Reflective Practice Positively Impacts Professional Identity

Key Takeaway

Teacher candidates’ perceptions of individuals with disabilities can be positively and significantly altered when exposed to special education content and embedded reflective practice. —Matt Piercy

Change in Perception of Students with Disabilities

A study by Szocik, Gerry & Nagro (2021) examined how eighty-three teacher candidates in the United States changed the way they perceived individuals with disabilities. Increasingly around the world, more students with disabilities are spending 80% or more of their time in general education classrooms. A guiding document created by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) attests to this, as 92 countries signed this document in support of inclusive practices. Szocik, Gerry, and Nagro indicate how “there is a push for education professionals to adopt inclusive practices and be aware of their conceptualization of disability as part of their professional identity.” Further, “materializing during classroom practice, professional identity is influenced by external factors including engagement with diverse learners,1 social and cultural contextual structures,2 personal views and experiences,3 and mentorship.”4

Reflective Practice Intervention

Despite an international commitment to inclusion, educators’ professional identities continue to be impacted by inconsistent preparation to support students with disabilities. The authors suggest a good starting point in shaping professional identity is to implement reflective activities so teaching candidates might confront any perceptions towards different types of disabilities. To do this, teacher candidates were each enrolled in a one-semester introduction to special education course, and the study occurred during two consecutive semesters of the course. Attitudes towards individuals with disabilities were measured using a series of tools, such as The Groningen Reflective Ability Scale (GRAS). Further, the perceived reflective ability was scored using a five-point Likert scale.

Throughout the course, teacher candidates were provided multiple opportunities to reflect. These included:

  • reflecting on statements about special education
  • writing about their philosophy of teaching
  • confronting any beliefs they may have about special education and topics such as disabilities

The goal was to better understand and inform how professional identities might form. Though the findings from the study did not fully expose how professional perceptions might be formed, they did indicate the connection that exists between reflective practice and attitudes towards individuals with disabilities (one part of a teachers’ professional identity). The results also reflected how teacher candidates’ professional perceptions and the way they perceive individuals with disabilities can be significantly changed. As inclusive education practices continue to grow globally, embedding reflective practice early and often into teacher education programs has the potential to create a positive impact and the realization of truly inclusive experiences. 

Summarized Article:

Szocik, K., Gerry, M. A., & Nagro, S. A. (2021). The impact of reflective practice on teacher candidates’ attitudes towards individuals with disabilities and professional identity. Reflective Practice, 22(6), 739-752.

Summary by: Matt Piercy—Matt appreciates how at the heart of the MARIO Framework is a passion to develop relationships and a desire to empower students to uncover their purpose while building upon strengths. Further, Matt is inspired by how the MARIO team supports educators and is quickly and nobly becoming a collaborative force in pursuit of educational equity. 

Researcher Katherine Szocik was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Pugach, M. C., Blanton, L. P., Mickelson, A. M., & Boveda, M. (2020). Curriculum theory: The missing  perspective in teacher education for inclusion. Teacher Education and Special Education, 43(1),  85–103. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406419883665
  2. Avalos, B., & Rios, D. (2013). Reform environment and teacher identity in Chile. In D. B. Napier &  S. Majhanovich (Eds.), Education, dominance and identity. Comparative and international education  (Vol. 1, pp. 153–175). Sense Publishers. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-6209125-2_10 
  3. Beltman, S., Glass, C., Dinham, J., Chalk, B., & Nguyen, B. (2015). Drawing identity: Beginning pre service teachers’ professional identities. Issues in Educational Research, 25(3), 225–245. https://  www.iier.org.au/iier25/beltman.pdf 
  4. Pillen, M., Beijaard, D., & Brok, P. (2013). Tensions in beginning teachers’ professional identity  development, accompanying feelings and coping strategies. European Journal of Teacher  Education, 36(3), 240–260. https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2012.696192

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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