Pedagogy in Progress

Self-Study of a Novice Teacher Educator
PedagogyTeacher EducationSelf-StudyCaring
The purpose of self-study research is not merely to reflect on one’s own practice but to make this experience public. This self-study aims to add to the understanding of becoming a teacher educator. The purpose was to identify and examine my personal pedagogy of teacher education. I began this study in the Fall of 2019 when I started my first job as an assistant professor of teacher education. The focus of the study was first, to identify my teaching pedagogy and second, to determine how effective I was at enacting this pedagogy. The study was conducted in graduate and undergraduate courses spanning six semesters at a mid-size university in the Midwestern United States. The study was informed by the work of John Dewey and Nel Noddings, specifically in terms of defining good teaching. Data collection included a self-study journal, course syllabi, lesson plans, teaching slides, student emails, and term teaching evaluations. Analysis of critical incidents contained in the journal, email communications with students, and other data sources showed me that my personal pedagogy of teacher education was rooted in a specific understanding of content, communication, and caring. With the help of a critical friend, I identified instances where I both struggled with and effectively implemented this pedagogy. Struggles were primarily due to unforeseen events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the politicization of school curricula. Effectiveness was demonstrated through conversations with students and acknowledged growth over time. The data from this study will provide avenues for future self-study work.

Context of the Study

In Fall 2019, I became an assistant professor of teacher education. My only preparation was being given a set of syllabi. To teach with a syllabus I did not write, use a book I did not select, assign assessments I did not create, I needed my own pedagogy to guide me. While my doctoral program prepared me well for educational research, the notion of teacher education was still elusive. According to John Loughran (2006), a pedagogy of teacher education is an explicit understanding of both “teaching about teaching and learning about teaching” (p. 3). The purpose of this self-study was to identify and enact my own pedagogy of teacher education.

In the United States, it is common knowledge that most teachers are white, middle-aged women. I fit this description. In addition, as a middle-class person from the Midwest, most of the students I worked with during this self-study could identify with me. For this reason, it was imperative to me that I model both best practices and cultural sensitivity. I hoped that if my students could see me as a caring, culturally responsive teacher, they would follow my lead.

Theoretical Framework

The work of Dewey and Noddings guides this inquiry into my teaching practices. I approached this study under the auspices of an interpretive/constructivist lens in which “knowledge, particularly in social research, must be seen as actively constructed” (Howe, 2001, p. 202). I believe that meaning is constructed through interaction and that caring relationships aid student learning. These ideas align with the interpretivist and constructivist perspectives, which provided a lens through which I designed and interpreted this study.

In John Dewey’s 1897 essay "My Pedagogic Creed", he outlined his thoughts on the purpose of education, the structure of schooling, subject matter, teaching methods, and school reform. Ultimately, he concluded that education was an ongoing process shaped by an individual’s interests and experiences. To support this process, Dewey asserted that a teacher’s responsibility was to use every possible resource to plan engaging lessons while making activities highly educative to the point that the students reach a new “plane of consciousness” (Dewey, 2010, p. 75).

A century later, Nel Noddings extended much of Dewey’s work into the 21st century. Noddings (2013) agrees with Dewey that rather than setting a prescribed list of subjects for students to master, students should be able to study a wide range of topics according to their interests and abilities. According to Noddings (2006, 2013, 2015), good teachers ask frequent questions, find ways to turn students’ whims into valuable learning opportunities and think critically and reflectively about their instructional choices (Noddings, 2006, 2013). Good teachers tell stories, listen to complaints, offer choices, promote respectful conversation about controversial topics, and build upon students’ interests (Noddings, 2013). Like good teachers, caring teachers engage in receptive listening, help students make good choices, plan lessons according to students’ needs and promote intrinsic motivation (Noddings, 1995, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2012). Based on my understanding of Dewey and Noddings’ work, I have approached my own teaching and research with the intent to identify, train, and nurture preservice teachers to become the “good teachers” described here.

