Aileen Kennedy previously worked at the University of Strathclyde between 2001-2015, before returning in 2020 in her current role as Professor of Practice in Teacher Education. In 2020, we interviewed Aileen to find out more about her career and her role at Strathclyde.
Tell us a little bit about your career so far...
I grew up in Perthshire and Fife, originally planning to pursue a career as a professional cellist. I ended up opting for primary teaching instead, completing a BEd at the then Jordanhill College in Glasgow in 1992. I taught in a primary school in Clydebank for six years, leaving to become the first ever Professional Officer at the General Teaching Council for Scotland. In 2001 I took up a lecturing post at Strathclyde, staying for 14 years, before venturing to the east of the country for a 5-year stint at the University of Edinburgh. In Edinburgh, I had the joy of developing a radical new initial teacher education programme which qualifies graduates to teach across the primary/secondary transition, working in an explicitly activist way to progress social justice in schools and their communities. I was delighted to return to the University of Strathclyde in August 2020 to take up a position as Professor of Practice in Teacher Education. I am currently the Director of Teacher Education here in the School of Education, working with colleagues and wider stakeholders to enhance and promote our work in teacher education policy and pedagogy.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career to date?
Not so much one moment, but a piece of work with so many memorable moments! I led the development of an innovative new Masters-level initial teacher education (ITE) programme whilst at the University of Edinburgh. This programme adopted an explicit activist approach which put social justice and transformative learning front and centre. Our students were supported to co-create their learning experience with us, and sometime they did that in ways that surprised us (in a good way!). The very first summative submission for the very first cohort was a written piece reflecting on their experiences of assessment, following a course on formative assessment. One member of the class came to me asking if it would be possible to receive only written comments rather than the usual comments and grades, as he and his colleagues had been so persuaded by the literature on formative assessment that they wanted to be sure to use this summative assessment task as a learning opportunity rather than simply a grading process. I was so delighted to hear this request, and so frustrated that my response had to be that we could only ‘bend’ the system so far as the students needed to get grades in order to get their degrees. Looking back to the early stages of the development of that programme, I think the steepest learning curve for me was probably around assessment in general; I learned so much about the conflict between assessment for genuine learning and assessment for classification. Ironic, really, that I should be writing this when the news is full of reports of a similar conflict writ large at national level in relation to the SQA exam results for 2020.
And then there was the time that I was interviewing a prospective PGDE student and the candidate said to me ‘I think you were my primary 1 teacher’! I was indeed, and I remembered her and her mum very well. She is now a fully qualified primary 1 teacher herself, and follow each other on Twitter where she recently posted some photos her mum had found of me on my last day teaching her class. Strange and lovely how the world goes round!
What inspired you to enter into your field of work?
Having worked for a few years as a primary teacher, I became increasingly aware of the fact that some pupils were consistently under-served by the system, and that teachers in general (myself included!), while caring and professional, were not particularly well equipped by the system to teach with social justice front and centre. While I probably couldn’t have articulated my frustration fully at the time, this experience led to me pursuing postgraduate study and a career focused on understanding and improving how teachers learn, for the benefit of society as a whole, but for under-served children and young people in particular.
Tell us a little bit about your new role within the school...
I have been appointed as Professor Practice in Teacher Education – a role that excites me greatly because it acknowledges the important work that has to be done in bringing university and wider stakeholders together in a shared endeavor to enhance teacher education at all levels, i.e. not just pre-service. I will also take up a new role in the School of Education as Director of Teacher Education which will involve working with colleagues within and beyond the School to develop a shared vision which will shape all of our provision. Central to my professorial role will be the development of a hub for teacher education pedagogy and policy – bringing together research, teaching and knowledge exchange based on a cutting edge understandings of teacher education pedagogy and practice. I am very excited about the possibilities given the scale of teacher education at Strathclyde.
What current trends do you see influencing your field?
Globally, the teacher education meta-narrative states that in order to be competitive economically, nation states must improve the quality of their teachers. This view is commonly adopted by governments, resulting in neoliberal-influenced standardised approaches to teacher education with centrally prescribed content. This approach favours particular research approaches, seeing randomised controlled trials as ‘gold standard’. Elsewhere, however, there is recognition that teaching is an extremely complex endeavour, and that the importance of context means that teaching is always contingent, and that teachers need to be able to apply professional judgement drawing on strong theoretical understandings. These two positions sit in conflict with each other, and influence both teacher education and teacher education research in very different ways. The highly politicized nature of teaching and teacher education makes it an exciting field to work in!
Tell us about any research you are currently involved in...
I’m co Principal Investigator of ‘Measuring Quality in Initial Teacher Education’ (MQuITE), a six-year, Scotland-wide project funded by Scottish Government and involving co-investigators from all 11 teacher education providers in Scotland together with the General Teaching Council of Scotland. We’ve created a context-specific framework for identifying quality in teacher education, and are using that framework to understand more about the quality of our current provision. All the project team members are involved in some way in teacher education in their own institutions so the project serves as a stimulus for discussion and development as well as a means of gathering empirical data. Our approach to identifying quality has attracted attention internationally, providing a much more nuanced way of identifying quality than is the case in some other nations.
What attracted you back to the University of Strathclyde?
Strathclyde is in my blood! I gained my BEd, Postgraduate Diploma in Equality and Discrimination, MEd and PhD at Strathclyde, as well as working here for 14 years between 2001 and 2015. Having spent some time away from the University, I can see even more clearly how the socially progressive aims of the University fit with my own personal values and my professional aspirations. The opportunity to take risks and to do innovative work in one of the largest providers of teacher education in Europe is very appealing, but I also have to say that fantastic colleagues, and the city of Glasgow itself, are massive draws too!