Autonomy in Teacher Education?

There have been some recent conversations about technology and teacher education in my reader lately.  I have a ton of admiration for the education programs in BC but I, too, have been a bit critical of universities and colleges for not offering more education technology courses for their future graduates but I also wonder what role we play in supporting/hindering pre-service teachers using edtech.

In a recent post, Chris Kennedy wrote:

As a profession, we need to take a critical look at the structure and content of teacher training programs. It is simply no longer acceptable for someone to enter our profession without some degree of digital literacy. Teachers entering our system need to know the how of using the tools and also the why. They need to apply their reflective and critical thinking skills to the digital space. I expect that the new teachers we hire into our schools will understand the suite of tools available to them, know how to model their use and be able to choose the appropriate tools to match learning objectives.

Also, in a post on the teaching interview process, Lyn Hilt is critical of some teacher applicants when she writes one of the lows of the interview process was “A general ‘Technology is so important for kids today‘ notion, but not being able to articulate meaningful uses for technology in the classroom.”

I completely agree with Chris and Lyn in that we should have an expectation that teachers should be able to use technology not as a separate course but as a way in which students learn.  Technology should not be something that stops in teacher training programs.

I have recently been inspired by the work done at my alma mater, University of Victoria, by Dr. Valerie Irvine and a few of her students at the Technology Integration and Evaluation Research Lab in the Faculty of Education.   I have connected with a number of these students and was able to meet Valerie and her colleague Jillianne Code in the past few weeks.

I received a message from one of their students on Twitter asking, “Have you ever had a practicum student effectively integrate technology into the classroom?”.  I responded that I had not… nor had I interviewed any potential teachers that had.  He then asked a question that lead to this post:

“What would happen if a student teacher was passionate about technology in education but had a sponsor teacher and/or school that was opposed?”

As a principal, I would always do my best to match up the strengths of practicum students and sponsor teachers.  Having said this, I know this is not always possible and I know of a few student teachers that did not bond well with their sponsor teacher.

So… although I agree with Chris and Lyn’s posts, I am wondering what role schools have in supporting/hindering the development in future teachers that want to integrate education technology.  I am hoping you can leave your thoughts to these questions or others that come to mind:

  1. We often discuss autonomy with professional development and autonomy with student learning as a key part of motivation.  How can we work to increase the autonomy in teacher training in schools? (If we do not provide pre-service teachers with the autonomy to try innovative ideas, do we really know what they are capable of?)
  2. Do we, as educators, LEAD and encourage our student-teachers to take risks or do we force them to comply (ie. jump through hoops) and teach like the culture of the classroom/school dictates.
  3. How can we improve the teacher training programs in schools so student teachers are matched up with teachers that not only align with their areas of interest but also challenge them in areas outside of their interest.
  4. What if a student-teacher passionate about edtech ends up in a classroom/school that is not supportive of technology integration?  What can he/she do?
  5. How can we support our sponsor teachers/teacher mentors (and parents) so they feel enough trust to provide pre-service teachers with more autonomy?
Our pre-service teaching programs seem to be over in the blink of an eye (in BC, they are often only 16-20 weeks).  This is a critical time as this is often the only experience they will have prior to applying for teaching positions.  Providing more autonomy for our future teachers is key to their development so I hope you can add your thoughts to this conversation to see if we can help move our programs forward.
Note: Since writing the draft of this post, I was invited to work with pre-service teachers at the University of the Fraser Valley.  I thoroughly enjoyed that opportunity and I look forward to enhancing this relationship in the future.
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Chris Wejr

Proud father of twin girls and a son. Currently working as the Principal of Shortreed Elementary School (K-5) in Aldergove, BC, Canada. Passionate about instruction, strengths-based education and leadership, reconciliation, assessment, and human motivation.


  1. I’ve had the great pleasure to go and speak with several classes at the AHCOTE program (Alaska Highway Consortium on Teacher Education) which is an SFU program offered at Northern Lights College. I’ve talked on subjects like social media, personal learning networks, technology in classrooms, your digital tattoo and how it can help or hinder getting a job etc. The first time I presented there wasn’t an explicit technology course, however there were growing efforts to incorporate it into their lessons as well as in the practicums. While I know there is ample subject matter for a course, I believe pre-service programs would do a great disservice to new teachers by having a separate course and not embedding technology in all their courses. Do both wherever possible but if you can’t have a course, make sure it is embedded.

    I see a parallel in classrooms. Instead of just having computer lab time, we should be working on socials or english or math using the computers to enhance our learning. There can definitely be some time to be learning about computers, but most of it should be using computers as a tool to enhance learning, or learning with computers.

