The Voice Identity and Participation Project

Voice Identity and Participation Knowledge Exchange Project

Official project title: Connecting, Challenging and Transforming Practices in Schools: The Voice, Identity and Participation Group

Project team: Kathy Hall, Alicia Curtin, Tracey Connolly, Caitríona Ní Laoire (Applied Social Studies), Karl Kitching (click on team member names to access their research profiles)

Core user group: 20 experienced practitioners in primary, second and third level education settings.

Dates: December 2010 to September 2012

Funding body/Awards Scheme: Irish Research Council Research Development Initiative 2010

Key words relating to the project: Inclusion, voice, identity, pedagogy, knowledge exchange, culture

What did the initiative involve? What were its outcomes?

The project sought to:

  • Equip practitioners with knowledge and strategies at class and school level for enhancing pupils’ full participation in their learning;
  • Help users understand how some practices may constrain participation in learning especially disaffected pupils;
  • Address implementation barriers deriving from out-moded cultural practices and thinking;
  • Extend opportunities for learners to bridge home, community and school cultures;
  • Contribute towards evidence-based policies on inclusion and participation;
  • Influence education policy makers;
  • Change aspects of organizational cultures and practices in schools;
  • Explore how knowledge is shared and transformed in the exchange process; and,
  • Challenge and enhance the School of Education's traditional patterns of exchange with educational communities.

The core user group (CuG) in this project were teachers and principals in primary and secondary schools. It was proposed to target a minimum of 15 practitioners, including some principals, all in different schools, who were likely to have limited knowledge of the research base in question, but who would be enthusiastic about active participation in the project.  This core user group, which reached 20 in practice, were the main, though not the only, focus of the project. This was because their own development, together with their influence with their school colleagues and learners, had the most potential to generate the major impact in terms of outcomes for students.  We provided a mix of master classes, workshops, seminars, outreach activities and conference talks using rich portrayals and case material of the way schools can and could cater for pupil diversity and participation.

The specific outcomes of this project were:

  1. Interpretation and application of relatively new evidence (in the Irish context) for defined and also open purposes.
  2. Teacher Professional Development Website which will be kept online and updated re activities of core user group (CuG) and interested individuals
  3. DVD materials and professional accounts of strategies and practices which can be used as both a research base and a tool for further dissemination of research via presentation/workshop by project team members in collaboration with CuG members at two Teacher Union Professional Development conferences (INTO and ASTI)
  4. Workshops, seminars, master classes
  5. Professional evaluations of strategies to promote learner participation
  6. Events involving international scholars and national policy makers
  7. Capacity building involving practitioners, union officials, policy makers and academics.
  8. One day culmination showcase conference event where practitioners not members of the CuG are invited to presentations on inclusion but also in the afternoon on the VIP project itself and CPD as knowledge exchange, as given by our own group members.
  9. Data collected by the researchers, supplementary to our aims and objectives, on the nature of knowledge exchange itself which in a current climate with a focus on CPD will provide a rich, qualitative data base of research on this issue which can be written up for publication in journals such as Irish Education Studies.
  10. The building of a community of learners via the CuG and also some outreach participants who are interested to help sustain the life of the project by maintaining in contact with each other and the researcher and engaging in further research and dissemination activities.

The significant benefits were practice-based. The teachers in the CuG took ownership over the knowledge being exchanged, specifically in relation what inclusion and inclusive pedagogies meant and their role as powerful enablers of others’ learning. Of key significance was the realisation that inclusion and inclusive practices are not justified by the question, ‘does inclusion work?’ since inclusion is a right and principle of the education system. A further significant point was the realisation that inclusion is not a destination such that a single institution like a school can claim to be inclusive. Rather, the CuG grappled with and accepted that inclusion is something that has to be struggled over and worked on day by day, moment by moment basis, more in the form of a journey than an arrival point. Their references to their own work, to the work produced by their pupils and their discussions in the meetings and seminars provided the research team with evidence that they had in different ways transformed and challenged not just their own practices but practices in their schools and communities.  


Publications and conferences related to this project


DVD materials and professional accounts of strategies and practices were presented at two teacher union professional development conferences (INTO and ASTI). These DVDs can be used as both a research base and a tool for further dessimination of research via presentation/workshop by project team members in collaboration with CuG members.

Kathy Hall, Alicia Curtin, Karl Kitching, Tracey Connolly, Caitriona Ni Laoire, Siobhan Dowling, Fiona Chambers (2012) Arts, Science and Education for All. DVD

Kathy Hall, Alicia Curtin, Karl Kitching, Tracey Connolly, Caitriona Ni Laoire, Brian Murphy (2012) Inclusive Literacies. DVD

Kathy Hall, Alicia Curtin, Karl Kitching, Tracey Connolly, Caitriona Ni Laoire (2011) Listening to Learners in mathematics classrooms: What can we learn?. DVD 

Kathy Hall, Alicia Curtin, Karl Kitching, Tracey Connolly, Caitriona Ni Laoire, Denis Burns. Dan O Sullivan (2011) Inclusion: From Evidence to Practice. DVD

Presentations or community dissemination related to this project

To achieve the outreach element of the project (outside of our CuG) all public symposia including our final one day conference (Arts, Sport and Science for All) were held in UCC and/or outreach centres such as the Cork Education Support Centre, with an extensive mailing list of primary and secondary schools that we would not have had access to otherwise. 

Some comments from practitioners involved in the project

‘It was a pleasure to meet and work with such an inspiring group of people. I often found myself compelled to action in my own classroom following the meetings. Listening to the experiences and reflections of others in the group brought aspects of my own practice into focus for me. The drive home after the group sessions felt like a fraction of the time it was in reality; my mind was still on overdrive thinking of things that had been discussed and how they related to me professionally. I think it speaks volumes about the significance of this type of professional teacher development opportunity.  The value of being part of such a community of practice should not be under estimated.’

 ‘For me, the chance to listen to teachers and professionals from different environments in an informal but focussed situation made the difference between a ‘normal’ inservice and the project’s method. I really enjoyed and had the benefitof these meetings.’ 

‘Through my participation in the VIP Project I found that I was defining and redefining my identity as a teacher. When left to our own devices in the classroom for years, I think it’s very easy to slip into a routine where we forget to question and assess our practices. Being part of the project gave me the time and opportunity to reflect on my practices and the beliefs that lie behind them.’


School of Education

Scoil an Oideachais

Leeholme, O' Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland