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PhD student spends year researching issues at NZ high school

UC PhD student spends a year researching issues at a NZ high school

January 31, 2014

A University of Canterbury (UC) PhD student has spent a year researching in a New Zealand high school and has found inclusion more meaningful and sustainable for the national education system.

Chris McMaster says inclusion included advocacy for students as well as self-advocacy on the part of students, the importance of shared experiences, the power of positive identity, transparency of practice and relationships.

McMaster spent a year in the (anonymous) high school studying ways to help a community change its culture.

"High school is typically the most difficult place to include students deemed to have special needs and that was an important factor in choosing the right school. One board of trustee member said it could work there, it could work everywhere and she was absolutely right.

"Throughout the year the school utilised a framework for inclusive change known as the Index for Inclusion. While assuming a myriad of roles in the school, from soccer coach to reading tutor, I acted as a critical friend throughout the process.

"This was the first time the Index for Inclusion was used in the high school setting and the first indepth study of its application. It proved to be a useful tool in helping New Zealand achieve the goal of having a world class inclusive educational system.

"The framework was useful, but what it provided was much more vital. The school community was able to reflect on their core values and how those values were translated into actual practice.

"Each school needs to examine and reflect on its own values, and to have a community-wide dialogue on just what inclusion means as a concept. Schools need to spend the time reflecting and planning and then putting those plans into practice.

"The framework helped the school move from being a good school towards being an outstanding school. During the year, the index provided a place where core values could be worked through. Change can often be a painful process but by the end of the year some really great things were taking place in the school."

His supervisor, Associate Professor Missy Morton, says McMaster is one of a number of UC doctoral or masters students working closely with schools and early childhood centres throughout New Zealand to look at ways they can become more inclusive settings.

"Undertaking a research thesis gives our postgraduate students the opportunity to combine their skills as experienced educators with their commitment to improving education for all students.

"It's not just the research students that are completing their thesis that benefit from the opportunity to work alongside educators in centres and schools.

"The staff and students in those settings often participate in discussions about the research and research findings, learning about new and best practices that they can be exploring even as the research is still being carried out. This usually leads to a real sense of shared ownership of the research," Professor Morton says.


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