Research Projects

Professor Portelli’s research involves both philosophical and empirical work (mostly qualitative).

Educational Equity and Inclusion in Neoliberal Times (2009-2014) – Supported by SSHRC

Principal Investigator:  Professor John P. Portelli

Other Investigators:  Drs. Jim Ryan (OISE), Reva Joshee (OISE), Ann Vibert (Acadia), Brenda Spencer (Alberta)

Description: This research aims to offer a new understanding of how policy discourses interact in complex ways to influence school practice.  Using a ‘policy web’ metaphor, we hope to gain a better sense of how policy discourses are currently shaping education. We will begin by identifying and defining the neoliberal policy discourses that are circulating in three provinces across Canada (Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia). After comparing the provincial contexts we will examine the impact of these discourses on school-level practice. The goal of this study is to illustrate how the neoliberal context influences educational equity and inclusion at the local level, and to offer recommendations for negotiating this context in support of social justice work in public education.

Investing in Equity  (2009-2011) – Supported by the Council of Directors of Education

The aim of this project was to assist  with  the  ministry’s  goal  of  mobilizing  a  reflective  and  critical  mass of Aboriginal persons and visible minorities into educational leadership positions with particular emphasis on serving diverse communities within the Aboriginal people and immigrant populations (Peel Region, York Region, and Toronto). This leadership program is committed to building the capacity of diverse leaders leading in diverse contexts. This program while focusing on the routine responsibilities of educational leaders also focuses on the investment in diverse leadership and its exponentially-added-benefits in serving Aboriginal persons and immigrant populations. Such exponentially-added-benefits of diverse leadership include: diverse perspectives; developing and sustaining meaningful engagement with students, their families and communities and documenting diverse, meaningful and reflective pedagogical frameworks for leadership committed to serving Aboriginal persons and visible minority populations.

Pedagogies at Risk: Social Justice Teaching and Accountability Discourses (2008-2010) – Supported by SSHRC

Principal Investigator: Ann Vibert, Acadia University 

Co-investigators: Professor John P. Portelli, OISE/UT, and Carolyn Shields, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

In order to support teachers, principals, and public school educators committed to social justice work – including meaningful and useful work with historically and sociologically “at-risk” students – educators, researchers, and policy-makers need to better understand the complexities of these educators’ work lives and histories. While accounts of the risks and difficulties inherent in such work have been with us for years (e.g. McLaren, 1989; Lewis, 1993), relatively new policyscapes provide whole new sets of challenges against which such educators conceptualize and carry out their work. The purpose of this study is to document and analyze the narratives of social justice educators currently working in public schools, focusing particularly on how they negotiate their work in current contexts, in the interests of developing practical and policy recommendations for supporting such work in schools.

Stakeholders’ Perspectives on induction for New Teachers: Critical Analysis of Teacher Testing and Mentorship (2005-2009) – Supported by SSHRC

Stakeholders Perspectives on Induction for New Teachers, Book    

Principal Investigator: Professor John P. Portelli, OISE/UT 

Co-investigators: Patrick Solomon, York University and Donatille Mujawamariya, University of Ottawa

Using a mixed methodology (survey research, focus groups, and interviews), this three-year, SSHRC-funded research examined the extent to which OTQT contributed to teacher knowledge and competence, and made recommendations about the kind of pre-certificate evaluation that would best increase teacher competence.

Toward an Equitable Education: Diversity, Poverty, and Students at Risk (2003-2007) – Supported by SSHRC

Toward An Equitable Education, Report

Principal Investigator: Professor John P. Portelli, OISE/UT 

Co-investigators: Carolyn Shields, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Ann Vibert, Acadia University

The overarching purposes of this study were to investigate the models of “at-riskness” espoused by educators, to determine the relationships between their constructed understandings and their “theories in use” (Kaplan, 1964), and to ascertain to what extent these “theories-in-use” influence the academic success of students “at risk.” The study employed a qualitative research methodology informed by institutional ethnography within six hools (3 elementary, 3 secondary) in three provinces; British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.  

The specific objectives were: 

1. To determine how theorists and practitioners construct and understand the notion of students at-risk. 

2. To understand the approaches adopted by various educators to students at-risk. 

3. To identify the strategies and/or programs used by educators to address the needs of students at-risk. 

4. To ascertain what factors contribute to/detract from the academic success of students who are traditionally unsuccessful. 

5. To identify students’ responses to these approaches.

6. To make recommendations to educators and policy-makers regarding: ways of conceptualising “at-riskness;” reforms that promote more equitable educational opportunities and outcomes; the role of educational leaders in promoting equity in “at-risk programs;” and the preparation of school leaders.

Pre-service students’ responses to “White Privilege”

In collaboration with Dr. Patrick Solomon, Professor of Education, York University, this qualitative study focused on 200 teacher candidates’ responses to Peggy McIntosh’s article “White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack”. As a result of the analysis of students’ responses, several implications for teacher education programs were identified and discussed. See:

‘The discourse of denial: how white teacher candidates construct race, racism, and ‘white privilege’ ” in Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8, 2, July 2005: 147-169.

“Divergent discourses: Minoritized teacher candidates’ contradictory responses to “white privilege.” in L. Karumancherry (Ed.), Rupturing racism: Critical theories and insurgent strategies. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2006.

Student Engagement in Learning and School Life (1996-1999)

Supported by the J.W.McConnell Foundation with support from the Vancouver Foundation

Completed 1998

Co-authored with Lynn Butler-Kisber, Linda LaRocque, Carolyn Shields, William Smith, Carolyn Sturge Sparkes, Ann Vibert, Murray Forman, Marilyn Hoar, Valda Leightiezer, Jan Nicol, Parnel Pierce, William Smith