What were the main aims of the initiative?

Working in Inclusive Practices (WIP) is an elective course at the master’s level. The focus of the course is on inclusive practices, and builds on theories of inclusion, multiculturalism, diversity and innovation education. A learning space is designed for participants in order to empower them through reflection on their professional working theory. Through innovation education strategies, the emphasis is on exploring different possibilities to create a learning environment that cares for all students well being and learning. It is a blended course, online and with four sessions on campus. The focus is on five main themes that are connected to teaching in inclusive educational settings.


The aim of the course is to prepare participants to employ their resources to work with diverse groups of students. The course draws on the ideology of inclusive education and innovation education where the emphasis is on a holistic and creative approach to preparation and teaching is in the forefront. Furthermore, there is a focus on teaching strategies and educative assessment that works well for diverse groups of pupils.

At the end of the course participants should

  • have knowledge and understanding to critically engage with ideas of learning and teaching in inclusive schooling.
  • be able to design an educational environment that recognises and supports student diversity and apply teaching and assessment strategies that draw on these resources;
  • be able to approach learning and teaching in inclusive schooling holistically and creatively, and to rationalise their educational practices by referring to their professional working theory.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The course is an elective course designed for student teachers and experienced teachers working on their master's degree. The course is for pre-school, compulsory school and upper secondary teachers. It is taught over one term or 13 weeks and is 10 European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) points. It is a blended course taught online with four intensive sessions on campus. In the last four years between 20-40 students have chosen to attend the course each year.


What issues/challenges does the example address?

In recent decades the impact of technical, social and cultural change has raised new challenges to education in Iceland and throughout the world. In particular, international migration and increased emphasis on inclusive education have raised awareness of diversity in student groups and the expectations and hopes of families and communities (Guðjonsdottir & Karlsdottir, 2009). International research reports new questions about language, culture, religion and pedagogy, and changes in both teachers’ work and teaching environments.

Common factors can be seen across many countries, for example the expectation that teachers promote tolerance and social cohesion, respond effectively to students with learning or behavioral difficulties, use new technologies, and keep pace with rapidly developing fields of knowledge and approaches to student assessment (Day & Gu, 2010; Mc Kenzie et al. 2005). Inclusive education and innovative approaches are recommended pathways to open up students’ opportunities to be creative and empowered as active participants in their lives and communities (Guðjónsdóttir, 2000; Jónsdóttir, 2011).

Teachers are at the forefront of school changes that support the development of inclusive schools and innovative practices. They play a key role in preparing pupils to take their place in society and in the world of work. To respond to these challenges they need confidence in their ability and the knowledge and skills to work on these school changes (Carroll et al., 2003).

In response to these changes in teachers’ working conditions, we have developed a graduate course that focuses on changes in education, schools and teachers’ work. The main purpose of the course is to prepare and support teachers to work with diverse groups of students using inclusive practices.



How was the Initiative implemented?

Hafdís Guðjónsdóttir designed the initial course in 2011. Svanborg R. Jónsdóttir joined her in 2011 and Karen Rut Gísladóttir joined the team in 2013. They have been developing the course in collaboration and have carried out research on the course. See for example Preparing teachers for teaching a diverse group of learners in a changing world and Creating Meaningful Learning Opportunities Online.


Theories of inclusion, multiculturalism, diversity and innovation education are in focus to support students to create their inclusive practice. A learning space has been designed for participants to empower them through reflection on their professional working theories as they explore their practice, knowledge and ethics. Through innovation strategies, the focus is on exploring different possibilities to create a learning environment that cares for all students well being and learning. Together, student teachers and teacher educators address the question: What is the challenge of creating an inclusive school for all using methods from innovation education? They attempt to come up with different solutions built on students’ and teachers’ resources.

Student teachers learn to create a curriculum for a diverse group of pupils as well as to personalise the curriculum for each individual. The focus is on the use of different strategies to gather information on student's needs, strengths, achievements and interests and on collaboration with parents, colleagues, professionals and paraprofessionals. The course is divided into five themes that are connected to teaching in inclusive educational settings and each one lasts for two or three weeks.