Research Literature

A teacher educator is a facilitator whose responsibility is to assess and unpack students’ prior experiences as they become new teachers (Crowe & Whitlock, 1999). Teacher educators teach who they are; therefore, their experiences are embedded in their personal philosophies, and it is their responsibility to uncover, explore, and understand such experiences (Bullock, 2014). Being a teacher educator means supporting “the notion that assuming the identity and role of teacher educator is a ‘process of becoming’ that must regularly be negotiated” (Ritter, 2007, p. 7). Teacher educators are life-long learners who continually engage in reflective practice and the study of their own practice through self-study (Ritter, 2011). A teacher educator is one who seeks out support from colleagues to challenge long-held assumptions and addresses these tensions in his or her practice (Williams et al., 2012).

As practitioners move from teaching in a K-12 context to higher education, they may experience confusion and insecurity about their new role often resulting in imposter syndrome (Boyd & Harris, 2010; Grierson, 2010; Ritter & Quiñones, 2020). Through journaling, critical conversations, and analysis of critical incidents (Brandenburg, 2021) teacher educators can rely on the self-study process to discover how their personal beliefs and past experiences influence their practice on a journey to achieving balance between what they teach and how they perceive themselves (Berry & Russell, 2012). According to Loughran (2006), teacher educators must learn “to re-embrace the creativity, experimentation and risk-taking that so shapes developing understanding of pedagogy” (p.18). In this study, pedagogy is understood as the dialogic interplay between knowledge and social interaction that “points to the agency that joins teaching and learning” (Britzman, 2003, p. 54).

Self-study research has been a choice of several practitioners hoping to study the transition to teacher education and in developing their personal pedagogy, teaching vision, and identity as teacher educators (Andrew et al., 2017; Grant & Butler, 2018; North, 2017; Rice et al., 2015; Ritter & Quiñones, 2020). The vulnerability and discomfort that result from self-study inform teaching practices (Berry & Russell, 2016) as well as document, confront, and embrace change (Berry & Kitchen, 2020). Additionally, self-study uncovers the complexity of beliefs and experiences that teachers and students exchange while negotiating meaning (Bullock, 2014; Hordvik et al., 2020) of complicated issues. To facilitate such conversations, teacher educators must understand their own cultural backgrounds (Ragoonaden, 2015). Doing so can diffuse tension and foster the dispositions preservice teachers need to teach in a culturally responsive, antiracist manner (Ohito, 2020; Swarz, 2003).

Physical Context

My self-study began in Fall 2019 and reached data saturation in Spring 2022. The study is based on my work at a mid-size university in the Midwestern United States. The courses taught during this time included two undergraduate courses (Introduction to Teaching & Foundations of Diversity and Equity), middle school methods, and two graduate research courses. Throughout the six semesters of the study, I taught 22 different sections with a total of 443 students (ages 19-48, English speaking, 89% White, 85% female, working class to middle-class, 30% first-generation college student). Class sizes averaged 20 students. All courses were involved in the self-study, but the most poignant data was gathered from the Diversity and Equity course.


As a novice assistant professor, I was concerned I would have difficulty transitioning from K-12 teaching. It has been argued that there is scant preparation and support for K-12 teachers transitioning to teacher education (Bullock, 2014; Loughran, 2007; Ritter, 2011; Williams & Ritter, 2010; Williams et al., 2012). The purpose of this self-study was to define and enact my personal pedagogy of teacher education. The research questions for this study were:

  1. What is my pedagogy for teacher education?
  2. How effectively am I enacting this pedagogy for teacher education?


Practitioner inquiry situates the practitioner as a knower, a generator of knowledge, and an agent of educational change. It is perhaps one of the best avenues of educational reform that exist in today’s current educational reform climate (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). As a future teacher of teachers, it is my responsibility to understand my own practice so that I might model best practices for my students. By researching my practice within my own context, I can reflect on and change “the discrepancies between what is intended and what occurs” (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. 42). By positioning myself as both teacher and researcher, I am better able to meet the needs of my students as they, too, grapple with becoming part of a community of professional, life-long learners.

