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OK, please just tell us what to do: The challenge of freedom in teacher education

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 10:31 authored by Johnston, RM

Community partnerships and community oriented teaching and learning are currently strong themes in schooling and teacher education, and it could be argued that this approach to curriculum through partnerships, community based teaching and learning and service-learning is now ‘centre stage’. In July this year, for example, the International Center for Service Learning in Teacher Education (ICSLTE) is presenting an inaugural conference, the First International Conference on Service-Learning in Teacher Education. Recent Australian curriculum policy guidelines, likewise, emphasise the importance for schools to foster community linkages (Department of Education, Victoria, 2005a; Department of Education, Tasmania, 2006; Queensland College of Teachers, 2006).

In the Australian state of Victoria, for example, the Department of Education through its Blueprint for Government Schools (Department of Education, 2005a) fosters community involvement through community participation, community outreach and funded partnerships with community organisations (such as Strategic Partnership Programs or SPPs). This curriculum emphasis is supported through the pedagogical framework, the Principles of Teaching and Learning P−12 or PoLT (Department of Education, Victoria, 2005b). The sixth of these principles states that “Students learn best when: Learning connects strongly with communities and practice beyond the classroom [by interacting with] local and broader communities and community practices”.

In teacher education, too, there is a strong discourse of pre-service teachers learning through community based teaching and learning (Abbott-Chapman, 2002; Butcher et al., 2003; Kalantzis & Harvey, 2002). Indeed, it is argued that strong links between tertiary institutions and their communities may well be the basis of survival for regional institutions such as ours in the current climate of political upheaval for the tertiary sector (Wallis, 2006). Thus, there are likely to be varying imperatives for institutional/community links. Programs such as the one we discuss in this paper will be driven by forces outside of teacher education as well as within it. In order to overcome any constraints and to maximise the benefits of such programs, there would appear to be an urgent need for community based teaching and learning programs to be examined, particularly as the advantages of such programs are not entirely clear (Butcher et al., 2003; Butin, 2005; Johnston, 2003).

In this paper, we outline research connected with a component of a four year Bachelor of Education program in which pre-service teachers (PSTs) are required to develop community based teaching and learning projects within a foundation studies unit in the second year of their course. The research sought to gain a deeper understanding of the requirements for more effective integration of community oriented approaches within teacher education. The unit, Creating Learning Environments, which comprised the contextual framework for the research, attempted to address some of the limitations of community based teaching and learning programs through the integration of school and tertiary based teacher education and was designed to meet the hopes and expectations of such programs in schools and the university as well as for our PSTs.

In the respective unit, PSTs develop teaching and learning projects for formal tertiary assessment requirements. However, the project development is a form of authentic learning which is negotiated with the schools at which PSTs are placed for their two week practicum at the conclusion of the respective teaching semester and at the end of their second year of the course.

The designated task for this unit is quite complex. It requires PSTs to plan a community-based teaching and learning program in conjunction with the university, the schools at which they are placed for their professional placements along with these schools’ communities. In addition, our unit is based on notions of children and young people as active and informed community agents (Chawla, 2002; Christensen & Prout, 2005; Driskell, 2002; Hart, 1997; Wyness, 2006). According to this view, children are participating members of their school and its various communities. Thus, we have encouraged PSTs to recognise and include children and young people as active decision makers in any community based teaching and learning projects in which they may be involved. For these reasons, the projects involve a level of uncertainty and depend upon strong communication from all parties involved. In this paper, primarily we present findings from one aspect of one iteration of an action research cycle. We draw upon our own notes and correspondence to identify discourses which characterise our experience of student/staff interactions. In identifying such discourses, we seek themes from the research in order to inform further program development.

In this paper, we also refer to a second phase of the teaching and learning cycle which produced several public documents which demonstrate changes to the way students are talking about these projects. Accordingly, we draw upon newspaper articles which reported the student/school collaborative projects developed by PSTs whom we teach in this unit. Through an examination of these media reports we are able to highlight the way that the projects are developing recognition in the eyes of schools and the community and reflect the outcomes of our altered approach to this unit in the current teaching cycle.


Publication title

Proceedings of the 2007 National Biennial Conference of the Australian Curriculum Studies Association






Faculty of Education


Australian Curriculum Studies Association

Place of publication


Event title

2007 National Biennial Conference of the Australian Curriculum Studies Association

Event Venue

Melbourne, Australia

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Teacher and instructor development

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