Chapter 2. Knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession

Nóra Révai
Sonia Guerriero

This chapter explores the structural, functional and social dimensions of knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession. Knowledge dynamics refers to the characteristics of knowledge that transform, change and evolve as a result of various processes and influences. First, we provide an overview of the structural aspects that relate to the dynamics between teachers’ explicit and tacit knowledge. Second, we analyse the different functions of knowledge – its production, mediation and use – and explore how these functions interact and influence each other. We also look at evidence about how functional dynamics relate to solidification of teachers’ knowledge. Third, we study how teachers’ knowledge is affected by a range of complex social processes such as interactions among different actors and other elements of the social-professional field. Lastly, we explore the different possibilities that complexity theory can offer to understanding knowledge dynamics and the consequences that this analytical perspective can have on governing teachers’ knowledge.



Knowledge is dynamic; it is changed and shaped by learning, experience and various other processes. This is true whether we consider the individual knowledge of a person, the collective knowledge of a group of people, or the underlying knowledge base of a profession. Like other professions, the knowledge base of the teaching profession is also dynamic and constantly changing. For example, new knowledge emerges from research or is created by and shared through professional communities. In some cases, new curricular demands from policymakers may require teachers to learn new pedagogies, such as the teaching of social and emotional skills. As professionals, teachers are expected to process and evaluate new knowledge that is relevant to their core professional practice and to regularly update their profession’s knowledge base. Investigating the “knowledge dynamics” in the teaching profession is one way to measure how knowledge flows within, and also in and out of the profession, and especially how new knowledge is incorporated into the profession through processes such as initial teacher education, professional development, or networking, as well as how it is created by the profession itself.

The purpose of this chapter is to better understand the dynamics of knowledge, and in particular, the knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession. Some critics have argued that the knowledge base of the teaching profession has not kept up-to-date with new pedagogical and learning research (Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010). This will be covered in more detail later. Doctors and engineers are either required or expected to update their practice based on new advances in their fields. For example, doctors can more effectively treat cancers thanks to new findings in DNA sequencing; engineers use advances in materials science to build better bridges and taller buildings. On the other hand, arguments, such as that the knowledge upon which the teaching profession is based has remained the same since the writings of Vygotsky and Piaget, are not uncommon in discussions about teaching. For instance, teacher education institutions continue to train new teachers based on Vygotsky’s theory of the “zone of proximal development” and Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. While it is important for new entrants to a profession to learn about the historical foundations upon which their profession is based, it is just as important, if not more so, to also learn about contemporary perspectives on teaching and learning (Anderson et al., 1995; Sawyer, 2006). For example, new research in the fields of cognitive science and developmental psychology has shown that the theories of Vygotsky and Piaget are not fully supported by empirical research (e.g. Meltzoff, 2007, 2013) and that new understandings of how the brain “learns” – which are relevant to the teaching of children (e.g. Thomas, 2013) – have been advanced.

We do not know however, to what extent this new research has penetrated into the educational sphere. Some have suggested that it is not sufficiently integrated, and mention the lack of a coherent and integrated knowledge base for education as a potential reason (e.g. Hargreaves, 1996; Brante, 2010) or that a large part of teachers’ knowledge is implicit rather than explicit, making it difficult to be codified and thus transferred or shared within the profession. While there has been much speculation about why teachers’ knowledge is thought to be outdated, the dynamics underlying the knowledge base of the teaching profession are still not well understood.

This chapter, therefore, aims to review the processes and factors affecting the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge by triangulating evidence from different but strongly interrelated disciplines, including knowledge management, the economics of knowledge codification and educational sociology. The goal is to synthesise major theories relevant for the teaching profession and to propose a framework within which to analyse the dynamics of teacher’s knowledge. Understanding what influences teachers’ knowledge base, how teachers acquire, develop and update their knowledge, and how policy and research affect this knowledge base is hoped to contribute to establishing a framework on the basis of which the knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession can be studied.

The main question we investigate in this chapter is: How can the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge be described and characterised? To answer this, we conducted a review of the literature to address the following three sub-questions:

  • What is the nature of teachers’ knowledge? How can the different definitions and typologies of “knowledge” be applied for a better understanding of teachers’ knowledge?

  • What are the main processes influencing the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge?

  • What do we know about these processes? How can they be governed to better facilitate the integration and sharing of new knowledge in the profession?

This review is not meant to be comprehensive, nor systematic. Nevertheless, we endeavoured to review the most salient sources involving various different fields of research. Sources were identified through keyword searches1 in educational and sociological databases (ERIC and EBSCOHost) and, where relevant, the references of primary sources were reviewed. To ensure all relevant sources were captured, we also included recommended sources from experts in the field of teachers’ knowledge. Finally, we reviewed and included, where relevant, previous OECD works on the topic.

We start with a review of how different conceptualisations of “knowledge” relate to teachers’ knowledge. Then, we analyse knowledge dynamics from three aspects: the structural aspect, or knowledge dynamics as codification; the functional aspect, that is, knowledge dynamics in terms of production, use and mediation; and lastly, the social aspect, which corresponds to knowledge dynamics as the interplay between the various agents of a social-professional field. We argue that knowledge dynamics can be considered a complex system and draw conclusions on how these dynamics may be governed in an attempt towards creating a solid and integrated knowledge base for teachers. We hope that the insights this chapter provides may facilitate the development of mechanisms that bring educational research closer to practice and vice versa, and thus contribute to strengthening teaching as a profession. The ultimate goal of a professional teaching workforce with a sound professional knowledge base is to provide better learning opportunities for all students across the world.

Knowledge and knowledge dynamics

The nature of knowledge

Studying the knowledge dynamics of the teaching profession, or any profession for that matter, is not possible without first understanding the nature of knowledge. Theories of knowledge fall within a vast literature involving many different disciplines: cognitive psychology, sociology, information science, economics and philosophy; each of which has their own unique, yet overlapping, conceptual approaches, typologies of, and reflections on knowledge. Since the focus of this chapter is on the dynamics of knowledge, rather than on knowledge per se, we use the concept of knowledge in a sense borrowed from complexity theory: “as continuous invention and exploration, produced through relations among consciousness, identity, action and interaction, objects and structural dynamics” (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuck, 2011: 28). Still, it is important to begin with a review of some of the various approaches to the study of knowledge so that we can later specify a particular approach or refer to some of these typologies when discussing the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge.

In the case of teachers, Shulman (1985; 1986) proposed that the knowledge base of the teaching profession would comprise the following categories. We define “base”, as the collection of knowledge in the profession, as follows:

  • “general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)

  • content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)

  • pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and pedagogy)

  • curriculum knowledge (subject and grade-specific knowledge of materials and programs)

  • knowledge of learners and their characteristics

  • knowledge of educational contexts (knowledge of classrooms, governance and financing of school districts, the culture of the school community)

  • knowledge of educational ends, purposes, values, and their philosophical and historical grounds.”

The above and other work in the study of teachers’ knowledge (e.g. Ball, Thames and Phelps, 2008; Depaepe, Verschaffel and Kelchtermans, 2013; König et al, 2011; Verloop, Van Driel and Meijer, 2001; Voss, Kunter and Baumert, 2011), which has led to much writing and debate, are mainly concerned with the content of teachers’ knowledge base. But what, exactly, is meant by “knowledge?” Below we review various conceptualisations of knowledge stemming from different disciplines. The purpose of this short – and consequently somewhat superficial – review is first, to show the reader that the different conceptualisations influence the way we think about teachers’ knowledge, and second, to give a basic introduction to some concepts we will refer to in this chapter, as well as later in the book.

Conceptualisation 1: Individual vs collective knowledge

Is it possible to speak about knowledge as such without linking it to actual people who possess the knowledge? For example, Polányi (1958) claimed that all knowledge must rely on personal judgements and commitments, which he describes as “personal knowledge”. But can we interpret the knowledge of an individual independently? Or is knowledge necessarily embedded in a social context? Such questions have long been the subject of studies of philosophers, sociologists and psychologists and belong to the field of epistemology – or theory of knowledge – that is concerned with the nature, conception and scope of knowledge.

Throughout the history of epistemology, one of the main distinctive factors is whether reality is conceived as an external or objective truth and whether it is embedded in the belief of a group of people. An external and objective reality perspective is thought to be the basis of global and common knowledge that is independent from personal or group interpretations of knowledge. This perspective entails that knowledge is deduced from a set of axioms through reasoning, and new knowledge is created by combining existing sets of information (Kimble, 2013). Knowledge that is embedded in social groups holding the same epistemic beliefs is thought to be an interpreted reality. This view entails that knowledge is socially negotiated and “constructed”, and thus suggests a constructivist view of knowledge (Kimble, 2013).

We can equally distinguish between individual and collective knowledge based on the level of analysis employed. This distinction is relevant to an understanding of teachers’ knowledge because the processes that influence the knowledge of an individual teacher, the collective knowledge base of a smaller, local community of teachers, or that of the global teaching community, for example, will differ.

Conceptualisation 2: Tacit vs explicit knowledge and the codification of knowledge

In the domains of information sciences and economics, knowledge is conceptualised in terms of information, data, messages and codes. According to Hess and Ostrom, “Knowledge is assimilated information and the understanding of how to use it” (Hess and Ostrom, 2007, cited in Fazekas and Burns, 2012: 8). Here, information refers to organised data that is understood in its context (Davenport and Prusak, 1998).

Economists’ approach to knowledge gains its importance when considering codification as a process in knowledge dynamics. For teachers, this can involve, for example, the efficient management of knowledge within a school by teachers who attend a formal professional development course. Teachers will interpret the “data” they hear during the course as it applies to their own context. Codification is the process by which they transfer this “interpreted” information to their colleagues. Another example is how a member of the teaching staff, after observing a colleague’s lesson, will then articulate what he/she observed about the colleague’s practice into a “coded message”, which thus becomes “codified knowledge”.

