Collaborative approaches to “real world” social and environmental justice problems in pre-service teaching practice.

Year: 2019

Author: Lugg, Alison

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

To learn to live sustainably on Earth is an increasingly challenging social and political goal yet it is critical for the long-term well-being of the planet’s inhabitants. Sustainability principles and practices are based on aspirational notions of social and environmental justice. As a cross-curriculum priority these concepts are now embedded in Australian school curriculum frameworks and form an emerging theme in education research, particularly in teacher education, outdoor and environmental education. However Australian teachers and pre-­- service teachers are only minimally prepared for this challenge. This scenario presents a dilemma for schools and teacher education programs to grapple with these 21st century curriculum imperatives.

In this paper I examine the attempts by teams of pre-and in-service teachers to collaboratively build an interdisciplinary curriculum to address social and environmental sustainability issues in a secondary school practicum program. The paper reports on findings from a longitudinal case study designed to investigate the impact of the program on the pre-service teachers’ (PSTs) professional development. The research questions focused on how the PSTs conceptualised the curriculum in relation to sustainability issues and how the emergent, collaborative structures of the practicum impacted their teaching practice and development as teachers. This paper focuses on the curriculum challenges emerging from; the scope and complexity of the task, the dynamic roles and joint agency required, and ethical questions that arose.

Data were generated via interviews, focus groups, field observation and document analysis. A thematic analysis was informed by an ecosocial conceptual framework drawing on Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and on Edwards’ theorising of joint collaborative work through the “gardening tools”: relational agency, common knowledge and relational expertise. This framework enabled analysis of the relational work involved in enacting school-based curriculum innovation in a short time frame, where pre-service teachers specialising in outdoor education, worked in multi-disciplinary teams with humanities and science teachers as mentors. I highlight the challenges for the teams to develop curriculum and pedagogy that address real world problems relevant to the students’ lives and their capacities to make change. In particular, the ethical and educational challenges that arose, highlight the constraints and affordances within schools and educational systems for enacting social and environmental change. I conclude that collaborative team structures significantly enabled pre-service teachers’ relational agency including their capacities to respond to ethical issues and to enact change within the limitations of a school placement.