As the focus of the self-study, I was the primary participant of the study. Since the interactions with my students are integral to my role, they are also included as an anonymous whole. I secured approval from the Institutional Review Board to make sure my use of student comments and emails was ethical. Each data source was collected with purpose and care to ensure that their inclusion in the study would help me fully understand and assess the impact of my research (Samaras, 2011).

The primary data collection method was my journal in which I detailed critical incidents, summarized activities, and described conversations with students. Analysis of critical events is a key aspect of self-study (Brandenburg, 2021; Tidwell & Jónsdóttir, 2020). In keeping with Goodell’s (2006) definition of critical incidents, “an everyday event encountered by a teacher in his or her practice that makes the teacher question the decisions that were made” (p. 224), my critical incidents became turning points in my practice. Other data sources included email communications with students, syllabi, teaching slides, mid-semester check-in surveys, and formal end-of-term teaching evaluations.

Critical friends are an integral part of the self-study process. A critical friend can “provide an important alternative perspective which enhances the rigor” (North, 2017, p. 93) of the study, offer critique through journaling (Grant & Butler, 2018, p. 320), and offer support throughout the data collection and analysis process (Garbett et al., 2018). My critical friend was a former classmate from graduate school. Just as she did while writing our dissertations, she acted as a sounding board while I determined my research questions. We texted frequently about my study and met virtually to discuss my journal data. She provided insight during the coding process as well as helped me to articulate my findings. The involvement of my trusted, critical friend was an important data source, an integral part of the data analysis, and key to maintaining trustworthiness.

While data analysis may seem like a logical step to take after data collection, data analysis during my self-study was an ongoing process that began the moment data was collected (Maxwell, 2013). Before writing each new journal entry, I read previous entries to better understand patterns, timelines, and changes in my thinking. I used a two-stage open coding process in which I looked for recurring ideas and key events (Maxwell, 2013) across all data sources. During the initial phase, I read through all data, assigning codes based on keywords and topics(i.e. compassion, apprehension, caring). The second stage of coding occurred after my critical friend independently coded my journal. I used her codes (i.e. communication, apprehension, connection) combined with my own to analyze the journal, syllabi, emails, teaching slides, and teaching evaluations. To keep track of my analysis I created an Excel spreadsheet. I listed each code, its definition, and data examples. The spreadsheet helped me to identify key themes across all data sources.


My first research question asked: What is my pedagogy of teacher education? Analysis of the lesson plans and teaching slides from the first week of class in my foundations and methods courses revealed a recurring pattern. My lesson for the first day was consistently the same. I showed a short video compilation of teachers in pop culture (Gallagher, 2014). After watching the video, I used a think, pair, share activity in which students thought about their worst teacher. This activity always elicited animated responses and various horror stories of bad teaching. The next step was to work with a partner on a Venn diagram. Each partner completed their circle with adjectives describing their favorite teacher. Students then compiled a list of similarities where the circles of the diagram overlapped. As students called out different adjectives, I wrote them on the board. Using different colored white board markers, I drew circles around adjectives that related similar ideas. I did this lesson in every class for six semesters. Every time I did this activity the same patterns emerged, calling to mind a passage from Nel Noddings (2015), “When we think about what to do in our classrooms, we could do worse than explore the ‘seven Cs’: Choice, critical thinking, caring, connectedness, continuity, collegiality, and creativity” (p. 150). My students’ adjectives could always be grouped into three overarching categories: content, communication, and caring. In repeatedly doing this lesson, I solidified my personal pedagogy of teacher education. I believe teachers must be content area experts so they can pivot in their teaching while attending to daily classroom challenges, communicate effectively with students, colleagues, and parents, and build genuine, caring relationships with students.

The second research question in this study was: How effectively am I enacting this pedagogy of teacher education? There were three key events that occurred during this study that made an impact on my pedagogy. While they do not meet the definition of a “critical incident” because they were not everyday events, they were critical to the way I related to my students. These events were: my being assigned to teach a course that I was not prepared for, the shift to virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increasing politicization of school curriculum. The answer to this second question lies in the journal data, email communications with students, and my teaching evaluations. Conversations with my critical friend helped me to determine how to organize my findings for this question. Our codes mirrored the same pattern as did my first day lesson on good/bad teachers. Therefore, I chose to focus on content, communication, and caring as the themes for enacting this very pedagogy.


