10 SES 08 E, Special Call: Mapping Teacher Education across Europe and Beyond
The paradigm shift in educational policies and practices towards an approach that ensures quality education for all has raised the need to rethink initial teacher education programmes to better prepare teachers to face the heterogenous classes they work in today. Over the years, literature on teacher competencies and teacher education reform has highlighted the urgent need to equip teachers not only with pedagogical and content knowledge, but also other indispensable competencies to be lifelong researchers and reflective practitioners in order to enhance teacher quality and be the catalysts of change (Cochran Smith et al., 2018; EADSNE, 2012; Kunter et al., 2013; Rouse, 2008; Shulman, 2005; Van der Heijden et al., 2015). In addition, greater attention is being drawn towards the predictive value of variables and constructs such as teacher self-efficacy, inclusive beliefs, sentiments, attitudes and concerns on the teachers’ intention to act (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Biesta et al., 2015; Pace, 2017; Sharma & Desai, 2002; Sharma & Jacobs, 2016; Sharma et al., 2012). Yet, although it is by now widely acknowledged that besides educating the ‘head’, also the ‘hands’ and the ‘heart’ (Shulman, 2005) need to be given their due relevance in teacher education programmes, research is still scant with regards to the impact and effectiveness of innovative teaching strategies on teacher agency.
This paper presents a mixed-methods action research aimed at exploring whether a salutogenic approach to guide reflective practice can influence Initial Teacher Education (ITE) candidates’ willingness to implement inclusive classroom practices.
Why salutogenic? The idea stems from Antonovsky’s (1979) intuition that reoriented public health research when he shifted the focus from ‘what causes ill-health’ to ‘where health originates from’. As Antonovsky (1979) claims “how one poses the question is crucial to the direction one takes in looking for the answer” (p. 12) and this applies to all fields of research, nonetheless in education, especially when it concerns inclusive education. ITE candidates need not focus on ‘what causes exclusion’, but ‘what promotes inclusion’ in school and social contexts. They must be trained to look for potential rather than limitations, abilities rather than disabilities, inner strengths rather than weaknesses, reinforcing and enabling factors rather than opposing and disabling ones, resources rather than the lack of them, and create opportunities where there seem to be none. On the same lines, Ghaye (2011) proposes a strengths-based reflective framework that is underpinned by the same principles of inclusive education and fosters teacher agency since it prompts teachers to reflect on their strengths and those of their pupils, schools and communities from an ecological approach. As a result, through this participatory and appreciative action and reflection process (PAAR),
“critical reflection becomes a deliberate, conscious, public and evidence-based research process based on participatory action. It is designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning through a cyclical process that involves action, reflection and knowledge construction on strengths rather than deficits” (Pace & Aiello, 2018, p. 10).
The study is in its planning phase and its implementation is envisaged to take place between March and June 2019 during a 72-hour module entitled “Inclusive Pedagogy and Didactics”. The ITE candidates involved are university students who wish to obtain the necessary credits to be able to further their studies in teacher education once they have completed their Masters’ Degree programmes in the subject they intend to teach in lower and upper secondary schools. A mixed methods action-research design will be adopted as it allows for ongoing reflective practice on behalf of the researcher (Leitch & Day, 2006), provides flexibility to fine-tune the delivery methods and strategies proposed throughout the module and, hence, be able to better meet the ITE candidates’ needs. At the beginning and at the end of the module, students will be asked to complete a questionnaire composed of three scales: the Teacher Efficacy for Inclusive Practices Scale (Sharma et al., 2012), the Concerns about Inclusive Education Scale (Sharma & Desai, 2002), and the Attitudes towards Inclusion Scale (AIS) (Sharma & Jacobs, 2016), whereas a fourth section will provide socio-demographic data. These scales have already been used and validated in previous studies conducted in Italy (Aiello et al. 2016; 2017). Throughout the course, the lectures will be highly focussed on ongoing reflective practice in action and on action on the various themes related to inclusion of all students at risk of exclusion. Besides compiling a personal online diary, students will be invited to reflect individually and in groups during the lectures using a variety of means of communication ranging from written, verbal to visual and auditory channels. The lecturer/researcher will also keep a personal diary to self-evaluate the lectures, record feelings, and keep track of decisions taken during the module. In their personal online logbooks, the ITE candidates will be asked to write about their general feelings regarding the lectures, the delivery methods, and the feasibility of using such strategies in their own classrooms. The qualitative data collected from the ITE candidates’ online diaries, the activities carried out throughout the course and the researcher’s diary will be analysed using thematic analysis, whereas descriptive statistics, correlation and regression analysis will be conducted on the quantitative data from the questionnaires.
The study, albeit its foreseen limitations mainly related to the difficulties to engage and sustain the involvement of the ITE candidates throughout the four months, may be of interest to all the stakeholders involved in teacher education programme design, delivery and evaluation. The combination of data collection methods will add depth and breadth to the research while offering the ITE candidates creative and tangible teaching strategies that stimulate active and ongoing participation in their learning process and which they can reproduce in their own classrooms. It is hoped that the salutogenic approach to guide reflective practice will also foster constructive thinking, instil positive attitudes towards inclusion, reduce concerns regarding inclusive practices and augment the candidates’ levels of teacher self-efficacy. The insight the candidates and the researcher’s reflections will provide may well guide future planning of similar modules and pave the way to other studies on innovative teaching practices aimed at building teacher capacity to face the uncertainties the ‘era of risk’ we are living in holds.
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