    As a principal I believe it would be important to allow for innovation with new teachers and enable access to tools and technology for them. The new teacher likely will have some great ideas that their mentor can learn from too!

    • Thanks Jarrod as I always admire your leadership in this area. Completely agree on the computer lab time and edtech as something separate – it needs to enhance learning and be something that happens in-time rather than only during tech or computer lab blocks. Lastly, one of the things I loved best about having a student teacher was that they would always challenge my thinking and open my mind to new ideas…. by providing them with a bit more autonomy, we could be learn so much more from our practicum students. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

    • Just to play devil’s advocate here, as a librarian and someone who has a fairly intimate knowledge of social media and other information technologies, I would like to comment that technology is a bit of quagmire. The infrastructure needed to support e classrooms and integrated technology is enormous. It is difficult to see how technology can be adequately supported and effectively used in an environment where there are no resources for simple things like paper, SEAs, proper teacher librarians, and playgrounds. What is it, precisely, that students need to navigate their own future? Again, we seem to think technology is the answer to all of our problems when, in fact, it seems to simply introduce new ones.

      I am not a Luddite and I have taught university students courses like information technology, database design, software implementation and so on. Yet, I can see that it is the critical thinking skills and simple creative enterprise that are most lacking in recent high school graduates. They simply don’t know how to think for themselves….

      I worry that in trying to solve our k-12 educational dilemmas, we are going to be promised technological advancements that continue to divert our attention from the more inherent flaws of a one size fits all educational system,

      • Christina:

        I hear you and often echo your concerns with regards to tech – it is NOT the answer to everything and it is one piece of education as we move forward (although, like many other pieces – an important one). This post was not meant to be so much about technology per se but more about providing our pre-service teachers with the autonomy and opportunity to try things they have learned in school. If edtech is an area of passion – should we not ensure they are given the autonomy to try to enhance learning using edtech? If assessment FOR learning is key to his/her philosophy and not the sponsor teacher, should the pre-service teacher be required to continue the focus on assessment OF learning or do we provide them with the autonomy to try to develop their own assessment philosophy? And on the other side, how can we support the important sponsor teachers so they feel confident in giving the autonomy to the new teacher?

        Again, I hear you in that tech is not the answer to all our education issues but it can be something that enhances learning. Do we support pre-service teachers if they want to try to use it?

        Thanks for adding another layer to this conversation!

  2. I just finished three days of PD with 20-something teachers. It was one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences of my career.

    I show them entries from my class blog (5a3dragonslair.edublogs.org). I circulate the room.

    Within a matter of minutes, these gals set up blogs that I suspect might be powering the International Space Station.

    I emailed them additional resources. Without prompting, they set up a dropbox account to store everything.

    I’ve always enjoyed the book “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.” I think I’ll write one entitled…”If you give a Gen-Y teacher a computer…”

    Try this: Ask a practicum student “How would you use technology to teach x-objective?” You teach them classroom management and curriculum mapping. Let them teach you the power of tech. They’re amazing.

    Janet | expateducator.com

    • Thanks for adding to the dialogue, Janet! I must say that when I presented to the UFV students, I had a hard time holding them back as they just wanted to “play” with the tech. We need to be careful (not saying you are doing this) not to generalize that every new teacher has experience in tech as they often don’t… but maybe the comfort level is higher than someone who may not have tech as big a part of their life.

      We do have much to learn from our pre-service teachers… an effective learning partnership between a teacher and mentor can be such a powerful experience for both!

  3. Hey Chris, I’ve been thinking a lot about teacher education programs and preservice teachers of late as well. I agree with you that much needs to change, especially as it relates to contemporary pedagogy. I don’t feel like I have any answers myself to the questions you ask, but I do have a few more questions (sorry:)

    Can we expect teacher education to effectively integrate technology and digital literacy into the learning in such a short period of time? In the 16-20 weeks, won’t any technology used be for novel and surface level purposes?

    Can we expect teacher candidates to be autonomous in schools and districts that do not value autonomy in action (as opposed to talk)?

    In my experience mentoring teacher candidates, I too see a big need for many of them to leverage technology effectively, however, I see an even greater need for them to practice and learn basic instructional and assessment practices period. For instance: how to create an inquiry based environment, how to ask critical thinking questions, how to foster intrinsic motivation in students, etc. In the time that is available, should the latter take precedence over the former?

    I’m not saying these things because my own answer to them is yes. I’m just thinking out loud.

