Professional development of higher education teachers: An agenda for its sustainability in Brazil and Portugal


Education plays a fundamental role in human society, besides sharing historically produced knowledge and fulfilling social functions, with teachers as the fundamental actors in the whole process. Being a teacher at all levels of education requires a set of performances, skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values (Gimeno Sacristan, 1993), which are constituted by a consistent teacher education and by continuous training as expansion and updating (Gatti, Barretto, Andre, & Almeida, 2019). Constant updating of teachers is a fundamental condition of their professional performance.

In higher education, teachers’ professional development is carried out through research activity, but must also be oriented towards teaching (Xavier & Steil, 2018). Therefore, it is not possible to think about education without including a discussion on teacher professional development, including those in higher education, especially when aiming for a more sustainable and fairer society based on respect for human rights.

In this sense, and within the framework of lifelong learning, which has also guided teacher professional development policies, it is argued that this should be deliberate, continuous, and should promote the development of professional, personal, and social skills. Teacher development can and should be seen as a continuous and progressive process throughout the career that involves personal, social, and professional development (Tenreiro-Vieira, 2010). However, especially in higher education, a substantial part of these teachers, of which Portugal is a good example, have no pedagogical training and offers of the same have been neither frequent nor sustainable (Fletcher, 2017; Leite & Ramos, 2012).

In Brazil the scenario is also not very promising; several studies (Anastasiou, 2002; Balzan, 2000; Cunha & Zanchet, 2010) highlight the little attention given to university teacher education and professional development. Another limitation concerns the lack of legislative support for pedagogical training of university teachers. One study carried out by Morosini (2001), analysing the Brazilian legislation, found that the law only specifies that the teacher of higher education must have technical competence, but there is no consistent definition of the meanings attributed to the expression. Years after this statement, Cunha and Zanchet (2010) and Soares and Cunha (2010) still highlight the lack of requirements in public policies for higher education teacher education that takes into account the specific knowledge of teaching practice.

In this context, we reaffirm the necessary concern with teacher professional development, especially in higher education, aiming at the creation of permanent actions of pedagogical development. These actions can be carried out within the university as a whole, incentivising postgraduate programmes and in undergraduate courses, as well as by valuing and expanding upon good practices, with pedagogical support groups, for example, with a view to achieving sustainability.

It should be noted that pedagogical practices refer to the set of perspectives about the teaching-learning process, as well as the actions that a teacher develops in her/his professional day-to-day (Vieira, 2003). Given their breadth, these practices shall be called, in the present chapter, didactic-pedagogical practices, since every teacher fulfils two interconnected and complementary roles: one that is didactic and pertains to the structuring and management of contents; another that is pedagogical and pertains to the interactive management of what happens in the classroom (Altet, 2000).

This view of didactic-pedagogical practice considers both the perspective that underlies the teaching-learning process and the situation that operationalises that same perspective. The former is essentially about teachers’ decisions and views before and after the development of the referred situations. The latter is necessary to collect observations about the procedures that are used in the didactic-pedagogical practices, rather than relying solely on teachers’ claims that they are put into practice (Vieira, 2003).

Another important aspect that must be considered in these practices refers to sustainability, which presupposes that the cognitive, affective, and aesthetic dimensions involved in the learning process are worked on in an integrated manner (Blewitt & Cullingford, 2004). In view of this, it is emphasised that sustainability mostly involves changes in attitudes, which implies that formative processes adopt strategies, principles, and resources that favour active learning, social interaction, the appropriation of competencies, and their integration in a critical and creative way.

For Guerra and Costa (2016), a project is sustainable when it provides benefits to its participants for an extended period, even without financing. The authors stress that it is important that there is a relationship between the objectives of the project, the host institutions, the community involved, and the funding policies.

In this context, it is important to create the conditions for all those involved to benefit from the results of the project.

Within this framework, the main objectives of this chapter are to present and discuss examples of good practices pedagogical training for higher education teachers in Portugal and Brazil, especially those that have contributed to reconfiguring teaching and learning processes in higher education and to foster teachers’ professional development. From these, a critical reflection is sought on the policies and strategies that are necessary to establish an agenda for didactic-pedagogical training of teachers in higher education with a view to sustainability and continued innovation of pedagogical practices.

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