Connecting educators and (student) teachers in continuous learning

written by Henderijn Heldens (Phd.) and  Nanke Dokter (Phd.), Fontys University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands (Coordinators of Cloud 2: Educators’ Professional Development)

In our fast-evolving society, education is facing increasing complexity  and interconnection (Means, 2018) . This challenges not only students’ learning, but also educators’ and teachers’ learning (Ros, Lieskamp & Heldens, 2018). Given these challenges, there is a need for professional development of teachers, staff and educators. In recent years this lead to many forms of collaboration, such as in school-university partnerships. Many of these partnerships have developed into strong collaborative networks for continuous learning (Zeichner, 2010). Inter professional collaboration in such networks, however, can be challenging (Bouw, Zitter & De Bruin, 2018; 2019; Oonk, Gulikers, den Brok & Mulder, 2022)  Collaborative learning outcomes might benefit from some support (Veltman, van Keulen & Voogt, 2019). In this blog we share a recent example of a PDP that aims to support professional development and learning of (future)teachers and educators. The question underlying this PDP was: How can we support continuous learning of both (student)teachers and educators during collaboration in a way that it is feasible in everyday practise?

In order to support the collaborative process a practical toolkit was developed by the research chair of Fontys School for Child Studies & Education, using elements of design thinking (Henriksen, Richardson & Mehta (2017), networked learning (De Laat, Vrieling & Van den Beemt, 2019)) and Scrum (Sanders, 2007). This toolkit (Ros, Heldens, Dokter & Rongen, 2021) provides a systematic approach to support (student)teachers and educators while collaborating on complex issues in the school-university partnership (for example regarding inequality of pupils’ learning opportunities). During eight meetings of two hours each, the innovation team uses the toolkit to follow a design cycle consisting of eight steps (see Figure 1). The first three steps (orientation, exploration and focus) are focussed on elaborating the complex issue at hand and finding focus. During these steps literature is used and combined with input from experts in every one’s networks and practical examples. This leads to a more clear definition of the issue and a set of design principles or criteria. Next (steps Options and Protoype) a creative process leads to the selection of a prototype in the form of a tool, guideline or information that might help to ‘solve’ the issue. For example one innovation team collaborated on the issue ‘stimulating a feedback culture in the school’. After exploring the issue and narrowing it down, they decided to develop a tool that supported the process of feedback seeking in a teacher team. The prototype they developed was an interactive poster with information and four practical steps for teachers to support feedback seeking behaviour, based on literature. After experimenting with this tool (steps experimentation and evaluation) in their own practices, the tool was evaluated and some adaptations were made. At the end of the collaborative process (session eight) the team reflects on its learning and collaborative processes and the outcomes thereof during a focus group interview.

Figure 1 Innovation team design cycle

First results from the evaluation of the innovation teams showed that participating students, as well as teachers and educators enjoyed the process of collaborative design and learned from it. The toolkit guided their collaborative process and helped overcome difficulties during the design process. For educators collaboration on a complex issue in teacher practise was helpful to gain a better understanding of the complexity in teacher practise. Teachers reported that they had learned from the design approach and the interaction with educators (educators had specific expertise on the issue at hand). For student teachers the experience was both challenging and rewarding. Some were hesitant in the beginning to share their ideas with more experienced others. The focus on psychological safety of all participants in the innovation team helped them to overcome their hesitations and to fully participate. Students learned that their input was valued. As a team the members learned that the combination of different expertise and experience and personalities in the innovation team was helpful for creating an environment that stimulated learning of all of the participants.

These first results were encouraging to elaborate the toolkit and follow up in different settings (within and across primary schools as well as in mixed settings with teachers in primary as well as secondary schools and teacher education). The toolkit seems promising to support collaborative learning processes in teacher education and hybrid learning environments. More research is needed to find out what works and why and how we can support innovation team members to act as knowledge brokers. Cloud 2 is a platform for sharing practical evidence – informed solutions that support professional development and student learning while collaborating in school-university partnerships. So, let’s get in touch at EAPRIL 2022 and collaborate! 

PS: Want to find out more about this example? Join the Cloud 2 Spotlight session in Nijmegen!


De Laat, M., Vrieling, E., & Van den Beemt, A. (2017). Facilitation of social learning in teacher education: The ‘dimensions of social learning framework’. Communities of Practice, 153-174.

Henriksen, D., Richardson, C., & Mehta, R. (2017). Design thinking: A creative approach to educational problems of practice. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 26, 140-153.

Oonk, C., Gulikers, J., den Brok, P., & Mulder, M. (2022). Stimulating boundary crossing learning in multi-stakeholder learning environment for sustainable development. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Sanders, D. (2007). Using Scrum to manage student projects. Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 23(1), 70-80.

Veltman, M. E., Van Keulen, J., & Voogt, J. M. (2019). Design principles for addressing wicked problems through boundary crossing in higher professional education. Journal of Education and Work, 32(2), 135-155.

Zeichner, K. (2010). Rethinking the connections between campus courses and field experiences in college-and university-based teacher education. Journal of teacher education, 61(1-2), 89-99.

Zitter, I and Hoeve, A. (2012). Hybrid learning environments: Merging learning and work processes to facilitate knowledge integration and transitions. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 81. OECD publishing