This book is for any reader who wishes to learn more about the rich tapestry of learners and individuals who make our world such an interesting and diversely textured community. Although our focus is largely on diversity and inclusion in Australian educational contexts we believe that the perspectives and insights presented within each chapter have much to offer the broader community as a whole.
Each of the authors provide unique insights into a diverse range of learners, from Chapter 2 that considers different childhoods through to Chapter 8, in which eyes are opened into experiences of visual impairment and Chapter 9 with its eye opening look at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in education. Each authors’ lived experiences of diversity underpin the perspectives presented. Every chapter is designed to not only provide information, but to stimulate reflection and present opportunities to demonstrate knowledge transfer into personal contexts. By opening eyes onto diversity we also challenge every reader to consider what it means to be inclusive of diverse individuals, both within educational contexts and beyond.
As with many countries across the world, Australia has a long history of colonisation and immigration. Many might automatically consider diversity within Australian society as being about culture, race and religion, at least as their initial response to this powerful and exciting word. Diversity is much more than this. However you might define diversity, and certainly many definitions abound, it is diversity in the world around us that excites, challenges and rewards us in so many ways… but only when we open our eyes to the inherent complexities and beauty associated with diversity. There would be few individuals who lack awareness of people with physical attributes different from their own, whether these be related to race, birth characteristics, sexual characteristics, age, diagnosed [dis]ability, injury and the like. What may be more difficult to ascertain are differences related to sexual orientation, gender, mental health, autism, socioeconomic status, family structure…and the list goes on. Underpinning all of these are also personality differences, religious differences, learning preferences, health issues and psychological attributes. So much diversity, yet so much that remains unseen, resulting in individuals who feel invisible and believe that those around them are blinded to their needs.
The act of trying to list the types of differences that contribute to what the word ‘diversity’ seeks to express is inherently an ‘exclusionary’ process because invariably there will be a form of difference that is not mentioned and which may have personal importance and significance to an individual. For example geographical location can affect any and all of the above, as can levels of adversity, historical or circumstantial, which may have impacted an individual, a family, a community, a country or a people.
Whilst acknowledging the power of words to both include and exclude, the authors of this book are highly conscious of establishing from the very beginning, a willingness to ‘have-a-go’ regarding talking about issues that many find difficult to talk about because they are fearful of offending an individual or group of people without intending to do so. We have taken care to try and use terminology that will not offend others, but we acknowledge that even as we write we might inadvertently use words that might be considered offensive by some even though these same words are accepted by others as being respectful.
Ultimately, we believe that by talking about diversity we open avenues for sharing and knowledge acquisition that are essential in the fight to learn about, and to value diversity as a strength in our schools and our communities. If what we share challenges your understandings, triggers discussion or prompts debate, including the rightness or wrongness of what we say, then this book has achieved its purpose.
Hand in hand with any discussion about diversity goes the concept of inclusion and what that looks likes, sounds like and feel likes. In educational contexts many would accept that as Norwich (2013) suggests inclusivity is a principle whereby a general system is adapted to the diversity of learners. Norwich (2013), along with Allen and Slee (2008) see a weakness in current understandings of diversity and applications of inclusion as being bounded by politics and policy instead of emancipatory action based on sound theory and practice. We don’t believe that adaption is what is needed, rather it is a mindset of acceptance and planning for all right from the start, which of course is the essence of the Universal Design for Learning approach where planning takes into account multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement and multiple means of action and expression (Rose & Meyer, 2006).
As educators, and as members of a diverse society, we need to be thinking about, negotiating and transforming the relationships that exist within our classrooms, the teaching that occurs, the production of knowledge that happens, the education setting structures, and the social relationships that exist within the wider community, society and nation-state (Nouri & Sajjadi, 2014). Without exception this requires a thorough understanding of individual strengths, challenges and needs.
Recent research into diversity and inclusion in varied Australian school contexts (Abawi, Carter, Andrews & Conway, 2018) acknowledged that inclusive educational contexts are not easily attained or sustained. Findings indicated a set of six principles underpinning the creation of an inclusive culture:
• Principle 1 Informed shared social justice leadership at multiple levels – learning from and with others.
• Principle 2 Moral commitment to a vision of inclusion – explicit expectations regarding inclusion embedded in school wide practice.
• Principle 3 Collective commitment to whatever it takes – ensuring that the vision of inclusion is not compromised.
• Principle 4 Getting it right from the start – wrapping students, families and staff with the support needed to succeed.
• Principle 5 Professional targeted student-centred learning – professional learning for teachers and support staff informed by data identified need.
• Principle 6 Open information and respectful communication – leaders, staff, students, community effectively working together.
