Creating partnerships of expertise across education to sustain professional learning
Colleague spotlight | Rachel Lofthouse
Rachel Lofthouse has been a teacher, teacher educator and researcher for 30 years, with the boundaries between each often blurring through time and context. She is now Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University and director of CollectivED The Centre for Coaching, Mentoring and Professional Learning. Rachel is committed to working to break down barriers to professional development and to creating powerful career-long learning opportunities for educators from across the sector.
Tell us a bit about you and what led you to working with Carnegie School of Education
In 1990 I started my teacher education journey with a PGCE in Geography at Newcastle University. Thirty-one years later I am a Professor of Teacher Education at Leeds Beckett University and Director of CollectivED. In every year of those three decades my working life has been shaped by a constant and evolving interaction between student teachers and their mentors, between universities and schools, between teachers and researchers. My development as an educator has been a journey of growth and transition, and I am fortunate to have supported, worked alongside, taught and been taught by, many others in a range of teacher education partnerships.
Joining the Carnegie School of Education in 2017 brought me within a mile the Headingley flat I lived in with my parents until I was two, and thus felt like coming home. More importantly I have found a School which values education and educators, works hard to build partnerships and offers space for colleagues to explore ideas, be innovative and to contribute to a vibrant, inclusive and creative educational landscape. I also appreciate playing my part in a university which offers so much to the region, and to transforming and sustaining the vital professions we all rely on.
What makes you passionate about your work around partnerships within education and why is it important?
At the heart of teacher education is the knowledge that we are all present as learners and that our expertise is built on a dynamic relationship between practice and research. I am passionate about enabling new teachers to start their careers with confidence as reflective, informed and skilled practitioners, as well as creating opportunities for serving teachers and school leaders to gain further expertise and align their educational practices with a commitment to social justice. As a researcher and specialist in coaching and mentoring I have contributed to the knowledge base that the profession draws on to continue to grow and have built international networks of professionals and academics with a shared commitment to supporting professional learning. I am fortunate to work with European colleagues through Erasmus+ projects. The opportunities that such projects offer to learn from educational practices internationally create a sense of connectivity and solidarity which fuel my professional curiosity and growth. Offering equivalent experiences to all teachers and education leaders to look beyond their current horizons and to explore and develop new ideas with others matters if we want to build a dynamic and meaningful education experience that all learners deserve.
How is collaboration integral to your work, and what are one or two collaborations that have been most meaningful to you?
Like most academics and teachers, I am a naturally curious and social person, but sometimes my professional life is quite solitary, despite the regular contact with the students we teach and supervise. We each gain qualifications based on our own merit, secure jobs by edging out the competition and are performance-managed as an individual. Our working lives in the university can be intense, and workload means we sometimes feel more efficient by knuckling down to solve a problem, create a resource or face the day without the distraction of others. However, the greatest joy in my working life comes from collaboration; the vast majority of my writing is co-authored and I love teaching alongside colleagues. Some of the best collaborations emerge through co-incidence but others are carefully crafted.
During the lockdown of 2020/21 I really appreciated the chance to research and write with teacher educators, coaches, mentors and researchers internationally. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Docs became indispensable tools. The sense of shared world-wide disruption and reconfiguration of our daily and professional lives from the pandemic created both humour and empathy amidst the attempts to maintain business as usual and to evolve new practices for the future.
What achievements in this area have you been most proud of while working in the Carnegie School of Education?
There is no doubt that my greatest professional pride has come from the creation of CollectivED: The Centre for Coaching, Mentoring and Professional Learning. Through CollectivED we have generated a community of professionals and academics who share a commitment to better understanding and supporting the professional developments of others working in education.
Our CollectivED fellows bring this work alive through their engagement with each other to share practices and ideas, and build new collaborations. They work alongside us to develop and participate in research projects. Our CollectivED Working Papers are multi-authored and open access resources. They include research papers which summarise empirical research, case studies, action research or research vignettes. Practice insight papers offer insights into the features, context and decision-making that shape professional learning practices, and the think-pieces are a vehicle for sharing opinions, reflections or critiques of education practice, research and/or policy. Our CollectivED events are dynamic and bring together educators in a wide variety of contexts and roles.
The teacher training landscape in England is complex and currently under ‘market’ review by the DfE. What are your thoughts on this?
My professional biography and contribution were forged from the choices I was able to make because of the strength of the partnerships between schools and universities. My experiences are not unique; the teaching profession has been sustained over decades through these partnerships. The conversations and opportunities that exist in the work between academics and teachers create the capacity that we need to meet the needs of pupils and students in all our schools, early years settings and colleges. We build intelligence into the profession. We are always learning. We will continue to evolve and serve communities. We must ensure that these partnerships grow for decades to come. We are not a market that needs review. We are an essential, creative and productive infrastructure that should be celebrated.
Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.