Student teachers’ beliefs about diversity: analysing the impact of a ‘diversity week’ during Initial Teacher Education

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January, 2021

Source: Teacher Development, 25:1, 85-100

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

‘Diversity week’ is an intensive week during which PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education) student teachers take part in activities involving speakers from different organisations, enrichment placements in schools, and with social workers, and creative filmmaking.
The research presented in the current article reports on the mixed-methods study the authors used to explore the possible changes in the beliefs and attitudes of student teachers through this week.
From the outset, they acknowledge the problematic nature of ‘a week’ of such work, and it is important to emphasise the way in which this only represented one specific and intensive period of activity, rather than the totality of attention given to the issues during the Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programme.
The researchers designed a range of multiple methods to address their research question:
In what ways, if at all, do student teachers’ understandings of diversity change through ‘diversity week’?

Methodology
In the discussion of related literature on student teachers’ experiences of diversity above, the authors noted the implications of Cox, Watts, and Horton’s (2012) study.
In particular, they highlighted the tension between their finding of no statistically significant differences between pre- and post-survey results, against the student teachers’ personal reflections that suggested subtle changes in attitude and understanding.
In response, they developed a range of data generation methods: attitude and belief survey, conducted with all student teachers before and after the week; journals by three case-study student teachers (Acquah and Commins 2013); interviews before and after the week with one of the case-study student teachers; videos created by student teachers at the end of the week; anonymous feedback after sessions (‘two stars and a wish’); and they also drew on relevant questions asked in the regular course evaluation ‘Trainee ITE survey’ that is conducted twice a year.
The whole of the PGCE secondary cohort were invited to participate in a 50-item questionnaire (n = 56).
This was administered prior to diversity week and repeated one week later.
Student teachers who attended for the whole week and those who attended only the first day were identified by codes to preserve anonymity and to allow paired responses.
The questionnaire used Likert-style responses.
The capacity to bring about change was framed in the creative process (Pope 2005) of filmmaking, producing a video on the topic of diversity.
The self-reports of understanding and confidence are limited in particular by the student teachers’ position as trainees on a programme in which they will be judged against the Teachers’ Standards: the desire to perform and be seen to perform as ‘good trainees’ may be strong (Puttick 2018).
The data the authors report are, therefore, a partial account from this specific perspective.

Data Analysis
Data analysis was undertaken thematically by a team of researchers, with individuals taking gender/race/sexuality, and also methodologically, with others analysing videos or questionnaires as a whole.
Through an iterative process, emerging findings were then shared and discussed with the aim of integrating and synthesising data across the range of sources.

Findings and Discussion
The themes of gender, sexuality and race were explored through sessions at the start of diversity week, which also included placements with social workers and visits to schools with greater cultural diversity.
The social worker placements challenged the student teachers’ thinking from a professional perspective (in particular, around the relationships between different groups of professionals) and from a personal perspective (focusing on the emotional response that many had to the situations of poverty, neglect and abuse that they encountered).
Ogay and Edelmann (2016) suggest two dangers when exploring issues around diversity: culturalisation – an essentialism that makes too much of cultural differences; and indifference – when diversity is ignored, such as becoming colour blind.
In the presentation of findings for sexuality, gender and race, there is evidence that diversity week improved student teachers’ understandings of diversity.
There are many examples of indifference being challenged, with previously hidden assumptions about diversity being opened to critique.
There is little evidence of the opposite – culturalisation – in these student teachers’ views about diversity: they do not seem to be making ‘too much’ of diversity.
In Allard and Santoro’s (2008, 201) terms, their ‘taken-for-granted assumptions’ have been ‘troubled’.
One way in which the authors’ findings make a particularly interesting contribution is by extending the conclusions reached by Cox, Watts, and Horton (2012).
They found that their three-hour intervention found no statistically significant differences in the participants’ views, yet they argue that their qualitative data show subtle shifts in participants’ views.
For each theme the authors discussed above there is a difference between the change in perceptions of those having experienced just one day against those who took part in the whole week, with more significant changes in the views of the latter group.
This difference is interesting because the rest of the week did not include any additional input or content related to the issues of gender or sexuality: only the space to reflect through filmmaking.
The act of giving space to revisit the ideas and create something (in this case, a short film) seems to have allowed these student teachers to engage more deeply to the extent that their perceptions of their understandings actually shifted.
The popular refrain ‘I’m not racist, but . . . ’ is brilliantly reversed in these student teachers’ realisation that ‘I didn’t consider myself at all prejudiced before . . . ’.
The differences between student teachers’ understandings of diversity, and the differential impacts the authors found associated with revisiting the ideas together support an argument for ongoing CPD (Continuing Professional Development) that will support teachers’ engagement with these, in some cases rapidly changing, social, moral and legal issues.
It is also important for this CPD to be available to and work closely with experienced teachers in addressing potential misconceptions, unexamined assumptions and prejudice, so that new teachers’ emerging beliefs are developed in a supportive and knowledgeable environment, rather than being undermined or dismissed.
The rapidly changing nature of some of these issues should mean that high-quality CPD for teachers is a priority, and this study offers support for models of this CPD that move beyond stand-alone, one-off courses.
Changing demographics, increasing immigration, the enhanced legal status of trans people and the continuing homogeneity in terms of socio-economic and racial background of student teachers all contribute to the urgent importance of ITE to engage with issues around diversity.
This study offers one response to these challenges, and there is strong evidence of the ‘diversity week’ being positive for these student teachers.
For some, this includes shifts in their confidence with a range of diversity issues, including race, gender and sexuality.
The sessions, combined with school visits and social worker placements, later drawn together in the creative filmmaking, are associated with the greatest changes in student teachers’ understandings of diversity.
Through each theme – gender, race, sexuality – the authors highlighted the differences between attitudinal changes in those attending only the first day against those attending the whole week.

References
Acquah, E. O., and N. L. Commins. 2013. “Pre Service Teachers Beliefs and Knowledge about Multiculturalism.” European Journal of Teacher Education 36 (4): 445–463.
Allard, A. C., and N. Santoro. 2008. “Experienced Teachers’ Perspectives on Cultural and Social Class Diversity: Which Differences Matter?” Equity & Excellence in Education 41 (2): 200–214.
Cox, B. J., C. Watts, and M. Horton. 2012. “Poverty Perceptions of Pre-Service Teachers and Social Work Candidates.” Jornal of Studies in Education 29 (3): 371–386.
Ogay, T., and D. Edelmann. 2016. “‘Taking Culture Seriously’: Implications for Intercultural Education and Training.” European Journal of Teacher Education 39 (3): 388–400.
Puttick, S. 2018. “Student Teachers’ Positionalities as Knowers in School Subject Departments.” British Educational Research Journal 44 (1): 25–42.

Updated: Jun. 23, 2021
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