting learning process and outcomes, however challenging that is, both conceptually and methodologically.


Czerniawski, G., MacPhail, A., & Guberman, A. (2017). The professional development needs of higher education-based teacher educators: An international comparative needs analysis. European Journal of Teacher Education, 40(1), 127–140.

Czerniawski, G., Guberman, A., MacPhail, A., & Vanassche, E. (2023). Identifying school-based teacher educators’ professional learning needs: An international survey. European Journal of Teacher Education. Advance online publication. 

Lunenberg, M., Dengerink, J., & Korthagen, F. (2014). The professional teacher educator: Roles, behaviour, and professional development of teacher educators. Sense.

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, 45(5), 848–861.

Murray, J., & Mutton, T. (2016). Teacher education in England: Change in abundance, continuities in question. In Gary Beauchamp et al. (Eds.), Teacher education in times of change (pp. 57–74). Policy Press.

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