Inclusive Classroom Practices and Teacher-Student Relationships in Hong Kong
In this thesis, I explore the interplay between inclusive classroom practices and teacher-student relationships. I do so by investigating how teachers relate to children who are more vulnerable to educational exclusion and how they respond to those children’s diverse needs in class, without marking them as different from their peers. I then examine how these relationships and their inclusive classroom practices interconnect in ways that support the learning and participation of all children.
Central to the work is the conceptualisation of a virtuous circle, comprising teachers’ inclusive classroom practices, their meaningful relationships with all students, and all students’ learning and participation. This idea originated during my professional teaching experiences. I developed it further through my deepening understanding of theoretical and research studies, as well as by conducting real-world research for this thesis. For this I adopted a multiple case study approach working with four teachers in the primary sector of two schools in Hong Kong. Each teacher chose two focus children, whom they identified as being vulnerable to educational exclusion. Over a period of ten months, I immersed myself in the context of these teachers’ work. We discussed their relationships with their focus children and their inclusive classroom practices. I observed their lessons and reflected with them on how their teacher-student relationships and inclusive classroom practices might interplay. Their stories became the four case studies presented in this thesis.
Analysis of the individual case studies enabled me to examine the interconnections between each teacher’s relationships with their focus students and their inclusive classroom practices. I considered whether and how these interconnections could develop the virtuous circle in ways which would support the learning and participation of all students. Through cross-case analysis, I established three key assertions about the dynamics of the virtuous circle that have broader applicability. First, comprehensive understanding of and ongoing engagement with students as individual learners with complex lives are significant to teachers’ inclusive classroom practices. Second, students’ classroom learning and participation are fundamental to meaningful teacher-student relationships. Third, teachers appreciate establishing and maintaining meaningful teacher-student relationships as a response to learner diversity.
The thesis concludes with recommendations for harnessing the dynamics of the virtuous circle for policy and practice in Hong Kong and beyond. I propose the possibility of a relationship-based approach to teacher professional development for inclusive education. I suggest further research based on the strengths and limitations of this study.