Preparing for Inclusive Teaching: Meeting the Challenges of Teacher Education Reform
reviewed by Sharon Shelton-Colangelo - 2006
Title: Preparing for Inclusive Teaching: Meeting the Challenges of Teacher Education Reform
Author(s): Elizabeth Bondy and Dorene D. Ross (Editors)
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791463583, Pages: 319, Year: 2005
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Can a constructivist child-centered teacher education reform effort that brings together general education and special education in one program carry out successful cross-disciplinary collaboration? This was the underlying challenge faced by a courageous, innovative group of teacher educators at the University of Florida, who in Preparing for Inclusive Teaching: Meeting the Challenges of Teacher Education Reform meticulously detail and document their four-year effort to create an inclusive program. As a model of an in-depth, reflective self-study alone, the book serves as an important resource for teachers at all levels. However, it also proves invaluable for anyone interested in educational reform and inclusion, especially faculty and administrators in departments of teacher education considering implementing similar restructuring.
The effort to unify the Proteach education program at the University of Florida, a five-year, inquiry-based curriculum, arose against the backdrop of the ongoing critiques of special education since the passage of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Childrens Act, renamed in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These acts as well as a 1986 call by then-Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education Madeline Will for inclusion have led increasing numbers of public schools to move toward including students with disabilities in general public school classrooms (Colling, Fishbaugh, and Hermanson, 2003). Because this meant that more general educators needed to be prepared to teach diverse populations, including students with disabilities, or cooperatively teach with special educators, some innovative teacher education programs such as Proteach have begun to create inclusive departments offering dual certification. The University of Florida effort began in 1995 with a faculty committee charged with restructuring Proteach. The committee organized cooperative teams made up of special and general educators to plan the joint curriculum and actual classroom teaching. The unified program was launched in 1999 after much hard work and some setbacks.
The chapters of Preparing for Inclusive Teaching constitute a thorough analytical study of the reform effort with a wealth of lessons for teacher education programs seeking to restructure. Chapters include a critical exploration of teacher education reform efforts in the U.S.; barriers to restructuring; the history of reform at the University of Florida; the nature of the Proteach program; the process that led to the unified program; the creation of unified multiple field experiences; the work of curricular planning teams; perspectives from general and special education faculty; the effort to collaborate; an interview study of instructors, students, and cooperating teachers involved in the field experience; the role of counselors; an interview study with Proteach students on their feelings about the experience; performance assessment; ongoing assessments of student outcomes in courses and fieldwork; the electronic portfolio; reflections by special education, general teacher education, and public school teachers; and analyses by several expert external observers.
Responding to the first four chapters that deal with the history of reform efforts in the U.S. and at the University of Florida, external observer Marleen Pugach lauds the ambitious efforts of the planning committee. She writes:
Chapters such as these are extremely helpful to teacher educators who are involved inand wish to move in the direction ofthe radical reconceptualization of teacher education precisely because they provide a clear picture of what the new programs look like and how they function, but also how faculty and administrators in higher education actually go about the business of systemic reform in relationship to the organizational structure of their particular institution of higher learning. (pp. 115-116)
Among the lessons drawn from the program descriptions in this first section of the book by Pugach are the importance of adequate resources, the need for a more extensive partnership with local schools, and an understanding that change takes time.
Participants reflections on the collaboration are both rich and revealing. Chapter 8, entitled Communication and Conflict on Three Teaching Teams by Mary T. Brownell, James McLeskey, Patricia Ashton, David Hoppey, and Rhonda Nowack, is one of the chapters that examines the pedagogical differences that arose between the special education and general education faculty, constituting one of the key issues encountered in unifying the Proteach program. The authors report on the collaboration effort by three teams to plan the courses of the new program, observing that while the general education faculty on these teams followed a constructivist approach, the special education faculty tended to subscribe to behaviorism (pp. 138-140). This difference of opinion caused conflicts within the teams. Some of the resistance to collaboration on the part of team members took the form of appeals to professional autonomy, though this resistance was not always openly discussed. Eventually in fact, two of the three teams ended up scaling back their collaboration with some special education faculty opting out of the planning process.
