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date: 20 October 2017

Biographical Approaches to Teacher Education

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.

Teacher education has become a key touchstone in solving the educational problems that challenge most countries today. Under different designations—pre-service and in-service training, continuing education, professional development, and lifelong learning, among others—the recurrence of this theme indicates both the level of concern of governments, universities, and other institutions charged with teacher education and the recognition that the future of society and of the school itself depend largely on the education of teachers. This is a huge challenge, especially because it implies rethinking the place that the school and teachers occupy in our societies. How do societies form teachers capable of meeting the demands of a contemporary school? What competences and skills should they acquire in order to teach the new generations, considering, above all, the heterogeneity of the groups attending school today? How do societies prepare teachers to work toward the transformation of school and toward greater social justice?

Biographical approaches are among many attempts that have been made to address such questions. In different countries researchers and educators have put into action a number of studies of teachers’ biographies, narratives, and stories, as well as other ways of employing life history methods, in order to renew the field of teacher education. Biographical approaches imply, indeed, another way of conceiving education. It is no longer a matter of bringing education closer to life, but rather of considering life as the locus of formation. The process of formation then becomes a prolonged search for oneself in order to face the challenges posed to each person in current society. The instability of the present times, the loss of traditional cultural references, and the emergence of new technologies, among other rapid changes in the contemporary world, all demand a review of the basis upon which education is founded. With this in mind, a group of French-speaking researchers from Europe and Canada (Gaston Pineau, Pierre Dominicé, Christine Josso, and others) has worked with educational biographies in the field of continuing education, thereby offering a major contribution to a theory of adult education and also influencing the field of teacher education. These researchers have based their works in theories from several social sciences, arts, and other fields, providing insightful intersections among them. Special attention is given in this framework to the relationship between individual and collective memory in order to discuss the specifics of biographical approaches and their heuristic value for both investigation and practice. The recent development of biographical approaches demonstrates that they are a promising tool for teacher education. With them, teachers become more aware of various aspects of life in schools, the history of the teaching profession, the politics of education, and the role of the school in our society, among others. By remembering and writing their memoirs, teachers come to understand themselves as professionals who not only teach, but also learn. They can additionally identify motivations impelling them to seek new opportunities to learn, unveiling new horizons for life and for education.