Professor Leonie Rowan is the Director of GIER. Her research is strongly grounded in the pursuit of social and educational justice and she is passionate about changing the way we think and act, both consciously and unconsciously in the space of diversity.  

Leonie says,  

“my research focuses on the ways in which the day-to-day decisions made in educational, workplace and social/cultural “everyday” settings, can value or devalue diverse people.” 

Throughout her career, Leonie has sought to make explicit how gender and gender identity, race, cultural background, socioeconomics, sexual identity, first language, dis/ability and religion can intersect to shape people’s educational pathways, outcomes and experiences. She has led multiple research projects exploring issues relating to educational justice, including seven projects funded by the Australian Research Council that have investigated contemporary challenges in educational environments. 

Most recently, she has collaborated with colleagues Joanne Lunn Brownlee, Mary Ryan, Susan Walker, Terri Burke, Lyra L’Estrange and Eva Johansson on the Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (2018-2022).

This partnership across five universities and two countries, Australia and Norway, uses innovative social lab methodologies and case studies to develop deeper understandings of the ways teacher educators—an under researched population– make decisions about how and what to teach when teaching for diverse contexts.  

A key finding emerging from this research is the dramatic difference in regards to what it means to aspire to teach about, or teach to diversity, as opposed to focusing on teaching for diversity.  Teaching about and catering to diversity are reactive. The teaching for diversity philosophy asks us to question what might inhibit certain benefits getting to certain people, so thinking about how certain types of assessments, like standardized exams, may exclude certain learners. Aligning with this type of thinking is the idea that people are not born, but become minoritized due to systemic failures (in schools and beyond) to incorporate the needs of diverse people.   

On this, Leonie says, 

“Knowing (as a teacher) that in a particular cohort that you have x number of students who identify as autistic and x number of students who are from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities is important information and it should shape our decision making: but a desire to respond to diversity is not sufficient in and of itself. It is too easy to see difference as something to be accommodated in a system that is left largely unchanged. If we are really committed to social justice as a reality not an aspiration, then we need to embrace the idea that diversity itself is the norm, and question long held views in our education system regarding what constitutes a ‘good student’ and what, by extension, we can expect of ‘good teachers.'” 

Findings emerging from this study have shown that the ways teacher educators think about diversity has a powerful impact upon what they do and do not teach their pre-service students. The study has also shown that there is limited space in teacher education programs for people to unpack the challenges of teaching for diversity and that working collaboratively with other teacher educators generates the most productive change.   

How Does Initial Teacher Education Research Frame the Challenge of Preparing Future Teachers for Student Diversity in Schools? A Systematic Review of Literature is published in the Review of Educational Research, the highest ranking journal in the field of education research in the world. Findings from the study have been published in highly esteemed journals nationally and internationally.

Read more of Leonie’s collaborative research on her Griffith experts page and in the following articles.

Teacher education and teaching for diversity: a call to action









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