Building a Research-Rich Teaching Profession

The Promises and Challenges of Doctoral Studies as a Form of Teacher Professional Development

by Marta Kowalczuk-Walędziak (Author)
©2021 Monographs 236 Pages


This book offers a research-based insight into a unique - and growing - group of teachers: those who have decided to undertake doctoral studies as a part of their ongoing professional development. Drawing on interviews with 30 Polish teachers with PhDs, this book illustrates how the doctorate is an important vehicle for strengthening teachers’ skills and knowledge, leading them to implement research-based teaching and learning pedagogies in their classrooms. Given these promising findings, this text ultimately seeks to identify implications for policy and practice in the process of building a truly research-rich teaching profession. After all, it is time to rethink the current doctoral education landscape, with the goal of enriching the relationship between research and practice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • About this book
  • Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • PART I Study underpinnings: Theoretical foundations, background, and methodological approach
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Introduction
  • The importance of teacher professional development in the twenty-first century
  • The research project
  • Navigating this book: Definitions and aims
  • What has motivated this study on teachers engaged in doctoral studies?
  • The search for more sophisticated forms of teacher professional development
  • Dissenting views on the relevance of research and advanced research training for teachers’ practice and development
  • The undefined status of doctoral studies in the structure of teacher professional development
  • The lack of research on teachers’ engagement in doctoral studies
  • Overview of the book
  • Part I
  • Part II
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 2. The context for the study
  • Introduction
  • Overview of the teacher professional development system in Poland
  • Development and improvement of the teacher professional development system after 1989
  • Teacher professional development in Poland: legal, organisational, and regulatory frameworks
  • Teachers’ perceptions, needs, and expectations concerning professional development: reviewing the existing evidence
  • Trends and issues in doctoral education in Poland
  • Internal and external forces of change
  • Organisation of doctoral studies
  • Doctoral studies in the structure of teacher professional development
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Key concepts, models, and approaches for investigating teacher professional development
  • Introduction
  • Teacher professional development: Meanings and definitions
  • Characteristics of effective teacher professional development
  • Teacher professional development and its impact on teaching practice
  • Mapping existing theoretical models of professional development and teacher transformation
  • Desimone’s model of professional development
  • Evans’ model of professional development
  • Summarising Desimone and Evans’ models
  • Evaluation frameworks for teacher professional development
  • Mapping existing evaluation frameworks
  • Guskey’s ‘five-level evaluation model’
  • Desimone’s evaluation framework
  • Summarising Guskey and Desimone’s frameworks
  • An overarching framework for investigating the impact of doctoral studies on teacher professional development
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Investigating doctoral studies as a form of teacher professional development: Methodology and research design
  • Introduction
  • Capturing and assessing teacher professional development via doctoral studies: Epistemological and methodological foundations
  • Data collection strategy: Interviewing
  • Participants
  • Data analysis strategy: Qualitative content analysis
  • Ethical considerations
  • Concluding remarks
  • Appendix
  • References
  • PART II Study results: Evidencing doctoral studies as a form of teacher professional development
  • Chapter 5. ‘It was a dream of mine’: Teachers’ motivations for undertaking doctoral studies
  • Introduction
  • Personal motivations
  • (Un)fulfilled intentions to obtain an academic career path
  • Personal fulfilment
  • Influence of family, friends, and academic staff
  • Professional motivations
  • Previous post-graduate education experiences
  • Necessity for professional development
  • Enrichment of teaching practice
  • Hopes for career progression
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 6. ‘A bumpy road with a happy ending’: Teachers’ experiences of their doctoral journey
  • Introduction
  • Challenges and tensions
  • The process of preparing and writing a doctoral thesis
  • Relationship with supervisors
  • Balancing the demands of private, professional, and research roles
  • Financial problems
  • Lack of belonging to the university community
  • Developing the academic identity
  • Successes
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 7. ‘Keeping myself on my toes intellectually’: The impact of doctoral studies on teacher professional development
  • Introduction
  • The perceived impact of doctoral studies on teacher professional development
  • Teachers’ professional growth
  • Students’ learning outcomes
  • Schools
  • Costs and negative experiences
  • Other issues reported by teachers
  • Factors influencing the impact of doctoral studies on teacher professional development
  • Factor 1: The themes of the doctoral theses
  • Factor 2: The school environment
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 8. ‘The PhD is a great thing, but it’s not for every teacher’: Teachers’ voices on doctoral studies as a form of professional development
  • Introduction
  • Teachers’ perceptions of doctoral studies as a form of professional development
  • Advantages
  • Limitations
  • Teachers’ long-term plans and goals regarding their professional development
  • Teachers’ suggestions for other teachers who are interested in undertaking doctoral studies
  • Concluding remarks
  • References
  • Chapter 9. To conclude: Promises and challenges
  • Introduction
  • The four research questions: A summative response
  • Motivations for undertaking doctoral studies
  • Teachers’ experiences around their doctoral journey
  • The impact of doctoral studies on teacher professional development
  • Teachers’ opinions on the doctorate as a form of professional development
  • Reflections on the study methodology, limitations, and further research
  • Implications for theory, policy, and practice
  • Implications for theory
  • Implications for policy and practice
  • Final reflections
  • References
  • Bibliography
  • About the author
  • Index
  • Series index


This research was possible thanks to a number of cherished, special relationships, so I want to take this opportunity to share why they matter so much to me, both on a professional level and a personal level.