Information sciences and economics make a distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge, which is relevant to our investigation of knowledge dynamics. Explicit knowledge is conceptualised as knowledge that can be expressed in words or other symbolic representations (e.g. text) in a way that can be comprehended by another person (Bennet and Bennet, 2008). Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is specified into two types: (1) knowledge that is not articulable, that is, knowledge that is impossible to describe in propositional terms and (2) knowledge that is implicit or articulable but with some difficulty (Kimble, 2013), thus suggesting that implicit knowledge is potentially codifiable. Tacit knowledge is furthermore thought to be personal in that it can only be transmitted through direct contact with the person possessing the knowledge. This is consistent with Polányi, who originally formulated the concept of tacit knowledge, when writing: “we can know more than we can tell” (1967: 4).

This distinction is important for the codification of knowledge. Codification is the process by which knowledge is converted into transmissible messages (Cowan and Foray, 1997). It thus involves making implicit knowledge explicit. As it pertains to the teaching profession, teachers’ knowledge is often thought to be largely tacit (OECD, 2000); hence the absence of a knowledge base for teaching. The literature on this issue shows a complex picture, however, so this will be reviewed in more detail in the section on codification.

Conceptualisation 3: Declarative and procedural knowledge

In the domain of cognitive psychology or the cognitive sciences in general, a distinction is made between “declarative knowledge” and “procedural knowledge.” Simplistic conceptualisations of declarative and procedural knowledge define these as “knowing that” (e.g. knowledge of the facts of teaching) and “knowing how” (e.g. knowledge of how to teach), respectively. But in actuality the issue is more complex, and essentially has to do with how knowledge of skills is stored and organised in memory and how it is used and developed into mastery performance (Anderson, 1982).

More specifically, the distinction between declarative and procedural refers to how knowledge is stored in long-term memory, and as such, cognitive scientists use the word “memory” rather than knowledge (and for some, the term “procedural” is replaced with “non-declarative”, e.g. Squire and Zola, 1996). Declarative and procedural are the two main types of long-term memory: Declarative memory is memory of facts (e.g. through textbook learning) and events (e.g. through experiential learning). Declarative memory can be articulated, or “declared”, and is often referred to as “explicit” memory. Procedural memory is memory of a skill (e.g. how to do things, such as teaching). Procedural memory is difficult to articulate, and therefore, also referred to as “implicit” memory. Anderson and colleagues (1982, 1987; also Corbett and Anderson, 1995), who study student learning, define declarative knowledge as factual or experiential knowledge and procedural knowledge as goal-oriented knowledge that mediates problem-solving behaviour.

Whether the initial learning is from a textbook or experiential, information enters the brain and is stored at a surface level in declarative or explicit memory and then consolidated into deeper, implicit memory stores (Gluck and Myers, 1997). Performance of a skill (e.g. teaching) improves through repeated practice as both declarative and procedural knowledge are strengthened. This distinction is important because it forms the basis for understanding how knowledge (e.g. of teaching) is learned and developed into mastery (e.g. expert teaching). How novice teachers become expert teachers is discussed further in Chapter 4 by Guerriero on teachers’ pedagogical knowledge.

The domain of educational sociology sometimes distinguishes between vertical and horizontal discourses based on Bernstein’s work. According to Bernstein (1999), a horizontal discourse refers to a discourse realised in everyday language and expresses common-sense knowledge related to practical goals. A horizontal discourse is context-specific, concrete and related to particular practices (Beck and Young 2005; Player-Koro, 2012 in Beach and Bagley, 2013). A vertical discourse on the other hand, is characterised by either a coherent, explicit and systematically principled structure, or takes the form of a series of specialised languages with specialised modes of interrogation.

Distinguishing between vertical and horizontal discourses in connection with pedagogic discourses is based on how different forms of knowledge are realised. The individual teacher’s knowledge as described in the literature takes the form of academic and codified (i.e. declarative and explicit) knowledge acquired in higher education and realised in vertical discourses on the one hand, and of practical and highly contextualised (i.e. procedural) knowledge, mostly tacit in nature and realised in horizontal discourses on the other (Wilson and Demetriou, 2007; Bernstein, 1999; OECD, 2000). This distinction is used, for example, for the purposes of analysing teacher education policies as we will see in Section 5.

Knowledge dynamics

As stated earlier, knowledge is dynamic in nature: it continually changes through experience and learning (McInerney, 2002). For example, the knowledge of an individual teacher changes as the person learns, where learning is to be interpreted in a broad sense occurring through initial teacher education, communities of practice, personal networks and work-related experiences (Siemens, 2005). The individual teacher’s knowledge, as part of the collective knowledge of a group (e.g. the community of practice or network), thus transforms this collective knowledge, which in turn feeds back into the individual teacher’s knowledge base (Siemens, 2005; McInerney, 2002). Viewed from a macro perspective, the knowledge base of the profession likewise goes through continuous transformations, through the knowledge of practitioners generated within this cycle, but also through a growing body of research.

However, while this cycle of knowledge dynamics suggests that teachers’ knowledge is continually changing and evolving, much criticism has been articulated in that on the whole teachers’ knowledge is rather static and has not changed much during the last 50 years. For example, some critics argue that teachers’ pedagogical knowledge is not based on recent research evidence (Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010), and international comparisons such as the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS; OECD 2014a) indicate that beginning teachers’ beliefs about teaching (e.g. whether it is a direct transmission or a constructivist belief) do not differ much from their senior colleagues. This may be an indication of a low level of knowledge dynamics, although it may also be the consequence of other factors such as centrally-prescribed curricula and teaching methods.

While this seems to suggest that teachers’ pedagogical practice is still characterised to a large extent by traditional, rather passive types of teaching (e.g. lecturing), there have been changes in their instruction in other areas (OECD, 2014b). For example, in a comparative analysis of teaching practices between 2001 and 2011, teachers across all grades and subjects report that they ask students to relate what they learned to their daily lives, to explain and elaborate their answers, interpret data and text, and to observe and describe natural phenomena to a greater extent in 2011 than in 2001 (OECD, 2014b), suggesting more active, as opposed to passive, teaching practices. Presumably, these changes in practice would not be possible without a corresponding change in teachers’ knowledge. Overall, the debate about whether teachers’ knowledge is or is not changing has not been resolved. As the evidence seems to rest more on anecdotal than empirical evidence, it arguably is weak and controversial. It is therefore clear that there is more research to be explored in this domain.

There is a large body of literature in the field of economics, and organisational development in particular, which deals with various aspects of knowledge dynamics. Terms such as knowledge management, knowledge-to-action, knowledge translation and knowledge utilisation consider the transmission, flow, or the generation of knowledge from different angles. We will use the term “knowledge dynamics” as a broad concept to refer to the characteristics of knowledge that transform, change and evolve as a result of various processes and influences. In the following sections, we review the main processes of knowledge dynamics from three different, albeit interrelated, perspectives:

  1. Knowledge dynamics as a structural process: What are the dynamics between tacit and explicit knowledge, and what does codification involve?

  2. Knowledge dynamics as a functional process: What processes does knowledge to action involve; how is knowledge generated, mediated and used; and what are the dynamics between research and practice?

  3. Knowledge dynamics as a social process: What are the processes within the teaching profession as a social-professional field; how do different actors (e.g. researchers, teachers, teacher educators, policy-makers) influence the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge by their actions and interactions?

Knowledge dynamics as structural dynamics: Codification processes

A significant body of research on knowledge management argues that knowledge needs to be made explicit in order for it to be effectively shared across a community or organisation. Very little research is available on knowledge codification specific to the education sector. For example, a search in the Education Resources Information Centre (ERIC) database for “codified knowledge” or “knowledge codification” resulted in only 16 peer-reviewed papers2 , and a search in EBSCOhost for “teacher” and (“codified knowledge” or “knowledge codification”) gave eight results. On the other hand, many argue that teachers’ knowledge is largely tacit and that it needs to be codified in order for the profession to establish a robust knowledge base, while recognising that not all knowledge is codifiable (e.g. OECD, 2000). The issue of tacit vs explicit knowledge and its codification is a complex one, and we expand on this below. In this paper, we will use the term “tacit” in the general sense to refer to both articulable and inarticulable knowledge.

Tacit and explicit knowledge – Different conceptual approaches

Conceptualisations of tacit and explicit knowledge and its codification find their roots in economic theory and philosophy, and in the last two decades, increasingly more from the fields of economics and information sciences. In these fields, many have drawn attention to differences in the definition of these terms (e.g. Cowan, David and Foray, 2000; Kimble, 2013; Johnson and Lundvall, 2001). The different conceptualisations have significant consequences on issues concerning teachers’ knowledge.

In much of the literature on codification, tacit and explicit knowledge are seen as a dichotomy, that is, knowledge is either tacit or explicit, or they are conceived as the two extremes of a continuum with tacit knowledge at one end and explicit knowledge at the other (Nonaka, 1994; McInerney, 2002; Kimble, 2013). (See Figure 2.1) This view suggests the existence of a spectrum on which one can move from tacit to explicit, which is the underlying assumption behind arguments about the need or desirability of making tacit knowledge explicit.

Figure 2.1. Tacit and explicit knowledge as a dichotomy

One of the ways in which teaching can become professionalised is by exploring and documenting (i.e. transforming into storable and transmissible information) the knowledge behind daily professional decisions, much of which seems to be difficult to articulate, and thus tacit. This process is believed to contribute to constructing a knowledge base for teachers that could be easily shared or learned and could in turn enhance professional practice. Thus, for example, whether and how a teacher intervenes when he/she experiences “inappropriate behaviour” in the classroom – a professional decision teachers face on a daily basis – could be analysed and coded. Clearly, behind this thinking lies the dichotomist approach of tacit versus explicit knowledge.

