Teacher Staffroom Episode 30: Teaching inclusively

This podcast from Teacher is supported by LiteracyPlanet, a fun and engaging online English literacy platform. It’s packed with high qquality, curriculum-aligned educational activities for students aged 5 to 15. LiteracyPlanet has been empowering educators and students around the world for over 12 years. Get your 4-week free trial at literacyplanet.com/teacher.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Teacher Staffroom, where we catch you up on the latest evidence, insight, and action. I'm Dominique Russell.

You might be aware that our annual reader survey has just wrapped up for another year. It’s an opportunity for you to tell us what content you’d like to hear from us in the future, and this year, many of you told us you’d like more information and support on inclusive education. Inclusive education is something we’ve covered a lot this month at Teacher, so it’s a good opportunity to put that in the spotlight in this episode.

In today’s podcast I’m going to get you up to speed on these exciting stories at Teacher, and also some more of my highlights. And, like all episodes of Teacher Staffroom, I’ll be posing some questions throughout the podcast, so feel free to pause the audio as you go, gather some colleagues and discuss together how these stories might be relevant to your school context. Let's jump in.

The first story I’d like to share with you is a definite highlight for me and it’s a two-part series written by Dr Erin Leif, Dr Laura Alfrey and Dr Christine Grove from the Faculty of Education at Monash University.

Their first article in this two-part series was titled Challenges for delivering inclusive education in Australia and it discussed just that. Here’s just one snippet from their article that I found particularly interesting. They had this to say:

Despite continuing attempts to develop and sustain inclusive approaches in schools, it remains challenging. Numerous explanations have been put forth to explain why the enactment of inclusive education remains challenging in practice.

One reason is the limited focus on inclusive education within some initial teacher education or continuing professional development. As such, teachers have reported that they do not feel adequately prepared to teach inclusively because they have not had sufficient opportunities to develop necessary knowledge, skills and strategies. This is compounded by the fact that teachers have consistently reported that they lack sufficient time, resources, and support to plan and teach inclusively.

So, this point the authors highlighted here brings me to the first question I’d like to pose with you for this episode. As a school leader, reflect on the professional development opportunities coming up for your staff. Is inclusive education covered? When was the last time you identified any areas of improvement for the knowledge, skills and strategies associated with inclusive education? In what other ways could you support your staff to teach inclusively?

So, in their second article, Erin, Laura and Christine looked into how teachers can integrate the Universal Design for Learning framework and High Impact Teaching Strategies in a complementary way in the classroom in order to teach more inclusively. The article is filled with five different tips on how to integrate the two frameworks in the classroom. If it’s something you’re interested in reading, I’ll leave the link to the full article in the transcript of this podcast, which you can find under the podcast tab at our website, teachermagazine.com.

So moving on now, I’d like to share with you a recent podcast highlight on a really interesting topic. Our editor, Jo Earp, recently caught up with Bernadette Hawker, Head of Department Teaching and Learning at Goondiwindi State High School in Queensland. She joined us to discuss the school’s award-winning STEAM program which has been really successful at improving student writing outcomes. A big part of the program’s success was the use of Professional Learning Communities (or PLCs).

So, of course, you can tune into the full podcast episode to get all the details about the STEAM program and the success they’ve seen in writing, but the point I’d like to highlight with you in this episode now is to reflect on is where Bernadette is talking about the key things they have learned throughout this school improvement process. Here’s Bernadette expanding on that:

I think also that idea of having a very sharp and narrow focus, because otherwise it’s just overwhelming – so that would be something that’s key. But also knowing what your next steps for learning are, not only for the students but also for us as the teachers so that we are always sort of forearmed, I guess, in terms of progressing students’ skills.

I think the power of PLCs has been amazing – that collaboration and that shared work has just … I can’t talk enough about the culture in our school and the staff and the way they have embraced it and the way they have supported everything that we’ve tried to do to make our kids perform as well as they can possibly perform.

