Seeking a reflexive epistemic space for teaching to and about diversity: Emergent properties of enablement and constraint for teacher educators

Year: 2018

Author: Ryan, Mary, Bourke, Terri, Lunn, Joanne, Rowan, Leonie, Susan, Walker, Peter, Churchward

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The increasing complexity of teaching diverse groups means that preparation of teachers who have deep understandings about quality teaching and diversity and how these concepts inform one another in practice is crucial. Surprisingly little is known about how well-equipped teacher educators are to support the development of future teachers’ knowledge and understandings in these recognised areas of national and international significance.Further, Australian graduate teachers feel under-prepared to work with the full range of learners who comprise the contemporary school classroom. 
The seemingly intractable nature of student under achievement makes it important to understand the conditions that may work to enable or constrain teacher educators in preparing future teachers to teach to diversity.Archer’s (2007) reflexivity theory provides a way to examine the deliberations and decision-making that teacher educators undertake within the emergent conditions of education and teacher education. Epistemic cognition offers an additional dimension to this examination by theorising teacher educators’ ways of knowing and flexibility to create new professional knowledge to deal with intractable issues (Markauskaite & Goodyear, 2017). Teaching to and teaching about diverse students is one such issue in which complex conditions are ever emerging.
Using Social Lab methodology, this study explored how 12 teacher educators from a metropolitan university in Australia experienced the personal, structural and cultural emergent properties of ITE as enabling or constraining. Findings indicated the teacher educators experienced constraining properties related to a reliance on experiential knowledge and personal histories to address student diversity; short contact time with PSTs, a lack of control over assessment tasks and timetabling, a lack of institutional memory from one unit coordinator to another; a lack of diversity in ITE cohorts and narrow views regarding what is meant by the concept of diversity. They also experienced enabling discourses of theorising their own beliefs or standpoints, strong capabilities in disrupting students’ preconceived beliefs, valuing collaborative learning opportunities; normalised practices of reflexivity; and prevailing beliefs about the social constructedness and complexity of knowledge whereby it can be challenged and interrogated.
The revival of the technical view of teaching has not resulted in increased equity in our schools nor in improved short and long term outcomes. This approach does not require PSTs to develop a holistic understanding of teaching for democracy and diversity and it de-emphasises the intellectual and relational aspects of teaching (Cochran-Smith, 2016). Teacher education must prioritise research-based solutions to entrenched issues of inequity and homogenised teaching.