However, when Polányi originally theorised about tacit and explicit knowledge as a duality, he conceived of one existing in symbiosis with the other: there is no explicit knowledge which could exist independently of the tacit knowledge of the individual (e.g. see Polányi, 1967; Johnson and Lundvall, 2001; Kimble, 2013; Kabir, 2013).

Figure 2.2. Tacit and explicit knowledge as a duality

This view could be illustrated by the yin and yang model. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang “describe how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another” (Wikipedia, Yin and Yang3 ). This description fits the dualistic approach, which emphasises that tacit and explicit are complementary dimensions of knowledge rather than disjoint parts of a knowledge stock (Johnson and Lundvall, 2001). In view of this approach, the individual knowledge of a teacher that forms the basis of his/her reaction to, for example, disciplinary problems in the classroom, has both tacit and explicit dimensions, which are hardly separable. The teacher may have explicit knowledge about, for example, the effects of punishment or reward on student motivation and many other psychological and pedagogical processes that merges with their tacit knowledge, for example, of how they interpret psychological theories for themselves and how they translate them to a particular context and situation.

Is it possible then to codify teachers’ tacit knowledge? If so, what would codification involve and what would be gained?

Codification – What? How? Why?

According to Cowan and Foray (1997), in the domain of organisational knowledge management theories and techniques, codification is the process of converting knowledge into storable and transmissible messages. Despite some evidence of the benefits of codification in various fields (e.g. Edmondson et al., 2003; Janicot and Mignon, 2012), many concerns have also been raised. Debates about what can be codified, how codification happens and why it would be a desirable strategy are still open, and educational research has yet to contribute to these issues.

The first concern raised in connection with codification relates to what kind of knowledge can be codified in the first place and what the process of codification actually involves. Johnson and Lundvall (2001) argue that different types of knowledge are codifiable to different degrees; for example, procedural knowledge is almost never fully codifiable, but is most of the time partially codifiable. An often cited example is that it is unlikely that someone will learn to ride a bike by reading a text or watching a video. Likewise, with the example of the teacher managing a classroom. It is thus important to distinguish different types of knowledge when considering codification, for which a helpful concept is that of implicit knowledge referring to potentially articulable or codifiable knowledge (Cowan, David and Foray, 2000). This would imply that although some of the classroom management know-how of an expert teacher can never be captured by words or images, this being the fully tacit knowledge, there is a part of his/her implicit knowledge that is potentially codifiable.

A second concern relates to the result of codification. Cowan and Foray (1997) emphasise that the process of codification is never complete, because codification involves the construction of new tacit knowledge. For example new codes (e.g. specialised language) need to be understood and interpreted by the person accessing the codified knowledge. Thus, the belief that “efficient” codification (economists interpret the efficiency of codification in terms of cost-benefit) of teacher knowledge would reduce the tacit dimension of teachers’ knowledge base is far from being self-evident.

Knowledge management literature reveals little about how codification may take place and emphasises mostly organisational techniques, such as procedure descriptions, frameworks of references, policy documents, data collection, typical cases, and so on (e.g. Wyatt, 2001). The economists’ approach to codification examines the costs of this process and lists some cases and conditions in which codification is difficult and not efficient (Cowan and Foray, 1997).

To illustrate how teacher knowledge may be codified, studies on teacher learning are worth exploring. Cordingley (2008) reported that a crucial element of effective continuing professional development (CPD) programmes was supporting teachers in “making their beliefs, ideas and practices explicit” (2008: 45), which in our terms would mean supporting them in codifying their knowledge. Professional development is certainly one of the dynamics through which knowledge codification for teachers can take place. Teacher knowledge can also be codified through professional collaboration, which is illustrated by the following vignette.

The vignette (see Box 2.1) demonstrates the process of codification at the level of the individual teacher and at a collective level. At the individual level, Mrs. Binn’s knowledge about error correction and feedback had explicit and tacit dimensions throughout the discussions: she distinguished different types of mistakes and applied different error correction strategies for these (explicit knowledge). However this practice seems to have derived from beliefs and probably experience, so why she applied the practice is at least partly tacit knowledge. By conducting a review of the research evidence, part of her implicit knowledge became codified, and she is now able to express this in a specialised language. At the collective level of teachers teaching the same subject in the same school, some knowledge which was previously held by individual teachers separately or in the research literature, became more easily accessible, shareable and transmissible for others.

Box 2.1. Vignette: Codification of teacher knowledge through professional collaboration among teaching staff.

The ESL teachers of a school noticed through discussions in the staff room that their error correction strategies differed to a large extent. They thus decided to organise a departmental workshop to discuss error correction and feedback strategies. They all corrected the same assignment written by a student, which they then analysed.

Sarah’s copy corrected by Mr. Johannson and Mrs. Binn respectively:


Extract from the discussion:

“Mr. Johannson: Jane, why didn’t you correct “that” in the relative clause in this copy?

Mrs. Binn: This class hasn’t yet learnt relative clauses, so Sarah couldn’t have known how to say it correctly.

Mr. Johannson: Yes, but it is still wrong. She won’t learn English if you don’t tell her what is correct and what is wrong.

Mrs. Smith: Sarah was actually experimenting with the language. Why would we want to discourage her from doing that?

Mrs. Binn: Actually, this mistake doesn’t even impede on understanding the meaning of the sentence, so it is not so important to get it right at this level.

Mr. Johannson: Well, I still think accuracy is crucial in language learning. Do you have any evidence proving that not correcting everything will result in better learning?”

The teachers found that they could not answer Mr. Johannson’s question and thus decided that they would look for evidence in the field of error correction for the next session. During the second meeting, they discussed Sarah’s copy again in view of the evidence found. They determined the type of each mistake using typologies found in literature (e.g. local vs. global errors, treatable vs. untreatable errors). They also identified and defined error categories specific to the native language of their students. A third workshop session opened the floor for discussion and agreement about feedback and correction strategies based on literature and experience, and resulted in a document on a “framework for correction and feedback”.

Codification of teachers’ knowledge also takes place when teachers are involved in classroom-based research activities. Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler (2002) suggest that building an integrated knowledge base for teachers should start from teachers themselves, for example, by constructing local theories of learning starting from daily lessons, testing and verifying them, and finally making them publically accessible, shareable, open for negotiation, verification and refutation, or modification within the profession. For this, the authors list various ways that knowledge can be made explicit, such as by videotaping, digitalisation and indexation. They underline the importance of creating knowledge that is “represented in a form that enables it to be accumulated and shared with other members of the profession” (2002: 4), which would correspond to codified knowledge. Although contributing to classroom-based research activities would indeed be a way of codifying some of teachers’ knowledge because research requires the explicit formulation of knowledge, the generalisability and universality of the findings are not without obstacles and fallacies.

In the above examples, codification took place locally within a small professional community of participants at a continuous professional development (CPD) course or the teaching staff of a school. A more distant cross-contextual transfer of knowledge codified in this manner is not evident because of the context-dependence of this knowledge. As Johnson and Lundvall (2001) point out, a major problem with the transferability of codified knowledge is its context; we cannot be sure that the “receiver” will be able to efficiently apply this knowledge in his/her cultural and professional context. While declarative knowledge may be easier to transfer, procedural knowledge is more problematic. A teacher can, for example, write down how she/he manages classroom disciplinary problems, but this description may prove to be irrelevant in a different context. In addition, transferring this type of knowledge may actually have negative impacts in a different educational-cultural context (Best and Holmes, 2011).

This observation leads us to the question of why would codification be desirable. The economist approach analyses the cost-benefit ratio of codification; it draws conclusions based on initial fixed costs and marginal costs, and sets conditions for profit maximisation (e.g. Cowan and Foray, 1997; Cowan, David and Foray, 2000). In general, the organisational literature – a specific area of economics – states that if knowledge has value, it should be captured, stored and shared, and cost-benefit analyses should show that codification represents the most cost-effective way (Kimble, 2013). We have seen however that “the more knowledge is codified the easier it is to access, share and transfer” is not necessarily the case. Nor it is true that codified knowledge is immediately more accessible publicly. As Johnson and Lundvall (2001) point out, local codes developed, for example, by professional communities may make communication more efficient at a local level, but can easily exclude outsiders. Additionally, Cordingley (2008) notes that few of the numerous terms accumulated by the education community to explicate concepts are, in fact, essential. On the other hand, they create barriers to wider communication. It has also been emphasised that by focusing exclusively on codified knowledge “one may lose sight of the intimate linkages between tacit and explicit knowledge” (Kimble, 2013: 19). In addition, it is by no means evident to identify what knowledge is codifiable, and what we could gain exactly from codifying knowledge (Kabir, 2013; Kimble, 2013; Johnson and Lundvall, 2001).

The application of codified knowledge in practice resulting in more effective teaching and learning processes is not straightforward. Its effectiveness will depend on the tacit knowledge of the individual teachers as well as other factors such as the pupils’ and teachers’ beliefs or motivation (Cordingley, 2008). Nevertheless, examples cited relating to the codification of teachers’ knowledge do seem to show beneficial effects of making implicit knowledge explicit, and some evidence does suggest that it can potentially lead to enhanced student learning. For example, evidence related to CPD suggest that a crucial factor in the effectiveness of CPD programmes in terms of changing teachers’ practice and improving pupil learning is that they involve processes supporting teachers in making their beliefs, ideas and practices explicit (Cordingley, 2008).

The Codification of teachers’ knowledge – Questions and consequences

Clearly, the debate over tacit and explicit knowledge and codification is still open, and the multiplicity of different approaches suggest that, for the moment, there is no simple approach applicable that would create an integrated knowledge base for teachers and directly lead to higher quality professional practice. At the same time, codification is one of the processes influencing the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge base and this process can increase the shareability, the transmissibility, and the accessibility of knowledge within the teaching profession, even though the conditions and circumstances under which codification processes achieve these effects are yet to be explored and clarified.

