04 SES 03 C, Engaging Teachers In Supporting Inclusive Change
Inclusive education in Ireland and Europe has experienced a severe shock. The realities of the ineffectiveness of our concepts of ‘inclusion’ have been realised through this pandemic. Schools and services are faced with changes in practice and provision that are unique and unprecedented.
Due to the rapidly changing demographic of today’s global societies, there is a distinct need for transformative thinking, acting, and planning for a more focused approach of inclusive education. Research in the arena of inclusion continues to highlight the need for pre-service and in-service training for teachers to build competencies in inclusive approaches and practices. This paper discusses why every voice is vital for a socially just, inclusive, and equitable education in Ireland and beyond, and the idea of doing the ‘right’ thing and doing things right matters.
Research strongly suggests that quality pedagogy matters to child outcomes. It is also argued that research outcomes and recommendations in the area of inclusive education doesn’t reach or impact teachers. Therefore, inclusion is like a dog chasing its tail in a cyclical conundrum. We argue that the ‘system’ of education contains more pedagogues than teachers and that the ‘system’ needs to acknowledge the ‘blindspots’ and ethical sinkholes of concepts that oppress innovation and creativity in thinking, acting, and planning for better inclusive experiences.
There is a significant disconnect between inclusive and equitable theory and practice in teacher education. This disconnect exposes the need for examining several pedagogical challenges in the current design of inclusion and inclusive practice in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and to examine how teachers teach not just what they teach. If pedagogical practices are ‘retrospective’ rather than ‘prospective’, educators will unconsciously reproduce rather than remedy the patterns of social exclusion and stratification seen within the larger society. Issues such as social class, economic status, gender difference, and ability, that can be addressed through the lens of socially just teaching and learning.
A social justice framework is a conscious and deliberate action aimed at resisting unfairness and inequity while enhancing freedom and possibility for all learners. A social justice framework in education presents a pathway to guarantee that all learners are approached from an equitable perspective and not a textbook perspective. As human beings with a right to be equitably educated. Research on learner outcomes confirm that student attitudes of school and learning directly correlates [and is impacted by] teacher attitudes toward students and school. If systems present curricula and policy as ‘fait accompli’ then we produce technologies of power. Teachers are not technicists, they can be creative and innovative practitioners.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) continues to be largely misunderstood and underrepresented as a pedagogical approach in ITE. UDL is an innovative, socially just learning framework that supports all learners regardless of socioeconomic, cultural, gender, language, cognitive, physical, or emotional background. UDL proactively provides varied options for learners to overcome barriers and ensure learning without limitations, but rarely receives a nod from educational policy makers or in ITE curriculum design. A UDL framework can empower attitudes and voice in co-constructing meaningful, equitable education.
This paper suggests that social justice and UDL frameworks need to be implemented in ITE as theoretical and foundational underpinnings. It is essential that teachers be supported to think, act and plan. To push past the superficial treatments of culture and standardized ‘one size fits all’ curriculum design. Inclusive pedagogues need to see every learner as an individual with unique learning abilities and provide appropriate ad-hoc supports for successful learning. Inclusive and socially just education should be open to the audacious possibility that if we respect and listen, every voice counts.
This qualitative interpretive study upholds the emergent design of professional conversation as a methodological approach to reflection on professional learning. Professional conversations are fundamental to strengthening teaching quality, building capacity for collaborative reflective practice and recognizing and valuing the existing knowledge and expertise of participants as educators. Research on professional conversation indicates that teachers learn through requesting advice, exploring philosophical concepts, and the co-construction of new, innovative ideas for practice. Given the circumstances and restrictions of COVID_19 on implementing professional conversations in a face to face format, we chose to generate data through a series of three virtual professional conversations with education colleagues via digital collaborative platforms. We follow the 4-level framework of Irvine & Price (2014) for facilitating professional conversations, while making small adaptations for virtual engagement, ensuring that we have clear objective, reflective, interpretivist and decisional elements. We initiated a call for participation and collaboration of thought, to ignite sociological imagination and critical reflection that is crucial for equitable learning. Educators are encouraged to think as an outsider might think, rather than just from one's own perspective, experiences, and cultural biases. We ask educators to consider and critically respond to questions such as: What does a socially just education system look like in the Irish context? What is UDL and how might you enact it in the classroom? What examples or suggestions do you have that might contribute to a model for marrying educational policymaking and research with inclusive and socially just classroom practice? When it comes to inclusive policy and practice, 'are you doing the ‘right’ thing or doing things right?’ Are you open to listening to the voices of your students and what they deem an authentic curriculum should be? Educators are asked to think interculturally rather than homogeneously. To think vertically instead of horizontally. To recognize that ‘one size does not fit all’. To ponder and reflect on teacher practices, processes, and identities, and look beyond one’s own circumstances to expose cultural biases and attitudes that may be unconsciously or deliberately enacted in the classroom. The data is generated via the four-level question framework. It is being explored through a conversational analysis approach to thematically structure the contexts of expression, reflection, and new-awareness' that are gleaned from participants’ professional discussion and interaction.
To conclude, this paper draws on the impression that teachers are so busy teaching and researchers are so busy researching that we aren’t listening to the important voices of each other and/or the voices of our learners. The data from this project is in the process of being generated and analyzed. Initial implications from the findings indicate that there is a distinct need for building better inclusion practices in the classroom as well as guiding and embedding a socially-just UDL ethos in teacher education and beyond. But educators are concerned that the ability and support to fully enact inclusive, socially just, UDL approaches in the classroom are not without barriers and limitations that must be actively addressed. Further, the disconnect between theory and practice often happens prior to practice due to a lack of professional communication in what is expected and what is enacted in the community of the school. Professional conversations need to engage teachers, teacher educators, and student teachers in active discourse to frame and solve education and classroom-based problems around inclusion and equity. Additionally, conversation around the lack of student voice in planning for inclusion must be initiated in professional conversations. Social justice and equitable education is for everyone. A social justice framework needs to be incorporated into ITE and continued professional learning. There is a critical need to nurture a deliberate culture of inclusion through careful and open dialogue on what is working and what needs to be further developed, because every voice matters and every voice should be heard in education.
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