In 2014 I sent an email to Professor Amélia Lopes from the University of Porto to give my apologies for missing her conference. We did not know each other then, but her kind response was what I needed to hear: she believed that my spark of a research idea had real potential. Soon after that, we met in Budapest at our next ECER conference and, over Hungarian goulash, we talked and talked as if we had known each other for years, mapping out my future international research career and exchanging ideas. It is thanks to Amélia’s beautiful friendship and collaboration that this research came into being.

To my lovely academic fellows and friends, Prof. Linda Daniela, Dr James Underwood, and Dr Otilia Clipa: thank you for your great encouragement of me in all my research activities and confidence in my scientific and organisational capabilities. Together with Amélia, our work on master’s level education for teachers brings me a lot of optimism and insight into the relationship between research and practice.

In the Polish context, I am also indebted to the enduring guidance and mentorship of Professor Emeritus Stanisław Palka from the Jagiellonian University, Poland and the solidarity, support, and friendship of Assoc. Prof. Alicja Korzeniecka-Bondar and Assoc. Prof. Wioleta Danilewicz in my wonderful faculty.

I am deeply grateful to all the interviewed teachers who took part in this study for so openly sharing their experiences, successes, struggles, and challenges on their PhD journey.

I also want to express my special thanks to the reviewer of this manuscript, Assoc. Prof. Erika Kopp from the Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary), for her very insightful and encouraging comments on various aspects of this book.

To my English language editor and mentor, Aileen McKay: thank you not only for your considerable help, critical comments, and feedback, but also for all the amazing sessions, empowering feminist discussions, as well as personal development support.

Lastly, but by no means least, a heartfelt thank you to my husband, Jarosław and daughter, Olga for their understanding, cooking, cleaning, and love that have allowed me to combine my work as a female academic with my role as a wife and mother.←11 | 12→

←12 | 13→

This book is dedicated to two radiant women whose names begin with the letter ‘A’:

Amélia Lopes and Aileen McKay

←13 | 14→

About this book

This book offers a research-based insight into the unique – and growing – group of teachers who have decided to undertake doctoral studies as a part of their ongoing professional development, despite the intense, laborious, and long-term nature of this commitment. Drawing on rich data from interviews with thirty Polish teachers who had completed their PhDs (or were in the process of doing so), this book argues that doctoral studies are viewed by them as a challenging, rewarding, and inspiring professional learning experience. More elaborately, this book suggests that the doctorate is an important vehicle for strengthening teachers’ knowledge bases and research literacy capacities, leading to them to introduce renewed, innovative instructional practices in their classrooms. This, in turn, contributes to improving the quality of students’ learning processes and day-to-day school operations alike. Given these promising findings, the text ultimately seeks to identify implications for policy and practice that facilitate the process of building and developing a truly research-rich teaching profession. This volume will be of special interest to teacher educators, researchers, teachers, student teachers, headteachers, and policy makers who believe in the power of advanced research training for teachers’ practice and development on both professional and personal levels.


This book supports the widely held belief that contemporary schools at all levels need, more than ever, highly qualified and knowledgeable teachers with research skills, who are able to respond to the constantly changing demands and expectations of our knowledge-based societies. It offers a vital insight into the unique, but still growing, group of teachers who have decided to undertake laborious and lengthy PhD studies as a part of their ongoing professional development. Why do they do it? How do they navigate this complicated and uniquely challenging experience? What does the doctorate contribute (if anything) to their professional lives? How do they evaluate PhD studies against other forms of professional development? What are their long-term plans and goals (if any) regarding their professional development? This book explores these and other questions by reporting the results of a study involving 30 teachers – working from kindergarten level to secondary school level – who hold a PhD degree (or are currently undertaking doctoral studies) in a diverse range of scientific fields.