As a reader, we ask you to reflect on the six principles and how they are demonstrated within these pages. We also ask you to consider your own learning, work or social context and to what extent these principles are applicable and evident, as well as what more could be done to embrace diversity and embed inclusion. Many of the authors are in the middle of this process themselves as they reflect on data from a more recent and ongoing research project, early findings of which have been woven into Chapter 3. The aforementioned research also raised a question about “how can an uncompromising social justice agenda that is inclusive of others and caters for diversity be anchored to the needs of a changing population within specific contexts?” We seek your assistance in developing a picture of what the answer to this question might be, to co-construct knowledge of ways of being inclusive and catering for diversity and intend to collate your responses and publish them in the next addition of this text as an epilogue of learning, a co-construction of knowledge in an on-going and reiterative process of collective learning. Please post your responses to www.usq.edu.au/open-practice . We will then utilise reader responses as a basis for further study and publication.
The themes and issues raised within this text vary starting with Chapter 2, Different Childhoods: Transgressing boundaries through thinking differently, by Charlotte Brownlow and Lindsay O’Dell, which considers the intersectional nature of individual identity drawing on key examples from domains of difference through exploring [dis]ability, gender and culture. It considers the narratives of [non] inclusion that frequently operate within educational environments, from early childhood through to lifelong learning, and implications for positive identity constructions for individuals are explored. Children who are in some ways ‘different’ can find interactions in education settings challenging due to negative assumptions held by others. Ability and socially approved identities must be carefully outlined and managed within systems, with clear benchmarks established concerning what is ‘appropriate’ and what is deemed ‘inappropriate’ when identifying and responding to difference. In conclusion the authors urge readers and educators to move beyond impairments to view differences through careful reflection on environments and the need to personally act in ways which maximise ability.
In Chapter 3, Celebrating diversity: Focusing on inclusion, Lindy-Anne Abawi, Melissa Fanshawe, Kathryn Gilbey, Cecily Andersen and Christina Rogers remind the reader of the increasing emphasis, in education settings, on understanding and catering for the diversity of learners in our classrooms. Education is acknowledged as being fundamental to shaping our future for it involves “the formation of each new generation into the citizens of tomorrow…In this age of ‘super-diversity’, it is difficult to categorise or place people into neat boxes. It is therefore all the more important for us to sharpen up our thinking and practice by developing a critical understanding of issues of difference” (Wrigley, Arshad & Pratt, 2012, p. 209). The starting point for understanding is knowledge and experience. These two lenses will be used throughout this chapter to develop critical thinking and reflection on pedagogical practices. You may be asked to challenge your own pre-conceived ways of thinking and engaging with others; you may be asked to reflect on personal and possibly confronting experiences; and, most of all you will be asked to bring an open mind to the concept of diversity and engage with the scenarios presented with respect, tact and integrity. Every individual is shaped and influenced by multiple factors: ethnicity (language, religion and cultural diversity); variable skills and capabilities; socioeconomic background; health and well-being; and, gender identity and sexual orientation. It is these variable and varied factors that contribute to each of us as individuals and are what we add to the rich tapestry of schools and community. Diversity is a celebration of the richness and strength that it brings to society and is a primary responsibility of all those who teach and of all those who support teachers (Peters, 2007).
Chapter 4, Opening Eyes onto Inclusion and Diversity in Early Childhood Education, by Michelle Turner and Amanda Morgan, sees diversity as a celebratory characteristic of early childhood education in contemporary Australia. The education system in Queensland defines inclusion as the need to encompass individual differences such as culture, language, location, economics, learning, abilities and gender (Queensland Government Department of Education, 2018). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the principle that all children have the right to feel accepted and respected. As a signatory of the convention Australia is committed to a policy of respect for diversity providing children with access to fair, just and non-discriminatory education and care (Queensland Government Department of Education, 2018). Regardless of the level of diversity evident in a setting it is important that all young children have the opportunity to develop an appreciation and respect for the diversity of their local and broader communities. Early childhood education offers the ideal setting for children to learn about diversity and the benefits it brings to their community. Through engagement in contexts that promote understanding of difference, children and families have the opportunity to develop their own understandings about diversity and build positive relationships with their local communities. Adopting a holistic approach to diversity is promoted as a strategy for educators working in contemporary early childhood settings.
Chapter 5 takes a slightly different tack and views diversity from a position of care. Entitled Fostering first year nurses’ inclusive practice: A key building block for patient centred care, Jill Lawrence and Natasha Reedy investigate how we can better understand and cater for the diversity of learners in our classrooms. The depth and breadth of the research enriches and stretches our preconceptions by not only encompassing a range of contexts (early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary, community and ‘in between’ spaces) and but also by exploring issues emanating from ‘difference’ (language, religious and cultural diversity, skills and capabilities, socioeconomic background, health and well-being, and gender identity and sexual orientation). The chapter themes challenge our ways of knowing and thinking, and of engaging with others. They require us to reflect on others’ experiences in exploring our concepts of diversity and inclusion and to, in turn, apply this critical thinking to our own pedagogical practices. To achieve this, the chapter asks us to embrace the authenticity of inclusion: to confront how notions of power, voice and agency can shape ‘outcomes’ for those on the ‘margins’; to imagine the implications for society of positive identity constructions for individuals; and to highlight a way of working that facilitates the creation of shared cultures, a place where all can feel safe and included. There are also cautionary tales. For example, in this contemporary rationalised world we often fail to appreciate that the cost of caring always includes pragmatic considerations that educators must meet.
