By Sonja Arndt on 28 Mar, 2024

*(note, in this article, "teachers" refers to all teachers, educators, directors, and leaders, not just ECTs)

There have been teacher shortages in the early childhood education sector for many years. In response, teachers from overseas have been encouraged to migrate to Australia and New Zealand to address these shortages. This has led to more cultural diversity within teaching teams. 

Curriculum guidelines in Australia and New Zealand are urging teachers to nurture and develop young children's cultural identities. Meanwhile, many teachers are wondering who is nurturing their own cultural identity. 

A few researchers have picked up on this, lamenting the lack of research that actually engages with teachers to acknowledge the cultural diversity in their teaching teams. While some research has been done in the school sector, very little research focuses specifically on early childhood teachers' cultural well-being – and we all know how different early childhood settings, teaching teams, and pedagogies are to those in schools!

This is why this research is critical – there is a need for it, and it hasn't been done. We need to better understand how we might first learn about, and secondly support, teachers' cultural well-being in their early childhood teaching teams.

My pilot project—Elevating teacher's cultural stories 

Recently, I conducted a pilot project called "What about teachers' cultures? Elevating early childhood teacher's culture stories through a Kristevan lens", using Julia Kristeva's philosophy on subject formation and the Other to explore teachers’ identities.

This exploratory project involved four early childhood teachers in Melbourne, aiming to understand the impact of teachers’ cultural stories and identities on their professional experiences and practices. This exploration revealed the significance of cultural identity in shaping teaching orientations and practices, as well as the potential for enhancing intercultural understanding and pedagogical approaches through acknowledging and integrating teachers' diverse cultural identities into early childhood education.

The findings underscore the complex, multi-layered nature of cultural identity and its influence on teacher well-being, professional development, and pedagogical practices. Utilising a Kristevan philosophical framework, the research illustrates how teachers are "subjects in process," constantly evolving in their professional identities and practices in response to their cultural backgrounds and experiences. Participants called for a greater acknowledgement of the richness and diversity of teachers’ cultural identities within early childhood education, suggesting that such recognition can enhance teaching and learning environments


Expanding on the pilot project - new 3 year research program

Expanding on the pilot project, my new research project aims to develop a thorough understanding of how to support the cultural well-being of all teachers in early childhood settings. The objective is to explore and establish practical measures that cater to the cultural needs of teachers, ensuring they feel valued and supported within their diverse teaching teams. The project seeks to extend its focus beyond teachers who have migrated to Australia or those from specific cultural backgrounds, emphasising that all teachers possess unique cultural identities that merit recognition and support in creating a positive teaching environment.

This research is funded by the Australian Research Council and will run for 3 years. Its aim is to establish what teachers would find useful to support their cultural identities in their own teaching teams. Not just immigrant teachers, not just teachers of particular cultures, but all teachers – since we all have a culture.

How to participate in the research

Are you an early childhood teacher, educator or leader working in a multicultural setting in the Sydney area?

We are seeking participants for a research project investigating early childhood teachers’ identity and belonging. The aim of the project is to strengthen intercultural understandings and practices in early childhood education, with a particular focus on teachers’ cultural identity. This includes working with early childhood teachers to draft a framework for culturally relevant practices in ECE.

We are looking for 10-15 volunteer participants who are:
• Early childhood teachers or educators working in multicultural settings.
• From any cultural background.
• Willing to participate in two online focus groups and one face to face focus group with a small number of early
childhood teachers (approximately 4 hours total) over a period of approximately 2 years.
• Willing to develop their own culture story, using methods of their choice (e.g. written narratives, artworks, voice).

The study aims to consider:
• How teachers experience their own culture stories, identities and sense of cultural belonging in their early childhood setting and teaching team.
• In what ways teachers’ culture stories and identities influence their teaching orientations and practices.
• In what ways teachers’ intercultural understandings, collegial support, and pedagogical implementation of the
curriculum framework (EYLF) can be strengthened through more nuanced engagements with their own cultural

Participating teachers will receive a $50 voucher in appreciation of their contribution.
If you would like more information about the study, please download the flyer or contact Associate Professor Sonja Arndt (Responsible Researcher)

About Sonja

Sonja is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, at the University of Melbourne.

Sonja's teaching, research and scholarship intersects feminist poststructuralist philosophies of subject formation, human and more-than-human Otherness, and early childhood education. She has a particular interest in disrupting universalising superficialities in the often-neglected area of teachers’ cultural/racial Otherness.

Sonja publishes widely and actively collaborates with national and international networks. Alongside her editorial roles, Sonja’s current research and ARC DECRA project take notions of teacher identity constructions and questions the uncertainties that arise in unknowing the self, when we are all strangers in some form.
Sonja is the President of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia, and is actively involved in a range of editorial projects, including as founding co-editor of the book series: Children: Global posthumanist perspectives and materialist theories and Deputy Editor of Policy Futures in Education.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guild Insurance

CELA’s insurer of choice. Protecting Australian businesses and individuals with tailored insurance products and caring personal service.