Core practices and culturally relevant pedagogies (2022)

The need for a consensus about the form and process of teacher education has been made for some time (Cochran-Smith, 2004, 2005; Cochran-Smith & Zeichner, 2005; Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002). Grossman, Hatnmer-ness and McDonald (2009) argued that teacher education needed a common language around core practices that would help to address common issues such as the separation of methods and foundations courses which leads to a disconnection between theoretical and practical classroom work; the need to integrate practices throughout teacher education programmes; and the need to resituate practice at the core of the teacher education curriculum. Their work builds on the scholarship developed from subject-based investigations into pedagogical content knowledge, collated from TeachingWorks and other frameworks from University of Michigan, Core Practice Consortium, Center to Support Excellence in Teaching at Stanford and University of Washington’s Ambitious

Science Teaching Project. They describe the findings of this work as comprising of high-leverage practices: research-based and effective practices that could be used frequently and widely to support novices’ understanding and progress. This body of work has been developed into a series of approaches for teacher education which could be used to support the development of core practices through representations and approximations of practice, achieved through strategies such as modelling and rehearsal (Grossman, 2018), and supported by a range of research into the practices into how those core practices can be adopted and used (Anderson & Herr, 2011; Grossman, Kazemi, Kavanagh, Franke, & Dutro, 2019; Grossman & Pupik Dean, 2019; O’Flaherty & Beal, 2018; Van Der Schaaf, Slof, Boven, & Dejong, 2019).

However, this work has been criticised in particular for the ways in which an emphasis on identifying and centring core practices may risk peripher-alising equity and justice issues (Philip et al., 2018; Souto-Manning, 2018; Souto-Manning & Stillman, 2020). Philip et al. (2018) also make the link with market-based solutions to education, and Souto-Manning (2018) illustrates that there are other ways to promote good practices for teaching that are more critical. Sleeter’s (2019) argument is compelling: whilst she notes the value of identifying cohesive practices to support new teachers in practice-based learning, she is also critical of inquiry-based approaches which assume that teachers will constantly confront situations that require judgements and decision-making. She argues that a practice-based approach assumes a power dynamic “that occurs when some actors define good teaching and others are expected to comply” (ibid., p. 1). In contrast, she argues that:

Inquiry-based approaches see learning to teach as learning to construct theory within practice, and learning to use judgment in complex and uncertain conditions. This view of teaching does not eschew learning basic practices, but rather complicates it.

Sleeter argues for a more relational approach, which:

begins with the premise that students and their families are holders of knowledge that matters in the classroom, and that a problem in the professionalization of teaching is devaluation of that knowledge, especially when students and families occupy lower positions of social status.


Sleeter’s argument aligns with approaches centred around culturally responsive, culturally relevant, culturally appropriate or culturally sensitive pedagogy for teacher education (Kumashiro, 2015; Kumashiro, Neal, & Sleeter, 2015; Ladson-Billings, 2014; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). These approaches recognise that there are different forms of knowledges and knowing, which are attributable to different cultural traditions beyond that of the powerful white elite. Awareness and inclusion of such approaches can enable all children to engage with deep learning. For many teachers, particularly those that entered the profession because of their commitment to do good and to make society better, these values align with their own personal moral positions (although Starck, Kiddle, Sinclair and Warikoo (2020) recognise that teachers’ views are no less racist than others in society). However, countries with high levels of prescription in content and pedagogy and in accountability and oversight can constrain movements towards a culturally responsive pedagogy.

Payne and Zeichner (2017) have argued that teacher preparation must include a broader range of expertise from students’ families and communities, but that this challenges the traditional hegemony of academic knowledge within university-based teacher education. They have described a “community knowledge” which is “contextualized or ecological knowledge” about children, families, educational norms and culture of a local community (Payne and Zeichner, 2017, p. 1107); elsewhere, this has been called “funds of knowledge”: what teachers can learn from communities to construct theories of teaching and to shape their engagement in the practices and activities of teaching (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). Empirical work has explored ways in which this can be incorporated into teacher education programmes (see, for example, McDonald, Bowman, & Brayko, 2013), and there is a range of research that shows that culturally responsive pedagogy can have a positive impact on achievement (Abrahams & Troike, 1972; Foster, 1997; Gay, 2010). In whatever ways these knowledges are incorporated into teacher education programmes reflects a view on how they contribute to the flow of ideas that new teachers need.

However, there have been concerns summarised by Lim, Tan, and Saito

(2019) as misconceptions and ambiguities over what culturally relevant pedagogy involves or looks like in classrooms (Gay, 2002; Young, 2010). This lack of clarity can result in difficulties related to its enactment (Foster & Peele, 1999; Seidl, 2016) particularly if it is over simplified and superficial (Kim & Pulido, 2015; Ladson-Billings, 2014), which can result in trivialised and static notions of culture (Morrison, Robbins, & Rose, 2008; Sleeter, 2012; Young, 2010). And so, there is a danger that culturally responsive pedagogy could represent culture as essentialised and fixed (Sleeter, 2012).

