How to empower experienced primary school teachers to become change agents for social justice?

This presentation reports on an evaluation of a professional development program (PDP) aimed at empowering teachers’ agency for social justice. The theoretical framework for the PDP was based on Pantic’s model (2015) of teacher agency, focusing on teachers’ contribution to greater social justice. In addition, findings from studies into characteristics of change agency were applied (Van der Heijden, 2015). We designed a ‘theory of change’ with seven manifestations of agency for social justice linked with learning activities to empower these manifestations in teachers. Fourteen teachers who worked at various primary schools participated. We conducted a study to evaluate whether the PDP had empowered teachers’ agency for social justice. The study consisted of a pre-test, a self-assessment, a focus group interview, and a post-test. Thematic analysis was used to code the data. The results showed that the participating teachers manifested a more significant commitment to improving educational equality and felt more expert than before the PDP. They planned and took more initiative to work with colleagues on more equitable education. In addition, they became more aware of inequalities and more critical of their actions, school policies, and the education system concerning educational equality. The main conclusion is that an in-service training program for experienced teachers from different schools can empower teachers’ agency for social justice. Six lessons learned that we would mention here. First, a PDP aimed at empowering agency for social justice must provide a wide range of content and learning activities. Second, teachers should become more familiar with discussing social justice to explore educational views and develop shared views at the school level on educational equality. Third, teachers need comprehensive knowledge and skills about practical interventions that contribute to improving equal opportunities. Fourth, lectures about educational equality are necessary, but more is needed. Time must be explicitly reserved in the PDP to discuss the interventions regarding their applicability in one’s practice. Fifth, teachers benefit from experimenting and engaging in dialogue with colleagues at other schools. Sixth, teachers differed in the power they had to mobilize themselves within the context of their school, given the levels of autonomy and interdependence with the other actors. Whether teachers can mobilize themselves as change agents for social justice depends on the willingness and capacity of other actors in their school. An intriguing discussion is how to involve the school community in a professionalization program to improve individual teachers’ agency for social justice.