To understand the term “content”, my critical friend and I revisited our doctoral studies to arrive at a workable definition. For us, content is the fusion of subject area knowledge and pedagogical knowledge which allows a teacher to demonstrate “dialectical reasoning and good judgment” (Henderson, 1987, p. 25). When I started my job, I was provided with syllabi, objectives, outcomes, and textbooks over which I had little control. Much of my time was spent supplementing the content so it reflected my expertise and experiences. The second semester in my new position I was assigned to teach three sections of the Foundations of Diversity and Equity in Education course. I was told that with my background in language teaching and having lived abroad, I was the person best suited to fill this gap. I was not hired for this, and I was not feeling confident in my abilities. At the end of the first week I wrote in my journal,

I feel unprepared for this. I know the material and know the “current” thinking on this, but as a white, upper middle-class female I feel woefully inadequate to teach this course. Do I just focus on the readings and depend on them to convey the right message? What can I really share with the students other than my time living abroad? I can rock the English Learners unit. But the race and sexual orientation units? Who am I to tell these students what to think? I feel like I really need to rely on other voices, so I am looking for TED Talks and guest speakers. I have already told students that it boils down to not being an asshole, but does it really? (January 28, 2020).

In the journal data, I identified a critical incident that happened less than two weeks into the semester. A student expressed concern that the tone of the author of one of our textbooks felt demeaning. She said, “it is obvious that the author is a person of color and that is fine, but when the author writes about some of her experiences working with white teachers, she makes the white teachers sound dumb” (Journal Entry February 6, 2020). The text she was referring to was used to help students challenge their biases and gain a deeper understanding of their background. This comment was upsetting because I wanted to validate her feelings but help her see that her own bias was making her feel that way. In the same journal entry I described the adapted version of the “Where I am From Poem” (Lyon, 1999) we had just completed. This day’s entry shows that I was beginning to understand how to handle this content. I wrote in my journal,

I have SO much in common with these students. Many of us share a Nordic ancestry and grew up in the Midwest. This makes me think that perhaps I AM the right person to convey the importance of diversity and equity. The students see me as one of them and if I say this mindset is imperative, perhaps they will believe me (Journal Entry February 6, 2020).

Throughout the course, when I felt topics might be too politically polarizing, I focused on a teacher’s responsibility to provide an equitable education for all learners. At the end of one contentious semester (Fall 2021) in which students were vocal about racial protests, transgender athletes, and whether schools were teaching Critical Race Theory, I was relieved to see a comment on my teaching evaluations that read: “I liked that I had Gretchen for a teacher. She made it easier to learn the material even though I disagreed with a lot of it. She listened to my opinions and didn't cut me off or disregard my opinions” (Student Evaluations Fall 2021).

By the final semester that I taught this course I was feeling more confident about my content knowledge. I had spent summers reading and continued to add new resources to the syllabus. I felt as though I had successfully “devoted myself to constructing a pedagogy of teacher education to which diversity and democratic citizenship are not just topics of study, but ways of life to be embraced and embodied” (Brubaker, 2016, p. 174).


One of the dispositions that many teacher education programs require for preservice teachers is communication. To find a definition we agreed on for communication, my critical friend and I looked at definitions from several universities. We agreed on the one from Purdue University (n.d.),

Candidates engage in effective and professional communication. They use professional language in all situations ensuring that communications are free from bias and meet the needs of diverse learners. Candidates also effectively and accurately communicate their ideas (oral and written) and engage in active listening.

The use of syllabi, email, and debriefing conversations were the key components of communication. After reading Berry’s (2008) process of debriefing with her preservice teachers during peer teaching, I adapted her format to model the process of being a reflective practitioner. At the end of my Introduction to Teaching and Middle School Methods courses I conducted a debrief of my lessons using the following questions:

  • What activities did we do today, and which ones worked for you?
  • What activities do you see yourself doing in your own classroom?
  • What should I do next class to build on this lesson?
  • If I were to teach this lesson again, what should I change?
  • Do I feel like it the lesson went well? Why or why not? (Teaching Slides, 2020-2022).

