Advocating for social justice across teacher education programmes: Ten realities experienced by teacher educators – Allison Campbell and Ann MacPhail.

As was noted in an earlier blog post, colleagues in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (PESS) at the University of Limerick and at the Ulster University have secured funding from The Standing Conference on Teacher Education, North and South (SCoTENS) to undertake a project titled ‘Shared Responsibility Across a Shared Island: Teaching social justice in initial teacher education’.

The aim of the project is to develop and share, through ‘practitioner research’, a teaching approach to social justice across two initial teacher education (ITE) programmes from North and South. The aim is to encourage teacher educators and pre-service teachers (PSTs) to learn with and from each other, within and across their respective jurisdictions.

In undertaking this type of work several realities arise in our role as teacher educators and we acknowledge and share these as points of interest for those considering similar work.

Reality 1: This has been a journey of discovery for the research team in terms of self-awareness of our beliefs, habits, and conditioning, and in relation to developing our own knowledge of, and confidence in, encouraging conversations about social justice. We too are ‘upskilling’ our knowledge and practice alongside the PSTs.

Reality 2: There is a continuing need for reflection, flexibility and adaption of plans throughout the process. For example, before our first workshop with PSTs, it was decided not to share background pieces from team members as originally planned so as not to influence conversations about social justice in relation to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Reality 3: Initial discussions with PSTs focused on religion, disability, and inclusion. However, as a group, PSTs identify already experiencing social justice matters such as pupils transitioning, strict regulation of male and female sports, disparity of resources and treatment locally between male and female sports, finance as a barrier to participation, working with the travelling community and LGBTQ+ issues.

Reality 4: A consciousness on the use of language is imperative as is the need to be aware of terminology to describe certain situations/activities to avoid displaying, for example, sexism or ableism.

Reality 5:  This work highlights the hidden nature of some social justice issues within the classroom and how similar PSTs experiences were between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland despite the different education systems.

Reality 6: There never appears to be sufficient time in the sessions with PSTs to cover everything we would like to. A challenge is maximising the use of allocated time to teach and discuss the complex nature of social justice.

Reality 7: Another challenge is finding times other than when PSTs are scheduled for class to organise focus groups in a bid to collect data on their experiences. Attempts to embed data collection in scheduled time is appreciated by PSTs.

Reality 8: Being open to PST perspectives on specific topics and lenses by which they engage with such topics that may not align with your expectations for future (physical education) teachers.

Reality 9: While there is an acknowledgement from PSTs that engaging in this project has brought the identifying of social justice issues to the forefront of their minds, at times their position as PSTs on school placement results in them having no / minimal support to make changes to established school pedagogies.

Reality 10: There is a need to offer PSTs training opportunities on how to respond to numerous specific social justice matters that might arise in the school context. We have started this work with the introduction of short narratives and case study examples.

Allison Campbell is the Research Assistant for the SCoTENS project. Allison Is a Research Associate at Ulster University, Belfast.

Contact: ; Follow on twitter @AGrovesCampbell. Research Profiles: Allison Campbell (

Ann MacPhail is the Principal Investigator for the SCoTENS project. Ann is Associate Vice President Doctoral College at the University of Limerick, Ireland.

Contact:; Follow on twitter: @AnnMacPhail1.  Research Profiles: (5) Ann Macphail (   

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