The challenge of shaping socially responsible teachers

Carmen Mohamedpost by CARMEN MOHAMED
Assistant Professor, Primary and Early Years’ Education, The University of Nottingham

If, as a community of social justice advocates, we recognise that all is not well in education can those of us engaged in training teachers create new ways of working together to act upon solutions? Many of us are engaged in research activity which is deconstructing how inequalities are perpetuated through policy and practice in schools in the UK, however, research can be a lonely and isolating business and it is only through reading published books and articles that we are able to build on each other’s ideas.

Attending conferences and SIGs (special interest groups) allows us to hear about the work other researchers are engaged in, but it is difficult to find time to really discuss the implications of the research presented for our own work. In 2002 Villegas and Lucas challenged teacher educators to examine their programmes and practices, in 2009 Bhopal, Harris & Rhamie called for a review into how ITT programmes address issues of ‘race’, diversity and inclusion with a view to disseminating practice and in 2011 this was repeated through a research report by Hick et al. who interviewed lecturers involved in teacher education in the UK to find out how they were dealing with race equality issues. These are significant documents in the researching of our own practice but it is difficult to determine the impact on the field of ITT and as these repeated calls suggest effective practice has yet to be disseminated.

In a personal attempt to review my own practice on a primary PGCE programme I read decades of research in the field from across the globe, highlighting the fact that there are (and have long since been) many researchers grappling with finding the solution to the challenge of shaping socially just trainee teachers. The programme had been developed around a strong set of socially just principles and included key elements of best ITT practice such as reflection on professional development. Two key factors prevented the focus on the shaping of socially just teachers, surprisingly, not Ofsted data or privileged trainees with a belief in meritocracy, but rather a disjointed programme and an over reliance on individual lecturers to promote the ideals. I am not the first to point this out, my work builds on that of researchers such as Kea (2006).

Most importantly in this context I was heavily influenced by the work of Smith & Lander (2012), Smith (2013) and Glenny, Menter and Todd (2013). This was research that I had first come across through BERA and I was able to build on their thinking through my own work. This was not a two way discussion unfortunately, although that seems to me to be the nature of working in HE.

My findings attributed significance to the impact of reflection in professional development. Hughes (2009:75) identified a transition from responding self-indulgently to responding self-critically stating that the process of ‘becoming self-reflective takes practice, encouragement and time’. Due to time constraints the development of reflective competence and the importance it plays in nurturing advocacy was not a feature of my own strand. What transpired as a significant contribution to the current discussions, about promoting social justice in education, was that there are three important factors influencing a trainee teacher’s capacity to develop as a socially responsible teacher; (1) reflective capacity, (2) awareness of the lived experience of disadvantage and discrimination and (3) a capacity to build advocacy into classroom efficacy. Each one is equally important and each factor can be identified in trainees and developed as part of any socially just teacher training process.

The capacity to consider the lived experience of disadvantage or discrimination for pupils is an essential starting point; critically reflecting on and analysing alternative interpretations of situations or events should be promoted and encouraged; guidance to develop competence in elaborating or contemplating on experiences through reflective practice; and motivation driven by a sense of responsibility can lead to an integration of advocacy and efficacy in the classroom. In my study sample it was shown that self-focused participants reflected on efficacy without advocacy, whilst advocacy without an integrated focus on efficacy led to a gulf between sympathy and the active countering of deficit models of pupils. Those participants who displayed a capacity to elaborate on or contemplate the impact of their learning were able to integrate their sense of advocacy into their desire for classroom efficacy and develop socially responsible teaching practice.

My research is currently under review for publication but in the meantime I am keen to continue a conversation to creatively build solutions from similar research in the field.



Bhopal. K, Harris. R, & Rhamie. J, (2009) ‘The teaching of ‘race’, diversity and inclusion on PGCE courses: a case study analysis of University of Southampton’, TTRB Report for Multiverse.

Glenny, G., Menter, I. & Todd, L. (2013) How should teacher education take account of poverty? Symposium on Poverty and Teacher Education, British Educational Research Association, 2013

Hick, P., Arshad, R., Mitchell, L., Watt, D. and Roberts, L. (2011) Promoting Cohesion, Challenging Expectations; Educating the teachers of tomorrow for race equality and diversity in 21st century schools, Manchester Metropolitan University Research Report.

Kea, C., Campbell-Whateley, G.D., Richards, H.V. (2006) Becoming Culturally responsive Educators: Rethinking Teacher Education Pedagogy, Arizona: National Center for Culturally Responsive Education Systems.

Smith, H.J. & Lander, V. (2012) ‘Collusion or collision: effects of teacher ethnicity in the teaching of critical whiteness’, Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(3), 331-351.

Smith, H. J. (2013) ‘Teaching Education Emotional responses to documentary viewing and the potential for transformative teaching’, Teaching Education, DOI: 10.1080/10476210.2012.762351

Villegas, A.M. & Lucas, T. (2002) Educating Culturally Responsive Teachers: A Coherent Approach, Albany: State University of New York Press.