We have seen that codification is happening in various forms during initial teacher education, professional collaboration and development or during teachers’ involvement in research. These processes shape teachers’ knowledge base even though these dynamics cannot be as simply conceived of as “the reduction of tacit knowledge and a way towards a codified knowledge base”. More is to be explored in terms of how such processes can be facilitated towards building a more coherent knowledge base. New technologies (including artificial intelligence) open new dimensions in codification (Kabir, 2013), which could also be considered for teaching.

It has been suggested by economists that a more interdisciplinary approach to the issue of codification, namely including research on teaching and learning could make a valuable contribution (Johnson and Lundvall, 2001). At the same time it seems that theories and results of knowledge management literature on codification (from the field of economics or information science) haven’t been sufficiently considered and integrated in educational literature e.g. on teacher knowledge, which represents a gap in understanding in the field of education. More than a decade ago the OECD (2000) proposed to use guidance from business and industry to help construct a “common body of codified, explicit knowledge” (2000: 70) for teachers. Now it is time to use results accumulated since then. The following questions would be worth exploring more deeply:

  • How could codification improve the professional practice of teachers and through that student learning?

  • In what ways and at what level would it be a good strategy to codify teacher knowledge?

  • Under what conditions could codification facilitate extended access to knowledge for teachers?

To date there is little known about this particular area within the field of education, and although the questions raised above can be important, it must be acknowledged that codification is only one aspect of knowledge dynamics. Let us now move on to a related but different aspect: the creation, mediation and use of knowledge.

Knowledge dynamics as functional dynamics: Knowledge-to-action processes

Knowledge dynamics can also be captured as the production, use and transfer (or mediation) of knowledge within and between different stakeholder communities such as researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers. A proliferation of terms, definitions and models characterise the field: knowledge management, knowledge to action, knowledge mobilisation and knowledge utilisation. Attempts made to systematise the multitude of theories and concepts (e.g. Graham et al., 2006) suggest that the complexity of the issue cannot be reduced to any simple model. Although the most widely examined field from this perspective is medicine, many of these issues have been considered from an educational point of view as well, and many have written about the obstacles to and deficits of a good research-practice link and the various conditions for facilitating it. The OECD has also contributed to this discussion with a series of projects and publications (e.g. OECD, 2007; OECD, 2000). In this section, we review theories relevant to the study of teachers’ knowledge and focus on the relationship between educational research and the professional practice of teachers. We use the term “knowledge-to-action” (KTA) to label this relationship.

A range of studies suggest that education is characterised by a lack of evidence-based practice: research does not consistently constitute the scientific basis of teachers’ everyday pedagogical judgements (Hargreaves, 1996; Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010; Levin, 2011; Goldacre, 2013, etc.). Accepting the starting point that research has the potential to increase the quality of teaching practice and thus to enhance student learning, strengthening the link between research and practice (as well as policy) has long been on the agenda (Levin, 2011; Hargreaves, 1996). Levin (2011, 2013) modelled knowledge-to-action as the intersecting union of production, use and mediation; where these three are regarded as functions rather than structures and acknowledging that some people or groups are active in more than one context. The key questions regarding knowledge production have to do with how educational research is produced; what kind of research has the potential to enhance professional practice; and who plays what role in the production of research knowledge. Questions about knowledge mediation are concerned with how research results reach and inform professional practice; and who plays what role in the mediation of research knowledge. With respect to knowledge use, the key questions address how teachers access, understand and apply research knowledge, and who plays what role in the use of research knowledge in teaching practice.

Figure 2.3 highlights the main issues and challenges that have been identified in these three functions. Several studies suggest that educational research is not carried out in a cumulative way, as is research in the sciences underlying the medical profession (Hargreaves, 1996; Levin, 2013), and there is no consensus around what counts as good evidence for professional practice (Fazekas and Burns, 2012; Nutley, Powell and Davies, 2013). The different types of evidence are organised hierarchically according to the methodology of the studies by some authors. These standards of evidence often place quantitative studies, in particular randomised control trials, on top of the hierarchy, followed by quasi-experimental research and lastly, by qualitative studies (Fazekas and Burns, 2012; Nutley Powell and Davies, 2013). Nutley et al. also distinguish between evidence-based and research-based practices, where the former refers to practices that have been “rigorously evaluated and consistently been shown to work”, whereas the latter to those that are “based on sound theory informed by a growing body of empirical research” (2013: 9).

Figure 2.3. Challenges of knowledge to action in education

Moreover, production of research in the classroom is not or rarely supported. Teachers, unlike doctors, have little time, opportunity and support to engage in research activities. Although in some countries this has considerably changed. In England, for example, approximately one third of teachers are engaged actively in research according to 2010 data (Cordingley and Mitchell, 2013) as a result of numerous initiatives. Singapore also invests considerably in engaging teachers in research (Jensen et al, 2012). A number of suggestions have been made to address these challenges, some of which are reviewed subsequently.

Knowledge production

It has been suggested by several studies that the research agenda, process and the culture of producing educational evidence should change (Goldacre, 2013; Hargreaves, 1996). Such a global change could include the negotiation of standards of evidence, keeping in mind that rigid and prescriptive schemes will not facilitate the production of good evidence (Nutley, Powel and Davies, 2013). It is not yet clear what kind of research methodologies should be privileged (if any at all). Some argue for using more trials (such as randomised control trials) as this would foster gathering evidence cumulatively on what works best (Goldacre, 2013), while others envisage building the knowledge base starting from practice, for example, through lesson observations, analysis, recording and storing (Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler, 2002) or recommend using more design-based research, which incorporates feedback and allows modifications in the intervention during the research process. Theories such as activity theory or expansive learning (Engeström and Sannino, 2010) link the creation of knowledge closely to learning (focusing in particular on professional communities) and reinforce the argument that new knowledge is produced also through the professional activities of teachers. Engeström and Sannino (2010) use the metaphor of “expansive learning” to highlight that professional learning is often not about learning something that is already known, but the design of new activities merges with the acquisition of knowledge they require. Paavola, Lipponen and Hakkarainen (2004) and Bereiter (2002, in Paavola, Lipponen and Hakkarainen, 2004) also emphasise this aspect of collective knowledge creation during professional learning and activities. Some of these models have been used in schools to engage teachers in collaborative efforts (Paavola, Lipponen and Hakkarainen, 2004). This broad view of knowledge production is in line with the conceptualisation of knowledge adopted in this chapter (see Part II on Knowledge and Knowledge Dynamics).

Changing the research culture also means including a strengthened cooperation among researchers of different fields because fostering a multidisciplinary approach is key to effective knowledge-to-action in education (Levin, 2011; Goldacre, 2013). Furthermore, changing the education research paradigm would require the creation of a whole ecosystem some of the most important elements of which are established networks, new funding mechanisms, active implementation strategies and incentives, as suggested by several studies (Goldacre, 2013; Levin, 2011; Hargreaves, 1996). A key and common element of all recommendations is the collaboration of teachers and researchers in knowledge production (e.g. OECD, 2007; Van de Ven and Johnson, 2006; Levin, 2013, 2011; Hargreaves, 1996; etc.). It is argued that teachers will find research relevant and applicable for their practice if on the one hand, research questions stem from professional practice, and on the other hand, if they have ownership of the research itself. Ownership is achieved by involving teachers in the whole research process from identifying the questions and conducting the research to dissemination and implementation of the findings in their practice. School leaders play a key role in encouraging teachers to engage in research, so the question of ownership is crucial for them too. This means that research should be organised as a collaborative activity. Such change requires policy incentives for all stakeholder groups involved.

Recommendations regarding the knowledge production culture have been taken on board by policy-makers in some countries and a set of initiatives have been undertaken in line with these suggestions. Some focused on fostering partnerships between teachers, researchers and policy; others aimed at building evidence on the basis of classroom observations and reflections; others had the objective of involving teachers actively in the research process from start to finish (See Box 2.2 for specific examples). Some of these initiatives have been evaluated and valuable consequences have been drawn as to what worked and what did not, whereas the impact of some others is not yet known. For example the evaluation of the School Based Research Consortia revealed numerous benefits of the initiative including “an improvement in teachers’ skills and capacities, learning gains for pupils, and changes in knowledge of, and attitudes to, research across schools” (GTC, 2003) (Nutley, Jung and Walter, 2008: 60). This latter is particularly relevant to knowledge dynamics, as it concerns the engagement of teachers with research. The evaluation reported furthermore, that teachers “came to value increasingly complex models of research and more extended forms of inquiry” (Simons et al., 2003: 361.).

Box 2.2. Policy initiatives influencing the educational research agenda and process

Facilitating partnerships:

The School-Based Research Consortia implemented in four university cities in England had the aim to ‘explore how research and evidence can contribute to improving teaching and raising standards of achievement’ (Kushner et al., 2001, p. 3 as cited in Nutley, Jung and Walter, 2008). This initiative consisted of creating partnerships between universities, local education authorities and schools. Engagement with research was realised in various ways such as pairs of teachers and academics working together, individual school research co-ordinators, or action research along different thematic priorities set by the consortium itself.

Building evidence on the basis of teaching practice:

Hiebert, Gallimore and Stigler (2002) give the example of lesson study groups (as in Japanese elementary schools) as a good practice to illustrate how evidence can be built on the basis of teaching practice. In these study groups, teachers meet regularly to collaboratively plan, implement, evaluate and revise lessons, while university researchers are involved as consultants to add their perspectives and share the results of other groups. These groups generate knowledge by working on a problem directly linked to their practice.

