In Australia, in Europe and in other places, initial teacher education programs (ITE) have been subject to increased scrutiny in response to government concerns about the quality of teachers. Often, ITE programs are called on to adopt selection tools, as well as alternate processes and pathways, when determining applicants’ suitability for teaching. Particularly, there has been increased attention paid to measuring non-academic attributes (e.g., adaptability, motivation) deemed critical for a career in teaching. However, current research challenges the reliability of commonly used methods (e.g., personal statement, reference letters, traditional interview) while also questioning the role that context plays when prioritising the assessment of attributes. In Australia, the increasing managerialism of ITE has seen a move to politicise the process of teacher selection. Consequently, there is increased governance seeking to achieve desired institutional outcomes and appease public accountability. To ensure high levels of candidate competency and qualifications, federal and national government policies aim to restrict entry into the teaching profession via teacher selection processes. As such, selection methods in education lack an evidence base, are ad hoc, and are largely viewed as compliance measures.
Recent research has identified comprehensive selection processes as important mechanisms for improving teacher quality and enhancing the status of the teaching profession (Sautelle, Bowles, Hattie, & Arifin, 2015). Given that teachers are the most important influence on student learning, a role with enormous social and economic expectations and impact (Hanushek, 2014) research that promotes the assessment and distribution of quality teachers stands as an important issue. Such a focus on teacher selection is also associated with debates about the relationship between high entry standards and quality ITE graduate outcomes in several countries such as Australia (Dinham, 2013), Scotland (Menter & Hulme, 2011), the USA (Cho & Couse, 2015), and New Zealand (Ministry of Education New Zealand, 2005) with prior academic ability and/or achievement as a key criterion for admission (Heinz, 2013). High performing educational systems, such as Singapore and Finland, use comprehensive approaches to ITE selection, requiring entrants to not only demonstrate strong academic achievement but to also possess specific non-academic attributes (e.g., communication skills, motivation and commitment to teaching; Barber & Mourshed, 2007).
To become good teachers, Donaldson (2010) recommends greater consideration be given to the non-academic attributes “associated with high quality teachers” during ITE selection (p. 26). Therefore, we wondered: What are the core, common, and contextual non-academic attributes considered critical for preservice teachers in Australia?
The project aim was to develop a conceptual framework for the selection of non-academic attributes in ITE. This process was guided by life-span theoretical perspectives (e.g., Erikson, 1950) considering the notion that as one ages personality becomes more consistent yet, still retains the potential for change. For example, evidence indicates that life experiences (e.g., histories, social context, culture) related to individual differences in personality changes well into adulthood (Caspi & Roberts, 2001). A life-span perspective on teacher selection and teacher quality is particularly important given that pre-service teachers’ non-academic attributes can be predictive of their success in early career teaching. By mapping non-academic attributes identified as important in Australian ITE (e.g., policy documents, reports, selection tools, Australian studies), this research will help support ITE providers in Australia and abroad respond to reform agendas by aligning current research on the attributes of quality teachers to their contextualized selection processes.