Individual and Structural Orientations in Socially Just Teaching: Conceptualization, Implementation, and Collaborative Effort

Jun. 21, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(3), p. 197-210. May/June 2010.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This essay, drawn from theory, research, and the author’s practitioner research as a teacher educator, proposes a framework to inform teacher educators’ conceptualization and implementation of socially just teaching.

The framework suggests that building on dispositions of fairness and the belief that all children can learn, a socially just teacher will engage in professional reflection and judgment using both an individual and a structural orientation to analyze the students’ academic difficulties and determine the cause and the solution to those difficulties, realizing that both individual and structural realities affect students’ learning.

The essay then suggests how this individual and structural framework can inform the content and teaching strategies teacher educators use to instruct preservice teachers in socially just education.

Implementing and Teaching Socially Just Education With Individual and Structural Orientations

The author suggests a few teaching strategies teacher educators can use to support preservice teachers in their exploration and mastery of that goal. These strategies are drawn from the author’s own experiences in teacher education.

Implications for Teachers
The author argues that teacher educators must not underestimate the individual emotional labor required in this process, or they may fail to provide adequate support for our students (Chubbuck, 2008; Chubbuck & Zembylas, 2008).
The challenging task, then, is helping mainstream preservice teachers learn to see outside the blinders of their personal racial, cultural, or socioeconomic experience to identify how structurally imposed privilege and discrimination have affected both their and their future students’ lives.

Implications for Students
Pedagogy. The practice of socially just education with the students in the K-12 classrooms also requires both an individual and a structural orientation. The list of pedagogical practices that can offer more equitable access to learning for all students is quite long, with most of those practices rightly understood simply as good teaching that is applied to each individual student.

Curriculum. The interplay of the individual child and the child as a member of a sociocultural group also affects the curricular choices a socially just teacher makes. This has three components. Students need curricular content that is reflective of their experience. They also need access to mastery of the high-status knowledge and skills that will open academic and professional opportunities for them. And finally, they need to explore curriculum that allows them to discover their own power to deconstruct oppressive systems and to envision possible futures previously unimagined.

Outside the Classroom
Finally, the teacher’s role as an advocate and activist is one more component of teaching for social justice (Giroux, 1988; Kincheloe, 2005; McLaren, 2003). At the school level, this means active engagement in analysis, critique, and challenge of those aspects of schooling that may be reproducing inequitable learning experiences.

The key to effective social justice education, then, is collaborative approaches where each teacher acts for justice using his or her abilities while offering emotional and collegial support to others whose gifting allows them to act for justice in a different realm.

Conclusion: Collaborative Efforts

The author concludes that preservice teachers clearly need dispositions of fairness, and the belief that all children can learn. Negotiating the complex path from dispositions to socially just practice requires that our professional reflection be informed by both individual and structural analytical orientations.
In explicating the pathway connecting dispositions, professional reflection, and teacher behaviors, the framework in this essay offers a more balanced emphasis on both orientations.

Chubbuck, S. M. (2008). A novice teacher’s beliefs about socially just teaching: Dialogue of many voices. New Educator, 4(4), 309-329.

Chubbuck, S. M., & Zembylas, M. (2008). The emotional ambivalence of socially just teaching: A case study of a novice urban school teacher. American Educational Research Journal, 45(2), 274-318.

Giroux, H. A. (1988). Teachers as intellectuals: Toward a critical pedagogy of learning. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2005). Critical pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang.

McLaren, P. (2003). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Updated: Jul. 13, 2010