Renee Desmarchelier and Jon Austin, in Chapter 6, Positioning ourselves in multicultural education: Opening our eyes to culture, explores how Australian schools are increasingly providing education to very ethnically and culturally diverse student populations. In some schooling areas, the backgrounds of students attending both public and private schools have changed rapidly. So, the authors ask questions such as: What does it mean to be ‘multicultural’?; Is multicultural education just something we provide to students from backgrounds that are not white-Anglo Australian?; and, How do we as teachers position ourselves in relation to multiculturalism, multicultural policies and education system requirements and expectations?
They suggest that through recognising culture as something that everyone has, we start to unpack our own attitudes to culture and multicultural education. We engage in critical self-reflection so we can understand ourselves to better position us to understand others. The authors share a tool with which to do this – a physical cultural audit. This involves a process of collecting data in the form of observations and/or photographs of the physical spaces around us and analysing them for the messages they give about the culture/s present in a particular environment. Through turning the gaze on ourselves and our own cultures we can come to understand the ways in which we culturally construct our understanding of the world around us. This can assist us to be better educators in multicultural contexts through recognising that the students we are teaching are not the only ones to have ‘culture’ but that we ourselves are coming from a particular cultural position. Through such processes we can then work to unpack our own and the education system’s expectations of all students and recognise where we may need to change our approach in order to achieve more socially just outcomes for students from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds.
Chapter 7, Creating an inclusive school for refugees and students with English as a Second Language or Dialect, is written by Susan Carter and Mark Creedon who argue that although inclusion is a basic need for humans, schools in Australia and internationally are still exploring what this really means in a rapidly changing global context. Challenges face educators as never before as the rate of migration has vastly increased with more people seeking asylum than at any time since World War II (Gurria, 2016). Schools face challenges in educating students who have little understanding of the official language or the school’s cultural context. This chapter seeks to bring into focus the need to include students new to Australia, with limited or no English speaking skills, to regular classrooms. The chapter specifically explores the inclusive practices of one highly diverse junior school and seeks to share the effectual ways that they support, engage, enculturate and educate students. Use of case study methodology, revealed a way of working that facilitates the creation of a shared inclusive culture, a place where individuals share that they feel safe and included. The cost of caring is however a realistic consideration confronting educators and this chapter outlines some strategies on how to engage community help and create a sense of hopefulness.
Chapter 8, Opening Eyes onto Diversity and Inclusion for students with Vision Impairment, by Melissa Cain and Melissa Fanshawe shares the challenges that abound for students with vision impairments. Access and inclusion in education settings can be overlooked, as facilities are set up for those who can see. Many critical elements the school is trying to portray, such as the culture, behaviour management and curriculum, are displayed in visual format. Think about your journey into a school, through the office, into the classroom and around the school grounds and the incidental learning you acquire through visual means. The author looks at the educational, physical and social impact of vision impairment and a mindset of designing curriculum opportunities to consider students with vision impairment. It investigates the implications that visual impairment should have on the curriculum, assessment and pedagogy, as well as the need to show concern for a student’s ability to move independently within and between classrooms and throughout the school. It also looks at the social competence of students with vision impairment, who may find it difficult to interact with their peers due to missing the sighted cues to adhere to social norms (Wolffe, 2012). Through the use of modifications and a mindset of ability portrayed in this chapter, it is hoped educators can open their eyes to vision impairment, to find inclusion is just a different way of seeing.
Melissa Fanshawe, Lindy Abawi and Jillian Guy Chapter 9, The Importance of Australian Indigenous Cultural Perspectives in Education (The Danger of the Single Story), leaves the reader with additional insights into the need to acknowledge and specifically address the needs, beliefs and histories of Australia’s First Nation people, the oldest living culture in the world. We started this text with an acknowledgement of Country and have attempted to weave insights into Australian Indigenous perspectives throughout many of the chapters. Chapter 9 seeks to consolidate the narrative of survival, celebration, disadvantage, injustice, racism and generational distress that is part of Australian history. The authors investigate the conceptual understandings of race, colonisation and Western viewpoints proposing considerations to ensure all students receive a culturally sensitive education and ensuring that what is left with the reader is a realisation and an urgency that more needs to be done to ensure First Nation Peoples attain their rightful place in Australian society.
Finally, Opening Eyes onto Diversity and Inclusion, the concluding chapter by Jill Lawrence, investigates how we can better understand and cater for the diversity of learners in our classrooms. It touches on what has been explored throughout this text. At its heart, this text galvanises us by presenting strategies about how to engage community and to create inclusion and hopefulness for those marginalised by difference. It exalts us to celebrate the richness and strengths of diversity and to accept our responsibilities in motivating and supporting all educators, including ourselves, to appreciate and build on these strengths.
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