The themes include:

  1. The ideology of inclusive education and the methodology of innovation education
  2. Teaching practices in inclusive education with diverse students
  3. Teaching strategies and assessments that have worked well with diverse groups of pupils
  4. Collaboration with families
  5. Leaders in inclusive practices

These themes are interconnected and overlap one way or another throughout the course. The idea of the teacher’s professional working theory intertwines across the themes. To empower participants, a learning space has been created to allow them to explore their professional working theory – this is interwoven throughout the whole course. In the end everyone writes their statement about who they are as teachers or what they want to become.

The teaching in the course is through short lectures, tasks, projects, collaboration and discussion, both in class and on Moodle. There are also formal assignments. The course is grounded in students’ independence, creativity, responsibility and participation.

In the on-campus sessions, teachers present short lectures on the main issues (these are uploaded online). Students carry out several activities and tasks related to the focus and the themes in the course. The emphasis is on student participation, conversations, collaboration and hands-on tasks practicing and supporting creative thinking and actions.

Examples of on-campus tasks completed by students include:

  • Several exercises to brainstorm the use of different approaches, among them solutions to student needs identified by using “think - pair - share”
  • Group work around a design exercise for inclusive learning environments

Create a learning environment that responds to all pupils

Get into groups according to school levels:

  • Pre-school
  • Compulsory school (elementary, middle, lower secondary)
  • Upper secondary
  • After school programmes


Who are the individuals in the learning environment?

  • Brainstorm - jot down
  • Create/develop and record (draw, write, cut and paste)

Accompanying the design exercise were the following points for consideration (from the teacher´s mini lecture)

Learning environment/teaching methods

  • Students’ cultural and linguistic resources
  • Pupil centered environment
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
  • Understanding by Design (UbD)
  • Differentiated Instruction (DL)
  • Multiple intelligences (MI)
  • Holistic and educative assessment

Teaching strategies

  • Cooperative learning
  • Storyline
  • Learning Centres
  • Learning stations
  • Thematic learning
  • Inquiry-based learning activities
  • Games
  • Hands-on learning, multisteps learning…

Different exercises are undertaken using tangible materials to interpret and display understandings and experiences of issues or themes in the course - translating concepts and thoughts into visible, graphic form. For example, this exercise was used in a recent on-campus session:

First consider and discuss in your group your experience of this course and use the following points for support (choose what is relevant):

  • Reading materials - which readings influenced my ideas?
  • Preconceptions - have they changed or been reinforced? Has my view on inclusive education developed/ changed?
  • Teaching methods - have I got to know/ experienced/ read about methods that I will take with me and use?
  • What have I learned that I will use in my practice?
    • have interactions with my co-students been useful - how?
    • have the on-campus sessions been useful? - how?
    • have particular tasks or projects been useful? how?
  • Has my interest developed/ changed/ moved by diving into particular issues?
  • Have I learnt what reinforces me as a professional in an inclusive school?
  • What resources can I apply?
  • What resources do I see in the school community?
  • What resources in the community can I use?
  • Which resource do I bring into the school community?
  • Solution driven - in which way?
  • Teacher collaboration - how, why?
  • Certain teaching methods (examples)
  • Systematic teaching strategies (examples)
  • Work on my professional working theory - why does that matter?

Following the group discussions the students were asked to: Interpret the main findings of their discussions in a visual form using lego blocks.

Finally each group presented and explained their 3-D interpretation.

Figure 1: Photograph of a 3D lego presentation

Figure 1: Photograph of a 3D lego presentation

This group of students explained their 3D-model as follows:

‘We discussed a lot that we had to go outside our comfort zone in this course by doing all kinds of crafts and creative work that we found very exciting. So the door represents that, opening up, we walked across different bridges symbolising that there are many routes available for inclusive teaching and no one correct way, you can get into dangerous territories. These are bridges across different views and connections to what we have learned. The core is there, this is an inclusive school. Time is there, on wheels as it is always running...’.

