There are a variety of ways in which teachers engage in activism. Teachers working for social change within their classrooms and teachers who engage in advocacy and organize to influence policy, law, and society are all doing work that falls under the umbrella of teacher activism. While there are numerous catalysts, many teachers become activists when they encounter unjust educational or social structures. There are also considerable obstacles to teachers recognizing their potential power as activists. From the gendered history of teaching to the widespread conception of teaching as a solitary and not a collective enterprise, there is rarely an easy path toward activism. The importance of collective as opposed to individual social action among teachers is increasingly recognized. Many cities now have teacher activist organizations, a group of which have come together and created a national coalition of teacher activist groups. Overall, teacher activism is an underresearched and undertheorized academic area of study. Possibilities for collective action should be fully explored.
Kurt Stemhagen and Tamara Sober
Ryan Flessner and Brooke Kandel-Cisco
Teachers enact their agency when they make decisions informed by, and aligned with, their beliefs and values. A balanced view of teacher agency attends to the interaction of the agent with structural and contextual influences. Agency can be enacted individually, in relation with others with similar beliefs and contexts, and/or collectively with others who possess disparate talents and operate in other contexts. Enacted in these ways, teacher agency provides avenues for critiquing and combatting the status quo in schools, providing children from minoritized backgrounds with equitable access to educational opportunities, and collaborating with stakeholders from outside of the educational institutions. While there is great potential for teacher agency to contribute to positive changes in the profession of teaching, in educational settings, and in the broader community, there are misperceptions (e.g., agency is classroom-bound, agency is fixed and invariable, agency is always about resistance) that sometimes limit educators’ abilities to enact agency. In order to support teacher agency, teacher educators must examine their curricula, their roles and responsibilities in supporting preservice and in-service teachers’ understandings of agency, and their own willingness to act as agents of change.
Dries Vansteenkiste, Estelle Swart, Piet Van Avermaet, and Elke Struyf
Any answer to the question “What is professional development (PD) for inclusive education (IE)?” needs to be based on a deep understanding of the nature of IE. Taking fully into account its multileveled nature, encompassing inclusive practice, policy, advocacy, and philosophy, IE appears as a “glocal” phenomenon that is affected by institutions (e.g., accountability, new public management, and neoliberalism) with which it can resonate or collide, resulting in tensions within the educational field. These tensions complicate the endeavors of teachers to orient themselves and their actions because different institutions conceptualize teaching and the role of teachers differently, demanding different and sometimes conflicting things from them. Further, teachers also need to give meaning to perceived similarities, differences, and conflicts between these professionalisms and elements of their own professional identity. This results in specific concerns for teachers and imposes challenges for teachers’ agency. PD based on this understanding of IE refers to creating and exploiting spaces where the different actors involved address the complexities of, and coconstruct, a teaching profession that is inclusive. This conceptualization implies formal and informal, social and local, embedded, open-ended practices that can strengthen teacher agency. To do this, it needs to recognize the teacher as being at the center of PD. These spaces are experimental zones for the exertion of agency, incorporating transformative ideals which can involve developing a different behavior repertoire, changing the immediate professional context, or addressing contradictory institutions. As such, PD is not regarded as the prerequisite for IE, but as its consequence.
Paola Aiello and Erika Marie Pace
The Italian education system has gained prominence worldwide thanks to its pioneering history in initiating the process of mainstreaming students with disabilities, in providing educational plans tailored to students’ needs, and in the gradual broadening of the vision of inclusion as a means to guarantee quality education for all. At the same time, teacher education programs have reinvigorated their key role in preparing and supporting teachers who are inclusive of all students. Several factors over the past 50 years have been fundamental in shaping the way inclusion is perceived in the 21st century. First, the theoretical frameworks underpinning pedagogy and teaching practices have undergone a complete paradigm shift from an individualized-medical model to a biopsychosocial model, bringing about a new challenge for all stakeholders involved. Second, in line with this evolution, latest reforms and ministerial provisions in initial teacher education and continuous professional development are evidence of the change in perspective regarding the teachers’ pivotal role in promoting and facilitating inclusive practices. However, this shift has not only called for a rethinking of the teachers’ pedagogical and didactic stances. It has also entailed a reconsideration of the necessary professional competencies, understood as a complex interplay of pedagogical knowledge, values, attitudes, and skills to be able to implement effective teaching methods and strategies that favor inclusion. Thus, it has placed a heavy responsibility on teacher education institutions to ensure that current and future teachers are ready, willing, and able to face the complexity characterizing 21st-century classrooms. Italian schools have also been doing their utmost to ensure better school experiences for all their students. An array of projects, both ministerially funded and school-based schemes, have been designed and implemented to create universally functional curricula to meet all the students’ learning styles and promote inclusion. One of the most important lessons to be learned from these intricate developments and initiatives is that collaboration among all stakeholders on micro, meso, and macro levels lies at the heart of effective and sustainable inclusive education.