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JTE Authors Discuss Use of Inquiry Community Framework in Clinical Setting

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Check out a recent JTE Insider blog interview by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—just log in with your AACTE profile

This interview features insights from the article Becoming Clinically Grounded Teacher Educators: Inquiry Communities in Clinical Teacher Preparation by Rachel Wolkenhauer and Angela Hooser. The article was published in the March/April 2021 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Article Abstract: Calls for the renewal of teacher preparation through clinical practice have left many novice teacher educators to learn on the job. This article reports on the research of two such novices, studying their own practice. Addressing the need to better understand the approaches teacher educators take to clinically grounding their work, the authors used a hermeneutic approach to naturalistic inquiry to study their use of an inquiry community framework in a teacher preparation clinical setting. The authors found that within an arc of practitioner inquiry, explicitly teaching guided reflection and professional dialoguing skills within an inquiry community were key teacher educator practices. They found that an inquiry community approach holds promise as a structure and space for teacher educators to advance teacher preparation toward clinical practice.

What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

As novice teacher educators, we found ourselves having to carry out responsibilities we felt unprepared to do well. As we discuss in our article, we were becoming teacher educators as the nation was embracing a clinical approach to teacher preparation. We were assigned, for the first time, to supervise teacher candidates in their clinical field placements at the same time our college was redesigning the teacher preparation program toward a more clinically-rich model. As such, we were also expected to try some new techniques, but as we said, we didn’t feel well prepared to do this job, nonetheless, to innovate within it. We chose to embed our own professional learning into the experience by studying our own practices as teacher educators as we made sense of our new roles. It became a vital component of the work — work we have come to love and dedicate our careers to.

Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

We think that the push for clinically-rich teacher preparation was a politicized move connected to the high-stakes accountability movement. Because of this, we chose to take-up (use) the language from CAEP (2013) and find a way to “work within the system while pushing against it,” a phrase we now frequently share with our preservice teachers when we teach them about inquiry and taking an inquiry stance toward teaching. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) explained that “an inquiry stance provides a kind of grounding within the changing cultures of school reform and competing political agendas” (p. 289). They have since defined an inquiry stance as:

A worldview and a habit of mind—a way of knowing and being in the world of educational practice that carries across educational contexts and various points in one’s professional career and that links individuals to larger groups, and social movements intended to challenge the inequities perpetuated by the educational status quo. (p. viii)… The ultimate purpose of inquiry stance—always and in every context—is enhancing students’ learning and life chances for participation in and contribution to a diverse and democratic society. (2009, p. 146)

We believe that an inquiry stance “addresses CAEP’s demands because it normalizes teachers’ use of research and evidence to understand their own practices, but it also cleverly subverts CAEP’s potentially deprofessionalizing approach by positioning teachers as creators of worthy knowledge-of-practice” (Rutten, 2021, p. 11).

What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

Studying our own work, especially in collaboration with one another, made us vulnerable. We had to be honest with ourselves, and with one another, in revealing ways. We shared everything about our teaching during this study. And we found that it was just as hard to share success as it was to share failure. We found that the research made us newly vulnerable with our students as well. They knew we were doing this research, so we were open about learning to be teacher educators alongside them as they were learning to be elementary school teachers. There was beauty to that parity of learning, to be sure, but it also exposed us in ways that frequently shifted and redefined power structures. As novices, we recognized at research conceptualization the potential risk in showing our administrators and colleagues that we were at times unsure of our responsibilities, that we were still learning. Realizing we feared exposing ourselves as learners, however, may have been the final deciding factor. We knew we had to do this. Teacher educators must be learners in this work, so we took an inquiry stance toward our practice in ways that demonstrated our own vulnerable learning as worthy and necessary.

Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

We wished there had been space to share more of the work our amazing students did with us while we pursued this research into our own practices. The preservice teachers we worked with inspired and amazed us with their willingness to take risks and try new methods. Their own inquiries into learning to become teachers gave us courage and a deep sense of urgency to continue pursuing inquiry in community within teacher preparation.

What current areas of research are you pursuing?

Rachel continues to teach and study practitioner inquiry. Building on this paper, she recently researched the work of eight teacher educators in a professional development school partnership who took ownership and responsibility for their own learning by forming an inquiry community into their practices as teacher educators. She is also researching inquiry communities as a pedagogical approach for classroom teachers to use with their students, especially around issues of social justice in elementary classrooms. 

Angela continues to work within current systems to help raise the voices of teachers as advocates for their students, and the profession of teaching. Building on this paper, she is currently engaged in an inquiry community with administrators and teachers at a local elementary school to define partnership, being a mentor teacher, and to take action steps to promote equity for elementary students, teacher candidates and the surrounding community. She is also researching the stories of teachers and the ways that expectations during COVID-19 have empowered and disempowered their efforts to engage in good teaching.  

 What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?

Becoming a more equitable field is the most important challenge we see right now. We feel both a deep sense of urgency and a fear of quick, unsustainable fixes. We feel that we must support one another as action-oriented learners in the field of teacher education. We need to share in the process of learning to be anti-racist and socially just, so that we can institute lasting change can be made to the ways we prepare teachers for reimagining teaching and learning for equity. We see the necessity sometimes imposed by academia to have polished and finished products (e.g. journal articles, conference presentations) to share as problematic in this process. We must change in partnership and with honesty, intentionality, grace, and vigor—and we will need to do so in ways that care for one another as humans, learners, scholars and teachers so we might evolve in healthy ways. 

What advice would you give to new scholars in the field of teacher education?

This won’t surprise you, but we encourage new scholars in teacher education to be active learners of their own practices. And to be such learners within community. We encourage you to share the responsibility of your work by passionately learning alongside teacher education colleagues and P-12 school partners. Our work as teacher educators is political and heavy, but we have found joy by connecting our teaching and research in ways that allow us to maintain learner-stances. In these ways, we can remain dynamically curious and purposefully productive for the people we work with every day and for the field.

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