Involving teachers in research:

England is an example where numerous research programmes for teachers have been launched since the end of the 1990s. Cordingley and Mitchell (2013) list the following:

  • Post Graduate Professional Development Programme funded by the Teacher Training Agency (CUREE, 2008)

  • Best Practice Research Scholarships (Street and Temperley, 2005) funded directly by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES)

  • General Teaching Council’s Teacher Learning Academy

  • Networked Learning Communities programme (Katz and Earl, 2006) funded by the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL)

  • Research Associate programmes also funded by the NCTL.

Last but not least, how and by whom knowledge is produced is also a question of funding mechanisms. Initiatives aiming at increasing the number of teachers engaging in and with research (such as the ones in the UK and in Singapore mentioned above) are accompanied by financial incentives. In Singapore, for example, substantial funding is allocated for school-based research that must aim to improve student learning (Jensen et al., 2012). The Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) in the UK or the “No Child Left Behind” programme in the USA are also examples for how funding mechanisms can influence the nature and the participants of research (Cordingley, 2008; Fazekas and Burns, 2012).

Recommendations with regard to the knowledge production culture in education research as well as initiatives that have attempted to implement some of these recommendations emphasise the importance of facilitating dynamics between knowledge production and use. These functions can be linked directly and indirectly through mediation.

Knowledge mediation

Knowledge mediation has become an issue of its own due to the rising need to transfer research knowledge into teaching practice. However, despite the fact that more and more educational research is accessible through professional journals and websites for teachers, mechanisms effectively mediating between research and practice haven’t yet been established (e.g. Levin, 2011; Cordingley, 2008; Hargreaves, 1998). Levin (2011) contends that while research institutions do little for knowledge mobilisation, schools’ capacity to find, share, understand and apply research is far from being sufficient. Mediating, that is making sure that research findings on education reach all relevant stakeholders such as school leaders, teachers or policy-makers and are applied to improve practice and the different educational stakeholders’ questions and concerns reach researchers, should be a common effort of all these communities. At the same time, a growing number of mediators, including stakeholders from the research, practice and policy communities (e.g. university teachers, local authorities, teachers and school leaders), and specialised knowledge brokers are involved in bringing evidence to practice.

Mediation can take place in a variety of ways: through websites, newsletters, online communities, conferences, workshops and other forms of interaction that can potentially be effective tools (Fazekas and Burns, 2012). On the other hand, the impact and potential of creating more websites and virtual interaction spaces is not clear (Levin, 2011). Conditions for achieving impact include connecting with the right stakeholders (Fazekas and Burns, 2012) or producing materials that practitioners can use and apply. Criteria for research outputs that are easily applicable for practitioners include providing detailed analysis and description of the teaching intervention; providing detail about the starting points of pupils and the communities, phases, or subjects involved in research outputs; or ensuring clear, simple, short and jargon-free writing (for a list see Cordingley, 2008), however, often runs counter to what is expected within the research community, and in certain cases even “constrains research writing in ways that could undermine the accumulation of knowledge” (Cordingley, 2008: 39). Mediation mechanisms and efforts are therefore necessary to translate research for practice.

The OECD (2007) presented several case studies on brokerage agencies specifically created for knowledge mediation, and other similar initiatives are mentioned by, for example, Cordingley (2008) (see Box 2.3 for details), whose activities include producing systematic research reviews specifically written for practitioners. In addition, brokerage agencies or knowledge brokers often also take part in knowledge production (Fazekas and Burns, 2012), which may contribute to the effectiveness of knowledge-to-action processes. Practitioners engage in mediation initiatives as well: websites are mentioned as examples in which teachers have access to journals and resources, can form communities of practice (e.g. learning hubs) and teacher enquiry and research are supported in various ways. More evidence is nevertheless needed on the effectiveness and impact of knowledge mediation efforts to understand how these processes can be facilitated for greater impact on teacher knowledge (Fazekas and Burns, 2012).

Box 2.3. Knowledge mediation in action

Brokerage agencies

The OECD (2007) looked at linking research to policy and provided a set of examples for brokerage agencies with varying goals and means:

  • What Works Clearinghouse (United States)

  • Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) (UK)

  • The Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis Programme (New Zealand)

  • Canadian Council on Learning (CCL)

  • The Knowledge Clearinghouse (Denmark)

  • The Knowledge Chamber (Netherlands) (OECD, 2007).

Associations and other types of organisations acting as mediators

  • Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) (UK)

The CUREE created, for example, a National Framework for Mentoring and Coaching on the basis of two systematic reviews of the impact of CPD, highlighting evidence from research and facilitating access to research features as core knowledge for mentors, specialist coaches and co-coaches (CUREE, 2005). The framework has been used in a number of ways in England to support the transformation of knowledge about CPD into practice (Cordingley, 2008).

  • International Society of the Learning Sciences

  • Evidence Informed Policy and Practice in Education in Europe

  • The Campbell Collaboration

  • The Education International (EI) (Cordingley, 2008).

Practitioners’ mediation activities:

Knowledge use

Concerning how research knowledge is integrated in teachers’ knowledge base, certain studies suggest that teachers lack an objective understanding of their own knowledge base: on the one hand they often take complex strategies and skills, which are in fact based on professional expertise, analysis and critique for “common sense” approaches, while on the other hand, they also overestimate the extent to which they have internalised theories and concepts (Cordingley, 2008; Cordingley and Mitchell, 2013). A first step towards a research-based knowledge base is to support teachers in making their existing practices and the underlying knowledge explicit (Cordingley, 2008). As we have noted in Section 3, the conditions, strategies and platforms of codifying teacher knowledge are yet to be explored. One of the main platforms of learning for in-service teachers is CPD, which thus plays a key role in transferring research knowledge to teachers. CPD programmes should not only be based on research knowledge but should also be designed in a way that they effectively transfer this knowledge and facilitate its integration into everyday teaching practice (OECD, 2007; Graham et al. 2006). How this should be achieved can be studied for example through comprehensive evaluations of such programmes.

Helping tie together research and practice takes place in essentially two ways: producing or transforming research outputs that are more easily accessible for teachers or giving teachers sufficient background in research to be able to interpret and critically reflect on research. From the point of view of fostering research-based practice and facilitating dynamics in teacher knowledge applying both ways at the same time seems the best strategy (OECD, 2007; Cordingley, 2008). Again, several initiatives have experimented with these strategies. Learning research methodology and engaging in research is an important part of initial teacher education in many countries. For example, in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Italy teachers participate in collaborative research or development activities both during their pre-service preparation and during their work as a teacher (Darling-Hammond et al., 2010).

An interesting example of the intersection of knowledge production and use is the way that education researchers engage in meta-studies and examine the relationship between education research and the teaching practice to draw conclusions on how to change research outputs to make them more adaptable for practitioners, how to design professional development for a greater impact on teacher learning, or what kind of mediation mechanisms to put in place to facilitate research-based practice (e.g. Cordingley, 2008; Hargreaves, 1996). Research about the use of research and evidence is only beginning to emerge (Cordingley, 2013), and subsequently a more visible impact on teacher knowledge can be expected.

To sum up, the interactions and processes influencing the creation, mediation and use of knowledge include issues about methodologies, the roles of different actors and the support mechanisms that enable different stakeholders to engage in KTA activities, as well as criteria for tools and products that facilitate knowledge-to-action in education. The general finding is that interactions and collaborations between different stakeholders should be stronger and need to be facilitated. Indeed, nearly all knowledge-to-action studies over the last two decades indicate that researchers and teachers should produce knowledge jointly in a collaborative manner (e.g. Levin, 2013; Best and Holmes, 2010; Vanderlinde and Van Braak, 2010; OECD, 2007). This can mean strengthening practitioners’ involvement in all (or some) phases of the research process, building research evidence that is practice-based through more design-based research or based on lesson observation and analysis. Such collaborations would entail more direct and straightforward mediation processes.

In terms of knowledge dynamics the above means that the different functions of knowledge – its production, mediation and use – interact and influence each other and evidence suggests that strengthening the links between these functions contributes to the solidification of teachers’ knowledge base.

Knowledge dynamics as social dynamics: Processes within the social-professional field

The knowledge base for teaching (i.e. a tripartite model comprising the sciences, professional practice and student learning) is embedded within a social-professional field in which a great number of stakeholders act and interact, thus influencing the dynamics of the knowledge base. In this section we will illustrate the complexity of this influence with examples for the diversity and variety of processes affecting teacher knowledge. The three main functions of knowledge described in the previous section are deeply influenced by the institutional and social context of ideas, technology developments, legal system, public beliefs and so forth (Levin, 2013). Thus the social dimension of knowledge dynamics encompasses not only the social interactions between the different educational actors but also the complex interaction of the elements of the whole social environment – or sociomaterial as it is referred to in recent studies (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk, 2011). In the following we illustrate these processes with some specific examples.

Interaction among agents: actors and other elements

Cordingley (2013) illustrates the linkages between the key players of education governance and knowledge networks to show how the work of each is mediated through other groups and players before it exerts influence on student learning. Stakeholder groups such as researchers, policy-makers, school boards, school leaders, teachers and students should be conceived as a dense network of educational actors (interpreted either at the local [e.g. regional, national] or at the global level), in which some sub-groups or clusters are distinguishable. Here are a few examples on how each of these players can influence teacher knowledge.

Firstly and most evidently, the community of practitioners is the one which is directly and constantly shaping their own knowledge base. Continuing professional development, professional networks, or collaborating in various ways with colleagues are platforms of formal and informal learning through which teachers shape their knowledge every day. Knowledge sharing within the teacher community has taken new forms in the last decade: TeachMeets, organised meetings where teachers share good practice, innovations and personal insights in teaching, are increasingly more popular. Online resource pools, forums and webinars create the possibility for teachers to share teaching materials, good practices, or insights into teaching and engage in reflections, even when geographically far apart.

