Teachers’ Commitment to Teach in Inclusive Schools, Preparation of
Teaching in inclusive schools is complex. It requires that teachers are well prepared to create welcoming educational environments and facilitate the learning of all students irrespective of needs and abilities. A well-prepared teacher demonstrates his or her readiness to include all learners through three key aspects of the “heart” (i.e., the ethical and moral dimensions impinging on teaching in inclusive classrooms), “head” (i.e., knowledge and skills to teach students with diverse characteristics and backgrounds), and “hands” (i.e., application of inclusive pedagogy in real settings). Among the three key aspects of teacher preparation, the one that is given minimal attention in teacher education programs is the “heart” which, however, directly impacts on the teachers’ commitment to teaching in inclusive classrooms. This entry presents an overview of why it is important to enhance teacher commitment to inclusive education and how it could be achieved. It will identify the implications of not addressing this aspect among Initial Teacher Education (ITE) candidates as well as in-service teachers. It will also suggest practices informed by research across different country contexts that teacher educators could employ to enhance teacher commitment to implement inclusive education. The entry has implications both for initial teacher education and in-service professional learning programs internationally.
The Need to Focus on Teacher Education
All this depends on a number of political, social, cultural, and economic factors, but teacher educators are the ones responsible to empower, motivate, and professionally prepare the workforce for this mission. And as with any mission, its success ultimately relies largely on how committed the stakeholders are to the cause.
as teachers are a fundamental condition for guaranteeing quality education, teachers and educators should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed Systems. (World Bank 2015, p. 54)
Commitment to Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education for All
Commitment: a hackneyed word yet involves the undertaking of responsibility and a lot of dedication.
Inclusive education: an internationally acknowledged model aimed at ensuring quality school provision and education for all regardless of personal characteristics, background, culture, or origin. A key objective of inclusive education goes beyond the placement of students with diverse abilities in regular classrooms; it is about addressing barriers to participation of all learners in regular classrooms.
Equitable education: the assurance that every child has an equal chance to educational success. This cannot be achieved unless all students have the equal possibilities to access high-quality resources and support that meets their educational needs.
Quality education: is the provision of adequate learning opportunities to all learners for competency acquisition that promotes economically productive and sustainable lifestyles within peaceful and democratic societies, thus enhancing individual well-being. Key to reaching this goal is teacher capacity building and empowerment of all stakeholders responsible for the delivery of educational services. Inclusive education is high-quality education for all learners.
In the light of these definitions, a teacher’s commitment to inclusive and equitable quality education for all can concisely be defined as teachers’ pledge to be devoted to and do their utmost in their work so that each and every student may reach the maximum potential and acquire the array of competencies needed for full participation in society. This is not an easy task. The recent headlines reporting the shortage of well-prepared teachers in various countries, the rise in the number of teachers leaving the profession, and the challenge for higher education institutions (HEIs) to attract high caliber candidates to the teaching profession are just some of the barriers. As a result, within this highly complex and dynamic educational scenario, reforming teacher education courses has become a priority in order to equip the new generation of teachers with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values necessary, not only to fulfill their role but also to feel gratified at what they do.
Since the recognition of the central role of teachers as key catalysts for the success and effective sustainability of inclusive education, literature on teacher competency profiling, capacity building and course development has flourished. The recently developed frameworks and studies on teacher preparation are all firm on the belief that subject-related and pedagogical content knowledge alone are not enough to prepare teachers to work with today’s heterogeneous school population. Latest trends in teacher education policies worldwide show that much hope is being placed upon higher qualification requirements and the induction and mentoring phases during the 1st years of teaching. In addition, more emphasis is being given to the teaching practicum that not only envisages observation periods but also a copious number of hours dedicated to hands-on experience throughout the teacher education years. Continuous professional development is also gradually becoming compulsory worldwide, and lifelong learning is considered a mandatory competency for “high-quality” teachers. Nevertheless, several international studies investigating ITE candidates, newly appointed and in-service teachers’ feelings of self-efficacy, and their willingness to teach in inclusive classrooms still report concerning results. Studies undertaken across various international contexts also report a lack of confidence among teachers in their capability to facilitate and promote learning among all students effectively. These feelings of inadequate readiness are accentuated when teachers are asked to teach in heterogeneous classes, especially without enough support. The often-reported reliance on push-out and pull-out models is evidence of mainstream teachers’ dependency on learning support teachers to provide education for students with additional needs in countries where educational policies have guaranteed their mainstreaming.
Other issues that are of equal concern, if not more, include the prevalence of dual-track systems where students are still being labeled as “fit” or “unfit” for mainstreaming. The adoption of “inclusive education models” that, in reality, are still characterized by individual-medical views of disability as opposed to a social rights-based approach, and the soaring incidence of children at risk of exclusion remains an ongoing concern across many countries. Meanwhile, much to the dismay of inclusion advocates, parents, and citizens fighting for the rights of all children to equal education opportunities, flagship countries who have historically been at the forefront in promoting inclusive education policies, rather than reaping the fruits, are turning back their clocks due to cost-cutting pressures and shifting of priorities in political agendas. Therefore, at this point in history, key to synchronizing the world clocks of authentic inclusive practice is advocating for commitment at all levels in all policies.
