Reinventing teachers as “catalysts for change” within professional learning environments is poised to be a trend in driving curriculum change; however, the extent to which teachers have the capacity, mindset or support to embrace this role remains unknown. From a learning perspective, conceiving of teacher agency within ecological systems of practice requires a close focus on how a student’s professional judgement is developed within both academic programs and field-based industry experience. This paper draws on two case-based exemplars in the arts, where teacher and student practice engage with learning beyond that which standards set out to show or teach. The paper argues that concepts of learning fluidity and liminality can be employed to counter constraints such as the oversupply of current literature on standards and standardisation, large scale national testing and international league tables. To do this the paper employs the principle of ecology, which forms a network of interconnected processes and recognises the complex nature of learning within visual and performing arts. Specifically, the paper examines how pre-service teachers embrace a developing sense of teacher agency by examining reflective narratives from focus groups and interviews in two tertiary contexts. The timing of perceived transitions from student to novice educator are examined and exemplars that support the serendipity and liminal space of novice learning experiences conceived as career creativities are discussed. Each reflective narrative shows how participants creatively negotiate a developing sense of their professional selves, assisted by well structured mentoring amidst the complexity of the social and educational milieu. The research illustrates that situated and contextual knowledge is nested within embodied conceptions of place, artistic and musical cultures and the structures of schooling. To enact the role of catalysts for change, then, teacher agency within these fields requires understanding of students’ individual capacities and subsequent conceptions of their emerging professional identities. Implications of the research include the importance of articulating key conditions, places and timing for change management in emergent creative careers. In particular, the research illustrates that making pre-service teachers’ iterative strategies and poignant experiences manifest for future learning in varied professional interfaces is essential for developing agency in creative and educational fields. Deepening existing place-based knowledge and productive mentoring, and enhancing reflective and adaptive strategies, is highlighted in relation to creative approaches to career transformation. The research proposes that dynamic interaction of individuals and places conceived as an ecosystem provides a rich landscape to enact professional autonomy.