Figure 2: Photograph of 3D lego boat

Figure 2: Photograph of 3D lego boat

A second group of students called their 3D model “We are all in the same boat”.

They explained it as follows:

‘We are all going in the same direction. We have a diverse group of students and they come to us from different contexts and preconditions and we have a flexible teacher. And we all are going towards the same goal and we intend to cross the obstacles in our way. And we want to go through this door that opens up the way to all and for all people. To cross those obstacles we learn through play and we dig for knowledge and what we need’.

If students cannot attend the on campus intensive sessions, they work on the tasks at home, individually or in collaboration with another student and present their work on the web.

Interpreting a film about inclusive practices

Another exercise on-campus (and on-line for distance students) was to discuss the film Freedom Writers Diary and choose scenes or an overall message from the film to interpret through an object made from recyclable materials. After making the artwork, student groups explained their interpretation.

Figure 3: Picture of groups working on their interpretation of the film using recyclable materials

Figure 3: Picture of groups working on their interpretation of the film using recyclable materials


Figure 4: Picture of students discussing, collaborating and collectively interpreting inclusion with recycled materials

Figure 4: Picture of students discussing, collaborating and collectively interpreting inclusion with recycled materials


Figure 5: Picture of a group of students explaining to others how the film influenced them and how they interpret different scenes

Figure 5: Picture of a group of students explaining to others how the film influenced them and how they interpret different scenes


Formal assignments

The main formal assignments in the course to be submitted by all students are the following:

Assignment 1: Professional Working Theory (PWT) (20%)

The PWT is established through the constant interplay of professional knowledge, practical experience, reflection, and ethical or moral principles. It develops through systematic and comprehensive critical reflection and collegial dialogue, and contributes to professional identity, and the creation of professional knowledge. Students are guided through an analysis of their PWT and the final project can be turned in creative ways. The main goal is that student teachers make a statement about the teacher they are or want to become and that their work represents their statement.

From a student: ‘I try to set myself in the footsteps of children and grown-ups I work with. My footstep doesn’t fit theirs but that is not the goal, I can never live out what others have experienced, but I can try to understand. The steps are diverse and made of different material, some of them can be uncomfortable, but that must not make me scare from trying to understand. To represent the diversity I made the footsteps from coloured paper, soft fabric and rough sandpaper. I asked family members, children around me to give me their footstep’.

Figure 6: To represent the diversity I made the footsteps from coloured paper, soft fabric and rough sandpaper. I asked family members, children around me to give me their footstep Figure 7: To represent the diversity I made the footsteps from coloured paper, soft fabric and rough sandpaper. I asked family members, children around me to give me their footstep

Figures 6 and 7: Coloured footsteps

Assignment 2: Columns about teaching diverse pupils (20%).

Students write columns on the different themes and publish them on the course website. In the end they choose one column to submit for assessment.

Assignment 3: Final project and a presentation (40%).

Students choose a topic they want to explore and gain more knowledge of and then prepare to implement this into their practice.

Assignment 4: Self evaluation (10 %).

Students keep a study journal and log their ideas, thoughts, trivia, debate in the community, and responses. The self-evaluation builds on the study journal and students write a reflection on their studies during the course using the journal for reference, as they evaluate their learning and their development process.

‘I thought this would be yet another sermon about specific theories and teaching methods that would make me feel bad about what I was lacking. But I slowly realised this course was different. It was about looking at ourselves as professionals, our teaching, our attitudes and values. Reflect on why we teach like we do and what we can do to meet the needs of all students’.