While the differences between the special education faculty and their general education counterparts constitute only a part of the story of reform at the University of Florida, this review will focus on the issue of cross-curricular collaboration, because of the important implications it has both for inclusive classrooms in the schools and for teacher education programs seeking to prepare committed, effective reflective practitioners for those classrooms. Though collaboration is a difficult task in most work settings in the U.S., it is especially hard in schools and universities where teachers too often work in isolation from one another behind closed classroom doors. Nevertheless, teacher education programs that can provide prospective teachers with strong models of collaboration can exert a much more powerful influence on future practice in the schools than their words alone can achieve.
In her discussion of this key issue, external observer Renee Tipton Clift, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reminds readers that collaboration is not a neutral process and suggests that an institution that seeks to encourage collaborative activities would be well advised to create structures and supports that can assist participants through periods of conflict (p. 202). Clift further notes that it is important to remember to work through conflicts in ways that are safe for all participants. Most teacher educators who try to promote collaboration such as small group work in their classrooms set up ways to insure that everyone is heard, provide opportunities for reflection, and explicitly communicate guidelines for handling disagreements. Anticipating conflicts based on differences in pedagogy can lead to conscious thought being given in planning stages about how to make it possible for divergent voices to be heard and differences of opinions negotiated. It is one of the great strengths of this book that it includes this and other suggestions about how the University of Florida experience could have been improved.
Another external observer, Alan R. Tom, an education professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gives extensive feedback about how to deal with the problems faced by the planning teams, problems he describes as broader than simple disagreements over teaching philosophy. Tom notes that at the root of conflict is the organization of university departments and programs on the basis of specialized knowledge resulting in distinct collective identities instead of shared identities. Among his suggestions for improvement are that faculty could make better progress in smaller groups, the negative effects of specialization should be openly discussed, a broader faculty identity should be promoted, more time could be spent in developing the unified program, and that all people involved should question taken-for-granted assumptions about teaching and learning to devise new structures (p. 268).
A third external observer, Linda Blanton, Dean of the College of Education at Florida International University, echoes many of Clifts and Toms concerns, calling for in-depth discussion of learning theory to be included in any reform effort and recommending that special educators view themselves as teaching and learning researchers, collaborate with general educators in research, and use multiple research paradigms (p. 254).
The conflict over philosophy within the Proteach planning teams is consistent with the experience of others working toward inclusive teaching at both the university and school levels. For example, McGinnis (2002) researched the views of undergraduate prospective teachers at the University of Maryland toward inclusive science education and found a similar tension between the pedagogical orientation of the general education and special education students in classes he co-taught with a special educator colleague. According to McGinnis:
A tension that emerged in the general education course between the merits of a cognitive/constructivist pedagogical perspective (favored by me and almost all of the general education majors) and behaviorism (favored by my special education co-teacher and all the special education majors) surprised me. (p. 16)
While the same pedagogical tensions arose, in this case McGinnis found that differences led to debate and student reflection on the issues. Nevertheless, he says that he expected that the difference in philosophy would have a profound impact on a collaborative model of teaching practice in inclusive science classrooms (p. 16).
