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Powerful Professional Learning: Preparing Educators for Equitable Family, School, and Community Engagement

, Preparing Educators for Equitable Family, School, and Community Engagement During the virtual AACTE 2021 Annual Meeting, attendees are invited to join their peers at the Learning Lab session, Preparing Educators for Equitable Family, School, and Community Engagement on Thursday, February 25 from 3:45 – 4:45 p.m. AACTE member Gail Richmond of Michigan State University addresses this topic in the following thought leadership article. 

Effective educators see themselves as more than just employees in a building. They consider themselves to be contributing members of a greater community. Educators do so much more than teach children academic lessons; they play a very important role in helping families and preparing young people to lead healthy and productive lives and to make their communities supportive and safe places to live. The more teachers know about the needs of their students, their families, and the communities in which they live, the more responsive they can be to those needs.

Powerful professional learning is the result of identifying and addressing relevant problems specific to individuals based on their own development and needs. Powerful professional learning also enables teachers to expand their perspectives and to refine their teaching strategies in order to be responsive to the students they educate, their family members, and the greater community.

To provide equitable learning spaces where all students can thrive, teachers must support learners, their families, and the community in ways that are powerful, meaningful, and helpful. Reform-oriented teaching is not just teaching to the standards, it is teaching to the standards as they are relevant and appropriate for and responsive to a culturally, racially, and linguistically diverse student population in which students have different learning needs. Therefore, it is essential that teachers refine their pedagogical skills and strategies to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of every student. In response to this critical need, AACTE has recently partnered with the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement to help expand our understanding of how educators can prepare for family engagement.

Schools serve individuals and communities with diverse perspectives and needs, and educators must be prepared to work in this complex environment. The notion that institutions of higher education are the sole source and purveyor of all knowledge about issues related to teaching is misguided and, in fact, is dangerous. Critical knowledge and practices that teachers need to be effective educators can be found in many places and modeled by people located outside of such institutions. Equitable instruction has to be a core feature of the curriculum of all educator preparation programs. It is the responsibility of those who design such programs to develop a set of outcomes that are equity-centered and derived from a defined set of principles or values. Such systematic and coherent backwards design helps to ensure that teacher candidates have continuous opportunities to learn about and enact practices that address key issues directly and in ways that are scaffolded in terms of complexity and expectations over time. That is, the core curriculum should be characterized by learning opportunities that, over time, are accompanied by programmatic expectations for greater responsibility and autonomy by candidates and that are characterized by regular opportunities to engage in specific practices, assess the effectiveness of this enactment, and modify those practices as a consequence of this analysis. 

These experiences must also engage the community in order to learn more about what equity means to local community agencies, business owners, religious leaders, families of school-aged children, after-school program leaders, and other community residents. Teachers need to engage with family members to understand in what areas a child excels and what is most important to that child and their family. Such individuals hold fundamental knowledge about the community and can provide teachers with information they otherwise would not have access to.

So, what does this all mean for powerful professional learning? It means that teachers need to feel empowered to make connections between what they have learned in their teacher preparation programs and the context in which they are teaching. They need to be supported in developing new strategies for leveraging the interests, concerns, and priorities of the students they are teaching and find new ways to become an integral and vocal part of their communities. Since learning styles vary from child to child, and group to group, teachers should spread their arms wide and embrace the traditions, issues, and values each child brings to the classroom, much of which are shaped by their lived experiences outside of school.   

Gail Richmond is director of Teacher Preparation Programs at Michigan State University and professor of science and urban education in the Department of Teacher Education. Her vast research has focused on the support of meaningful teaching and learning, particularly those taking place within high-poverty settings, within and outside traditional classrooms, and how these might inform the design of teacher education programs. Richmond is co-editor of the Journal of Teacher Education and served as president of NARST– A worldwide organization for improving science teaching and learning through research.

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Gail Richmond

Professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University