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

The students reported that they found the discussions interesting and they believe that the multiple teaching strategies will help them in their future teaching job. One student reported:

‘The way the lessons were organized was informative, instead of letting us just read about multiform teaching strategies the teacher educators used them in class. After each day we listed the strategies and it was surprising how many you used and convinced me that it is possible to use many different strategies in our teaching’. (Haraldur, self-evaluation report, 2014)

This was an example of a student who attended on-campus sessions. Students who took the course on-line also reported how their learning had influenced them:

‘I listened to all the recordings of presentations and they were well organized. They were immediately uploaded and that was very helpful as I could then [do the] work right away and turn [it] in on Moodle. I am used to studying online and found it rather easy to do those lesson-tasks alongside listening to teachers’ presentations. I loved reflecting on and contemplating the different issues and tasks such as making artifacts and things with my hands’. (Salvör, self-evaluation report, 2014)

Linda, who was teaching while she was pursuing her studies, said she noticed that the course changed her thinking about inclusive schools and that she now looked at her students differently: ‘I started to look at each group as a whole with collective strengths and resources, rather than just focusing on their individual shortcomings’. (Self-evaluation report, 2014).


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

Central evaluation of courses by the University of Iceland reveals a good character for the course. Comments from students include:

‘Great to get to experience the teaching strategies that we are learning to use... The teachers in this course have great experience and that gives us a great insight into the various ways of teaching and how important it is to look for different ways of teaching to be able to reach all pupils’.

The evaluation regularly conducted through the TOC (ticket out of class) at the end of each on-campus session day has given us a valuable monitor of how students experienced the course and where they needed more support. Examples of TOCS are (February, 2015):

Today I take this with me – I learned

I would like to learn more about – hear about

Importance of literacy. Even if it is a big concept it is good to discuss it.

Got a better insight into the professional working theory.

Good to have discussions about the film and to work with understandings with tangible materials.

To dive deeper into the professional working theory – just for me. Think from my own theories and understand what kind of professional I am.

I loved the book presentations and it would be good to have again.

Discussions about teaching methods and theories were useful because you had to explain why you work the way you do. Then I realised I knew more than I thought. Disussions like this gives you self-confidence that is good for the continuation.

I would like to learn more about teaching methods and which methods are grounded in which theories. I´m not completely sure sometimes.

Lots of great ideas – my professional working theory in the making

More diverse teaching methods

New ideas for books to look into.

Engaging and useful discussions about literacy this morning - similar yet different views.

Good presence of teachers in the course – collegiality. Views to change the world

It would be good to see writing connected to work in play-schools – ideas about how to work with writing with other methods than to write/read traditionally.

The Freedom Writers film was really interesting and a good way to introduce new teaching methods. It has been a very good day and I have learned a lot.

I look forward to work on and learn about individual curriculum.

I have learned a lot about how we work as teachers and why we do what we do and what I can do better in my work. Group work.

I would like to learn more about teaching methods in the play-school.

A lot about my self and my ways of working. I learned how to reflect on my practice and to connect to theories. I learned about what theories I am building my work on and how they influence me.

Innovation education in play-school.

Teaching methods in play-school.

Theoretical foundation, theories.

Team work – teachers´ reality.

What is team work like in schools?

Interesting and educating knowledge about literacy.

More about the PWT.

Creative approaches and teaching methods.

Research on learning and teaching.

I was pleased with the work on my PWT, and I got closer to my PWT and who I am as a professional.

I learned more about Freedom Writers from the discussions that came about in the project work.

I am exited to learn more about myself and my own PWT. I would also like to know more about diverse student groups in play-school.

To connect theory to teaching

Ideas about new teaching methods.

Very interesting and engaging!

More of the same!!

We try to respond to student requests either via Moodle or at the next campus session.

The student self-evaluation reports also unveiled important understandings and learning in the course. An example shows a connection made by many of the students through the course work, connecting theory to their practice, for example:

‘Many of the topics I have read and written about have directly influenced my job, sometimes to make my co-workers think about how our body language and how we apply our voice can avert children from conflicts towards solutions’. (Self-evaluation, 2015)

Another student described how one assignment helped her to develop her professional thinking:

‘Having to find a partner to interview and discuss my professional working theory (PWT) helped me develop my theory. Discussing it with another student, who also took this course, like me, mostly online helped me to get better in touch with the course. The points I wrote down during the interview helped me to work on my PWT. It was helpful to be able to listen often to the recording, both to hear my own talk and my partner’s’.

