Examining teacher candidates’ backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs as precursors for developing dispositions for democracy

Jo Lampert, Stevie Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


In this article, we draw on Villegas’s explanations of beliefs as precursors to social justice dispositions and Mills et al.’s Australian research about social justice dispositions as either affirmative or transformative. These conceptual positions assist us in understanding the beliefs that are derived from applicants’ schooling and life experiences.
Purpose of Study:
The article reports on how 46 candidates applying for an Australian equity-oriented initial teacher education (ITE) program described their backgrounds and beliefs around social justice. The purpose of the research is to understand starting point beliefs in order to design a strongly democratic teacher education program for historically hard-to-staff schools.
Expressions of interest were analyzed from applications to an Australian ITE program designed to prepare teachers for hard-to-staff urban and rural secondary schools in Victoria, Australia.
Research Design:
This research is a qualitative critical discourse analysis. Our initial activity involved grouping statements using the following five codes: their firsthand, personal backgrounds of disadvantage; their secondhand experience with disadvantage, such as seeing racism from afar or volunteering; their belief statements about equity or social justice; their deficit positions or stereotypes; and their overtly activist statements.
Finding that some of these discourses were much more common than others, we were able to examine applicants’ social justice discourses more deeply. We contend that democratic discourses can be seen on a kind of continuum, with weaker (or thinner) and stronger versions. In general, a weaker version of equity includes generic inclusive beliefs about everyone being equal, whereas a stronger version demonstrates a more complex understanding of social inequities and a commitment to changing systems rather than individuals. Within each category, there were glimpses of weaker and stronger activist experiences and beliefs that we consider precursors to strong social justice or democratic teacher dispositions.
Rather than determining selection into the program, the candidates’ social justice statements made in their expressions of interest (EOIs) became starting points to design a program that prepares teachers who are knowledgeable agents of social change. Their statements guided us to understand these starting points in relation to how the candidates narrated their backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs, and enabled us to better explore how social justice is interpreted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-176
Number of pages29
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • teacher education
  • equity
  • dispositions

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