    I had my own teacher education in New Zealand. My degree was called a Bachelor of Teaching. Four years of theory and practice. In those four years I don’t remember using technology for anything but word processing.

    What I did have, however, was an incredible education in critical thinking and pedagogy. So, even though I started my career thinking Microsoft Publisher was the pinnacle of digital creation, I now serve as a leader in ’21st Century Learning’.

    Thanks, as always, for making us think.

    • Wow… you bring up such a great argument here Royan. How can we expect pre-service teachers to truly develop their skills in 16-20 weeks? Why do we not have an apprenticeship model in which some could get a minor stipend to help put them through uni?

      At UVIC they used to have a full year practicum option but, to be honest, I was too lazy at the time. I imagine a full year in a school would be so much more powerful and would allow more trust to build in the teacher mentors as well.

      As for the teacher autonomy… well, you know my thoughts on this. Look for an upcoming post that will share an example of an amazing change in our school that has taken place lead by 5 teachers with autonomy to direct their own professional learning.

      Thanks again Royan for moving this dialogue to another level.

  4. Chris, very interesting post. I think student teachers need to be supported as much as possible with whatever needs or deficits they have. You touch on how short the practicum and in some cased the programs are. One deficit I have found with new teachers is another passion of yours assessment. To me, the technology is important, but getting young teachers up to speed on sound assessment practices is a more critical piece of the puzzle. It seems that they are coming into teaching jobs with very little knowledge in this very important area.

    • Another great point Darcy – I have been inspired by the students coming out of UVIC and UFV in the areas of assessment. UVIC students have had the opportunity to work with some of our assessment leaders on Vancouver Island so this excites me… I look forward to this being the norm.

      I interviewed and hired a teacher from your stomping ground and her biggest criticism was the lack of Assessment For Learning training she had. She did let the uni know her feelings so hopefully they are listening!

      Thanks for chiming in buddy!

  5. Chris,

    Ths is an interesting post, for sure. I know many may not want to hear this, and I am not sure how this (or if) can be changed, but I think that sponsor teachers need to be chosen more carefully. Not all teachers who volunteer to have student teachers, should have student teachers – for a number of reasons. Many of these teachers are not using the latest teaching methods, assessment strategies, or technology integration. Some may not even want to sponsor a student teacher, but they felled pressured to do so (like one of my school associates did).

    Another question, what if the sponsor teacher does a lot with her class in terms of technology integration, should the student teacher be expected to integrate technology as well? What if they are not comfortable? Should this just be an expectation? Should there really be a choice in today’s world?

    A friend (and my daughter’s teacher) integrates technology into everything they do, almost. Her student teacher will be taking over soon for her final practicum. It will be interesting to see how they manage the transition. What a great opportunity for ths student teacher though! I hope she is up for the challenge.

    I do agree with Darcy about the assessment piece as well.


    • You bring up some great points Tia. I was having a conversation with a PE prof at UVIC a few weeks ago and she was saying they were discussing getting a pool of teachers that they could go to that they knew were going to provide the pre-service teachers with an effective practicum. Having said this, I also believe it is up to us as leaders to place the students with teachers who are going to model and challenge them.

      I think it IS an expectation that pre-service teachers be able to use technology with students… assessment, literacy, classroom leadership, technology, etc are all part of effective pedagogy that pre-service teachers should be able to tinker with during their practicum. They are not going to be experts at it but they should have the basic knowledge and be provided with the environment that would encourage them to take risks. (my opinion).

      Thanks for adding to this important discussion.

  6. I am a teacher using technology as best as I can with what I have available to me. My student teacher knows this about me and she knows how important it is for my students to blog, create, and utilize technology for their learning. Whether she wants it or not technology is a part our classroom. Thankfully she’s keen to use it too. But not all rooms are like mine. Thankfully this bunch of student teachers are keen to use technology. One is already setting up a blog for her class. So have faith I say. Teaching, and new teachers are changing.

    If an administrator does their job properly and hires new teachers that are willing to utilize technology this should be less of an issue with new teachers. However I think our biggest problems are getting ALL administrators to move forward with technology and to support changes in those teachers already hired that really don’t want to change. Nothing frustrates me more than being a forward thinking teacher working for far less forward thinking administration.

    • Yes – we all must model what we want to see in our classrooms. If we want our students to connect, we need to connect. If admin want their teachers to collaborate, we need to collaborate.

      Thanks for bringing up a point that was missed. We must ALL do our parts – universities, admin, teachers, and students.

      Thanks Karen!

