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Jim Hoffman working with students in Mozambique

An interview with James Hoffman, professor of language and literacy studies, on his collaboration with University of Texas San Antonio Professor of Literacy Education Misty Sailors and their longstanding partnership with educators in Mozambique.

Current work

In 2016, Misty and I became the primary literacy consultants on a seven-year project in Mozambique funded by the Canadian government. We work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, CODE Canada, and Progresso (our local NGO).

This is our most recent and current project and is closest to what we do in our work at home as literacy teacher educators.  We are working directly with teacher training colleges to improve the quality of teacher preparation for primary schools.

Initially, we focused on designing and gathering baseline data on current practices in teacher preparation. Our work has shifted to focus on work with teacher educators to promote the use of interactive/participatory methodologies that encourage active teaching and active learning in academic courses. Our long-term goal is that the next generation of elementary teachers use these interactive tools and strategies in their own classrooms.

Adapting methods to local context

For the last year, we’ve been engaged in a feasibility study of a mentoring partnership between a teacher training college and their annex elementary schools. Our approach is modeled on the methods we use currently at both UT Austin and UT San Antonio in our tutoring and mentoring.

We have adapted our methods to the local Mozambique context and are working to develop a model that can be used nationally. Throughout our time working in Africa, we have been intentional in conducting research with our colleagues that can inform the international community.

Respect for local expertise

We are careful in our work to respect and use local expertise. We are sometimes positioned as external experts who bring solutions to problems. We are not that. We work hard in building relationships to be supportive of local efforts, local expertise, and local problem-posing.

We work as partners. We worry a great deal that much of international development work comes from a very different model where grand solutions are imported by outside experts to solve problems identified by these same outsiders.

Mostly, these grand solutions are simplistic, wrong, and deflect attention away from the powerful work that is being done by locals. Post-colonial oppression thrives in the form of international aid efforts.

 James Hoffman directs the undergraduate reading specialization program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin and teaches graduate courses focused on literacy research. He is a professor of Language and Literacy Studies.

 For more than 15 years, he has conducted research and development work in Africa with Misty Sailors, professor of literacy education in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at University of Texas at San Antonio. Their work has taken them to several nations where they have collaborated with local experts and communities to improve literacy instruction in the primary grades.

 

Scotland landscape

Associate Professor Allison Skerrett’s research includes examining the educational experiences of transnational youths, students who live across two or more countries, for some of whom formal schooling across different countries is part of their transnational lifestyle. Since 2016, she has been part of a 10-member International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA), advising the Scottish government on issues related to education and inequity. Her second two-year appointment begins in September.

The following is a Q&A in which Skerrett explains her work with the ICEA and its potential to impact education in Scotland as well as her own research and teaching.

How have you applied your research interests within your work in Scotland?

The Scottish government’s goal for the ICEA is to provide them with the best evidence-based advice on improving their education system, and educational and social outcomes for all K-12 students. A major focus of the Scottish government’s educational improvement plan is increasing all students’ literacy achievement and, in particular, closing (an ideal) the achievement gap between students living in poverty and those with more advantages.

I have been able to draw from my research on Allison Skerrett with the council in Scotlandadolescent literacy to broaden our conversations about literacy achievement. For example, I have spoken about the significance of ensuring that the literacy curriculum students receive in school connects to the ways in which students use literacy in their personal, social, community, and work lives. I have also advised the Minister and Deputy First Minister of Education and their staff that there are multiple approaches to reading instruction and that teachers must be knowledgeable about when and how to draw on different approaches. Additionally, I, along with the entire council, have advised that curriculum policy must provide the flexibility as well as support for teachers to be decision-makers in their classrooms based in their knowledge of their students and their needs.

Participating in the ICEA has given me an insider’s perspective on how pivotal empirical research and expertise drawn from many contexts can be in helping policymakers understand the changing landscape of education and educational knowledge, and be willing to work toward educational improvement. In short, my work on the ICEA encourages me greatly to press forward with my research with the hope that it, along with other research in this area, certainly can ultimately influence educational policy.

Much of the work in Scotland seems focused on the disparity in academic performance between low-income and high-income students. How have you applied your expertise in transnational students and their education?

