Monday 14 August 2017

Teacher Professional Knowledge and Development for Reflective and Inclusive Practices: A Book Review

by Dr Loïse Jeannin

In this post, I want to share with you why I was so excited to read this book. It focuses on teachers’ reflective practice and inclusive pedagogies by drawing on key theories (Dewey, Schön, Brookfield) and developing practical recommendations for school teachers.

Let me first tell you why I wanted to read it. Having taught in Thailand in an international university with students coming from 92 different nationalities, I have developed a strong interest in inclusive teaching. I indeed quickly realised that my French way of teaching was not adequate to engage culturally diverse students, who—for a standard classroom of 35 students, came from 10 different countries (with a majority of Thai students). I encountered diverse learning styles, different teacher-student interaction modes, and different habits in terms of individual/group work, etc.

That’s how my doctoral journey on the professional development of university lecturers truly started. I had first to be exposed to students’ cultural diversity to be able to reflect on my ability to serve their learning needs and to finally reconsider my teaching philosophy, the course content and the assessment modalities. As I was teaching economics and management at the time, I decided to draw more often on Thai/Asian case studies and to use a larger spectrum of assignments (from individual to group assignments).
This “pedagogical culture shock” forced me to grow, and as I wanted to learn more, I decided to further my knowledge through a doctoral study on lecturers’ professional development needs in this multicultural setting.

So, I was hoping that reading this book would further my knowledge on teachers’ reflective practice and inclusive teaching. Hence, in the following, I summarise its content before sharing some critical thoughts.

1. Book Summary

The first part of the book looks at how primary and secondary school teachers can become more reflective in various contexts (South Africa, Qatar, the United States), while the second part presents strategies to develop inclusive teachers, for different ethnic groups but also for children with special learning needs. This second section also includes examples from different countries (Greece, United Arab Emirates, Hong-Kong, Malaysia).
So, the question I asked myself was: How do we connect reflective practice to inclusive pedagogical practices?

Let’s start with the theoretical backgrounds that underlie the chapters. The art of reflective practice is anchored in the works of Schön (1983) and Brookfield (1995). Teachers are expected to be reflective in (=during), on (=after), and for (=planning) practice. In fact, three kinds of assumptions can influence teachers’ interpretation of the reality: paradigmatic, prescriptive and causal assumptions. The first one is a taken-for-granted assumption about what is true, the second one concerns prescription about what should be, and the last one pertains to logical relationships that are expected between different phenomena.
Other conceptual constructs were interestingly mobilised in the book, such as reflective scepticism that supports transformative learning (Mezirow, 1990), imaginative speculation to imagine different ways of thinking and teaching, and contextual awareness when teachers acknowledge that their taken-for-granted assumptions are socially and personally constructed.

Through a critical analysis of their assumptions, teachers are encouraged to depart from a deficiency/deficit analysis of the learning abilities of their culturally diverse students (Milner, 2010) to be able to better support their learning process. Hence, the book suggests to support teachers’ reflective practices through the use of different tools, that I organized around individual and collective activities (Table 1).

Individual Reflection
Peer-Group Reflection
Journal/Blog writing
JoHari window*
Action research: experimentation-reflection-introspection
Participative action research
Formative portfolio
Observation and advice from school principals
Communities of reflective practice: face-to-face or online, with teachers, school professionals and academics working together
Table 1. Reflective activities presented in the book.
*JoHari Window: a group activity where one teacher review his/her main teaching qualities/personal attributes with the help of peers.

Then, several good practices were presented in the book to develop teachers’ inclusive pedagogy, for learners from different cultural backgrounds or for children with special learning needs/learning impairments. These pedagogical activities can be implemented in the class or outside (Table 2).

Outside the class
Differentiated instruction
Community & family engagement
Culturally responsive teaching (Ladson-Billing, 1995; Gay, 2010)
Appreciative inquiry*: Map of community assets
Table 2. Actions to develop inclusive pedagogies
*Appreciative inquiry is a method to list and praise the resources that can be mobilised to undertake changes and promote learning. 

The general argument of the book is that reflective teachers are better prepared for diverse classrooms because they learn every day by reflecting on what works and what does not, and by wondering regularly how is each of their learners doing in terms of school performance, taking into account cultural preferences and community resources for learning (see Chap. 10 & 18). But the book does not assume that some teachers are reflective by nature while others are not. It suggests strategies to support teachers on the path of reflection and inclusiveness. For example, in Chap. 11, the author recommended to combine two approaches to prepare culturally foreign teachers who start teaching in a new context. First, they advised to provide specific contextual information about students’ cultural preferences, without falling into stereotyping and over-generalisation. The author argued that culture cannot be narrowed to an unique “list of traits”, it is moving with the changes impacting societies and countries (economic changes, international flows); however, providing newcomers with some contextual information is recommended. The second approach is to encourage teachers to be open-minded and curious towards differences, to value and respect them in class. It may require adjustments in terms of student-teacher communication practices. This second approach is less context-specific but encourages teachers and students to adopt an inclusive mindset.

Finally, the role of school leaders is strongly emphasized throughout the book (see Chap. 7), as they play a crucial role in supporting teachers’ reflection and pedagogical innovation, like implementing new technologies for children with visual or hearing impairments (Chap. 13). If teachers feel supported by their school leader, through encouraging discourses and professional development programs, they will be more prone to technological innovation that supports children’s inclusion and collaboration.

2. Critical thoughts

The chapters are unequal in terms of quality, some are well-written while others are undermined by recurring typos and inadequate affirmations. The relationship between reflective and inclusive practices is not always clarified, but important questions are debated which makes this book interesting for school teachers and leaders working in culturally diverse environments. For example, Chap. 14 and 15 are excellent in showing the relationship between reflection and inclusive practices using different channels: perception changes of who are the students/ their needs/ their abilities and resources, and the development of teachers’ resilience when facing difficult teaching situations.
I found this book rich in ideas for reflective activities which can be useful for academic developers/trainers. For example, the community of reflective practice presented in Chap. 15 showed how it provided teachers with a safe space for learning and sharing, under professional guidance. As a result of these reflective meetings, teachers reported having become less critical toward parents and students considered ‘problematic’, they learned to manage their own anxieties and got a more thorough and holistic understanding of the child’s context. Hence, Chap. 15 is an interesting chapter that shows how awareness, resilience and inclusiveness are intrinsically linked. When teachers are emotionally resilient, and can reflect and collaborate on creative ideas, they can derive solutions to support students’ at risk.

Finally, as expounded in the book (Chap. 1), 21st century teachers are expected to “teach” new skills beyond the 3Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic); they must develop learners’ critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity skills to enable them to meet the challenges of fast-changing environments.

      Figure 1. Shift in learning objectives

This shift in the teaching objectives enables me to conclude this critical review. The book can truly help teachers and school leaders to get prepared for the 21st century, by adopting a reflective stance and developing inclusive teaching practices to promote social justice and children’s equality. However, these new skills (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity) must firstly be developed by teachers (under the encouragement of their school principals) before expecting them to design learning activities that will support the development of their learners’ skills.

Title: Teacher Professional Knowledge and Development for Reflective and Inclusive Practices
Book published in 2017, by Routledge
Editors: Ismail Hussein Amzat & Nena Padilla-Valdez 

About Loïse Jeannin
Loïse is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Johannesburg. Her topics of interest are inclusive education and professional development programs for university lecturers. She has taught in universities in France and Thailand and has published several research articles in peer-reviewed journals.

No comments:

Post a Comment