  7. Thank you Chris for starting this engaging discussion.

    Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that preservice training is simply the start of a lifelong learning journey. While it would be great if recent graduates had a complete understanding of current assessment & instructional practices, comprehensive literacy, digital/media literacy, 21st century fluencies, technology integration etc… These are skills that many mid-career teachers are still developing. One of the functions of preservice education is to plant the seeds of knowledge that will grow and develop with the support of skilled associate teachers and mentors.

    This does not discount the need for teacher candidates to have a foundational understanding of technological resources and strategies that can be used to enhance teaching and learning. I agree with many of the other comments, that there are not enough teacher education programs that include technology integration and TPACK as part of their training. The challenge is finding the time. Teacher training programs are already jammed packed with too much information that is delivered in too little time (This is especially true in Ontario with its eight month program).

    As noted in some of the replies to the Chris Wejr’s post, the key to effective preservice education is pairing teacher candidates with skilled associate teachers that can build on the foundation of understanding that was provided to teacher candidates while on campus. For many teacher candidates, the lightbulb of understanding does turn on until they can see these theories and principles at work in the classroom. While some educators would like to disregard educational theory and focus solely on current practice, it is important to remember that current practice is the result of previous theoretical principles. A foundational understanding of theory provides educators with a framework that can be used to analyse and synthesize new information to find innovative solutions to future challenges.

    Being prepared to overcome future challenges was key goal for the creation of the EdTech Leadership Cohort at Brock University. In addition to their technology training, they were provided with an opportunity to develop their leadership competencies and examine the benefits and challenges to classroom technology integration so that they would be able to provide insight and guidance to their colleagues and school community. Since the start of the program they have used their blogs, Twitter accounts and Googles Docs to reflect on and discuss the challenges, while also sharing their what they have learned by creating instructional videos an blog posts and delivering numerous workshops and coaching sessions to their associate teachers, instructors, peers and practicing teachers. More important than anything they will do this year, is the future impact that they will have as they transition into the profession and have the opportunity to further develop their knowledge and leadership skill. When discussing the challenges of integrating technology into teacher education we need to focus on the future and how to prepare teacher candidates for the future of education.

    If you plan is for one year, plant rice;
    If you plan is for ten years, plant trees;
    ~ Confucius

    • Inspiring, Camille! Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing more about the Brock program. You are right, we jam pack so much stuff into the programs that it makes it difficult to add more… that is why I believe (and the words you use touches on this too) that technology should not be an add-on but something that our teachers use when learning about assessment, projects, literacy, etc.

      Thanks for the comment as your perspective takes this dialogue to another level.

  8. I think the biggest impediment to student teachers using tech in the classroom is the lack of tech in clasrooms. I have been teaching for over 30 years and totally integrate tech within my practice. My students and I use our SMART Board, our laptops, their own digital devices (without connectiveity), always recognizing that it’s not about the devices but it’s all about the how we teach. In my school we are all held back by our district. We have 1 classroom with a SMART Board (mine and I obtained it at my personal cost), teachers are not allowed to have personal devices hooked in to the wireless system, let alone students who might be hooked in. My collegues would love to be able to use more technology, but have just this year got projectors in their classrooms. It’s well past time that districts and the province fully supported full and true integration so that student teachers and teachers can use technology in a naturally integrated way.

    • I think you have touched on the heart of this post – we need to provide the conditions for pour teachers to be innovative, take risks, and develop their skills. By creating barriers, we do nothing to move education forward. Thanks for your insights!

  9. Great post. I was just talking with several teachers at school about our technology or lack of in school. Our district is worried about hackers and students who visit inappropriate websites that our technology is very limited. This was stated on our Campus Needs Assessment survey we conducted this week. How do we combine the technology needed with the safety that is necessary? Thanks again for the post. @AbnPrincipal

    • We often work in a culture of fear when we should be workingin a culture of trust. One bad thing often sets policy and to me, I understand this but feel it is wrong as it hinders so much opportunity for progress. Educators need to be given the opportunity to model effective use of technology so the negatives can be significantly outweighed by the positives.

  10. Interesting conversation…
    Just a note – I took my kindergarten students to a class of preservice teachers at UVIC. The little guys taught the adults about play-based learning. It proved to be a powerful learning experience for both groups 🙂 Question: How often, other than during a “high stakes” practicum, do preservice teachers have the opportunity to learn from and with children? Any programmes out there facilitating this?

    • Not sure but great question! What I loved about my 5 year physical education program at UVIC was that we were in schools via coaching and observing from our 2nd through 5th years! Loved it.