Practitioners’ networks are emerging and growing on all levels. Teachers have professional networks in more and more countries. Platforms facilitating this networking are sometimes initiated by policy, in other cases they are created from the bottom-up based on the needs of teachers (see some examples in Box 2.4). Increasingly, more studies are dealing with informal learning (such as networked learning in the teaching community) and are coming to the conclusion that this kind of “invisible learning” is as important a platform for professional development as formal courses (De Laat, 2012; Vaessen et al., 2014). Simultaneously, some studies also underline the difficulty of making the most of informal learning networks, and stress that empowering rather than controlling professionals through, for example, planned interventions are key to enabling a well-functioning network (De Laat, 2012).

Box 2.4. Facilitating teacher networks

European teacher networks

The European Union invests a considerable amount of resources into facilitating teachers’ collaboration across the countries: the Erasmus+ Programme (previously Lifelong Learning Programme) supports the implementation of 1-2 year projects, including teacher and student mobility and strategic partnerships between schools both of which provide ample opportunities for knowledge exchange between teachers.

Launched as the main action of the European Commission’s eLearning Programme, E-twinning offers a platform for staff (teachers, head teachers, librarians, etc.) to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and be part of a learning community in Europe. Visit to learn more.

National platforms to facilitate teacher networks

Viaeduc (France)

Viaeduc is a promising initiative launched in France. It is a social networking platform for teachers, school leaders and other educational practitioners through which they can share knowledge, good practices, launch common projects, organise training or form working groups. Viaeduc is managed by the public interest group “Teachers’ Professional Network” that comprises public and private institutions. Viaeduc counts over 14000 users in 2015 with over 2300 groups. While it is a public service, the network is self-organised by the users on the basis of local initiatives based on local needs. Visit to learn more (Muller, 2012; Muller and Normand, 2014).

Journal Clubs (Shanghai and Singapore)

An example of a practitioners’ network is reported in Goldacre (2013). Teachers in Shanghai and Singapore participate in “Journal Clubs” where they discuss a new piece of research and critically reflect on its potential application in practice. In case they identify shortcomings in the study design, they suggest ways to improve evidence related to the question.

Professional networks also provide opportunities for different actors to collaborate, in particular, teachers and researchers. The impact of networked learning in understanding the teaching and learning processes is underlined (Wilson and Demetriou, 2007; Vaessen et al., 2014), while its full potential is not yet fully revealed. The various characteristics of networks that influence the impact on knowledge exchange have been studied in other fields such as regional innovation networks (Fritsch and Kauffeld-Monz, 2008), but little has been studied specifically in educational networks. In order to understand how various actors or groups influence each other, how knowledge flows, what matters in, for example, the spreading of innovation, today network analysis provides a number of suitable methods (see Box 2.6. in Section 6).

Actors in the social-professional field of education exert their influence on teachers’ knowledge not only through interactions with each other but also through interactions with other elements of the field such as social technologies and material entities. Teachers “interact”, that is, engage with textbooks, policy documents, educational media, or technology. They interpret, translate, apply, or adapt them in unique ways, and these interactions shape their knowledge. For example, textbooks can enact certain pedagogical activities, align curricula across space and time, or limit the teacher’s academic freedom (Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk, 2011).

Research exerts impact on teacher knowledge often through intermediary processes, in which interactions between human and material elements are involved. Researchers conducting scientific studies in the field of teacher education explicitly address teacher knowledge and teacher learning. They investigate for example the effectiveness of professional development opportunities and look at what factors of teacher learning exert influence on teachers’ knowledge and teaching practice (e.g. Cordingley, 2008; Timperely, 2008). Research findings are then reviewed in reports, summarised in policy briefs and recommendations, or presented in conferences. Policy-makers engage with these reports, briefs or presentations, which then influence policies and teacher education practices. In Sweden, for example, a series of teacher education inquiries were carried out, which for a long time underlined the importance of research skills for teachers and valued research-based professional knowledge until a switch in 2008 with a published report (SOU, 2008) that emphasised skills-based teacher-training as opposed to research-based teaching. A similar shift in reports influenced teacher education policies in England (Beach and Bagley, 2013). In these examples, researchers’ influence is enacted indirectly through reports that influence, for example, teacher education policies, which in turn impact on teachers’ knowledge.

Governance of teacher knowledge

The various processes and interactions among the agents (actors, technologies and so on) of the social-professional field of education together govern teachers’ knowledge. Governance is exerted both directly through, for example, legal actions and regulations by the state, and indirectly through “soft governance”. Soft governance refers to “a persuasive and attracting power”, which draws actors from across different levels and spaces in a community engagement (Lawn, 2011: 259). It includes tools such as networking, seminars, reviews, expert groups, processes and social technologies. These technologies are used for specific social purposes, which influence people’s perception of themselves, their relationships, and affect their thinking (Moos, 2009). For example, international measurements like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) have made significant impacts on educational policy and practice (explored for example in the KNOW and POL research project4 ). Surveys like Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or TEDS-M5 can exert influence on teachers’ knowledge. Studies on governance and policy (Moos, 2009; Grek and Ozga, 2010; Lawn, 2006, 2011; Halász, 2016) show how these forms of governance, such as the use of data or standards, operate and can sometimes have profound effects. Let us see a few examples relevant to teachers’ knowledge.

A greatly debated issue is the role of the state and of policy-makers in governing teacher knowledge. The creation of accountability systems is one of the ways the state exerts influence on teacher knowledge. Setting professional standards, school and teacher evaluation mechanisms (e.g. inspection), introducing national testing schemes represent expectations to which teachers have to live up and adjust their knowledge base accordingly. Unlike in the medical profession, where standards are set by the profession, teacher standards6 are in many countries set by government-founded (or governmental) institutions, which are rarely fully independent and autonomous professional bodies (Beck, 2009). Beck (2009) argues that a real and larger self-governance should be given to the profession (and to schools) for example each school should have the right to decide at least a proportion of the criteria against which it evaluates its teachers’ performance. An example for a more profession-governed system is the review and revision of the Scottish teacher education standards carried out in 2013-2014. This process was a joint collaborative effort of a number of different actors and based on extensive feedback from many different educational stakeholders. In addition, a regular revision of the standards is envisaged, which has the potential to take into account the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge and integrate new evidence. (See Box 2.5, Example 1 for further details.)

Box 2.5. Modes of knowledge governance

Example 1: Review and Revision of the Scottish Teacher Education Standards

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) (the Professional Statutory Regulatory Body that sets the standards for teachers in Scotland) undertook a major review and revision of teacher standards taking into consideration the recommendations of the Donaldson report (Teaching Scotland’s Future, Donaldson, 2011).

The main goal of the revision of the standards was “to support the creation of a reinvigorated approach to 21st century teacher professionalism.” (GTCS, 2015) Elements of the Donaldson report that are emphasised in this approach are to:

  • “build the capacity of teachers, irrespective of career stage,

  • have high levels of pedagogical expertise, including deep knowledge of what they are teaching;

  • be self-evaluative;

  • be able to work in partnership with other professionals; and to engage directly with well-researched innovation.” (Donaldson, 2011: 19)

The review involved extensive consultation with the profession and other stakeholders. A steering group with a wide range of stakeholders, including parents and students, was set up and three writing groups formed. Face-to-face consultation meetings were held in four Scottish cities and online responses were sought through social media (such as Twitter) and synchronous online consultation meetings to encourage engagement from more remote parts of Scotland. The three working groups, each led by GTCS officers and drawing their membership from stakeholders, including practising teachers, reviewed existing provision and developed proposals for new Standards. One group looked at Standards for the early phase of teacher development, another looked at accomplished teaching and the final group considered leadership and management. The three groups worked in parallel but regularly also met together to ensure that there was consistency and coherence across all of the proposed new Standards.

Examples for two overarching goals of the revision of the standards were to:

  • encourage all teachers to play a leadership role throughout their whole careers;

  • develop further the values within the standards so as to encourage increased equity within Scottish education.

GTCS recognises that standards have a restricted shelf life and intends to review them approximately every five years. By the next revision GTCS also intends to gather evidence to gauge whether the current standards have been effective and have influenced practice in Scottish education with a positive effect on pupil learning (Hamilton, 2014).

Example 2: European Policy Networks

Policy networks financed by the European Commission in the framework of the Lifelong Learning Programme are European level policy experimentations on governing various aspects of the education system. They have included among others:

  • the Key Competence Network on School Education (KeyCoNet), focused on identifying and analysing initiatives on and thus improving the implementation of key competences in primary and secondary school education;

  • the European Policy Network on School Leadership (EPNoSL), aims at improving school leadership in Europe through a collaborative network in which members co-construct, manage and share knowledge intended to inform policy in the area of school leadership (2011-2015);

  • the European Policy Network on the education of children and young people with a migrant background (Sirius Network) transfers knowledge and influences policy developments in order to help pupils from a migrant background achieve the same educational standards as their native peers (2012-2014);

  • the European Literacy Policy Network (ELINET), aims to improve literacy policies in member countries, reduce the number of children, young people and adults with low literacy skills in Europe, and help increase reading skills and reading for pleasure (2014-2016)

International policy networks provide another example for new modes of governance. As it has been emphasised in various sources the role played by such policy networks in knowledge governance has become increasingly influential (Fazekas and Burns, 2012). Several such networks have been created to facilitate consensus-making around certain issues of education (“key nodes” identified by the European Commission in this case) by involving a range of stakeholders in a collaborative process. (See details in Box 2.5, Example 2.)

