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Educators Called to Disrupt Inequality at TeachingWorks Forum

How does the work of teaching become the work of justice and equity? At AACTE’s 69th Annual Meeting in Tampa, Florida, TeachingWorks organized one of the six major forums around this question, convening panelists from across the nation to discuss high-leverage practices for teachers to disrupt inequity in the classroom. Speakers at the March 3 forum emphasized the need for teachers to orient their practice around valuing community and students’ individual voices in order to advance social justice and learning for all.

Deborah Loewenberg Ball, education dean at the University of Michigan and head of TeachingWorks, moderated the forum with panel conversations based on building relationships with students, leading group discussions, and implementing routines for classroom discourse. Audience questions were also incorporated in the forum via live interaction and the hashtag #TWforum on Twitter.

Na’ilah Suad Nasir, vice chancellor of equity and inclusion at the University of California, Berkeley, began the discussion by noting that schools will either reproduce or disrupt inequity. Disrupting it, she said, is a challenge because our stratified society normalizes inequity, “justified by the belief that some people are less worthy than others.” Nasir spoke about the pivotal role teachers can play in mediating the outside world by understanding the local community and the different cultures and races shaping students’ identity. Knowledge of the trauma and stereotypes plaguing students in their everyday lives allows teachers to build individual relationships.

Building on the conference theme of “Acting as One,” Jason Kamras, chief of instructional practice for the District of Columbia Public Schools, reflected on the importance of community relationships and what that theme truly means. Like Nasir, Kamras focused on the concept of building individual relationships in order to help students realize their full potential. He also noted that while teacher-student relationships are important, the relationships teachers have with one another benefit the community as well. He shared experiences from his district’s schools with teacher learning communities, in which participants work in small groups to help each other with content expertise and building on one another’s efforts to improve teaching for all students.

Ernest Morrell, professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University (NY), said educators have to make themselves present equitably for all students and help learners develop an academic identity. “At the end of the day, it is how every student feels about herself or himself in your presence,” Morrell said. “What do teachers do so that all students feel like they have that kind of access and relationship with their teacher?” Morrell also advocated for establishing a poly-vocal classroom by teaching students to both speak up and listen to one another. Each student has a voice to share, he said, and teachers need to help bring that out through a safe and interactive environment.

The forum was one of several events organized by TeachingWorks as part of its annual “Preparing Teachers for Practice” strand at the AACTE conference. Visit the TeachingWorks website for information on the 2017 and past years’ offerings.

A recording of this major forum is available in the AACTE Learning Center, along with the other major forum and general session videos and presentation slides.

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