Get to know PhD Student – Jo Shearer


In this month’s newsletter, we would like to introduce PhD student, Jo Shearer from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

Jo’s recently submitted thesis, “An Explanatory Mixed Methods Study of South Australian Preservice Teachers’ Self-Efficacy and Preparation for Disability-Inclusive Education” received outstanding results from the examiners.

We asked her what led her to a PhD, about her research, how to overcome any challenges and advice to peers.

What was your research about?

I was interested in the self-efficacy and preparation of final year preservice teachers to teach students with disability in regular classes at mainstream schools, as they were about to begin their careers as graduate teachers.

What led you to undertake a PhD? What inspired or motivated you?

After having a career working in research and service provision for people with disability, with a particular focus on children’s wellbeing, their quality or life and inclusion experiences, I was concerned about the preparation of preservice teachers to be inclusive educators. In particular, I wanted to understand more from the South Australian preservice teachers’ perspective because this area of research had not been studied in South Australia previously – yet the percentage of children with disability included in mainstream education in South Australia is among the highest in Australia.

What have you been doing since you completed?

My PhD was completed very recently and I am hoping to find a role back within the inclusive education workforce to work towards improving the educational experience of children with disability further, using my academic knowledge and skills within the industry. This is an important area of policy development, particularly in light of the findings of the recent Royal Commission Inquiry into Violence, Abuse and Neglect of people with disability in Australia.

Tell us about your research

I found that preservice teachers want to know more about teaching students with disability earlier in their university course, so they have the opportunity to practice their teaching skills while on professional learning placement under the guidance of professional mentors. All of the preservice teachers that participated in my research had the experience of teaching students with disability in regular classes and more than 80 per cent had taught students with autism. The importance of quality inclusive education mentoring while on placement was a significant finding.

The areas of least preparation were involving parents and carers of students with disability in activities at school, informing others who know little about laws and policies related to the inclusion of students with disabilities, seeking the specialist assistance of allied professionals to assist teaching students with disability in regular classes and dealing with students who are physically aggressive.

How did your supervisors support you during your candidature?

I was very fortunate to join a higher degree research supervision group through the initiative of my primary supervisor, Associate Professor Kerry Bissaker with the assistance of Dr Bev Rogers. The group approach to supervision was SO helpful and I learned much more about research design and methodology through engaging with members of the group than I would have otherwise. I must say a big thank you to all members of that group.

How did you overcome any challenges of doing a PhD?

Through the group supervision model, I was able to reach out to my higher degree research peers with confidence to seek their advice or assistance to understand aspects of research when I was struggling with them. I also took time to really understand the methods that I was using for both data collection and analysis. This makes a difference to your interpretation of the findings.

What advice would you give to those who are about to undertake a PhD?  

My advice to others is to keep at it. Make sure you schedule your time well and also take time to relax and ponder when it all seems a bit hard. You will get there.

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