Initial teacher education (ITE) has increasingly come under public and political scrutiny in several countries due to a growing focus on competitive international rankings (Douglas-Gardner & Callender, 2023). This is combined with the rather simplistic argument posited by policymakers that when graduate teachers are well prepared by their programmes of study, they will be ready for the challenges of the classroom, and, by association, student educational outcomes will improve (Stronge et al., 2011). Furthermore, good teacher preparation is considered essential to stem the rising tide of teacher attrition, a situation that has reached a crisis point in several countries. In Australia, ITE has come under relentless fire, with ongoing reviews determining how universities should ensure they are graduating ‘classroom-ready’ teachers (see for example Australian Government, 2022).
Externally driven and often politically informed, the resultant accountabilities and requirements have resulted in a significant narrowing of what must be addressed in teacher education programmes, a movement seen worldwide (Salto, 2022). With these programmes focusing on addressing the requirements of externally driven standards and their associated prioritisation of content knowledge and classroom skills, the development of broader, transferrable dispositions that are essential to preservice teachers’ career-long identities as professional learners such as curiosity, critical thinking, autonomy and open-mindedness may be pushed to the side.
We argue that these dispositions, which we understand as ‘intellectual virtues’ (Baehr, 2013), are essential to the good thinking of all individuals and must have a place in any ITE programme that professes to develop ‘classroom-ready teachers’. Made up of nine ways of approaching learning – including intellectual thoroughness (going deep in one’s learning), tenacity (persisting in the face of a learning challenge), and intellectual humility (being willing to acknowledge when one does not know or understand) – these virtues are fundamental to preservice teachers’ success as higher education students, and their futures as teaching professionals and lifelong learners. These virtues go beyond the ‘technicalities of teaching’ ‒ the focus of the Standards ‒ to consider that preparation for teaching requires learning to think deeply and critically about teaching and learning.
The development of intellectual virtues has been shown to benefit from intentional instruction within higher education contexts (Baehr, 2013) and, therefore, it was of interest to this research team to investigate the extent to which our ITE programme did so. In our 2022 research study, we surveyed 28 teacher educators at an Australian university and asked them to indicate the extent to which they intentionally taught intellectual virtues, and how they went about doing this. We found that while most agreed that the implementation of intellectual virtues was important, there was a clear misalignment between the educators’ perceptions of their intended and enacted teaching practice. In short, many teacher educators indicated that they intentionally embedded the teaching of intellectual virtues, yet, upon further examination, the ways they did this either lacked intentionality or may have not addressed the target virtues.
‘Many teacher educators indicated that they intentionally embedded the teaching of intellectual virtues, yet, upon further examination, the ways they did this either lacked intentionality or may have not addressed the target virtues.’
A further phase of this research, conducted in 2023, revealed that several issues played a role in constraining teacher educators’ perceptions of how well intellectual virtues are (and can) be embedded in initial teacher education. These included: knowledge of the virtues; relevant teaching approaches; personally held beliefs about the need for such a focus; the stage of the programme in which a course is located; and importantly, control over course development and delivery. Further to this, several teacher educators felt that unless the virtues were specifically assessed, their students were less inclined to place value on developing these dispositions.
These findings serve as a caution for all ITE providers, in Australia and elsewhere, where constraints may be negatively impacting a focus on developing the intellectual virtues of preservice teachers as part of their readiness to transition into the profession. In a profession that requires teachers to pivot and respond to ever-increasing complexity and changing demands, preservice teachers’ development as learners is a critical piece in the classroom readiness puzzle. The challenge for ITE is managing or overcoming these constraints to enable a more holistic teacher preparation experience for preservice teachers.
Australian Government. (2022). Next steps: Report of the quality initial teacher education review. https://www.education.gov.au/quality-initial-teacher-education-review/resources/next-steps-report-quality-initial-teacher-education-review
Baehr, J. (2013). Educating for intellectual virtues: From theory to practice. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 48(2), 248–262. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9752.12023.
Douglas-Gardner, J., & Callender, C. (2023). Changing teacher educational contexts: Global discourses in teacher education and its effect on teacher education in national contexts. Power and Education, 15(1), 66–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/17577438221124744
Salto, D. J. (2022). Capacity and willingness in higher education accreditation: When incentives are not enough. Studies in Higher Education, 48(4), 538–550. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2022.2148158
Stronge, J. H., Ward, T. J., & Grant, L. W. (2011). What makes good teachers good? A cross-case analysis of the connection between teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Journal of Teacher Education, 62(4), 339–355. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487111404241