Simulated Provocations – Student Teachers’ Strategies for and Development of Leadership

Two boys in a classroom reading books.

International research shows that the difficulty of providing student teachers with sufficient preparation for leadership in the classroom is a long-known flaw in the teacher education programme.

Methods used in the teacher education programmes include literature studies with discussions, and in some cases role-play and feedback on lessons. Discussions and reflections on cases that the student has observed or participated in also occur.  

In this project we expose student teachers to simulated provocations to find out if this makes them develop their leadership before taking on real pupils. The project is a collaboration between researchers at the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning and researchers at the Department of Computer Sciences.  The idea is to use a simulated classroom in order to offer a large variety of challenges, disturbances and provocations as well as ways of dealing with them. This allows the students to strengthen their perception and concept development, and they can develop a professional language within this specific part of the professional teacher's mission.

Developing leadership ability

Until today, this project has constructed simulations based on four different types of modality; (a) hypertext, (b) hypertext and illustration, (c) 3D-version and (d) sound and hypertext. The project purpose was to study (a) which intuitive strategies student teachers use to maintain their leadership in the classroom, (b) what support these strategies have in academic studies, and to investigate in which way (c) simulated practice of leadership in the classroom can lead to learning and development of the ability to handle both mild disturbances as well as more severe provocations.

Using different styles of leadership

When studying student teachers we found that they tried four different leadership styles to handle the situations presented to them. Six out of ten students explored the leadership styles, used the “back”-function and chose another leadership style following the consequences of the first choice. We were also able to establish that they chose an authoritative leadership to handle challenges, changed between a democratic and an authoritative leadership to handle disturbances and preferred an authoritative leadership to handle provocations.

This can be understood as teacher students

  • not choosing extreme leadership styles such as exaggerated or indulgent, 
  • may mirror their own experiences during school and university years and 
  • mirror their ideal for how to act as a leader in the classroom.

In another study we have tested whether text-based simulations are enough to give student teachers experience of variation in central aspects of classroom leadership. We found that students can explicitly discern different leadership styles as well as other values (i.e. exaggerated leadership style through lack of care, distance) and implicitly by accepting or rejecting of measures (i.e. democratic leadership based on influence and respect). They did this by identifying and distinguishing different aspects. This type of text-based simulation thus has the potential of helping student teachers to identify important aspects of leadership.

Different views on leadership

Through this project we have found simulations to be a good compliment to traditional education to stimulate student teachers’ interaction and reflection on classroom management. The simulations makes them problematize and put words to different opinions on how classroom-related problems can be understood and dealt with.

The project has also shown how student teachers’ opinions of important aspects of leadership in the classroom changes during a course in leadership and conflict management and their work placement course. In their opinion, control was the most important aspect of classroom management and this opinion was reinforced during the course and their work placement. We have also shown that teacher students discuss classroom management from two different perspectives:

  • The evidence based model
  • The dilemma model 

Project conclusions in bullet points

  • Text-based simulation creates room for reflection, verbalization and discussion 
  • The great number and variety of teaching sequences and scenarios with alternative choices invites the student teachers to explore the consequences of different actions.
  • The possibility of going back and making a different choice once you have seen the consequences is a freedom that can never be utilized in real life.
  • The student teachers develop their ideas by explaining and articulating arguments on behalf of their choices to one another. 
  • The students' interview answers uncover their view of knowledge and ethical reflections
  • Notions of classroom leadership are built from control, combined with relations and flexibility
  • The students' perceptions of how to practice successful leadership indicates that they cover two different leadership knowledge models: one scientific, evidence-based model and one dilemma-based model, according to which the teacher must weigh different alternative actions against one another.
  • The students spontaneously express their concerns about ethical shortcomings in their leadership task.