So here’s something to think about after listening to that clip. Bernadette Hawker says having a very sharp and narrow focus and knowing what your next steps for learning are – for the teachers and the students – has been a key to the program’s success. Thinking about an improvement initiative in your school, would you say this is the case?

Now, I’d also like to take the time to share with you some really interesting pieces on mathematics we’ve recently published. The first is a study from researchers in the United States which looked at parents’ confidence in supporting the learning of their preschool children, particularly in maths and literacy.

It was a small-scale study that found parents prioritise reading development over mathematics at home; that they lack confidence in fostering mathematics skills with their children; and that they want more information on their child’s progress and fun activities to support home learning. Specifically, the study’s data show that 65 per cent of participants reported that their children engage in reading activities each day of the week, and just 22 per cent said the same for mathematics activities. As well as this, around 30 minutes was spent with children on reading activities at home compared to just under 17 minutes with mathematics. This is what the authors had to say about their findings:

Although parents may think that reading is more important than mathematics, the difference in children’s reported engagement in such activities may come from parents lacking confidence in how to foster their children’s mathematics skills … This demonstrates a critical need for teachers to communicate activities and ideas for parents to support learning in the home. If we hope to support the important relationship between the school and home for learning, these considerations need to be addressed.

It’s a really interesting finding, isn’t it? So, if you’re an early years’ educator, think about these points. How often do you speak to parents and carers about how they’re supporting their child’s learning at home? Do they feel confident in assisting their children with home learning tasks? Is this the same for reading and mathematics? Would they like more resources or activity ideas?

So, staying on mathematics for the moment, you might have seen an article from Dave Tout from ACER. He wrote with two co-authors and their article is titled Supporting critical numeracy and maths skills in teaching and learning and in it, they discuss numeracy and its relationship with mathematics, and the importance of real-world contexts. They also share a problem-solving cycle to help students develop their skills and a classroom example of health numeracy, using trampolining as a focus for mathematical investigation.

Again, I’ll leave the link to the full article in the transcript of this podcast, but on the topic of real-world contexts and problem-solving in maths, here’s a couple questions to reflect on with a colleague. Consider a problem-based task you’ve used in one of your own lessons. Was this problem a real, relatable and relevant one for your students, their context and experiences? Could you design a new task for upcoming lessons or topic areas that meets these requirements?

And finally, circling back to our overarching theme for this episode of inclusive education. I’d like to highlight a really important and insightful article we’ve published on Teacher on the topic of racial discrimination. In particular, this article looked at how frequently young people from ethnic minority backgrounds in Australia are experiencing racism and racial discrimination at school.

We spoke with Professor Naomi Priest, who was the lead author of a rapid evidence review into this topic. She shared with us that 50 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged between 10- and 15-years-old reported direct experiences of racial discrimination. At school, 43 per cent experienced this from peers and 21 per cent from teachers.

In the article, I asked Naomi what some good first steps are for school communities who are wanting to address racial discrimination in their school. This is what she had to say:

Recognising that racism is a critical issue in the lives of children and young people is a fantastic first step. Next it’s important to reflect, learn and plan carefully next steps. Read reports like this one, access some training and development, learn from local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders and community groups and local community cultural groups about what they see as priorities in your local community and school, talk to experts in the area for ideas of training and resources and make a plan that is based on good evidence and on strong relationships with local communities and organisations.

So, that point there brings me to one final question to reflect on for this episode. As a school leader, how frequently do you give staff the opportunity to access professional development on the topic of anti-racism? Did this professional development involve members of your local community? How could you improve how you address racism and racial discrimination as a school?

That's all for this episode, and you're now all caught up on the latest evidence, insight and action. Links to all the content and resources I’ve mentioned will be in the transcript of this podcast available over at our website, teachermagazine.com.

You’ve been listening to a podcast from Teacher, supported by LiteracyPlanet. Remember to claim your 4 weeks of free access to LiteracyPlanet by heading to literacyplanet.com/teacher. Join thousands of teachers around the world and unlock your students’ potential with hundreds of curriculum-aligned activities for primary and secondary students.