Traditionally, the PhD degree has been viewed as an entry requirement for those who intended to pursue a research career in academia (Matos, 2013; Wildy, Peden, and Chan, 2015). However, in recent decades, this view has been robustly challenged in many countries, particularly by students and employers (Park, 2005; Kwiek, 2013; Matos, 2013). In the face of the expanding role of knowledge and technology in economic growth, as well as ever-changing labour demands, there is a general expectation that doctoral studies should promote scientific, technological, and social development by preparing highly skilled graduates who will be able to work beyond the world of academia. While it is still recognised that the long-standing primary purpose of this level of education is the ‘advancement of knowledge through original research’ (Christensen, 2005, p. 2), it has more recently come to be conceived of as a context for interaction between education, research, and innovation (Alves et al., 2021; see also: EUA Council for Doctoral Education, 2018). For example, as Bryan and Guccione (2018, p. 1125) argued, ‘in the European knowledge economy paradigm doctorate holders are also understood to have a strategic role to play in achieving economic success, and in building relationships between universities and businesses that enable knowledge sharing’. As such, doctoral studies are no longer so exclusively pursued by academics. Although there is, as yet, no concrete quantitative data on the topic, as Lee (2011) points out, ‘[p]‌rofessionals in many fields, both established and emerging, [seem to be] undertaking research as part of doctoral ←17 | 18→degree programmes in unprecedented numbers’ (p. 153). Indeed, the greatest increase in interest in doctoral programmes appears to be among nurses, other non-medical health professionals, and education professionals (Lee, 2011). This upward trend may be partially explained by the ‘general credentialing drift following the growth of postgraduate study as a form of advanced professional learning and workforce development, and a response to specific policy directions focusing on doctoral education as a tool for building a ‘knowledge’ and ‘innovation’ economy’ (Lee, 2011, p. 153). Taking the teaching profession as an example, not only is a master’s degree now necessary for working as a teacher (Zgaga, 2013), but also an increasing trend towards advanced research qualifications has emerged among already qualified teachers (Kowalczuk-Walędziak et al., 2017). This shift raises questions about the professional relevance of different types of research-oriented teacher education programmes (Kowalczuk-Walędziak et al., 2020). As PhD studies place considerable importance on rigorous, original, and independent research, this book argues that a discussion of the impact and relevance of doctoral studies for professional practice may shed more light on the relationships between teachers’ practice and professional development, and academic research. Are teachers who have completed doctoral studies professional leaders who can apply their academic knowledge in their working environments and encourage their peers to carry out research? Are they able to establish and maintain relationships between universities and schools? Lastly, can they contribute to building and developing a research-rich teaching profession?

My interest in this unique group of teachers stems from four main sources. Firstly, I was the founder and (for four years) the President of the Foundation of Transfer of Educational Innovations and Knowledge into Practice. The objective of the foundation was to establish and maintain collaboration between educational researchers and practitioners, to develop and implement educational innovations, and to promote the idea of a university social responsibility. As part of my work here, I had the opportunity to collaborate with many teachers who were unafraid of research and theory, on the contrary, demonstrating an above-average interest in using and carrying out research to inform their practice via doctoral studies. Furthermore, two teachers with PhD degrees worked on the foundation’s board of management, which meant that, as President of the foundation, I had the opportunity to observe their actions, ways of thinking, and teaching styles over a sustained period of time – I could see to what extent their PhD work shaped their professional practice and how their professional practice shaped their PhD work. While working for the foundation, it became evident to me that obtaining a PhD degree can have a significant impact on teachers’ personal and professional development. I therefore became interested in investigating why it is that some teachers, already enjoying stability and success in their ←18 | 19→profession (many of whom have already reached the highest stage of their professional career path under Polish education law) decide to volunteer countless extra hours of unpaid, difficult work in order to obtain a PhD degree. Above all, I am interested in how that experience changes their everyday teaching practice.

Secondly, for many years of my work as a researcher and teacher educator at the Faculty of Pedagogy and Psychology of the University of Białystok (renamed Faculty of Education in 2019), I regularly took part in doctoral sessions led by professors working there. These extensive experiences, first as a participant and then as an informal advisor and auxiliary supervisor of PhD students, also directed my research journey towards this field of study. I observed changes in the characteristics of doctoral students interested in obtaining a PhD degree: for example, each year, the seminars were attended by more and more teachers or other educational practitioners, driven towards PhD studies by a wide range of motives. These students often approached me to express concern that they were feeling disenchanted with the available forms of in-service training for teachers, and enthusiasm that PhD studies were emerging as a nourishing and productive experience that renewed their passion for their professional work.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (November)
teacher professional development doctoral studies professional practice doctorate impact research-based education research-practice nexus
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 236 pp., 3 fig. b/w, 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Marta Kowalczuk-Walędziak (Author)

Marta Kowalczuk-Walędziak (PhD) is Vice Dean for International Co-operation at the University of Białystok, Poland, and board member of the Association for Teacher Education in Europe (ATEE). Her research interests include teacher education and professional development, and the internationalisation of teacher education.


Title: Building a Research-Rich Teaching Profession
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238 pages