I love living in the same community where I spent most of my classroom teaching years. As a beginning teacher arriving in the community some 29 years ago, I grew professionally over the nine years I taught there. Later I became as a Deputy Principal in another local school and later still moved away (professionally) to take on other leadership roles. But my heart and home is still in this community. It still gives me much pleasure to turn around the corner at the local shops and come face to face with a student I once taught or one of their parents. (This was not always the case back in the day when parents needed to discuss why their child had been suspended from school while we were in the meat aisle of the supermarket). Recently, I ran into as now 30 something past student, Bob (not his real name). I taught him when he was about 9-12 years old. Last century I taught multi-age classes and taught the same group of kids for a three year cycle. We had heaps of time to develop strong learning relationships and we shared whats now called “high expectations”.
“It’s like you knew what we needed”
As with almost all of the students I taught in that decade, I remember Bob well. His kids had now started school and even though he was happy with the teachers his children had he said referring to me, “It’s like you knew what we needed”. From what he continued to say, I think he meant that what they learned, how they learned and who they learned with prepared them for their future. I have tried to define this “knowing what students needed” over the years and now believe it is HOPE. Having hope that a young person has a future makes all the difference to how teachers plan and implement their teaching. I have always had a keen interest in the concept of hope and I have researched what it means within an inclusive education context.
Pedagogy of hope
Thanks to the writing of wonderful academics and researchers such as Kitty Te Riele ,I learned about a “pedagogy of hope”. Basically it means that a teacher can see a future for a student and demonstrate this hope in their practice.
“Making Schools Different” (te Riele, 2009) among other great chapters, contains a chapter about “Pedagogy of hope”. te Riele describes four specific resources that contribute to the pedagogy of hope –
- a positive culture of learning;
- focusing on possibility;
- establishing a community of hope; and
- critical reflection.
(te Riele, 2009, p. 67)
The above resources align well to the concept of inclusive education and I highly recommend this book as an addition to a teacher’s professional library. I think it helps us move beyond just having “high expectations” and instead reflecting these expectations in our practice!
Another inspiring resource for me has been Terry Eagleton’s, “Hope Without Optimism” (2015).
Eagleton (2015) explains the ‘history’ of hope in literature, culture and religion. The difference between hope and optimism struck a chord with me. I’ve always been told by colleagues that I look at kids through rose coloured glasses and that I was too optimistic. In his book, Eagleton’s discusses the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is described as a temperament of someone who wants to see the best outcome regardless of the realities or what has to happen to ensure that outcome (p. 1). Hope on the other hand is a virtue that requires “…strenuous commitment” and is “…underpinned by strong reason” (p. 3). I demonstrated commitment to the future of my students by planning teaching and learning that attempted to meet the needs of the future I imagined they had. For a start, I believed they had a future. Some of my colleagues did not and back in the day could not see why I put so much effort into the kid that had been given up on and was considered “lazy”, “useless”, and or “just plain bad”. Rather than looking though rose coloured glasses, I think I was hopeful and as Eagleton (2015) states “…revolutionary, transforming the present” (p.54). My colleagues and I differentiated before it was even “a thing”. We planned based on need and aligned it to the curriculum and assessment. Student interests were harnessed and resources appropriately allocated to enhance their strengths and support any learning difficulties.
Pedagogy of hope in higher education
Fast forward to the next century! I am privileged to be working in teacher education and realise that I still have hope in the future of our pre-service teachers. Planning and teaching and assessing achievement for new units in inclusive education reflected this hope when I aligned theory and practice. By monitoring the effectiveness and impact of my teaching and adjusting it, I was still able to “forward-think” and “forward-move” (Eagleton, 2015, p. 54). Though in this context my students were explicitly told what I was doing and why. I believe that teachers too need some theory to “hang their hats on” and use this theory to reflect on their choices when planning teaching, learning and assessment. Obviously, in my area of teaching it was theory of inclusive education. I taught the pre-service teachers (and post grad) the manner in which I hoped they would teach in their future classrooms. And we explicitly reviewed the strategies I used and discussed their evidence based appropriateness for the range of students they will teach in the future. Though it’s ownership is now questioned, I still like to think I was following Ghandi’s advice to –
To go beyond “high expectations”, I enacted these expectations in my teaching and learning as described by te Riele’s discussion of pedagogy of hope (2009). Modelling the way in which hope can be a theoretical framework to “hang your hat on” can assist teachers to judge their practice by. I chose to teach the content Universal Design for Learning (UDL) through UDL methods (Rose & Meyer, 2001) as it aligned with theories of inclusive education. I have blogged about how I used this conceptual framework and its outcomes.
Imagination for inclusion
I was thrilled to contribute to Dr Derek Bland’s (2016) edited volume, “Imagination for Inclusion”. My son and I wrote a chapter and named it “Letters of Gratitude: A pedagogy of hope for teachers of young people with disabilities”, (Duke, 2016). In this chapter, we offer the findings of a narrative inquiry project that explored hope through my reflections as a mother about how my son’s education was enhanced by “…his hopeful teachers” (2016, p. 43) some 20 years ago. One of the results of the inquiry was letters written by me to two of my son’s teachers who demonstrated their hope in his future. Using these letters in my pre-service teacher inclusive education units opened up discussion about what could be considered elements of “pedagogy of hope” (te Riele, 2009). We analysed the letters and looked for resources that were evidence of hope in the reflections. A section of the unsent letter from me below reflects how one teacher used their creative imagination and located strengths in my son (2016, p. 48-49).
So strong was the hope the teacher described above had in my son, he now describes himself as an “artist with autism” when you ask him what “does he do?”.
The manner in which universities prepare pre-service teachers for the diverse range of learners they will teach has been criticised in the past (Forlin & Chambers, 2011; Shaddock, 2005) and is continuing with the recent release of PISA, TIMMS, and NAPLAN results. Some criticisms include lack of influence by academics to attitudinal and pedagogical change of pre-service teachers (Shaddock, 2005) and modelling of best practice. In addition to this, the publication of The Grattan Report (Norton, 2012), mapped Australian higher education, and reignited the academic discussion about the research versus teaching debate. The Grattan Report highlighted that Australian academics have the fourth lowest preference for teaching compared to other countries and that the “engagement between academics and students remains below levels achieved in other countries” (Norton, 2012, p. 2). This reduced engagement is reported to be a result of ineffective teaching in university classrooms. Engagement is related to hope. Findings from my research in the use of UDL has shown pre-service teachers were engaged in critical reflection, becoming part of a vibrant learning community within the unit, focusing on possibility in the language we use to describe children, and creating a positive learning culture (te Riele, 2009). The pre-service teachers provided useful feedback in the systemic collection of data about my teaching that verified to me I had enacted a “pedagogy of hope” in my units. Below are the types of comment indicative of student opinion.
So in conclusion –
- having hope for a positive future for our students requires commitment and action through the way we chose content, teach it and assess it. It doesn’t mean we are wearing rose coloured glasses. We are “…revolutionary, transforming the present” (Eagleton, 2015, p. 54) when we enact hope.
- Its about hard but worthwhile work to determine the best approaches to teaching and learning. By acknowledging our student’s future we employ evidence based methods that skill our learners and provide them with the knowledge they need to move into the future. Its NOT about ignoring content and knowledge and focusing only on skills; its about encouraging engagement and motivation in our students to learn an apply their learning.
- It means we have a strengths based attitude to diversity and communicate this in the way we speak about and to young people.
Along with parents as partners, if we don’t demonstrate hope in our student’s future and model it to them, who or what will?