Professing Education

Teaching as Scholarship: Improving Teacher Education Through Self-Study

Julian Kitchen

Brock University

When I became a professor, I made a commitment to scholarship, teaching, and service. While all three are important, few would dispute the primacy of scholarship for tenure, promotion, and compensation in comprehensive universities and, yes, even in faculties of education. As an education professor, I am not blind to the irony of making teaching subservient to scholarship in my discipline.

Sometimes I am tempted to leap onto the ramparts in a quixotic effort to usurp scholarship from its throne. Surely it is time for teaching and service to assume their rightful places as equal members of the triumvirate! As an assistant professor, however, I resist the temptation to become an academic martyr to a noble cause. Nor is sacrifice necessary.

Indeed, there is a growing recognition that teaching should be recognized as a form of scholarship. Hutching and Shulman (1999) argue that the scholarship of teaching should be recognized as "the fourth of four scholarships" (p. 12), alongside the scholarship of discovery (pursuit of new knowledge), the scholarship of integration (fittting knowledge into larger patterns and contexts), and the scholarlship of application (engagement with real world problems). With encouragement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, many universities are developing the infrastructure to support professors researching their practice. Education professors are particularly well situated to take advantage of the opportunities for scholarship on teaching.

What is Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices?

Self-study of teacher education practices (S-STEP) is a way for teacher educators to apply inquiry skills to reflect on their practices. Self-study allows teacher educators "to maintain a focus on their teaching and on their students' learning" (Loughran, 2002), while engaging in scholarly practice. Self-study is a methodology characterized by examination of the role of the self in the research project and "the space between self and the practice engaged in" (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001, p. 15). According to Bullough and Pinnegar (2001), it is through written reflection and teacher conversations that we negotiate the tensions between ourselves and our contexts, between biography and history. Self-study has proved highly compatible with other research methods as it has "used various qualitative methodologies and has focused on a wide range of substantive issues" (Zeichner & Noffke, 2001, p. 305).

In recent years, collaboration among teacher educators has become one of the defining characteristics of self-study (Lighthall, 2004). While self-study is primarily a personal inquiry, researchers benefit by working with collaborators who help them "step outside" themselves in order to notice patterns and trends in their work (Loughran & Northfield, 1998, p. 14). Collaborative self-studies offer possibilities for connecting across programs and institutions (Loughran, 2002).

Self-study is having an impact on teaching and teacher education. Teacher educators committed to self-study have developed strong networks nationally and internationally. The S-STEP Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association is a venue in which teacher educators share their reflections on practice. The bi-annual International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices at Herstmonceux Castle in England attracts scholars from around the world. There is also an international journal, Studying Teacher Education, and a handbook, International Handbook on Self-study of Teaching and Teacher Education Practices.

Self-Study Scholarship

The possibilities for self-study of teacher education practices are almost limitless. The breadth of possibilities is evident from the papers included in the proceedings of The Sixth International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices titled Collaboration and Community: Pushing the Boundaries through Self-Study (Fitzgerald, Heston, & Tidwell, 2006).

Papers include individual reflections on technology-mediated learning, mathematics instruction, assessment practices, preservice teacher knowledge, and the challenges of teacher education reform. My contribution to the volume, titled "Reflecting on the Feedback Loop in Reflective Practice: A Teacher Educator Responds to Reflective Writing by Preservice teachers" (Kitchen, 2006), involved a review of my comments to teacher candidates over seven years as a "seconded" teacher educator working in a one-year teacher education program. In preparing the article, I coded my comments to students and identified eight categories of response. The process of examining my comments "made explicit the tension I experience as I seek to balance personally validating preservice teachers with criticism of their professional practice" (p. 150). In responding to reflective portfolios, I now explicitly review these categories to improve the quality of my feedback to teacher candidates. Similar processes may be helpful to other teacher educators who respond in writing to the reflective portfolios of their students.

More than half the conference papers were co-authored. Collaboration has become a significant trend, as many people find greater meaning when they reflect alongside peers who work immediately alongside them or from half-way around the globe. Collaborative self-studies included two math teachers grappling with dilemmas in teaching algebra, an examination of an institutional accreditation process, dialogue in self-study, and a self-study of a community of learning researchers. For example, after deconstructing the process of teacher education innovation over the past nine years, Martin and Russell (2006) raise important questions about the ways in which institutional cultures act as impediments to meaningful changes in teacher education. Through an examination of their own teaching and a review of focus groups on teacher candidates' views of reforms, the authors offer insights into the "invisible cultural assumptions" in teacher education (p. 189). For Martin and Russell, self-study offers an alternative critical vantage point on teacher education processes. Kosnik, Samaris, and Freese (2006), who work in three universities thousands of miles apart, examine their emails and dialogues at self-study conferences to consider why their collaboration worked, its limitations, and how this collaboration has influenced their work at their home universities. This article offers interesting insights into the power of collaboration to foster "a sense of intellectual safety in a non-competitive and highly supportive culture" (p. 154). These collaborative experiences were often in stark contrast to their experiences in their home universities.

Conclusion

It is vital that professors engage in scholarship on their own practice. Such scholarship is a means to incrementally restoring the balance among scholarship, teaching, and service. The self-study of teacher education practices, by promoting reflection on the intersection between theory and practice in our own classrooms, can also play a critical role in improving teaching, and, by extension, learning in schools.

In my university, eight tenure-track education faculty have formed a self-study community that supports teaching as scholarship and is committed to improving our pre-service teacher education program.

 

References

Bullough, R. V., & Pinnegar, S. (2001). Guidelines for quality in autobiographical forms of self-study research. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 13-21.

Fitzgerald, L., Heston, M.L., & Tidwell, D.L. (Eds.) (2006). Collaboration and community; pushing the boundaries through self-study (Proceedings of the sixth annual international conference on self-study of teacher education practices). Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, U.K., July 2006. http://educ.queensu.ca/~ar/sstep6

Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, September/October, 1999.

Kitchen, J. (2006) Reflecting on the feedback loop in reflective practice: A teacher educator responds to reflective writing by preservice teachers. Proceedings of the sixth annual international conference on self-study of teacher education practices, 147-151. Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, U.K., July 2006.

Kosnik, C., Samaris, A. P., & Freese, A.R. (2006). Beginning with trusted friends: Venturing out to work collaboratively in our institutions. Proceedings of the sixth annual international conference on self-study of teacher education practices, 152-156. Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, U.K., July 2006.

Lighthall, F. F. (2004). Fundamental features and approaches of the s-step enterprise. In J.J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. K. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practise (pp. 193-246). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Loughran, J. (2002). Understanding self-study of teacher education practices. In J. Loughran and T. Russell (Eds.), Improving teacher education practices through self-study (pp. 239-248). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Loughran, J., & Northfield, J. R. (1998). A framework for the development of self-study practice. In M.L. Hamilton (Ed.), Reconceptualizing teacher practice: Self-study in teacher education (pp. 7-18). London: Falmer Press.

Martin, A. K., & Russell, T. (2006). Lost in teachers' college — Deconstructing the teacher education façade: A case study of collegial self-study. Proceedings of the sixth annual international conference on self-study of teacher education practices, 186-189. Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, U.K., July 2006.

Zeichner, K. M., & Noffke, S.E. (2001). Practitioner research. In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching, pp. 298-332. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.