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“Considerations for implementing social justice in PETE practices”

1) Needs assessment

   When deciding upon whether social justice themes are applicable for physical education practices, an initial question to address is whether or not there is a pre-existing climate that welcomes this type of approach. To evaluate this, mission and goal statements of the institution, department or program can be utilized as a means by which to gauge further action. Rozycki (2004) and Meacham & Gaff (2006) cite that programs that fail to use mission and goal statements to assess need are in a perilous position to undermine present and future educational processes. If there is uncertainty in regards to the appropriateness of introducing these concepts, speaking with members of the institution or program such as the academic dean or department head could help in addressing this issue.

   Once it has been determined that a climate exists for the introduction of social justice concepts, a needs assessment (Altschuld & Witkin, 2000) can be created which outlines a systematic exploration of current practices and a model of what the final result may resemble. A needs assessment coupled with an S.W.O.T. analysis (Conway, Mackay & York, 1994) is a viable and proven method by which to embark on further planning and bring concerns to the forefront. S.W.O.T. analyses should be detailed and reflect attention to the obvious and not so evident, taking into account the unique characteristics of the institution, department or program.

   Some characteristics may fall into multiple categories. For instance the number of years an academic program has been in existence can be seen as strength from the standpoint of longevity, but a weakness if it is found that the curriculum offerings have not changed much during those years. If there are no changes that account for trends such as decreasing enrollment, a treat could be that the program could be in danger of extinction. Therefore, an opportunity could exist to change existing practices, in order to increase enrollment, using the history of the program and its added curricular offerings as a means of recruitment.

2) Design

   After the needs assessment, the design process sets the tone for the introduction of social justice issues into physical education institutions, departments and programs. This process holds particular significance, as it validates the preliminary evaluation found in the needs assessment by a committing to a course of action. Design then, not only recognizes that there is a philosophical change that must take place, but is an active measure by which to bring about relevant change. Without a commitment to change, the design process is rendered ineffective (Olivia, 1997).

   For physical educators and administrators, perhaps the greatest impact of the design process is on curriculum. Curriculum dictates what is taught, why it is taught, and ultimately what information will be disseminated to the learner (Klein, 1991). Simply stated, design is the “genesis” of curriculum, which systematically impacts policies, procedures and subsequent outcomes. Care however, must be taken to ensure that concern is placed on what is considered legitimate knowledge, not just the procedures by which curriculum is implemented (Beyer & Apple, 1998 p. 3).

3) Implementation

   Concessions and negotiations may be necessary when designing curriculum as there are considerations which impact the program and those who teach within it. Poplin and Rivera (2007) emphasize that implementing social justice concepts does not give the means to lead to a complete overhaul of a program’s curriculum, but merely provides a means to add to existing practices. With this in mind, McDonald (2005) submits that the following questions pertaining to curriculum are worth asking: (1) Will this curriculum change be represented in a series of courses, practicum experiences or infused throughout the program of study? (2) Is the program already participating in work conducive to this approach? (3) Do current resources exist which are available at the institution or in the community to assist in the development of this curriculum?

   Additional questions specific to the teachers in these programs has merit. For instance, are teachers in PETE programs equipped with the knowledge and comfort level to address issues pertaining to social justice and are teachers in these programs willing to examine their lesson plans, syllabi and field experiences to see if they represent the perspectives of diverse learners? Another question for elaboration on in the next section is equally significant: Do educators demand of their students’ critical thinking and engagement of these issues through written responses, reflections and discourse? Questions of this nature are key in helping prospective teachers become dynamic educators who respond to the needs of a rapidly changing society.

4) Discussion

   As alluded to earlier, discussion infuses created or revised content completed during the design process with relevant experiences and allows for the interpretation of meaning from these experiences. Verbal discourse and critical reflection are two methods which are helpful in examining the prevalence of issues relating to social justice in physical education. The methods in which both of these means are used each have their own unique set of considerations.

