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How do we support beginner teachers to develop awareness and understanding of issues of social justice?

ML White

While we know that educational inequalities, often associated with social and economic disadvantage in general and with living in poverty in particular, impact on academic attainment (Cooper & Stewart, 2013) teacher education policy and the Teachers Standards are largely silent on issues of social justice and how to best prepare beginner teachers to respond to these challenges.

Last week I worked with recent graduates from our primary and secondary PGCE programme on a project funded by Civic Engagement. At the University of East London (UEL) the Civic Engagement Fund supports hands-on projects that engage with or positively impact local communities. This project developed from a research project I’ve been working on with Professor Jean Murray (White & Murray, 2016). As members of the UK wide Poverty and Teacher Education (PaTE) research group, our work is concerned with the complex intersectionality in England between poverty, social class, disadvantage and educational attainment and in particular thinking about how we, as teacher educators, can develop student-teachers’ awareness and understanding of issues of social justice and equip them to respond appropriately in their teaching.

In this Civic Engagement project I collaborated with the Educational Video Centre (EVC), a non-profit youth media organization dedicated to teaching documentary video as a means to develop the artistic, critical literacy, and career skills of young people, while nurturing their idealism and commitment to social change (Goodman, 2003). Since 1984, when EVC began with a single documentary workshop on New York City’s Lower East Side, students at EVC have been producing powerful documentaries that come from the economic and social justice issues young people encounter within their communities. Since then, EVC has evolved from a small video workshop for New York City teens to become an internationally acclaimed leader in the field of youth media, all the while serving the city’s most vulnerable and disconnected youth with a high-quality media arts education. While many of EVC’s projects include work with hard to reach young people they also run successful professional development and teacher education courses. 

The EVC Institute @ UEL was conceived as an intensive, five-day experience of making media, civic reflection and curriculum development.  Working with (soon to be) teachers in the local community to develop practical engaged pedagogical strategies, the aim of the project was to consider how we might support educators to develop the knowledge, skills and practices to use media as a tool for exploring issues of poverty, race and civic engagement in their own classrooms – and impact on the communities in which they work.  While there is a great deal of research on youth media practices (Fisherkeller, 2011), and a range of helpful guides for teachers in school (Buckingham, 2003) this project offered a pedagogical space to explore and (sometimes challenge) deficit views and create pedagogies for social justice in teacher education. 

‘Learnt how to practice a culturally responsive pedagogy of critical literacy, civic engagement and social emotional learning’

Over a five day period beginner teachers engaged in modelled lessons, produced a video enquiry project, reflected on their experience as learners, as facilitators and as teachers, and learnt how to practice a culturally responsive pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995) that integrates principles of critical literacy, civic engagement and social emotional learning.

This project is situated at the intersections of youth media, teacher education and professional development in order to have the greatest impact on pedagogical practice. We engaged with a documentary production process to develop critical literacy, a ‘discourse that foregrounds and questions power relations’ (Shor, 1999, p. 18) and support the development of ‘conceptual tools necessary to critique and engage society along with its inequalities and injustices’ (ibid., p. 20). This project offered postgraduate student teachers a critically engaged professional workshop and coaching programme (in place for the NQT year) where they learnt to collaboratively produce their own documentary video as well as develop strategies for facilitating a project based enquiry process with their own pupils in response to community issues.  The completed documentary film represents their engagement in the learning and production process and is an example of civic engagement in action.


Buckingham, D. (2003) Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture, London: Polity Press

Cooper, K. & Stewart, K. (2013). Does money affect children’s outcomes? A systematic review, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Fisherkeller, J. (ed) (2011) International Perspectives on Youth Media: Cultures of Production and Education. New York: Peter Lang

Goodman, S. (2003) Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production & Social Change. New York: Teachers College Press

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995) “Towards a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” American Educational Research Journal 32, no.3 (Autumn 1995): 465-91

Shor, I. (1999). What is critical literacy? In I. Shor & C. Pari (Eds.), Critical literacy in

action: Writing words, changing worlds, (pp. 1–30). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, Heinemann

White, M.L.  & Murray, J. (2016) Seeing disadvantage in schools: exploring student teachers’ perceptions of poverty and disadvantage using visual pedagogy, Journal of Education for Teaching, 42:4, 500-515.