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Scholars Articulate Strategies for Disrupting Inequity Through Teacher Prep

Although violence and hate permeate our society, there is reason for hope: It is an amazing time to be in education. We are in a profession that has more to do with what we might do to change this society than any other profession. So how do we reframe the way we work with young people to make a better world?

These words were part of Deborah Loewenberg Ball’s introduction of a March 2 Deeper Dive session at the 70th AACTE Annual Meeting, organized by TeachingWorks under the theme “Outrage to Action: Disrupting Inequity Through Teacher Education.” Ball, of the University of Michigan, invited the audience to combat today’s fragmented society by intentionally building more connections, including with the “invisible” people who play supporting roles in our lives.

Her words set the tone for the rest of the symposium, in which presenters addressed how the high-leverage teaching practice specifying and reinforcing productive student behavior should include disruption of inequity in the classroom. “Schools send strong signals to students [and others] about what behavior ought to look like among humans,” Ball said. “How do we take hold of that aspect of schooling and reframe, rethink, redefine, and understand it in new ways?”

Lisa Delpit, Felton G. Clark Distinguished Professor of Education at Southern University (LA), urged the audience to disrupt students’ “identities of inadequacy” by tapping into their strengths and designing opportunities to turn these into identities of academic excellence. Teachers can build these connections by helping students draw on their cultural legacy, lived experiences, community, and other capital outside the classroom.

sj Miller, deputy director of the Center for Research on Equity in Teacher Education and research associate professor at New York University, spoke about embedding the complexities of gender identity through a “pedagogy of refusal.” Students who are outside the norm need to focus on surviving rather than on thriving, Miller said, listing common assumptions that undermine student engagement by reinforcing a cis-normative identity. The pedagogy of refusal is about reclaiming the right to identify outside of binary constructs that force students to pathologize themselves, moving instead toward identity self-determination and justice.

Theresa Montaño, vice president of the California Teachers Association and professor of Chicana/Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge, shared her research and work with Latinx teacher activists to inform teacher preparation. Together, they investigated the types of academic knowledge that are produced in the home – particularly from cultural material that is not taught in school and that is grounded in the home language. Montaño presented a compelling argument for making disciplines such as Chicano studies central to education and teacher preparation, as they command attention to critical equity and social justice issues.

Miller’s colleague David Kirkland, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, turned the conversation to youth voice – and what happens when efforts to honor student voices go wrong. Kirkland noted the danger of adding to the trauma of students accustomed to receiving demerits and the need to build students up by allowing them to express their voice in authentic ways – and not squashing their spirit with benign efforts to help them learn, such as by emphasizing error over effort. “Don’t penalize students for bringing their life into classrooms,” he said.

“Are these things teachable?” Ball asked, leading the panelists into a discussion with questions contributed from the audience via Twitter. Delpit thought so, quipping, “If I believe that all children can learn, then I believe all adults can learn. Some just need more time and special interventions.” Kirkland noted that blind optimism that things will improve is not productive. “We need a more systematic approach,” he said. Montaña agreed, saying, “We have no choice but to engage in a different way of teaching. Our future as a nation depends on it.”

You can download the slides from the presentation here, and watch the video recording of the session in the AACTE Learning Center.

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