   Parameswaran (2007) has noted that verbal discourses allow avenues by which pre-service teachers can develop an appreciation for issues related to inequities in society and their impact on learning environments. Used often in teacher education classroom contexts, public discourse of social justice topics brings the experiences of individuals to the forefront in the hopes of creating an atmosphere for further conversation. Often, these discourses are used in response to predetermined topics brought up in class by the teacher or in the assessment of field experiences. While these conversations are invaluable in aiding development of an awareness of inequality among prospective teachers, the public nature of verbal discourses can be challenging. According to the view of Goodman (1995) and studies done by Tatum, (1997); Schmidt (1998); Miller and Harris (2005); students in teacher preparation programs may demonstrate resistance talking about social justice related topics, largely due to fear that they may be judged on their opinions.

   Critical reflection provides a means by which those in teacher preparation programs can examine their assumptions through four lenses which are distinct but interconnected: (1) autobiographical reflection, (2) the lenses provided from the perspectives of students, (3) the lenses provided from the perspectives of friends, peers and mentors, and (4) the view of our practice through the lens of literature (Brookfield, 1995). Reflection of a critical nature requires a conscious commitment to change and honest self-evaluation along with an open-mind and positive attitude.

   Critical reflective thinkers acknowledge that life has complexities which have problems which do not have simple solutions (Smith, 2007). In physical education teacher preparation programs, critical reflection can be promoted by the use of written journals, and the critique of case studies, observations, field experiences and lesson outcomes. These methods are alternatives to student discussions structured in a debate, think-pair-share or circle format, which could create tension and censorship for students who have difficulty expressing their viewpoints (Smith, p.49).

5) Evaluation

   A final step involves evaluating the impact of the infusion of social justice issues on the existing physical education program, classes and other applicable experiences. Assessing issues such as these demands a systematic ongoing process (Apple, 1999), which is necessary for teacher education program improvement. While there are no established rules for evaluating methods used in infusing social justice into the practices of PETE programs, there are some considerations of note:

- Personal journals used as a means of gauging pre-service teachers’ awareness and perceptions of social justice issues in classes should be reviewed periodically. Uline, Wilson & Cordry (2004) suggest that reviewing in this manner aids instructors in better assessing the impact of issues raised in class, observations or field experiences. In addition, both the instructor and student can compare responses from the outset of the course to its end.

- Observation assignments are more beneficial if structured and planned (Zeichner, 1996). While there are many ways to structure observations, practitioners in classes where social justice concepts are being focused on should first determine the purpose of and method of observation. Instructors of pre-service teachers must be aware of the cognitive level of their students in respect to recognizing issues pertaining to inequity and be proactive in guiding students on what to look for before embarking on observations.

- Readings assigned in class for which reflection is required need to hold relevance for the social justice construct being focused upon. For instance, Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (1991) is an appropriate book to use in discussing disparities among school physical education programs specific to race and class, but not on issues related to gender, religion, and sexuality. Reinforcement of these concepts can be facilitated by creating critical thinking exercises for use in class or on tests as appropriate.

- Professionals at sites by which PETE field experiences occur should have an active role in helping to design, implement and give feedback on these processes. These individuals should demonstrate equitable practices and have familiarity of the goals and objectives of the field experience (Borko & Mayfield, 1995). Utilizing these professionals in this manner can be an invaluable in providing demographical information and substantial knowledge that can assist in the preparation of prospective teachers.

- Exit surveys in PETE programs should encourage feedback from students finishing the program. Some of the basic questions that should be asked of students are (1) To what extent they feel comfortable in recognizing and addressing issues related to inequality that may arise in their classes?, (2) Did they learn anything from social justice principles being presented in their coursework and if so, what?, and (3) Are there any suggestions for improvement of the program? Surveys of this nature help to assess the extent to which physical education programs are meeting predetermined goals and objectives related to social justice, the needs of pre-service teachers, and other individuals who these teachers will impact.

- Outside assistance should be enlisted when reviewing physical education programs to assess the extent to which social justice is presented. This assistance can come in the form of consultants outside the institution, faculty members within the institution or other capable individuals in the community (Chase, Mutter, & Randolph, 1999; Shields, 1992). Regardless of who is chosen, these persons need to demonstrate aptitude, a commitment to social justice and zeal in improving teacher education.

Excerpted from: “Teaching social justice through physical education: A perspective to consider for PETE preparation”. Unpublished manuscript.


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