News Release

Doctoral thesis establishes three profiles of professionality regarding vocational teacher

Book Announcement

Estonian Research Council

The doctoral thesis examined the changing professionality of vocational teachers in the context of changing vocational education (since Estonia's restoration of independence). The focal points were the individual aspects of vocational teachers' work, such as the knowledge, skills, approaches and procedures (including coping and teaching strategies) that vocational teachers apply in practice as well as the individual factors (for example self-efficacy, commitment) that may influence their professionality. In the opening, regarding the professionality model of vocational teachers, the doctoral student relied on Hoyle's work (1974, 2008), a model which Evans (2008) has since developed further.

Of the changes that have taken place in vocational education, the aspects which affect professionalism the most are diverse standardisation, prioritising openness via the VET school population and reputation building. Vocational teachers themselves believe that the most important changes in vocational education are cooperation regarding professional self-development and the application of the qualification system. The least important aspects are believed to be changes in the assessment of the work of vocational teachers and their qualifications.

Estonian vocational teachers still express various understandings, assessments and experiences regarding changes in vocational education and apply different collaboration and learning activities to cope with all of the changes, thus shaping the professionality of Estonian vocational teachers. Therefore, vocational teachers have developed three professionality profiles: 1) changes are supported by extensively networked professionals; 2) changes are moderately supported by school-centred professionals; and 3) changes are viewed critically by collaboration-detached professionals. The collaboration and learning activities of vocational teachers have become important ways to react and adapt to changes and demands; however, they also affect the self-efficacy, job satisfaction and commitment of vocational teachers, which are important factors in vocational teachers' re-professionalisation and continuation in the profession.

More extensive collaboration between vocational teachers fosters a more positive attitude, greater satisfaction and greater commitment to both the work and the profession. Additionally, working together helps develop an understanding of the changes in the professionality of vocational teachers. "I noticed that vocational teachers who participated more frequently in different collaboration and learning activities, also perceived the changes as being more useful in their work and they had stronger self-efficacy in teaching, were more committed to and satisfied in their work. They were guided by more constructive pedagogical beliefs while teaching" Sirk adds.

The doctoral thesis revealed, based on the study, that vocational teachers with higher self-efficacy can manage better in the context of complex changes in the pedagogical situation and with new work duties and roles because this coping is supported by various and collaborative initiatives and learning activities inside and outside the school. Additionally, teachers with higher self-efficacy and a wider scope of collaboration are more committed and satisfied in their work and profession.

The theoretical framework and research strategy of the doctoral thesis in the context of changes in vocational education allowed a much more nuanced view of the types of professionality of vocational teachers, which are based on collaboration and learning activities, self-efficacy, commitment, job security and job satisfaction. These characteristics have not been completely revealed in previous studies on teachers, including vocational teachers.

It also became apparent that the desire of Estonian vocational teachers to be more committed in educating students relies on greater self-efficacy, commitment to the profession and the extent of their collaboration - aspects which have not been revealed in previous research.

"More extensive collaboration of vocational teachers fosters a more positive attitude, satisfaction and commitment to both the work and the profession," adds Meidi Sirk. "Additionally, collaboration activities help develop an understanding of the changes in the professionality of vocational teachers. It is important to highlight the need to support and encourage collaboration between vocational teachers both within and outside the VET school as well as the collaborative endeavours which they themselves have created and which increase their willingness to assume responsibility for their own professionality and thereby develop the professionalism. Additionally, there needs to be more focus on male teachers, teachers teaching general education and Russian-speaking vocational teachers, who have clearly been left behind regarding collaboration and learning activities."

It is important to state that the professional development of long-serving vocational teachers needs further support so that they are able to notice more positive changes in the VET school student population and are better equipped to handle the changes which concern them. This is because, in the context of changes in student population, vocational teachers with more than six years of pedagogical experience tend to emphasise more negative experiences regarding youths, which in turn can prevent them from adapting to changes in student population. They tend to think that the old days were easier and more positive. However, if discourse regarding a weak and problematic student population is emphasised, it also negatively affects the image of the vocational education in society even though the percentage of adult students in vocational education is growing and vocational teachers are more likely to have more positive experiences with them.


The doctoral thesis was supervised by Professor Krista Loogma from Tallinn University. The opponents are Professor Äli Leijen of the University of Tartu and Senior Lecturer Tiia Rüütmann of TalTech.

The doctoral thesis is available in the ETERA digital environment of the Tallinn University Academic Library.

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