  11. My two cents.

    1. Pre-Service teacher programs need to have their soon-to-be teachers using social media to learn and share what they are learning. Using Twitter to backchannel, using blogs to relfect and comment, using Prezi to present, using Glogster and other web 2.0 tools to showcase their learning, and creating an electronic portfolio.

    2. For student teaching they should be part of a PLC. As part of that PLC student teachers should participate in looking at student work through AfL to adjust instruction to better support student learning. Lesson study should also be part of student teaching because it is so powerful as a way to improve instruction. Practice should be deprivatised right from the beginning.

    3. Autonomy is essential because we learn from failure and it should be relatively risk free so they will try innovative techniques!

  12. I thought I could contribute from the perspective of a student teacher. I am in my 4th year of a Bachelor of Teaching(Primary)/Diploma in Education Studies in New Zealand, and I have built up my knowledge and understanding of how to integrate digital technology over the six practicums I have had so far.
    In the first 2 years of training, my head was full of curriculum and management information, or in terms of thinking processes: knowledge and understanding. Then,as my thinking became more developed, assessment and pedagogy came to the forefront of my learning in the third year. Now, in my fourth year I have developed the higher order thinking skills necessary to network, collaborate, publish, blog and create using many of the web 2.0 tools and applications available. For student teachers in teacher training programmes of one year or less I think the sheer amount of new information and skills they are learning effectively limits them to lower order thinking capacity within practicums, unless there is significant prior knowledge of digital technologies or associate teacher modelling.
    In terms of the school infrastructure, on many occasions I have had to change my planned lessons because there are not enough computers,no internet or the bandwidth is too small to support multiple users,digital projectors or smartboards are broken, and camers/ipods are broken.However annoying that may be, it has taught me to always have a Plan B that I can fall back to, and
    provides the differentiated learning experiences that our diverse students need.
    As far as the associate teacher not having the same amount of technological knowledge as I do, it is not a problem because it gives me the opportunity to ‘repay the favour’and be the expert in sharing knowledge and pedagogy for a short time.
    I enjoyed reading this post and the comments, as this is an important discussion to have. Thanks!

    • @Megan: what a great description of your learning journey and how you adapt, in real time, to a shifting context (technical, people, etc.). I think your orientation to teaching and to the environment you will practice in, is a great example for how it “should be”. Being a fearless learner as you would appear to be, will serve you well as you enter your chosen profession. My advice would be to maintain your openness to learn and adapt and to own and direct your own professional learning, continuously… Our world is undergoing exponential change like never experienced before and an orientation towards continuous change is a rapidly becoming a lifeskill for you and your future students!

    • Wow… I would love to learn more about your program as you said you are in your fourth year and in your 6th practicum. Most preservice teachers in BC will have 2-3 practica and all in their 5th year. I love the evolution of a teacher that you describe! If you have a chance, can you give more detail on your program?

  13. There are some really thought provoking ideas here. One of the issues that is really important here is to examine the dispositions and perceptions students have when entering a teacher education program. Often they have not experienced the “self authorship” of developing their professional growth in relation to inquiry-based learning. They may also perceive teacher education to be a place where “training” occurs, so that they have the right ‘tool kit” when they enter the classroom. It is important to address these perceptions early and help students to find their own teacher identity, by taking risks and reflecting on their learning. While I definitely support the notion to helping students develop autonomy, we have to unglue them first from their own past experiences, which helped form their perceptions about their own teacher identity. I see student teachers experience a form of culture shock when transitioning from an academic undergraduate program to a professional teacher education program, as they are introduced to a learning community where it is expected that they make decisions about their own learning. These students are certainly technology-savy, but may not be at the place of self-efficacy to determine when and how technology can facilitate and enhance learning for their students, and how it can become one of the best avenues for professional development for themselves as growing professionals. A Teacher Education program is often the first place, where they are introduced to a professional learning community. We do hope that our student teachers are able to apply their critical thinking skills and reflective growth to the digital space, as they undergo the transformation to becoming a teacher and joining the learning community of the profession.

    • Thanks for adding Barbara as your insights are extremely valuable (as someone in your position). You bring up a great point – identity. I often wonder if we rush our teachers into the profession… and during this, they do not have the time to start to develop their own identity. I know for me it took years but I started just by copying those around me. I was so busy that I never had a chance to reflect… which brings up another point – reflection. Many of the UFV graduates I have had the privilege of working with have come out of the teacher ed program with a reflective lens… reflecting and challenging discipline policies, assessment practices, and others. THis has been very inspiring to me as I can see the teacher developing their identities and determining what they stand for. They are LEARNERS.

      Thanks, Barbara, for taking the time to stop by and add to the dialogue.

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