Advocating for Commitment
Within the educational sphere, in this process of educating for and creating awareness about commitment, teacher educators are conveniently situated at the core of the system and have the ideal combination of competencies to successfully reach out to policy makers, current and future teachers, and the community at large.
In his proposal of a “table of learning,” Shulman (2002) views commitment as a fundamental phase in generating engagement because “we become capable of professing our understandings and our values, our faith and our love, our skepticism and our doubts, internalizing those attributes and making them integral to our identities” (p. 38). Commitment, he adds, is a key internal disposition of “acting,” which goes far beyond one’s knowledge or the ability to perform well. As a result, “[p]rofessional education must have at its core the concept of ongoing individual and collective learning, because the experiences of engaging, understanding, and acting must become the basis for subsequent learning and development” (Shulman, p. 39).
[…] we experience commitment as we internalize values, develop character, and become people who no longer need to be goaded to behave in ethical, moral, or publicly responsible ways. We also commit ourselves to larger groups, larger communities, larger congregations, and professions at large – and by doing so, we make a statement that we take the values and principles of that group seriously enough to make them our own. Therefore, commitment is both moving inward and connecting outward; it is the highest attainment an educated person can achieve […]. An educated person, I would argue, is someone whose commitments always leave open a window for skeptical scrutiny, for imagining how it might be otherwise. (p. 41)
Further insights offered by Shulman (2005) that additionally sustain the significance of educating teachers for commitment are those regarding the signature pedagogy framework, widely cited in literature on teacher education and applied in inclusive teacher education, in which he postulates that three fundamental aspects of any professional work are to think (habits of the head), to perform (habits of the hand), and to act with integrity (habits of the heart). As Shulman argues “these three dimensions do not receive equal attention across the professions” (p. 52) and concludes by reminding higher institution educators responsible for preparing future professionals that “the way we teach will shape how professionals behave – and in a society so dependent on the quality of its professionals, that is no small matter” (p. 59). Teacher educators, therefore, cannot afford to ignore the well-documented imbalance in teacher education programs among the three dimensions of the head, hands, and heart, since, as Hattie (2003) and Rouse (2008) assert, the success of inclusive practices depends on what teachers know, do, and care about/believe. Much as cognitive knowledge and the theoretical basis of teaching (the head, what teachers know) are fundamental to guide the technical and practical skills (the hands, what teachers do) required to teach, teachers’ attitudes underpinned by ethical and moral dimensions (the heart, what teachers believe) are a key determinant for the successful long-term implementation of inclusive practices.
Educating the “Heart”
As outlined earlier, recent reforms in teacher education programs have made significant attempts to provide novice and experienced teachers the due opportunity to apply theory in concrete school experiences. What seems to be still more challenging is how to intentionally and systematically intertwine the third dimension of the heart to the head and hands with the aim of arousing a process of critical consciousness among future and in-service teachers to be able to better understand their and the students’ world. The answer may lie in the wise old saying: practice what you preach.
In line with Shulman’s claim (2005), commitment is the internalization of values and the adoption of ethical, moral, or publicly responsible behavior that needs no reminding or stimulation. It entails becoming a member of a larger community by embracing and acknowledging the values and principles of that group. In this case, therefore, a shared understanding of the values and principles of the inclusive paradigm sets the foundations to orient the restructuring at macro-, meso-, and microlevels. Over the past three decades, literature in the field has provided an array of definitions of inclusive education, reflecting its gradual evolution from an individual-medical model to a social rights-based model. This shift was central to placing inclusion on the agenda of all policies; hence working toward a shared aim of addressing system-wide development where all stakeholders are requested to mobilize opinion, build consensus, reform legislation, and support local interventions. Furthermore, inclusion has gained its status of an indispensable process of change at policy and practice levels as well as in attitudes and beliefs that regard all students, not only those with an attested disability or specific educational need. It encompasses students from minority ethnic or linguistic groups, from economically disadvantaged homes, or who are simply frequently absent or at the risk of exclusion, irrespective of their ability, gender, language, socioeconomic status, ethnic, or cultural origin. Within this framework, all children are to be valued and treated with respect and are equally entitled to meaningful educational opportunities.
Therefore, teacher educators and higher education institutions need to ensure that they themselves and their ITE candidates are internalizing the above paradigm of welcoming and valuing all students, without any distinction. Conceptualizing inclusive education in its widest sense as “school and education for all” leads to a necessary reorganization of teacher education environments, course programs, and teaching and assessment methods as well as an introspective reflection on one’s own beliefs, attitudes, and level of commitment to advocate for inclusion. In other words, teacher educators should ponder upon the extent to which their own practice is framed within an inclusive paradigm and whether their convictions, the choice of content, and the setting create the ideal backdrop future teachers are expected to replicate in their own schools and classrooms for inclusion to take place.