Students were hesitant at first because they were not used to critiquing a professor face-to-face, especially the freshmen in the introductory course. Communicating with students in this way gave them space to connect with me on a more professional level. They could also see that I was listening to them and responding to their suggestions. A critical incident occurred during the debrief in the methods course on October 22, 2020. Students told me one of my activities was “hectic … too hard to read through and retain information” and they “felt exhausted” (Journal Entry). The following semester I adjusted the activity making sure to explain beforehand how I had changed it based on student feedback.


To care in this study means “educators must recognize that caring for students is fundamental in teaching and that developing people with a strong capacity for care is a major objective of responsible education” (Noddings, 1995, p. 678). Email and classroom conversation were the primary data sources for showing care. In March 2020 when the university announced it would be taking a three week break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I sent the following email to my students:

Hi Everyone,
I know this is scary. Take time to grieve those lost due to illness but know that it is also important to grieve the loss of time with friends, leaving campus, and cancellations of trips and sporting events. I will be in touch soon with a new plan for the semester. Taking care of yourselves right now, mentally and physically, is what is most important (Email March 12, 2020).

After this email was sent out, I received several responses from students thanking me for providing time and space for them to adjust.

The following semester, Fall 2020, instructors were given the option to teach fully online or hybrid. I chose the hybrid model. For a M-W-F class this meant splitting up the 30 students so they had one face-to-face, socially distanced day and two days online asynchronously. It was a difficult semester, but I received positive feedback from students stating they were glad to be on campus. For most, mine was their only face-to-face class. One student shared, “every day you ask us how we are doing and how our mental health is. This means a lot to me, and it makes me want to do better because you put in all this effort to help me succeed” (Journal Entry December 9, 2020).

Throughout the subsequent pandemic semesters, I struggled with maintaining high expectations while caring for students’ mental health and well-being. Journal entries reflected a concern over providing too many accommodations for students and not being sure when, or if, students were taking advantage of the situation. I was “flexible with due dates and very patient with questions as well as answering emails quickly” (Journal Entry May 6, 2020), but then found myself getting annoyed when students who enrolled in a hybrid course opted to join online. I wrote,

COVID-19 lesson learned. I gave people the option to join remotely to be flexible and all, but it was counterproductive because some people are just not coming to class and joining online. This is not a true hybrid experience and is not fair to me, or the other students (Journal Entry November 4, 2020).

I also found myself second guessing my expectations. I had two students score poorly on part of their final paper because they misunderstood a key point. In frustration I wrote, “I have a hard time with this, I want to take care of my students so badly that I don’t let them fail when maybe they should. I fear I am using the pandemic as an excuse” (Journal Entry December 9, 2020).

As the semesters progressed, I learned to be more of a “warm-demander” – being just while expecting students to meet their responsibilities (Hammond, 2015). My core beliefs in social constructivism told me that in-person learning was best for my student population so by September 2021 “I learned early to be firm in making sure the virtual option was for COVD-19 protocols only” (Journal Entry September 14, 2021). However, I had to eschew some other personal beliefs to maintain care for my students’ academic needs: 

I bent over backwards to get some students a field placement where I knew they didn’t need to be vaccinated. I had to support these students and their educational goals; all while being disgusted that they were refusing to get vaccinated (Journal Entry September 14, 2021).


This self-study aimed to identify my pedagogy of teacher education and determine how effectively I was enacting it. Data analysis helped me to identify a personal pedagogy based on genuine caring, thorough content knowledge, and effective communication. Further analysis helped me to realize that even while facing difficulties I was true to my beliefs. I effectively modeled genuine caring to teacher candidates during conflict, increasing the likelihood they will in turn care for their future students (Bracho, 2020). The purpose of self-study is to reflect on one’s own practice and to make this experience public. In doing so, I have modeled the process of self-study for other novice teacher educators as well as highlighted how to define a personal pedagogy of teacher education.


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Gretchen M. Whitman

Columbia College

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