04 SES 06 C, Reconsidering the Role of the SEN Coordinator: A critical overview
The role of the teacher as ‘middle-manager’ is a well-debated research topic (Appleby, 1997), specially for the definition of meanings - as ‘manger’, as ‘leader’ - Blandford, 1997; Bennet et al., 2007; Tranter, 2000, 2013) - and the profiles of competence – as a political priority (OFTED, 1994; OECD, Talis, 2009; NPQML, 2016; Jones, O’Brien, 2016).
During the time and the experiences, it could be reached to a profile of skills – e.g. strategy and improvement, teaching and curriculum excellence, leading with impact, working in partnership, managing resources and risks, increasing capability – and formal models of preparation and training – e.g. National Professional Qualification for Middle Leadership (NPQML, 2016), with specific content areas, leadership behaviors and structure and teaching methods, about the teacher’s function of ‘middle-manager’.
As the recent reflections on the teaching professionalism confirm (Antoniou & Kyriakides, 2013; Darling-Hammond et al., 2017), the teacher is asked to become more organizer of the teaching processes and to intervene in a systemic way on the whole organization of the school, not only for what concerns the relationship with the students.
If this is clear for the school processes tout court, what is the specification about the school inclusive processes? Is there a specific ‘middle-management’ for school inclusive processes or else, in itself, the middle-management is inclusive?
Supports and coordination figures have been already established in Italy and other countries, in the framework of the reform on the self-government of the school systems – L. n. 59/1999; DPR 274/1999; OECD - Talis, 2009; U.S. Department, 2017).
In this contest of very high differentiation, a recent school Italian reform (L. n. 107/2015, art. 1, comma 83) established already the figure of the ‘Coordinator for inclusion’ ‘who, working with the school principals, ensures effective co-ordination of all project planning activities aimed at promoting the full integration of each pupil in the classroom and school context’.
Then, in order to promote this figure of ‘Coordinator for inclusion’, the Italian Ministry of Education provided a general professional profile (MIUR, 2015, note n. 37900), which is setting up the vocational training initiatives for teachers.
The contribution tries to focalize some questions about the middle-management for inclusion - the theoretical background, the priorities of national and international policies (NPQML, 2016; Jones, O’Brien, 2016; U.S. Department, 2017) - and offers the early outcomes of an inquiry that the University of Bari is conducting on the ‘professional areas’ of the Coordinator of the inclusion.
The professionalism of this new role of ‘Coordinator for inclusion’ is to be considered as 'dynamic synthesis' between different areas such as (MIUR, 2015, note n. 37900; NPQML, 2016): a. school context and communication, b. methodological and didactic interventions, c. documentation of specific procedures, c. specializing knowledge on the disabilities needs. A study conducted at the University of Bari is aimed at deepening the professional profile of the Coordinator for inclusion, specially focusing on the areas of professionalism. Within the ‘LabInclusion’ research-training project, founded by the Italian Ministry of Education, the study involves a network of 20 primary and secondary schools, 57 senior teachers – special and curricular teachers-, who exercise the roles of Referents for Inclusion in their respective schools. The empirical inquiry aims to investigate both teacher’ believes (Fiorucci, 2014; Aiello, Sharma, Sibilio, 2016) and real practices (Biesta & Tedder, 2007), that would describe the areas of expertise about the Coordinator’s profile; it draws upon a ‘mixed-method design research’ (Creswell & Plano, 2011; Cresswell, 2014), using quantitative-qualitative data collections: - questionnaire (Foddy, 1993; Bailey, 1987; Delli Zotti, 2000) and in-depth interviews on personal believes of the 57 senior teachers about the Coordinator’s areas of professionalism; - naturalistic observation in the ethnographic context (Biesta & Tedder, 2007) about the practices of five experienced teachers, in each workplace setting. The proposal focuses on the procedures of analysis and the emerging results about the questionnaire and the in-depth interviews.
The early outcomes are highlighting some interesting aspects about the Coordinator for Inclusion’s different areas of professionalism: - the greater weight of specific areas than the others – e.g. a. school context and communication and b. methodological and didactic interventions, compared to c. specializing knowledge on the disabilities needs; - the greater weight of specific descriptors than others, within specific areas of professionalism – such as the importance of the communication with the families of student with disability; - linguistic difficulties due to the translation of terms – e.g. different personal meanings associated with some construct - as ‘difficulty and disability’. These results are highlighting an emerging discrepancy between the Coordinator’s professional profiles, provided by the normative documents and represented by expert teachers (Shulman, 1986; Gess-Newsome & Carlson, 2013). The results lead us to continue the investigation and offer some traces on which to address (Yin, 2002) the observation of the ethnographic investigation to be carried out in the second phase of the study.
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