Regulating teacher education is also a strong tool by which teacher knowledge is shaped. Where teacher education takes place (e.g. at the university, at a school or a specially designed teacher training academy) and who teacher educators are (e.g. researchers or expert teachers) strongly influence the kind of knowledge base teachers will have. Education policy in some countries and economies (e.g. England [United Kingdom] or Sweden) has recently been pushing teacher education towards teacher training, where teaching is considered increasingly more as a craft – thus teaching being conceptualised less as a research-driven profession and emphasising horizontal knowledge (practical and procedural) over vertical knowledge (academic knowledge realised in a specialised language) (Beach and Bagley, 2013). Similarly, continuing professional development is often regulated by the state through for example determining accreditation criteria for courses, which in turn have an important influence on teacher knowledge. If skills-based, craft-orientated teacher education dominates policies then teachers will have less opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills to interpret highly theoretical research and engage in critical reflections over their everyday practice.

Policy-makers can also influence the nature of educational research and the composition of the researcher communities through which they again affect teacher knowledge. Funding schemes can encourage certain kinds of research within the programme, or can prescribe the participation and involvement of certain stakeholder groups, such as teachers, in the research processes (Cordingley, 2011). Accountability systems for education institutions and public investment in research can set criteria for assessing research, which may have an indirect influence on the different stakeholder groups (Cordingley, 2008; OECD, 2007). In particular it can also influence teacher knowledge: if researchers are acknowledged for publishing and being cited they are less likely to concentrate on producing work that can be more easily applied in teaching practice. The mechanisms through which policy-makers and governmental institutions influence teacher knowledge are clearly diverse and complex.

We have seen that teachers’ knowledge is affected by a range of highly complex social processes such as the interaction between the different actors and that of the various other elements of the social-professional field. These interactions and processes can be viewed as the complex governance of teachers’ knowledge. In the next section we go into some details about what complex exactly means in this context and offer to interpret teachers’ knowledge dynamics through complexity thinking.

Complexity of knowledge dynamics and consequences on governance

The above review of the main processes characterising the dynamics of teacher knowledge showed that multiple factors and actors shape and influence teacher knowledge. The nature or structure of the knowledge base can change through the process of codification, which transforms the explicit and tacit dimensions of knowledge. The interplay between educational research and teaching practice impact on teacher knowledge as research results get mediated into practice or as teachers get involved in research themselves. Moreover, the multiple social interactions and processes also influence teachers’ knowledge whether it is through networked learning or is a result of policy initiatives. The system describing the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge is certainly complex. The question remains however whether these complex dynamics can be manipulated – or rather governed – in a way that facilitates the creation of an integrated and robust knowledge base for teachers that is capable of renewing and adapting to new circumstances and the ever-changing environment and thus being the basis of high quality professional practice. This section will first give an overview of how a complexity approach can be interpreted for the knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession, then explore the consequences of this approach to governing teachers’ knowledge.

Increasingly more studies investigate certain processes in education adopting a complexity perspective. Complexity theory – originating in physics, chemistry, cybernetics and information science, among other disciplines – is a transdisciplinary field by nature, which makes it difficult to give one comprehensive definition of this approach (Davis and Sumara, 2009). The main assumption of complexity theory is that in certain systems changes do not occur in a linear fashion. Complex adaptive systems (CAS) – as particular cases of complex systems – are a self-similar ensemble of multiple agents (such as actors or organisations) interacting at multiple levels. (Duit and Galaz, 2008) Some of the most important characteristics of CAS (a non-exhaustive list) are the following:

  • Connectivity: the inter-connectedness and inter-relationship between multiple agents of the system, and between these agents and their environment. In the case of knowledge dynamics the agents can be the actors of the education system: researchers, teachers, school leaders, policy-makers, students, parents, etc. or e.g. the different groups of local actors: the teaching staff at a school, the members of a school board and so on. But agents can also be material elements such as textbooks or policy documents.

  • Co-evolution: elements of the system change based on interactions between them. The interactions provide feedback on themselves (and on the relationships and actions) after a number of steps, and these feedback loops are the drivers for the evolution of the system. For example, researchers investigating teaching and learning processes accumulate evidence on teaching, which (e.g. through professional development) will affect teachers’ knowledge and thus teaching practice, which again can be the object of study of educational research.

  • Emergent order: The interactions of the agents result in some kind of global property or pattern that could not be predicted by any individual agent’s actions or interactions. Thus, unpredictable behaviours and patterns arise.

  • Cascading effects: The interactions are non-linear, and even small changes in inputs, interactions, or stimuli can cause very significant changes across the system. These moments of critical mass or thresholds that trigger large changes are called tipping points. (e.g. Chan, 2001; Snyder, 2013; Gladwell, 2000)

Knowledge in complexity theory is understood “in terms of potentials to action — necessarily dynamic, even volatile, subject to continuous revisions as the knowing agent integrates/embodies new experiences” (Davis and Sumara, 2008: p. 40). For Davis and Sumara (2009) the importance lies in activating these potentials. The emergent property of a CAS implies that the knowledge and capacity emerging from such a system is actually more than the sum of the knowledge of its agents, and thus can contain elements or features that are not present within any of the individual elements of the system (Osberg and Biesta, 2007 In: Fenwick, Edwards and Sawchuk, 2011; Mason, 2009). Moreover, the system is characterised by a high degree of adaptive capacity, meaning that it can react in a creative and intelligent way to changes or stimuli occurring in the system.

Davis and Sumara (2009) underline four conditions that must be present in an educational context in order to expand knowledge or activate a high potential in the system to action:

  • Internal diversity: the diversity of the elements or agents is an important source of “intelligent” responses to emergent circumstances. Teachers; researchers; teacher educators; knowledge brokers; schools; professional communities, etc. at any level represent a large diversity of professional and educational backgrounds, interests and experiences, and thus can better react to the changing environment.

  • Internal redundancy: the duplications and excesses of some aspects of the agents, meaning, a certain extent of uniformity, is also necessary. For example, in order for teachers to reflect on or investigate the teaching and learning process, they need to speak a common language and need to have some common knowledge base, etc. The role of redundancy is on the one hand to enable interaction and on the other hand to compensate for the failings of some agents.

  • Neighbour interactions: neighbours in this context are interpreted as ideas, views, etc., that must be able to interact. It is thus not necessarily enough that researchers and teachers meet and talk, what matters is that there is space and opportunity for them to compare, contrast, collide, or juxtapose their ideas.

  • Decentralised control: in order to enable neighbour interactions the control of the structure and outcomes of a knowledge-producing collective must be decentralised, that is, arising in local activities. For example, strictly regulating who plays what role in a researcher-teacher collaboration may diminish if not extinguish the potential of this collective to produce knowledge, as suggested by Davis and Sumara (2009).

Complexity theory is beginning to contribute to governance models and this approach has also appeared in the field of education (e.g. Snyder, 2013; Davis and Sumara, 2009; Liechtenstein et al., 2006). It has, for example, been applied in the context of knowledge mobilisation, in particular to consider knowledge-to-action processes (see Box 2.6). Having explored the properties of complex adaptive systems in education governance, Snyder (2013) drew a number of conclusions on what is needed to operationalise a complexity approach to educational reform:

  1. “fostering a collaborative environment throughout the system by actively creating opportunities for interaction [. . .]

  2. designing ways for collaboration and interaction to be continuous [. . .]

  3. making reforms iterative, experimental and flexible [. . .]

  4. adapting a “non-deficit” approach to reform [. . .]

  5. focusing on a few key nodes and pursuing them collaboratively [. . .]

  6. engaging and energising teachers through collaborative research and longer term peer-to-peer mentoring [. . .]

  7. taking on board the developments and management structures of other sectors and industries.” (Snyder, 2013: 28-29.)

Box 2.6. Emerging approaches to studying knowledge dynamics

Knowledge-to-action as a complex adaptive system

A complexity theory perspective has been applied to knowledge-to-action processes (Fazekas and Burns, 2012; Best and Holmes, 2011). KTA viewed as a complex adaptive system is characterised by multiple agents interacting in a highly connected multilevel system, in which non-linear processes and feedback loops result in a high potential for emergent and unpredictable phenomena (e.g. Chan, 2001). Best and Holmes (2011) list some implications for policy, practice and research considered in a complex system such as:

  • “the importance of coordinated and effective interventions across multiple levels of change (e.g. individual, organisational, community);

  • the need to ensure readiness and sufficient capacity before launching major KTA initiatives;

  • the importance of distributed, collaborative leadership and accountability throughout the system;

  • the critical role of strategic communications to catalyse, coordinate and support change.” (2010: 154-155).

Studying knowledge dynamics through social network analysis

Social network analysis (SNA) is a method used to investigate social structures through network and graph theory. It is used in the social and behavioural sciences, as well as in economics, marketing and industrial engineering. SNA makes it possible to study various phenomena. For example, one can look at the density of the network, clusters (dense parts of the network) can be identified or the reciprocity (mutuality) of relations mapped, or the individual actors and their specific functions or roles can be examined, e.g. who is ‘powerful’ in the network or who the brokerage (mediating) actors are (Kadushin, 2004). The analysis of education networks (e.g. local or regional networks including teachers of local schools, school leaders, people from educational authorities, teacher educators, mentors, inspectors, etc.) can reveal, for example, who are the key players in terms of accessing information, or those who connect clusters.

SNA can also be used for studying how certain attributes of actors (e.g. their gender) can explain their position in a network (e.g. how often they act as a bridge between other actors) or explaining relations among actors in a network (Hanneman and Riddle, 2005). In terms of knowledge dynamics, social network analysis helps to understand social processes such as knowledge transfer, information sharing, or power relations. Quantifying teachers’ professional relationships has revealed, for example, that teachers who have more frequent and useful interactions around teaching and learning report more use of research evidence in their schools (Brown, Daly and Liou, 2015). SNA has also proved to be a useful tool for enhancing teacher learning in collaborative professional development programmes by developing their knowledge of the distribution of expertise (Baker-Doyle and Yoon, 2010).

