Using reflective processes to promote attention to diversity in schools: a study of practice in Chile
Over the last decade or so, various writers have argued that inclusive practices are more likely to be developed when school communities are involved in collaborative processes of inquiry, reflection and action in order to learn how to respond to learner diversity. Bearing this in mind, the research reported in this thesis set out to throw light on how educational communities in Chile can develop sustainable inclusive policies, cultures and practices. More specifically, the study explored strategies for encouraging those within schools to develop reflective communities that are able to analyse and minimise barriers to the presence, learning and participation of their members. It also analysed whether such reflective processes led to better understanding and practices in relation to diversity and explored the roles researchers might play in order to facilitate meaningful reflective processes. The research was carried out in two schools with different characteristics: Gabriela Mistral School, in the city of Santiago, is one of the pioneer schools in the country in integrating disabled students, whilst Nelquihue School is located in one of the most isolated rural areas of Chile and responds to a high population of ‘Mapuche’ ethnic students. Guided by literature on action research, the study made use of an inclusive action research model that guided the process in both schools. This model emphasises the need to concentrate efforts on the promotion of reflective practitioners, as well as reflective communities. It also involves a process that was planned to be owned and coordinated by a team of co-researchers. Although the researcher is Spanish, she has a good knowledge of the culture of the country, as a result of living and working in Chile for five years as a field officer for UNESCO. During a period of nine months she closely engaged in the two schools facilitating the action research model; accompanied school members in the implementation of the process; and carried out an ethnographic study of each school. All of this led to the adaptation of the approach in each context. Data generated by teachers’ interviews, focus groups and activities with students, and observations of lessons were presented to school staff in individual interviews and school workshops. These events were intended to challenge teachers and other professionals to question their own underlying theories about the diversity of their students and their teaching; and see how their beliefs, values and attitudes affected their practices. This process also provided opportunities for school members to analyse the values embedded in its culture and make decisions about how to give steps to put them into action in order to provide school members with meaningful learning experiences. A limitation of the study is that the research processes were developed in two very distinctive schools in Chile. Given their characteristics, these schools cannot be considered as representative of Chilean schools. However, a distinctive strength of the study is the long period of time the researcher was closely involved with the schools, which is unusual in educational research studies. As a consequence, the study makes well-informed suggestions about how researchers can collaborate in the implementation of action research processes that are flexible to school conditions, even in challenging circumstances. The thesis draws conclusions about ways in which reflective processes can help to minimise defensive attitudes amongst school members and engage them in challenging their own thinking about how they can create ways of working that can reach every child, whatever their characteristics or personal circumstances. However, the evidence presented is insufficient to guarantee the sustainability of these reflective processes. This would warrant further research.