One of the issues facing many teacher education providers is that the majority of teacher education applicants are white, and bring little experience or knowledge of other cultural backgrounds (Barry & Lechner, 1995; Gilbert, 1995; Larke, 1990; McIntyre, 1997; Su, 1997; Valli, 1995). In addition, they may hold stereotypical beliefs about children from particular places or backgrounds, and have little awareness or understanding of discrimination, especially racism (Avery & Walker, 1993; Su, 1997). The strategies within teacher education, whilst full of good intensions, do little to address structural inequalities (Su, 1997) and may result in approaches described as colour blindness (McIntyre, 1997; Valli, 1995). In other words, there are still issues to be addressed in how knowledges are represented and incorporated into teacher education pedagogy.

Whilst there is no doubt that there is a need to diversify the groups of people who wish to become teachers, it is also paramount that teacher education programmes consider how they address issues of culturally relevant pedagogy, community knowledges and structural issues of white supremacy. These approaches may not be universal, as it is important to consider specific contexts (Alvunger & Wahlstrom, 2017), both in terms of the different people who are seeking to become teachers (Hamilton & O’Dwyer, 2018) and the ways in which practice is constructed and understood (Totterdell & Lambert, 1998), and the tensions that can be created when trying to address these issues in a highly regulated policy context (Ben-Peretz, 2001).

In all the sites I visited, equity and diversity were considered important issues for teacher education. Australia, Canada and New Zealand are all former British colonies and current members of the Commonwealth. Each has made important contributions to developing approaches to education to promote equity, particularly for Indigenous communities. Even so, the contexts of each of these nations are different, particularly around the relationship and status between European settlers and Indigenous communities, and levels of integration and exclusion, political and social power and influence. The US has its own history of colonialism and slavery and also shares a concern for equity, democracy and social justice. Education for all has a different connotation in Britain, as a former colonial power and aggressor, with a long-standing (and controversial) history of migration from around the world. London in particular is a hyper-diverse city, but with a somewhat different distribution pattern to some of the other contexts with high levels of integration (with some schools serving children who speak over 100 different languages). Recent political events, the obvious example of Brexit in the UK, and the events ofjune 2020 around the death of George Floyd and protests under the Black Lives Matter movement, have raised concerns about racism in British society, and by extension in its educational system and what knowledges are privileged within it.

In each of the countries studied there is a concern about the achievement or education gap experienced by students from different ethnic backgrounds, articulated by one of my interviewees as the shameful “brown tail” of students from marginalised groups whose assessment scores are significantly underperforming. In New Zealand, the government has funded research into how to address this issue through teacher education (Cochran-Smith et al., 2016; Grudnoff et al., 2017), resulting in a Masters-level ITE programme and the establishment of six facets of practice for equity (Grudnoff et al., 2017). It is important to note that in this project, practice was interpreted as principles of practice rather than specific teaching strategies or behaviours, and so sits in contrast with the core practice movement.

Research findings like the facets of practice for equity are valuable contributions to the field. However, there are still questions as to how teacher educators can fully integrate such pedagogical practices into all teacher education programmes, whilst still addressing dominant ideas about practice and knowledge that sustain power dominance and powerful voices. This is a quality conundrum; underpinning the core practice movement is an argument about social justice: that improving practice will benefit all students (and all student teachers). Culturally responsive pedagogy seeks to create conditions for learning that are effective for all, but particularly those that are marginalised by mainstream cultural groups. Both approaches to teacher education are affected by the overall accountability and governance structures that universities operate in, and the extent to which particular approaches and pedagogies are mandated in accreditation processes and specified ITE curriculum and privileged in assessment regimes and practices. In some countries, there is a recognition of the importance of community groups as partners in teacher education and of the contribution of community-based teacher educators (White, 2018), but not all partners equally value and promote this through their practices.

In addition, these issues are not simple; research conducted in New Zealand highlights a tension between supporting students to achieve well in terms of the mainstream parameters for academic success and achievement, alongside supporting cultural identity (Lynch & Rata, 2018). These observations raise the question as to what extent an education system can support cultural identity and community knowledges, whilst still preparing those from a minority background to be equipped to function successfully in a majority society (at least until that dominance and power gets disrupted). This can be a very challenging topic, as it gets at the heart of concerns about white supremacy and how the elite retain their power. However, this is further compounded when the conditions for teacher education curriculum and pedagogy are set externally and by powerful organisations, which limit the opportunities for alternative perspectives, and ultimately non-compliance could result in the withdrawal of the ability to provide teacher education.

As Sleeter points out, the quality conundrum here is dominated by who decides what achievement looks like, and how that affects practices. The challenge for teacher educators is how to address this quality conundrum within their programmes and how to best prepare new teachers to work in diverse settings. The rest of this chapter explores the practice of Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in this regard. Initially, New Zealand looked like the obvious case study for this theme; as a bicultural nation, many of the accountability and governance regimes are mindful of the diversity of New Zealand society and are particularly inclusive of Maori and Pasifika cultures. In addition, there has been investment in teaching for equity approaches in ITE. However, the QUT example has two distinct advantages: first, the challenge of working with rural and remote communities adds a spatial dimension to this problem, not addressed so explicitly elsewhere; and second, QUT, like most other ITE providers, is grappling with the challenge of having to meet university requirements around staffing, research and cost-cutting, an accountability system which is prescriptive in content and pedagogy (and not centred on culturally responsive approaches). In that sense, it has features of being both typical and atypical in relation to dealing with the conundrum around teacher education knowledge.

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