Skip to Content

Teaching Historical Thinking to B.Ed. Students Part IV – Forging a New Identity?

Posted by David Bussell
29 March 2015 - 9:22pm

This year my blogs have focused on my role as an instructor, teaching B.Ed. students in a history program. With the conclusion of the classroom component, I am left to reflect on the challenges that still face my history teacher candidates going forward in their respective careers.

According to Alan Sears in the THEN/HiER supported book Becoming a History Teacher, in order to get teachers on an “inbound trajectory” in history education, they need to create a new identity as history teachers. They need to embrace ongoing development involving the discipline of history and relevant research on how teachers and students learn history. Sears mentions that such changes will be challenging, and “not something that can be accomplished in a single methods course in a faculty of education or in half-day workshops during professional development days” (Sears, 2014, p. 17). 

This raises the question: Where are teacher candidates left once they finish their B.Ed. program and are no longer being exposed to the ongoing teaching of Historical Thinking Concepts (HTCs) and more discipline-based approaches to teaching history? I have a sense that for many of the teacher candidates the “seed has been planted” and nurtured to a degree, but the continual guidance (water) and future growth (sun) seems to have come to a formal ending. 

Through ongoing observations and brief discussions with my students at the end of the history course, many raised consistent challenges that had surfaced from the beginning of the program back in late August. Their last assignment—developing a unit plan for a history course of their choice—highlighted many of the difficulties of knowing how to effectively use HTCs in their unit plans.  This is combined with needing to know what content to include, in order to give students proper context for the lessons within the unit. Incorporating classroom activities that get students “doing history” was still a challenging concept for some teacher candidates. For some teacher candidates, content knowledge of certain history courses was also a problem, while others struggled with designing engaging lessons and using a more inquiry-based model to teaching history.

The need for ongoing collaboration seems like a “gap” that needs to be addressed, as the new Ontario history curriculum begins its first full year in secondary schools.

There has been some valuable professional development regarding the new history curriculum from the Ministry as well as various school boards. In order to support new teachers, as well as experienced teachers that are not familiar with HTCs and discipline-based approach to teaching history, one wonders how many of these teachers can continue on Sears’ “inbound trajectory” and fully develop a new identity as a history educator?

The work of many educators involved in THEN/HiER is an excellent start and a valuable base for continual research and resources in history education. However, ongoing collaboration and support of new history teachers will be required if the HTCs in the Ontario history curriculum are to be effectively taught in all Ontario secondary classrooms.

My hope is to stay in contact with many of my students and create an evolving community of practice. I hope that will assist them in their classroom practice, while also allowing them to provide me with valuable advice on current classroom challenges. Getting their feedback will contribute to the development of the history education course in the new two-year B.Ed. program. Optimistically, this will help ensure that more history educators get to be active participants in the history education community. 

It was a true privilege getting to teach and learn with these enthusiastic and dedicated students over a seven-month period, and I wish all of them the best in their future careers.




Sears, Alan. “Moving from the Periphery to the Core: The Possibilities for Professional Learning Communities in History Teacher Education,” in Becoming a History Teacher, edited by Ruth Sandwell and Amy Von Heyking, 11-29. Toronto,  University of Toronto Press, 2014.

Photo credit: A red silhouette symbol of a teacher. Ben from Openclipart.