ERG SES G 11, Social Justice and Education
While it is indisputable that teacher education has to be designed to produce good teachers and teacher evaluation tools have to be designed to identify good teachers effectively, ‘what is open to debate is exactly what characteristics define good teachers’ (Murphy et al., 2004, p. 69). Indeed, the concept of ‘good teaching’ represents a complex philosophical issue which entails pondering over various perspectives of all education system stakeholders.
Over recent decades the body of research arguing in favor of including students’ perspectives to guide educational change has been consistently growing (Fielding, 2001, 2004, 2012; Cook-Sather, 2002). Studies show that school children are capable of recognizing teacher competence and distinguishing between ‘liking a teacher and acknowledging her role as one who taught them something’ (Peterson et al., 2000, p. 137; Aleamoni, 1999). This supports the idea that students’ evaluations of their teachers can be viewed as a reliable indicator of good teaching.
This shift towards more child-centered, inclusive and participatory education became obvious in the wake of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Moreover, the ‘new social studies of childhood’ (Prout & James, 1997; James, Jenks, & Prout, 1998; James & Prout, 2015) precipitated the transformation of how children are perceived by teachers and by society at large: they are now seen to ‘have a huge potential contribution to make, not as passive objects but as active players in the education system’ (Hodgkin, 1998, p. 11).
Not only does student voice ‘yield a practical agenda’ for school improvement, it also ‘strengthens student self-esteem’ (Rudduck, 2007). However, it is important to acknowledge that not all students get equal opportunities to voice their opinions, as teachers usually ‘favour those students who are socially confident’ (Rudduck, 2007, p. 591). This means that marginalized groups are often left out of student voice activities (Ianes et al., 2017). Indeed, scholars warn that to some extent ‘inclusion may be manipulative’ and as such undermining its own ethical basis and possible benefits (Fielding, 2004, p. 301). Moreover, minority underrepresentation means that the discrepancies between teacher and minority student views can easily be forgotten.
Within this study we intend to explore the differences between the views of teachers and different groups of students on what constitutes good teaching and how they imagine an ideal teacher. We aim to look into how to strengthen current student voice practices through enhancing their inclusiveness. At the first stage we identify how the views of school children vary across multiple characteristics. At the second stage we invite teachers to share their views on the same topic and we also assess teachers’ willingness to listen to the voices of different student groups.
The research was conducted in the Russian Federation. The country is known for being culturally diverse (Ralston, Holt, Terpstra & Kai-Cheng, 1997) which is clearly reflected in the school context especially today when the ubiquitous globalization ushers in a whole new era of mass migration (Schachner, 2017). This two-phase research focuses on possible discrepancies in what constitutes an ideal teacher’s profile as perceived by various groups of high school students and their teachers. During the first stage a systematic sampling approach was used and 102 high school students from 3 schools in one Russian region (Tatarstan) were recruited. Schools were chosen according to two basic principles: academic performance and cultural diversity. One of the schools is high-performing and located in a highly developed city area while the other two are small average-performing rural schools. The second stage of the study will invite 12 case-study teachers, working in the same schools and teaching the same students, to assess their own professional competences and self-efficacy in an inclusive classroom environment. A mixed-method research paradigm with both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools was employed. We used 1) closed questionnaires for students and their teachers; 2) an essay writing with a specified topic and issues to be covered for students; 3) semi-structured face-to-face interviews with case-study teachers. The research tools were designed to provide an insight into students’ and teachers’ understanding of an ideal teacher’s profile. The research instruments feature the items that can be grouped into three main categories: a) city students’ perception of a good teacher and good teaching; b) rural students’ perception of a good teacher and good teaching; c) teachers’ self-evaluation of competencies and self-efficacy in a diverse classroom environment. The questionnaire uses closed questions which enable comparisons to be made across three groups in our sample. These closed questions are supplemented with extra space to allow respondents to add remarks and explanations to the categories if they find it necessary. The follow-up essays and interviews are employed to obtain more in-depth evidence with specific examples of how students and teachers perceive an ideal teacher and how their perceptions differ. SPSS v.25 was employed for analysis of quantitative data and ATLAS.ti v.8.1.0 for analysis of qualitative data.
Ianes, Cappello and Demo (2017) report that often “there is a clear discrepancy between the students’ and the teachers’ reviews”. This suggests that students are not always regarded as integral stakeholders in the education system. However, listening to students and validating their views is essential for school improvement (Cook-Sather, 2002). We expect that the results of this research will shed light on what competences construct an ideal teacher’s profile. Highly significant is that we will have three perspectives on an ideal teacher’s profile (drawn from the groups of city students; rural students; and their teachers). It is noteworthy that half of the participants come from an inclusive education environment and another half does not. Possible discrepancies in views will allow us to identify whether the competences of an ideal teacher differ across various school environments depending on the level of cultural diversity. Based on the results, we aim to identify 1) the key competences that any teacher should possess regardless of the education environment and 2) the competences that should be especially strengthened in a culturally diverse inclusive education environment. We plan to use further data triangulation (Fielding, 2012) with the aim of reinforcing more reliable results. The conference will be used as the opportunity for presenting these new findings. Furthermore, we plan to expand the project by involving schools where minority groups are represented by students with specific learning difficulties (including physical and mental differences). We intend to design a platform for professional teacher development aimed at enhancing competences that constitute an ideal teacher’s profile. In the longer term we propose carrying out a post-intervention research to trace whether or not and how the profiles of the same teachers will have changed.
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