Some students admitted that they did not know what a PWT, action research and reflection was about at the beginning of the course. One student said: ‘I have to admit that I have built my teaching on an invisible PWT. I am realising that everyone has a PWT, some parts can be hidden but others visible.’ Another student described her progression through the course:

‘In the first assignment I was asked to reflect on what kind of teacher I wanted to be. When I look at my answer I see that my ideas have developed and changed in only three months. I have realised that my ideas about what kind of teacher I want to be must be supported by a strong rationale and power, they cannot just be exclamations. I have understood that I must know why I want to be this kind of teacher, what’s behind that aspiration’.

Through students’ self-evaluation reports, TOCs and different tasks and assignments we could see that the work in the course through work on-campus and online helped students to get in touch with and uncover their PWT and to strengthen their efficacy to work with inclusive practices. We have heard again and again that experienced teachers in the group realised that they can build on their resources, their strength, experience and the knowledge that they have been building but this is not always acknowledged. Teachers liked this, in particular, because they felt empowered.


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

According to our findings, students were satisfied with the course, they liked having face-to-face lessons, interacting with other students and teachers, experiencing multiple teaching strategies, hands-on activities and direct support. Most of the students that could not attend on-campus lessons were pleased with the course and appreciated the hands-on creative activities and other tasks (discussions, interviewing etc.) designed for them that were in the same spirit or similar to the tasks that students engaged in on-campus. However, society is always changing and therefore the course needs to continue to develop and respond to that change and the change in schools.


What are the main learning points?

Using innovation education helped students to apply creative thinking and solve problems instead of avoiding the tasks called for by inclusive practice or focusing on matters that are not in their hands to fix. We aimed to build on students’ resources, to think of the whole person, and to encourage them to relate to their own resources as they become responsive teachers through inclusive practices.


Are there further information about supporting materials?


Carroll, A., Forlin, C. and Jobling, A. (2003). The impact of teacher training in special education on the attitudes of Australian pre-service general educators towards people with disabilities. Teacher Education Quarterly, 30(3), 65–79.

Day, C. & Gu, Q. (2010). The New Lives of Teachers. London: Routledge

McKenzie, P., Santiago, P., Sliwka,P and Hiroyuki, H. (2005). Teachers matter : Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers. Paris: OECD,

Guðjónsdóttir, H. & Karlsdóttir, J. (2009). Látum þúsund blóm blómstra. Stefnumörkun um skóla án aðgreiningar. Uppeldi og menntun, 18(1), 61–77.

Guðjónsdóttir, H. (2000). Responsive professional practice: teachers analyze the theoretical and ethical dimensions of their work in diverse classrooms. Unpublished dissertation. University of Oregon, Eugene.

Jónsdóttir, S. R. (2011).·The location of innovation education in Icelandic compulsory schools.·Unpublished Ph.D. thesis. University of Iceland, Reykjavík.

Articles about the Working in Inclusive Practice course

Guðjónsdóttir, H., & Jónsdóttir, S. R. (2012). Preparing teachers for teaching a diverse group of learners in a changing world. In J. R. Young, L. B. Erickson & S. Pinnegar (Eds.), The Ninth International Conference on Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices. Extending Inquiry Communities: Illuminating Teacher Education Through Self-Study (pp. 151-154). Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, England: Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices. Retrieved from

Guðjónsdóttir, H., Jónsdóttir, S. R., Gísladóttir, K. R. (2015). Creating meaningful learning opportunities online. Bank Street Occasional Paper Series 34. Retrieved from:


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Hafdís Guðjónsdóttir Professor, School of Education University of Iceland

Additional/alternative contact for further information:

Supervisory Teacher: Svanborg Rannveig Jónsdóttir Senior Lecturer (UK) - Associate Professor (USA)

Teacher: Hafdís Guðjónsdóttir Professor

Teacher: Karen Rut Gísladóttir Lecturer (UK) - Assistant Professor (USA)

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