Drawing on ONE sociological perspective presented in the course content, discuss critically its usefulness in developing your understanding of your role as a teacher and the Irish primary education system.
The perspective of inclusion resonated with me, in particular the necessary inclusive relationships between schools, families and communities. Through this lens, I have ashamedly discovered my own deficit view and restructured this to prepare for a new responsibility as a future educator in the Irish education system.
It Takes a Village
I don’t think anyone would argue against an inclusive education for all children, however, my concerns are the interconnectedness between schools, families and communities, that I now see as an imperative feature in education.
There is ample evidence justifying the benefits for children when families and communities are intertwined in the school system (Epstein, 2018, INCLUD-ED, 2011). When all three stakeholders, school, family and communities are in partnership (SFCPs) with each other, they all yield positive outcomes, with the student remaining as the main beneficiary (Galvin, Higgins and Mahoney, 2009). These benefits range from better student performance, positive school atmosphere, trusting and open relationships, ownership of learning and a greater understanding of roles and responsibilities in these partnerships (Epstein, 2018; Galvin, Higgins and Mahoney, 2009).
This partnership aspect of education is very appealing and one I never gave full consideration to. Yosso (cited in Johnson, 2015) discusses how educators can often see these relationships through a deficit lens, blaming those not involved and taking part as ‘uninterested’ in their child’s education. This perception was ubiquitous during my school years. Luckily, I grew up with very involved parents. Despite this, I regrettably admit that I adopted the perception that my parents and many adults around me had. I unknowingly judged some of my peers in my class who were not picked up from school or were not wearing their own clothes on Colour Day because they had not brought the necessary €2 donation. How utterly ignorant I was. This is no fault to my parents or my upbringing, but it must be recognised that due to my upbringing I have seen the education system through this deficit lens; placing blame and judgement on the oppressed rather than the oppressor. A mindset exists among teachers that those parents not taking part in school life are not concerned about their children (Kroeger, cited in Bower and Griffin, 2011). I need to be aware of this mindset and ensure that my privileged upbringing bestowed on me does not influence my teacher identity.
Part of the Family
Through this perspective, I have re-established where I see my role within the families of my students. The Education Act (1998) recognises that the parent is the primary educator of the child. Traditional features of this relationship include end-of-year parent-teacher meetings, bi-annual report cards, sporadic newsletters throughout the year (Galvin, Higgins and Mahoney, 2009; Epstein et al., 2018). Bower and Griffin (2011) state that school systems often only communicate with families to tell of achievement or lack thereof and they further inform us that this is not enough. Formerly, I thought this was sufficient too.
Epstein (2018) explains that for effective SFCPs, communication in a two-way direction is paramount. Furthermore, it is imperative for educators to understand the backgrounds of their students (Epstein, 2018). Of course, this appears obvious, but beyond understanding is empathy and not just for the student but for the parents too. I am conscious of this deficit lens which exists from my upbringing, however, my role is to welcome, not exclude parents. Not only will building these relationships, through persistent, consistent and open communication, allow for the child to appreciate and value education both in school and at home, but it might help rebuild broken bridges that parents have with school (Epstein, 2018). understanding these benefits will hopefully help me be more sympathetic to those who may not have had the lucky upbringing I had. This is a new goal for me, not only to help and support my thirty students but also those thirty families, that are also in the classroom with me.
Part of the Community
Recognising the values, attitudes and difficulties within a community is imperative in order to understand the students from that community.
Epstein (2018) reports that educators are not prepared to work with community organisations, she also stresses that without these partnerships it is the student with the most to lose. There is value in the community taken an active role in education, from volunteering, utilising community resources, networking for employment options, and overall a more enriched learning environment for the students (Dodd and Konzal, 2002). Higgins (cited in Galvin, Higgins and Mahoney, 2009) is in agreement with Epstein that educators must know the employment levels, housing problems, values and issues facing a community that they work in.
The big concern of mine is the multitude of problems certain communities can face. Speaking as a white, middle-class young female, I am extremely fortunate to never have experienced some of the difficulties communities endure. The Irish education system is overloaded with teachers that look and talk like me (Ryan, 2015). Jordan (2001) made me conscious of the fact that I may unknowingly exude a particular type of expectation and judgement while teaching in a working-class community different to my own. I was fearful of stepping into a school, in a community with my innocence, attempting to form relationships and involve myself in a setting that I have not experienced. However, I hope to overcome this reservation I have about my privilege and education and rather than shy away from engaging in communities different to mine for fear of coming across arrogant and pretentious, I need to step up and participate in the dialogue.
Lodge and Lynch (2004) call out a lack of consultation between partners in the Irish education system. Downes and Gilligan (2007, p.6) highlight the reluctance in education and that ‘the dominant view is that those of us who are deemed to be educated know what is best’. I believe these sentiments exist in education but it is within my new role that I need to do better, I need to recognise my position to invite those not in the forefront of the education discourse in.
The perspective of inclusion through this lens of SFCPs is advantageous for all, and it has given me a new outlook that my duties as a teacher extend beyond the classroom; I am a teacher, a friend, a guide, a volunteer, and a member of the community.
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Bower, H.A. and Griffin, D. (2011) ‘Can the Epstein model of parental involvement work in a high-minority, high-poverty elementary school? a case study’, Professional School Counselling, 15(2), pp.77-87. [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/deref/http%3A%2F%2Fdx.doi.org%2F10.5330%2FPSC.n.2011-15.77 (Accessed: 11 November).
Downes, P. and Gilligan, A.L. (2007) Beyond educational disadvantage. Dublin: IPA.
Dodd, A.W. and Konzal, J.L. (2002) How communities build stronger schools. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Education Act 1998, No. 51, Dublin: Stationary Office.
INCLUDE-ED (2011) Include-ed strategies for inclusion and social cohesion in Europe and education. Barcelona: European Commission. [Online] Available at: https://www.comunidaddeaprendizaje.com.es/uploads/materials/13/7a62b64132b4508ba1da8cbcc2043ac6.pdf (Accessed: 09 November 2020).
Epstein, J. (2018) School, family and community partnerships, preparing educators and improving schools. 2nd edn. New York: Routledge.
Galvin, J., Higgins, A. and Mahoney, K. (2009) ‘Family, school, community, educational partnership’, Limerick: Curriculum Development Unit, Mary Immaculate College. [Online] Available at: https://www.mic.ul.ie/sites/default/files/uploads/21/Family%20School%20Community%20Report-compressed.pdf (Accessed: 08 November 2020)
Johnson, L. (2015) ‘Rethinking parental involvement: a critical review of the literature’, Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals, 3(1), pp.77-90. [Online] Available at: https://journals.uncc.edu/urbaned/article/download/354/348 (Accessed: 11 November 2020).
Jordan, E. (2001) ‘From interdependence to dependence and independence: home and school learning for traveller children’, Childhood, 8(1), pp. 57-74. [Online] https://www.researchgate.net/deref/http%3A%2F%2Fdx.doi.org%2F10.1177%2F0907568201008001004 (Accessed: 11 November 2020).
Lodge, A. and Lynch, K. (2004) Diversity at school, [Online] Available at:
http://www.ihrec.ie/download/pdf/diversity_at_school.pdf 9 (Accessed: 15 November 2020).
Ryan, A. (2015) ‘Who is in the classroom? How legislation, policy and practice impact Irish education’, Human Rights and Responsibilities Series Conference. Ennis Co. Clare, 10th December. [Online] Available at: http://idec-ireland.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/IDEC-2015-Conference-Report.pdf (Accessed: 10 November 2020).