Empathize with the sociocultural background of student teachers to enable them to recognize their fears and dreams in taking on the challenge of opening up their minds and hearts to offer a quality education to all their students.
Model behavior that endorses inclusion by using positive and reassuring language, building strong teacher-student relationships, working collaboratively and proactively with colleagues, and opting for teaching and assessment methods that favor participation.
Balance the use of a variety of activities, teaching material, and resources consistent with inclusive education philosophy that enables ITE candidates’ hearts, heads, and hands to work in harmony.
Reflect prior to, in, and upon practice and use teaching approaches that promote the acquisition of such reflective competence. It is through the process of reflection alongside and along with critical stakeholders such as mentor teachers, peers, and students that ITE candidates get a realistic understanding about their teaching practices.
Arouse a sense of hopefulness in all future teachers as inclusive educators are expected to do with all students by focusing on strengths and orienting them in the search of their inner resources and talents.
Create authentic opportunities in successful inclusive classrooms and communities. Change in commitment is only possible when participants get authentic opportunities to be successful in real-life classroom situations.
Encourage future teachers to work collaboratively to thoroughly analyze policies, cultures, and practices and how their beliefs and attitudes toward inclusion may be unconsciously influencing their perceptions and actions.
Thus, to be effective in promoting commitment toward inclusive approaches, teacher educators must take into account that any approach has to model and provide opportunities to experience an inclusive culture, policy, and practice. The teachers’ cultural heritage, values, religious beliefs, and social norms ought to be the starting point of a long-term reflective process, since questioning these strong determinants impacts intentions and behavior. For example, in countries where the process toward inclusive education has a long-standing history or where there is still a strong religious or philosophical influence that sets social justice as a priority for responsible citizenship, the likelihood of propagating and sustaining inclusive practices over time may be higher. On the other hand, in contexts in which separate special education is still considered a better solution and inclusion is seen as an unachievable goal, teacher educators need to take stock and find effective ways to challenge such opinions before proposing any innovative approach to differentiated learning and instruction. In this case, research on best practices in inclusive education across different contexts may substantiate arguments in favor of inclusion.
Along the same lines, even one’s sense of duty and the roles, characteristics, and qualities teachers attribute to themselves are central themes for consciousness raising. Teacher educators may use these as leverages for discussions and assignments that will stimulate an ongoing individual and collective reflective process (Ghaye 2011) throughout the course. In addition, a series of practical activities can be undertaken in the university classrooms that demonstrate to ITE students how negative attitudes toward some students with diverse abilities or characteristics could permanently affect self-concept of students and have long-lasting negative effects (e.g., see “Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Experiment” on the internet). At this point, it is important to highlight the value of creating a safe learning environment where the ITE candidates can feel completely at ease to speak their mind, express concerns, and challenge one’s own and other people’s beliefs constructively.
Having created a positive and productive setting for learning, other transformative forms of teaching and assessment that promote social interaction, equal opportunities to participation, and the emergence of talent and potential need to be consistently used, rather than simply explained theoretically (Sharma 2018). In addition to helping ITE candidates familiarize themselves with these strategies through hands-on experiences, their sense of belonging to a community of practice is strengthened and soft skills such as teamwork and leadership skills, listening skills, cooperative, and collaborative skills are gradually acquired.
Teaching practicum is a fundamental component of course programs to “educate the heart.” Positive experiences of systematic interactions among ITE candidates and students with special educational needs in regular classrooms result in formation of more positive attitudes toward inclusion as well as reduction of teachers’ concerns (Bartolo and Smyth 2009). Moreover, these experiences allow for the much-needed collaboration between university and schools to prepare the future generation of teachers through the enriching exchange of research-based and practice-based know-how and spread the word that the head, hands, and heart need to work in unison. It thus requires teacher educators to carefully identify placement sites where ITE candidates can work alongside successful inclusive educators and firsthand learn about how inclusion of all students could be achieved. As Shulman (2002) states “[p]ractice may be the crucible in which understanding is tested, or in which commitment is affirmed; it’s the pivot point, one might argue, around which most of education revolves” (p. 41).
A system-wide reform for inclusive education is necessary for its successful implementation. Legislation for inclusive education is necessary. Teacher education in skills and strategies to include all learners is necessary. The provision of resources to implement inclusion is necessary. However, if teachers are not committed, inclusion is unlikely to happen. To ensure that inclusion is effectively implemented in schools, equal attention needs to be paid to building teacher commitment toward embracing all children as to other aspects of inclusion. It may be helpful if teacher educators are highly explicit in identifying curriculum content and activities that specifically target “building teacher commitment to inclusive education” in their program. Some educators contend that commitment to inclusive education is something intrinsic to the individual. This entry has argued that commitment to inclusive education can be taught provided teacher educators themselves are committed and EMBRACE inclusive education in everything they practice and preach.
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