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Agency in Real Time? Situating Teachers’ Efforts Toward Inclusion in the Context of Local and Enduring Struggles

by Srikala Naraian - 2014

Background: Teacher preparation for critical special education and inclusive education is premised on the ways in which dominant schooling discourses have unfairly positioned students with disabilities and their families. The hope of such teacher preparation programs is that through careful socialization into anti-oppressive discourses, teacher candidates will develop the capacity to go forth into troubled schooling systems and actively work against practices that perpetuate norms of dis/ability. Fundamental to such conceptualizations of teacher preparation is the presumption of teacher agency as a prerequisite for working toward equity in schools. Departing from conceptions of agency as a stable internal property that can be transported across contexts, I adopt a situated notion of agency to disclose teachers’ activities at the confluence of multiple schooling discourses. I deploy the framework of Holland and Lave to both unravel the local and enduring struggles that inform the discursive contexts in which efforts toward inclusion are made and disclose the cultural forms that emerge from the authoring of educators in the project of inclusion.

Research Questions:I reviewed the data generated at four different sites from 2006 to 2011 during the implementation of separate studies that I conducted to investigate inclusive practices. Those inquiries broadly examined how schooling/classroom conditions produce (in)equitable opportunities for students with disabilities. For this project, I re-examined the same data to ask the following questions: What are the particular conflicts and struggles that characterize the engagement of school practitioners seeking to implement inclusively oriented practices? Specifically, how do local discourses/conflicts within schools inform the production of specific forms of inclusive practice?

Research Design: All of the studies were ethnographically oriented and privileged a narrative exploration of participant experiences. Sources of data included participant observations and semistructured interviews. Additional data sources across sites included student work samples, school newsletters, electronic communication with participants, and informal exchanges with students and teachers in the classrooms. Each of the studies that were included in the cross-case analysis within this project was subject to separate and complete data analysis followed by a series of qualitatively written products reflecting the particular questions that guided each study. For this project, data were re-examined inductively with deliberate attention to the framework suggested by Holland and Lave.

Conclusions: Teacher education discourses that privilege a politics of polarity (inclusion vs. exclusion) may be insufficient to meet the complicated demands of enabling inclusivity in practice. I draw on the inevitable entanglement of diverse commitments within educators’ practices to suggest that inclusion as an act of deferring may be a helpful complement to those efforts. A pedagogy of deferral privileges the pragmatic negotiation with local and widely circulating discourses while upholding long-term commitments such as the disruption of norms of ability.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 6, 2014, p. 1-38
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17458, Date Accessed: 7/30/2021 10:57:28 PM

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About the Author
  • Srikala Naraian
    Teachers College Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    SRIKALA NARAIAN is an assistant professor in the Preservice Inclusive Elementary Education Program in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Situated in the disability studies tradition, her research has centered on qualitative approaches to inclusive education processes in both national and international contexts. She has worked with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project on several initiatives, including preparation of school personnel to support families of students with disabilities in New York City schools as well as a coalitional effort with the New York City Department of Education to promote the use of assistive technology in schools. She has published in many journals, including Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Teaching and Teacher Education, and Anthropology of Education Quarterly.
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