Dissertation: Enthusiasm is a driving force in the work of a teacher in vocational education and training


Like the entire working life, today’s vocational education and training (VET) is characterised by constant change that affects the work of teachers, leaders, and supervisors. As VET is evolving, educational institutions must operate in a productive, efficient, and quality-oriented manner, but with diminishing resources. In her dissertation Sanna Wenström, MA, M.Ed. argues that the enthusiasm felt by teachers in vocational education helps a teacher and the entire educational community to accomplish positive change, wellbeing, and continuing development and thereby advances productive and first-rate education.

According to the research, a teacher’s enthusiasm manifests itself as a willingness to develop one’s expertise and work practices, as a tendency to invest in one’s work, as positive emotions, and as wellbeing at work. Wenström examines the factors affecting teachers’ enthusiasm through the concepts of positive organisation and positive leadership. The study shows that enthusiasm can be promoted through leadership and organisation that contribute to positive interaction and cooperation, support the recognition and use of various strengths, and provide teachers with possibilities to develop their work and themselves.

“In terms of supervision this means leadership through individual strengths and, on the other hand, utilisation of people’s diverse strengths in work organisation and team building, among other things. The main thing is that supervisors can find time to encounter people and to be present in their daily work. In addition, they should know how to lead cooperation and teams,” Wenström notes.

Amid the reform of vocational education and therewith teacher’s work, also the structures and leadership practices of educational organisations have to change. Research on positive organisation and leadership brings new insights into this process.

“Positive organisation and leadership have attracted attention in business already for a long time, as it has been shown that they can promote the wellbeing of personnel, the productivity and efficiency of organisations, and the quality of customer service. A core mediating mechanism in all this is enthusiasm or the work engagement. Now that vocational education is faced with the same requirements, applying the models of positive organisation and leadership is highly topical and important,” says Wenström about the significance of her study.  

Positive organisation research applying positive psychology examines positive phenomena and the factors that enable and promote wellbeing and positive change in organisations. In this dissertation study, the new PRIDE theory of positive organisation is applied. The theory analyses the factors that make an organisation positive, that is, flourishing and productive. The name of the theory is an acronym of the following areas of positive organisation: Positive practices; Relationship enhancement; Individual attributes; positively Deviant leadership; and Emotional wellbeing. The theory was developed in Hong Kong in 2014 and has not yet been used in Europe, but Wenström’s research shows that it well-adapted to the examination of vocational education organisations.

“PRIDE theory and model of analysis has in fact already been applied in educational organisations as a tool of leadership and supervision development. The School of Professional Teacher Education of Oulu University of Applied Sciences takes part in projects where the PRIDE model is applied more extensively with an aim to enhance wellbeing at work and productivity,” notes Wenström, who educates and trains leaders and communities of educational institutions and other organisations.

Above all, the dissertation presents a positive perspective on the reform of vocational education, which thus far has been addressed in a rather negative manner. The research revealed that the challenges and uncertainty brought forth by changes and educational cutbacks are the most significant factors draining teachers’ enthusiasm. According to Wenström, it is indeed essential to enable teachers to influence the implementation of the changes as the best experts of their own work.

The research shows that enthusiasm is a force that carries on positive change, and enthusiastic teachers can act as engines of change in their communities.

“Applying positive organisation and leadership means that attention is paid to positive action, interaction, strengths, and resources. By focusing on resources, we can support the work engagement and enthusiasm regardless of demanding tasks and external pressures,” Wenström notes.

Information on the public examination

The dissertation Enthusiasm as a driving force in vocational education and training (VET) teachers’ work. Defining positive organization and positive leadership in VET by Sanna Wenström, MA, M.Ed. is publicly examined at the University of Lapland in Kaarina Hall on 7 January 2020 at 12:00. The opponent is Professor Johanna Lasonen from the University of South Florida and the custos is Professor Satu Uusiautti from the University of Lapland. The proceedings are carried out in Finnish.

Information on the doctoral candidate

Sanna Wenström (born 1977) graduated from Pello High School in 1996. She earned her master’s degree at the University of Oulu in 2004, majoring in the Finnish language, and her master’s degree in education at the same university in 2017. Wenström has worked as a teacher and in the development of education since 2005, most recently at Luovi Vocational College. As of autumn 2018, she has worked as a teacher trainer in the School of Professional Teacher Education of Oulu University of Applied Sciences in continuing education and development services.

Further information

Sanna Wenström, phone +358 45 2030 505, sanna.wenstrom@oamk.fi

Information on the publication

Sanna Wenström: Enthusiasm as a driving force in vocational education and training (VET) teachers’ work. Defining positive organization and positive leadership in VET, Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 269, ISBN 978-952-337-185-9 / ISSN 1796-6310.

Permanent address of the publication: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-337-185-9