An example of a more successful relationship between special and general educators is provided by Salend and Johansen (1997). The two authors describe the work of a general and special educator teaching cooperatively in a kindergarten classroom. At first, these teachers expressed discomfort concerning issues of classroom ownership and space as well as role delineations, teaching styles, and philosophical differences (p. 7). Yet, this team was able to turn the situation into one of discovery and mutual growth by confronting their differences in a supportive, caring way. According to Salend and Johansen:
Whereas they tended not to address their differences and apprehensions directly in the beginning, the teachers later began to confront and discuss them. Thus, rather than adding to the tension and apprehension that initially existed in the relationship, the teachers were increasingly able to view their diverse perspectives as adding to the richness of their relationship. (p. 9)
One of the examples of successful negotiation provided repeatedly by the participants in this study involved a conflict over a skills-versus-whole language approach in reading instruction. As a result of ongoing discussion and actually negotiating decisions about what to do in the classroom, the special educator who had stressed teaching for skills acquisition wrote in her journal that she changed her views when she unexpectedly realized the effectiveness of whole language teaching:
Surprise! Surprise! Most of the children know the sound/symbol relationships necessary for reading. There are a group of children that are at the beginning stages of reading. I must admit that whole language allows each child to develop at his or her own pace while doing many of the same activities (p. 9).
This teacher reflected at the end of the year that she had benefited greatly from watching the results of whole language teaching and added, I dont think teachers know how enjoyable teaching (can be) when you share it (p. 9).
The authors conclude that cooperative teaching can cause people of differing philosophies to learn from one another, take risks together, and even lead to pedagogical change. They also point out that teacher education departments might do well to explicitly prepare their general and special education students to be a part of a cooperative teaching team (p. 12).
There are many lessons over a wide range of educational reform issues to be found in Preparing for Inclusive Teaching: Meeting the Challenges of Teacher Education Reform. It is a tribute to the scholarship and dedication of the authors of the chapters in this book that such a clear and honest picture is painted of the restructuring effort at the University of Florida. Yet, finding a structural way to bridge the differences in philosophy between special education and general education, to promote cross-disciplinary encounters, and to create a group identity remain key imperatives for all educators interested in reform.
Though there are no quick fixes to teacher transformation, which as Pugach says takes time and patience, Parker Palmer (1998) gets to the heart of the matter when he observes that behind the efforts by faculty to hide behind their academic specialties to avoid a live encounter with one another, is a fear of diversity itself and a fear of the conflict that might ensue when diverse opinions collide (pp. 37-38). He explains:
Because academic culture knows only one form of conflict, the win-lose form called competition, we fear the live encounter as a contest from which one party emerges victorious while the other leaves defeated and ashamed. To evade public engagement over our dangerous differences, we privatize them, only to find them growing larger and more divisive (pp. 38).
Palmer calls for good talk about good teaching (pp. 144) among communities of colleagues, but warns that teachers need to focus on fundamental pedagogical issues, establish ground rules that prevent both the refusal to confront differences and the acceptance of discussion as a win-lose competition, and to have facilitators to help faculty bridge differences, learn, and grow.
Teacher education departments interested in restructuring would do well to learn from the experience at the University of Florida, Parkers reflections, and the excellent suggestions by the external observers in the chapters in this book. Cooperative teaching by general and special educators in university education classes, an open-door classroom policy, and/or in-depth university faculty development workshops are just a few of the structural changes that could be made in education programs to ensure that collaboration between special and general teacher education faculty is deep-going and effective. Actually negotiating and working out differences with a co-teacher on a regular basis not only might make all education faculty more sensitive to their students future challenges, but would also allow them to experience and even model the cooperative teaching that they propose for their students and for teachers in the schools. At the very least, opening classroom doors to other faculty or planning faculty development sessions over vital issues of teaching and learning could help break down teacher isolation that stymies communication. Such measures might lay the basis for discarding the specialized identities that the external observers discuss in this highly informative book and consequently lead to real and deep personal and programmatic transformation.
Colling, K., Fishbaugh, M. and Hermanson, M. (2003). The Montana training for inclusive education (TIE) final evaluation. Report submitted at the Annual Conference of the American Council on Rural Special Education, Salt Lake City, UT.
McGinnis, J. (2002). Preparing prospective teachers to teach students with developmental delays in science: a moral perspective. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans.
Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Salend, S. and Johansen, M. (1997). Cooperative teaching. Remedial & Special Education, 18(1), 3-12.