´Dealing with diversity: debating the focus of teacher education for inclusion


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:1, 95-109

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this paper was to cast a light on different views of how to prepare teacher students for work in inclusive school settings.
The aim is to gain knowledge and understanding of the organisation of initial teacher education at the University of Iceland.
The research aims to answer the two following questions:
● How are teacher students at The University of Iceland (UI) prepared to deal with diversity in inclusive practices?
● What measures can be taken to develop teacher education practices to support inclusive education in schools?

To gain a deep understanding of the situation, data were selected through document analyses, a systematic procedure for reviewing various forms of printed or electronic documents.
Documents can provide a way of tracing developments and change (Bowen 2009), as well as assist with detecting meaning, develop deeper understanding, and uncover new insights into the research problem (Merriam 2009).
The documents were chosen from various sources.
Some show the development of teacher education at the UI and gave the authors an overview of the situation.
Other documents were chosen as they discuss the matter of teacher education for inclusive education from different perspectives and gave an indication for how to continue the development of the teacher education to better prepare student teachers to teach diverse groups of learners in inclusive schools.
The analytical process of document analysing involves finding, selecting, making sense of and synthesising the data that each document contains.
Document analysis generates data that are organised into major themes and categories (Labuschagne 2003).
As the authors started their document analysis, they skimmed each document selected for the study, marking content that was related to their research question.
The next step was reading carefully together each document, taking every marking for examining, interpreting and organising the information into categories related to their questions.
The study covers the teacher education programme from one of the two universities that provides a five-year teacher education and is therefore limited in scope for the teacher education in Iceland.
The intention is to give a picture of how the School of Education at the University of Iceland develops their teacher education for preparing teacher students for inclusive practice.

Findings and discussion
It is hard to pin down how decisions at UI or the municipality level are made regarding the teacher development or who sets the criteria for what teachers need to know and be able to do to become inclusive teachers or to respond to the diversity in each classroom.
It is also difficult to find out if or how the steps to clarify what counts as evidence of inclusive practice are taken.
The questions arise if it depends on individual teacher educators or if it is built on a knowledge base of a pedagogy of inclusive education or a pedagogy of teacher education.
It looks like there are pieces here and there, but a holistic frame is missing around how to prepare teachers to work in inclusive practices where the diversity is growing and the challenges that can be met are unknown.
It is well known that special education and general education are most often organised from a different perspective and draw on different disciplinary traditions to inform their work (Cochran-Smith and Dudley-Marling 2012).
This can be evidenced in the catalogue for the initial teacher education at the University of Iceland, as the authors’ analysis shows that courses for initial teacher education build on both general and special education approaches.
The general teacher educators work from a sociocultural theory of learning, constructivist learning theory, a social justice perspective, sociology, cultural psychology, and sociolinguistics, while many of the special education educators generally ground their theoretical framework in behavioural psychology, medicine, and psychometrics.
Theories of disability studies can be seen in the course catalogue for special educators or social educators but not in the description of courses for general teachers.
The response to inclusive education in some courses is a focus on developing teacher competences in dealing and interacting with learners with specific disabilities in the classroom, while others address the pedagogical perspective of enabling teachers to design their practice to be effective for all learners.
The problem is not that inclusive education is not addressed in the teacher education program; the problem is that the teacher educators have different views on how to prepare teacher students to work in inclusive settings so there is no consensus on the emphasis in the program.
This is similar to what can be seen out in the field, different understandings bring different responses (Forlin and Chambers 2011; Cochran-Smith and Dudley-Marling 2012; Florian and Pantić 2017).
A lack of guidance or lack of access to professional development or ongoing education in connection with inclusion means that teachers in Iceland have to be continuously searching for pedagogy and approaches to meet both the demands of the curriculum and the increased learner diversity in inclusive schools.
While it is important to be open to inclusive education and have a positive attitude to diversity, it is not enough.
The conditions created for schools and teachers in the form of support, as well as a framework of competences and quality assurance need to be in place.
Teachers cannot be the only ones held responsible for inclusive practices.
The debate on how and what should be taught for inclusive practices will continue, but discussions on the matter are essential (Florian 2012).
The authors’ suggestion is that to promote more inclusive teacher education at universities, the teacher educators, the administrators and researchers need to create a space for a dialogue and collaboration between and across disciplines, as well as with teachers in the field.
This dialogue is needed to clarify what inclusive education as quality education for all learners entails in the context of teacher education.
Creating a common focus will support teacher educators to see how their courses can contribute to the preparation of teacher students in reaching and teaching diverse groups of learners within our inclusive education system (Gale, Mills, and Cross 2017).
The authors conclude that while courses offered at UI will continue to emphasise different aspects and build on different theoretical approaches (Forlin and Chambers 2011), each course should be seen as a piece in the puzzle of a complete teacher education that prepares teacher students for their role in the inclusive education system.
Thereby, enabling student teachers to build their personal theoretical framework and decide on the disciplinary stance they take and the approaches they choose.

Cochran-Smith, M., and C. Dudley-Marling. 2012. “Diversity in Teacher Education and Special Education: The Issues that Divide.” Journal of Teacher Education 63 (4): 237–244.
Florian, L. 2012. “Preparing Teachers to Work in Inclusive Classrooms: Key Lessons for the Professional Development of Teacher Educators from Scotland’s Inclusive Practice Project.” Journal of Teacher Education 63 (4): 275–285.
Florian, L., and N. Pantić. 2017. “Teacher Education for the Changing Demographics of Schooling: Policy, Practice and Research.” In Teacher Education for the Changing Demographics of Schooling: Issues for Research and Practice, edited by L. Florian and N. Pantic, 1–5. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Forlin, C., and D. Chambers. 2011. “Teacher Preparation for Inclusive Education: Increasing Knowledge but Raising Concerns.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education 39 (1): 17–32. 
Gale, T., C. Mills, and R. Cross. 2017. “Socially Inclusive Teaching: Belief, Design, Action as Pedagogic Work.” Journal of Teacher Education 68 (3): 345–356. 
Labuschagne, A. 2003. “Qualitative Research-airy Fairy or Fundamental?” The Qualitative Report 8 (1): 100–103.
Merriam, S. B. 2009. Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Updated: Nov. 01, 2020