The previous blog looked at how teacher education continues to produce ‘mini-me’s’. It showed that one year long teacher education programmes have little time to challenge teachers to break the ‘mould’ and to develop teachers that are different from the dominant games-players.  

This week’s blog explores the knowledge and beliefs of new recruits to a physical education teacher education programme in the US. It follows them through their journey and argues that the ideas formed in school, about what a good teacher is and what good teaching looks like, are hard to change. It shows that pre-service teachers are good at filtering the messages they receive through their existing beliefs. Furthermore, it shows that they keep only the ideas that fit their belief system around teaching and discard the rest. This makes teacher education in schools and universities a much more difficult challenge; especially if we want to change our subject for the better.


Doolittle, S.A., Dodds, P., & Placek, J.H. (1993/2012) Persistence of beliefs about teaching during formal training of preservice teachers. In D. Kirk (ed.) Major Themes in Education: Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 81-118) London: Routledge.

My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

What do you believe the purposes of physical education and school sport are? Have you ever written them down? I think it would be interesting to compare our beliefs – both between one another and across time - and see how they differ in both instances. I know for a fact that mine have changed considerably since I left school. There are times when I wish I could get hold of my 18, 21, 25-year-old self and explain to them how badly wrong I (they) were getting it. Yet I wonder if they would have listened. In fact, I wonder if I would want them to listen. I know now that I am as much a product of their experiences as I am of the teacher educators and classroom interactions that finally changed my thinking about pedagogy in PE.

So where do we get out beliefs from and why are they so hard to change? 

I got mine, as I have said before, from my secondary school experiences and from my early decision to be a teacher. PE worked for me and I wanted to replicate the successes that I had with my students. For me (as much as I remember it) my experiences at university – particularly in my PGCE – did little to change those beliefs and I feel that I came out of the programme in much the same way as I went in. Yes, there were trials and tribulations and I think I learnt a few new tactics to use with my students, but I don’t feel that my programme challenged me. Instead it just reinforced what I thought teaching was about and what the characteristics of a good teacher were – all of which were gathered together in one place i.e. me.

Reading this week’s paper, I come to realise that in all probability my PGCE course tried to change my approach and asked me to consider alternatives but that I was deliberately blind to these ideas and overly resilient to change. Looking back on some of the educators at university at the time I studied I cannot believe that they would be supportive of some of the things I was doggedly sticking with: but what chance did they have? I only changed when I met a brick wall or two and I remember saying that I had no fear of going into a classroom and teaching. I do believe now that I had a degree of self-belief that bordered on (and probably repeatedly crossed over into) arrogance and that this didn’t change much as a consequence of my teacher training.

Lots of research suggests that teacher training has little impact a pre-service teacher’s beliefs about PE. But I don’t think that it is from a lack of trying. I now think it is because of the surety of belief that so many pre-service teachers bring with them.

So how do we change this? How did you and I challenge it?

I know of programmes in the UK and in Ireland that use metaphors as a way of helping students to initially understand their beliefs and then see how they might have a changed as a result of their teacher education experiences. Many of us – in schools and universities – play a role in teacher education and we, perhaps, need to be more overt about our beliefs and the things we have had to learn so that we can engage in meaningful discussions about teaching with those we support. We can no longer be the infallible experts that John Elliott writes about and must humanise ourselves and vocalise the ways in which we have changed throughout our careers. Only by being upfront about our beliefs can we begin to have honest discussions about them with our students.

The Paper 

Doolittle and colleague explored the impact of teacher education on three graduates from a US university. Gathering data at different times during the programme the researchers built a picture of what the three students believed about teaching PE before, towards the end, trying to gauge the impact of the programme. The results, as a teacher educator, were a little concerning.

It seems that the teacher education programme had little, if any, effect on the core beliefs that these students held about PE and PE teaching. Furthermore, while the programme (in principle) treated all the students as if they were the same – in other words it taught a generic course to all students – the take home messages for the three researched students were all different. What Doolittle and colleagues concluded was that the students had used their existing beliefs as a filter for what they were supposed to learn on their programme. In short, when they received a message that supported and supplemented their existing beliefs the student teachers were much more inclined to take it on-board. However, when they encountered a message that didn't resonate well they were more inclined to ignore it or purposefully deny it. 

Interestingly the three students involved in the study (two women and one man) had all made decisions to teach at different times in their lives. The earliest decider took the least out of the course. She held strong core beliefs about the purposes of school physical education and effective teaching and felt that the course provided her with a vocabulary to explain, professionally, what she had always done. In contrast the latest of the deciders was able to better adapt (and adopt) some of the key messages of the programme. Yet the tenacity with which all of the students held to their core beliefs was remarkable. 

What Doolittle and colleagues highlight with this 20-year-old study is the power of the early socialisation of potential students and the power of these beliefs to skew the messages that emerge from teacher education (both pre- and in-service education). They also show that even the best laid plans of teacher educators (be they academics or school mentors) may not be powerful enough to change (or even influence) the existing beliefs of their students. 

So, what to do?

As a community we need to be aware of the filters and barriers to change that will (in all probability) exist within our charges and then we need to design programmes and experiences that deliberately challenge and ultimately contest the belief systems that pre-service teachers bring to their teacher education programmes. We need to look at our own skill set and ask if we are skilled enough to help pre-service teachers articulate, share, discuss or debate their beliefs. Furthermore, we have to ask if our programmes are robust enough and consistent enough in their messages to help pre-service teachers change their beliefs. If they aren’t then we need to confront our own beliefs and practices and ask if we think we should be making a difference. If we do then we need to change the way we approach the teaching of teachers.

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- ThinkActChange (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.