Many of the above criteria have been applied in the two examples of governing teachers’ knowledge mentioned in Section 5, the review and revision of the Scottish teacher standards and international policy networks. Regarding the revision of the teacher standards in Scotland, we saw that this process was a joint collaborative effort involving and facilitating the interaction of a number of different actors. Two examples of the key nodes identified and emphasised in all domains of the standards were equity and leadership capacity building. The envisaged regular revision of the standards corresponds to an iterative and experimental process, which will integrate evidence on the effectiveness of the standards gathered by then in an adaptive fashion. Although results of the new standards on teacher knowledge are not yet known, this case is clearly a suitable illustration of how the above criteria can be applied. The other example we have looked at is international policy networks. At the heart of these initiatives lies the intention of fostering collaboration through intensive international and national networking. A key challenge for these networks is the issue of sustainability once funds end, as this would be necessary to allow the reiteration of the processes and work carried out. Again, an extensive evaluation has yet to be conducted to study the impact of policy networks on education systems. For the moment these are experimental initiatives for a new governance model.

Let us now look at some of the above criteria to get a better understanding of what they imply in terms of the knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession. The first two are closely connected: enabling a collaborative environment and ensuring that there are sustainable ways of collaboration are conditions often mentioned with regards to nearly all of the processes described earlier. Firstly, codification processes can be effectively stimulated by professional collaboration. Secondly, close collaboration between teachers and researchers was identified as a key condition for successful knowledge-to-action mechanisms. Thirdly, a truly collaborative environment would be a strong driver of the social processes for facilitating knowledge exchange in networks.

Coming back to Snyder’s (2013) conclusions on what is needed to adapt a complexity approach to educational reform, Criteria no. 5 – focusing on a few key nodes and pursuing them collaboratively – raises the question of what would be key nodes in governing teacher knowledge. Among many others, Cordingley (2013) emphasises the role of teachers in educational achievement:

Although stakeholders in education knowledge systems are many and various, the actors who make the most difference to achievement within educations systems, whether simple, or complex, are teachers. [. . .] So a knowledge and capacity building system and engagement in and with research by practitioners within it as a means of improvement, needs to focus on them; on what teachers know and do and the ways they interpret, fashion and enact professional knowledge about teaching and learning. (Cordingley, 2013: 4)

If teachers are the key players in enhancing students’ knowledge, teacher educators certainly play a key role in developing teachers’ knowledge. To avoid the pitfall of planning any intervention targeted at a small number of actors and a restricted specific element of a complex system (Snyder, 2013; Mason, 2009), teacher education has to be understood in a wider perspective. Changing only the curriculum of initial teacher education, for example, would most probably not lead to significantly more dynamics in teachers’ knowledge base. Instead, targeting the improvement of teacher learning – a broader concept than teacher education that sees teachers as lifelong learners and includes teachers’ formal learning such as initial teacher education, induction or continuing professional development and informal learning such as professional collaborations or networking – with a special focus on strengthening the links between the agents of teacher learning, may prove to be an approach that has potential to trigger systemic change. What could then be a potential approach to influence teacher learning in a way that it reinforces the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge?

One of the key consequences of a complexity perspective is that top-down interventions in some specific and small element of the system are not effective for CAS (Snyder, 2013, Davis and Sumara, 2009). Instead governance should focus on empowering the actors themselves to govern their own knowledge.

An education that is understood in complexity terms cannot be conceived in terms of preparation for the future. Rather it must be construed in terms of participation in the creation of possible futures. Educational research, framed complexly, must also be interpreted as participatory—meaning that (following Jenkins et al., 2006), there are opportunities for expression and engagement, there is support for creating and sharing creations, there is some type of teaching so the most experienced can mentor new members, members believe their contributions matter, and members feel social connection with one another. (Davis and Sumara, 2009: 43)

Teacher education, or rather, teacher learning in this perspective should recognise the needs of (pre-service or in-service) teachers, connect research to their everyday practice, create a safe place in which they can critically reflect on their practice, and most importantly giving teachers a sense of ownership in education research. Since teacher educators in many countries largely overlap with the researcher community, this can mean involving and engaging teachers in research, as well as connecting to and getting involved in teachers’ networks. In parallel, teachers also need incentives to take responsibility for their own knowledge base, get engaged in enquiry, research and share their knowledge widely. Criteria no. 6 – “Engaging and energising teachers through collaborative research and longer term peer-to-peer mentoring” – reflects this approach and is certainly an important criterion in terms of governing teacher knowledge.

Coming back for a moment to the case of Scottish standards, besides satisfying several of the criteria for governing a complex system, this example was chosen because it represents self-governance in a sense. The process was led by the General Teaching Council of Scotland (GTCS), which – unlike many similar bodies – has been an independent (non-governmental) professional body since 2012, and as such the world’s first independent professional, regulatory body for teaching. Thus, similar to the field of medicine, in this example it is in a sense the profession itself that is responsible for regulating itself and governing its knowledge. We have seen in Chapter 1 that unlike teachers, doctors are widely recognised high-status professionals, which is partly due to the fact that the practitioners themselves assume their active role in governing their knowledge base.

All in all, to govern a complex system, a “robust governance” is needed that combines high capacities for exploration – gathering and analysing information about processes, self-monitoring, processes of testing, evaluating and exploitation – strong mechanisms to ensure co-operation among actors such as network structure, trust, etc. (Duit and Galaz, 2008: 329). This is in line with what has been concluded on the nature of leadership in a complex system: it should rely on facilitation, empowerment, self-organising structures, participatory action and continuous evaluation (Best and Holmes, 2012). We have suggested that with regard to teachers’ knowledge dynamics, this should involve a strong focus on teacher learning interpreted in a wide sense and on the links between the agents of the system.


This review was undertaken to obtain a better understanding of the meaning of knowledge dynamics for teacher knowledge. The teaching profession is often regarded as a semi-profession because it does not have a robust and integrated knowledge base and it lacks strong and effective knowledge to action mechanisms (Brante, 2010; Hargreaves, 1996; Mehta and Teles, 2014). Understanding the dynamics of teacher knowledge can contribute to understand what is missing for teaching to become a profession.

The first question asked was what teachers’ knowledge is like. Certainly, there is no simple answer to this question. It can be considered at different levels (individual, collective), where these levels are nested within each other, and it has to incorporate the different conceptualisations of knowledge. The ITEL Teacher Knowledge survey will contribute to getting a better understanding of a certain aspect of teacher knowledge, in particular of how teachers solve their everyday problems and what kind of knowledge they are using. Any results and conclusions of such a study have to be treated, keeping in mind the more complex picture of this knowledge base.

The second question addressed the main processes influencing the dynamics of teacher knowledge. The framework used to review these processes provided three interrelated perspectives of the complex processes of knowledge dynamics: structural dynamics, functional dynamics and social dynamics. An attempt to comprehend complex systems should begin with asking the right questions, which instead of seeking one particular and definitive answer, are open-ended and are driving at an integrative approach that encompasses existing knowledge as well as those emerging (Snyder, 2013). We attempted to formulate such questions for each of the 3 aspects of knowledge dynamics reviewed in this chapter.

Table 2.1. Questions for understanding the 3 aspects of knowledge dynamics

Knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession


Open questions

Structural dynamics

Codification: the interplay between the tacit and explicit dimensions of knowledge

How could codification improve the professional practice of teachers?

How could codification facilitate extended access to knowledge for teachers?

In what ways can codification processes be facilitated towards building a more integrated knowledge base for teachers?

Functional dynamics

Knowledge-to-action: the interplay between knowledge production, mediation and use

How can the linkages between knowledge production, mediation and use be strengthened?

How can we build the capacity of the actors to improve KTA processes?

How can we utilise existing knowledge and evidence on knowledge production, mediation and use to improve these processes?

Social dynamics

Social processes: the interplay between different stakeholders – policy-makers, researchers, teachers, students, parents, etc. – and between the elements of the social environment

How can we enhance and utilise existing mechanisms, structures and resources (such as networks and collaboration) to improve professional learning?

How can stakeholder interactions and collaboration be exploited to facilitate the dynamics of teacher knowledge?

The above questions should help answering the third set of questions that were initially asked: what is known about these processes and how can they be governed to facilitate knowledge dynamics in the teaching profession? Emerging theories such as complexity theory and methods such as network analysis can greatly contribute to understanding how teachers’ knowledge base is transforming, who are shaping it and how change can be triggered in this system. This chapter suggested that knowledge dynamics may be viewed as a complex adaptive system, and thus a complexity approach has implications to the governance of teachers’ knowledge.

In a first step teacher education or, in a wider sense, teacher learning has been identified as a “key node”, which potentially has a great influence on the whole system. Thus, when planning specific interventions towards a better governance of teacher knowledge, empowering teacher educators and teachers themselves to take charge of teachers’ knowledge base seems to be crucial. This approach emphasises leveraging feedback from all stakeholders, building on stakeholder involvement and partnerships, capacity building, the continuous monitoring and re-evaluation of processes. The role of policy makers is rather the creation of a “greater connective tissue” between the levels, areas and actors of the system (Snyder, 2013).

The ITEL Teacher Knowledge survey therefore should also aim at exploring the factors affecting teachers’ professional competencies, in particular their pedagogical knowledge base, and attempt to get a better understanding of how these factors facilitate the dynamics of teachers’ knowledge.


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← 1. Knowledge mobilisation, Knowledge translation, Knowledge dynamics, Knowledge codification were the main key words used together with Education and Teacher knowledge. Searches were carried out for English sources only.

← 2. Search done in December 2014.

← 3.

← 4. Knowledge and Policy in Education and Health Sectors, EU FP6 IP 028848-2 (

← 5. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (, Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (

← 6. See more on teacher standards in Chapter 3.