04 SES 08 B, New Dilemmas And Potentialities Of Inclusive Teaching: A View From The Field
As inclusive education has gained traction internationally, there has been a demand for teachers who are equipped to teach diverse learners. This has led to various attempts to capture the competences of inclusive teachers in scholarly literature (for example, Florian and Rouse (2010) and EASDNE (2012)) and in formal standards for professional teaching. This paper is concerned with the development of formal standards for inclusive teaching for initial teacher education (ITE). The focus is South Africa, but the findings have wider relevance to all countries taking on the mandate to address the exclusion and marginalisation of vulnerable students.
Standards for professional teaching can be found in education systems across the world. They are expected to enhance the professional status of teaching and improve student outcomes by describing the knowledge of teachers, developing a shared language of practice, promoting accountability, and directing professional development (Danielson, 2015; McDaid, 2010; Mulcahy, 2011). But the very process of articulating quality teaching leads to itemisation of discrete aspects, which perversely undermines the coherence of practice. Standards are thus inherently dilemmatic.
A dilemma is understood as a necessary choice between two equally valid but mutually incompatible positions. There is always risk or negative consequence associated with resolution on one or other side of the dilemma. The very nature of teaching is said to be dilemmatic, contradictory and paradoxical as teachers balance competing demands in their classrooms (Scager et al, 2017). Inclusive education scholars have been interested in dilemmas and have discussed them with reference to pedagogy (Norwich and Lewis 2007), research (Walton 2011), curriculum, identification, parent/professional influence, and place (Norwich 2008). Norwich (2008) has used the ideas of the recognition and resolution of dilemmas in cross national explorations of special and inclusive education. Michailakis and Reich (2009) find dilemmas to be a useful way to describe tensions in inclusive education between different levels of the education system.
Despite the dilemmic nature of standards, countries in Europe and elsewhere have published standards for professional teaching, and a commitment to inclusive teaching is signalled in these standards in various ways. These include infusing inclusive teaching into general teaching standards, and producing separate documents that elaborate on the characteristics and expectations of inclusive teachers. In South Africa, a consultative process has been underway to describe a set of general standards for professional teaching. Concurrently, specialist standards have been developed in specific areas of teaching. One of these areas is inclusive education and is the focus of this paper. The purpose of this paper is not to present or evaluate the standards themselves, but to inquire into the processes that led to the development of the standards. In so doing, we address the concern that research on these documents often “leave those who create the representations largely out of the picture” (Mulcahy, 2011 p.98). This led us to identify a number of dilemmas in the formulation of standards.
Our interest in dilemma analysis is provoked by the idea that standards for teaching are not neutral, they are produced in a particular context and reflect a set of power relations (Mulcahy, 2011). A set of published standards appears as an artefact, which belies tensions in its assemblage. Dilemmas offer a useful language for describing these tensions. We thus sought to answer:
What dilemmas are embedded in the discussions to generate professional standards for inclusive teaching?
How do these dilemmas reflect wider concerns about inclusive education knowledge in teacher education?
In answering these questions, we bring the discussions on dilemmas in the field of inclusive education into conversation with the literature on standards for teaching, intending to further an understanding of both.
A three-phase process was initiated to develop standards for inclusive teaching to inform the development of inclusive education in ITE programmes. A concurrent research component aimed to secure a record of the processes involved. This work is part of the Teaching and Learning Development Capacity Improvement Programme which is being implemented through a partnership between the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the European Union. With ethics approval from the university, and permission from the DHET, the people involved in the deliberations during the three phases were invited to participate in the research by allowing their contributions to be audio recorded and transcribed for analysis. Assurances of anonymity and the right to withdraw were given. Fourteen conversations of groups of 10 – 15 were recorded across the three phases, each lasting between 90 and 150 minutes. First level thematic coding of the data attested to participants’ engagement with a wide range of topics related to the six elements of inclusive education, as identified by the GEMR concept note (Unesco 2018). These are: government and finance, legislation and policy, schools, curriculum, personnel, and communities. A seventh area included topics related to learners and their characteristics. A key decision in analysis was to determine what constituted a dilemma. In other words, not all disagreements reflect dilemmas. We took dilemmas to be those contradictions in which resolution on one or other side would have a significant impact on the process or the product of the deliberations. We also decided that the dilemmas needed to be evident across at least two phases of the process, such that they could be seen to represent an ongoing tension. Finally, we took dilemmas as those issues that could be described at a level of abstraction. The first author of this paper was a member of the inclusive teaching standards working group and was present at all three phases as a participant observer. This meant being immersed in the process while also having a research interest. The advantage of this is an appreciation of the context of the discussions (Bryman 2016) and insider knowledge of the issues raised. The disadvantage is the possibility of bringing preconceived ideas to data analysis and not having sufficient distance from the process to be objective. This was mitigated by the involvement of the second author who ensured inter-rater agreement in coding and analysing the data.
Four dilemmas were identified, each reflecting concerns in the wider field of inclusive education. The first is whether standards for inclusive teaching should be described apart from the more general standards for all teachers. On the one hand, separate standards could signal that issues of social justice and inclusivity were optional in the ITE curriculum. On the other hand, without standards dedicated to inclusive teaching, inclusivity could be marginalised. Having resolved the dilemma in favour of producing separate standards, participants found it difficult to identify aspects of teaching that could be regarded as the specific provenance of inclusive education. The second dilemma was a contest about the definition of inclusive education. Some participants favoured a broad view of inclusive education concerned with the many ways in which South African learners might be excluded from schooling. These include race, gender, religion, language, culture, socio-economic status and dis/ability. A narrower view was favoured by others who argued for the focus to remain on the inclusion of disabled children, suggesting that disability advocates “feel excluded by inclusive education”. The third dilemma relates to the primacy of context, and whether to start with the South African context and work towards describing applicable standards, or whether to start with exemplars from elsewhere, and seek contextual relevance. Here participants grappled with inclusive education as ‘colonial’ knowledge, not applicable to local realities, but also how to “decolonise inclusive education”. The fourth dilemma concerns the significance of differences for teaching and learning. Some argued for a general differences approach, recommending that the standards reflect generic teaching strategies that would enhance pedagogical responsiveness for all. Others argued for a focus on the provision of individual support for identified groups of learners. The presentation will explore the implications of these dilemmas for the development of inclusive education knowledge internationally.
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