Relational Pedagogy: Theoretical insights to inform teacher preparation

Year: 2012

Author: McLoughlin, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Recently, emphasis has been placed on teachers as active change agents and knowledge creators as opposed to passive followers of expert directives. Beginning teachers need professional education that equips them to develop a professional identity that is based on personal self-efficacy, wholeness and autonomy. This means that teacher preparation programs need to connect teachers to their own knowledge and epistemologies, and foster a sense of purpose and agency, beyond merely acquiring skills and knowledge. The paper critiques programs that focus on helping individuals “to become teachers” by transposing content knowledge, classroom management skills and pedagogical expertise.  Instead of knowledge banking approaches, teacher education programs need to engage beginning teachers in critical self-reflection on practice so as to be aware of the assumptions, values and epistemological beliefs they hold and where they originate. The nature of the educational experience for beginning teachers mediate their actions in subsequent professional and leads to the development of epistemic beliefs. A growing body of research has examined the relationship between such epistemological beliefs and teaching practice and signal the need for revised teacher education programs that are transformative rather than didactic.

The development of epistemological beliefs was first investigated by William Perry (1970) with university students.  This research found that over time, progressively more complex and integrated ways of viewing the world developed as the students progressed through their studies. Teachers with more sophisticated or relativistic beliefs have been found to be more democratic empathetic, innovative, and able to use more engaging teaching strategies.

The challenge for teacher education programs is therefore to enable the development of effective epistemological belief systems that enable novice teachers to view teaching as creative, relational and intellectual work. In order to develop robust epistemologies, a teacher education program needs to model and enact a relational and dialogic approach, as opposed to a transmissive program based on skills development. The elements of this relational approach are considered and demonstrated through exemplars of teacher education activities and experiences that can lead to personal transformation, a sense of agency and relativistic epistemologies.