Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preparing for Culturally Responsive Schooling: Initial Teacher Educators into the Fray

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Preparing for Culturally Responsive Schooling: Initial Teacher Educators into the Fray

Article excerpt


As is occurring globally, classroom demographics in Australia are changing in ways that reflect greater cultural diversity in schools. For example, in New South Wales (NSW), one in three students come from Language Backgrounds Other Than English (LBOTE), (1) with most of these students located in Sydney's southern and western regions (Department of Education and Communities [DEC], 2014b). Over the last 20 years, the demographic changes have reflected Australia's proximity and relationship with Asia, with the largest language groups now being Chinese (16.7%), followed by Arabic (13.4%), Vietnamese (6.4%), and Hindi (4%)--with Greek, Spanish, and Italian (8.9% combined) the only European languages in the top 10 (DEC, 2014b). (2) Indigenous students, though not officially viewed as LBOTE (DEC, 2014a), also contribute to the cultural diversity and represent 6.5% of the student population in NSW government schools. This situation presents a range of challenges for teachers and schools in terms of interpersonal relationships and communication; curriculum, pedagogy, assessment; and policy enactment. It also goes a long way to explaining why more than ever before teachers are asking for professional learning opportunities in teaching English as a second language (ESL), with developing their "intercultural understanding," and with enacting "culturally inclusive" practices in the classroom (Watkins, Lean, Noble, & Dunn, 2013). According to Santoro and Kennedy (2016), the circumstances have created a "professional imperative" to understand the sorts of knowledges and practices that quality teaching now requires to better respond to cultural and linguistic diversity.

The regular presence of initial teacher educators (henceforth ITEs) undertaking practicums provides opportunities for teachers to engage in a type of professional development that may assist them with responding to these demographic changes. As a former high school teacher myself, this professional renewal was a touted benefit for supervising and mentoring ITEs. As a teacher educator, it was with this understanding that I started an exploratory study involving a group of postgraduate ITEs as they prepared for and undertook their practicums. The aim of the study was to investigate the skills, knowledges, and practices that may support effective culturally responsive schooling practices (henceforth CRS). A leading figure of CRS, Geneva Gay (2010), outlines five guiding principles that underpin the approach:

1. Culture is fundamental to schooling as it shapes our thinking, beliefs, actions, and the ways we communicate, having an impact on policy, curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment;

2. Conventional reform is insufficient, as it tends to adopt compensatory strategies that seek to address student and community deficits;

3. Intention without action is insufficient, and good intentions can compound concerning issues if they are not built upon critically informed and reflective pedagogical knowledge, skills, and courage;

4. Connecting teaching and learning to the social experiences and cultural resources that students arrive at school with can assist with engaging in learning and improving academic achievements; and

5. Understanding that test scores and grades are symptoms, not causes.

In support of all five principles, teachers also take up classroom practices that actively address the negative effects of systemic racism and racial discrimination.

At the outset of the project, I anticipated the ITEs would find it challenging putting CRS into practice for reasons such as being learner teachers themselves, or with reflexively locating and accounting for their own cultural and racialized identities (Gay & Kirkland, 2003). However, what I did not anticipate was the participants identifying their teacher mentors as being the most influential barriers. In this article, I will focus on three barriers that negatively impacted on the ITEs in terms of enacting CRS: (a) the limited and limiting curricula, pedagogic and assessment practices the mentors encouraged them to adopt, (b) the mentors' resistance to seeing the need to do things differently or value CRS, and (c) the awareness of being evaluated and needing to please their mentors, which stifled their creativity and confidence. …

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