Scotland, like many other world nations, has a growing population of students that are sometimes labeled as migrant or refugee students. I have asked questions of our Scottish colleagues about whether and in what ways this particular demographic of the student population is in need of or receiving special consideration in policy and practice. The Scottish educational culture is very much grounded in conversations about inequities stemming from poverty and while the recognition of the entanglements of class, immigrant status, and other social differences is acknowledged in education and society, these intersections or transnational students in particular have not been a major part of policy conversation.

I keep raising discussions about transnationalism and student diversity more generally with educators I interact with and asking questions and providing insights about the diversity that exists within student populations and why it’s important to attend to those differences when seeking to improve educational practice and student learning.

How have you and the group begun addressing the equity gap between students?

In our first term (2016-2018) as a group of international education advisers, the council strongly recommended against standardized assessments as a way to “measure” and “close” the “achievement gap.” I place all these words in quotation marks because of the problematic beliefs and educational practices such ideas have propagated in many contexts, including in the U.S. The council worked with the Scottish government to consider the kinds of data they needed about student performance and how that data would be used by schools and teachers and urged the government to stay the course with a commendable flexible national curriculum already in place, Curriculum for Excellence.

Allison Skerrett being interviewed in ScotlandIn short, based in our experience we urged the government to do nothing that would make teachers and students feel a restriction of literacy and numeracy curriculum because of national testing but be clear that data would be used to guide individualized instruction for each child while all students continued to experience a curriculum with broad learning goals (academic, social, and civic) with continuing flexibility for teachers to innovate how to teach in ways that helped students accomplish those goals. I believe this was one of our most important early achievements because we know that once particular students have been identified by a particular measure of being on the “wrong” end of the “achievement gap” that schooling can quickly become a soulless experience that actually pushes students out of school, psychologically and physically, achieving the very opposite of equity.

Over the first two years of our term we have also advised the government on how to make Scotland a stronger school and teacher-led educational system with strong professional learning supports at all levels of education and with minimum legislation. The committee’s first full report on our advisory work with the Scottish government was recently published on June 26, 2018.

Based on your research, how can teachers and policy makers better understand the educational needs of multicultural student populations?

I think seeking out the voices of students, families, and communities is key to understanding the educational experiences, cultural strengths and resources of diverse student populations, and their expectations of education. Doing so will provide insights to teachers and policy makers about how to be thoughtfully responsive in ensuring that diverse populations experience an education that is representative of who they are and are becoming and support them in meeting their goals. Beyond inviting these parties into conversations into educational policy conversations, I believe that teachers and policymakers need to better understand diversity by actually spending a great deal more time in communities and schools (in the case of policymakers) to truly understand the strengths and needs of diverse students, families, and communities. One positive outcome of those interactions is that teachers and policymakers will be exposed to the richness and strength of diverse students and their communities allowing them to view these communities from an appreciative perspective and as partners, rather than a narrow view of them being in need of “help.” It will promote thoughtful development of educational experiences that are in alignment with who students are, what they know and can do, and where and how they need and wish to grow.

Final thoughts

Being a member of Scotland’s ICEA has been one of the most unique and important professional learning opportunities for me. As researchers and teacher educators, we often view educational policy making at a distance. We may analyze, critique, and commend policy and their affects, and teach our students how to negotiate with curriculum policy in their teaching but few of us have the opportunity to actually participate in educational policy making at a national level with government officials who create them.

It has been tremendously encouraging to work with a national government deeply interested in dialogue with a range of educational scholars and who are sincerely careful that policy serves the goals of educational justice and does not cause unintended harm.

Skerrett is Louise Spence Griffeth Fellow for Excellence in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

UT students at graduation

What is college like?

The media, specifically television and movies, are one way we receive messages about college, college-going, and the experiences and value of college. These images and depictions are created by people who have and haven’t experienced college life. Yet, those similar and repeated images contribute to perceptions of college for the general public.

This summer, Educational Leadership and Policy Assistant Professor of Practice Beth Bukoski and doctoral student Alden Jones created and taught Pop Culture in Higher Education.

Here, they’ve written about what pop culture gets right, as well as where those depictions fall short of reality.

Professors are stuffy, cold, or too lazy to actually teach.

There are, according to TV and film, only a few types of professors. They are generally portrayed as stuffy, mean, out of touch, or silly. They are the background noise to student college experiences in most representations—and most of those representations are of White cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual men.

Bukoski teaching graduate students

Bukoski teaching graduate students

There they are up at the board, tweed jacket back to the room, lecturing on some obscure mathematical concept. Or maybe they are saying something nonsensical for a laugh. Meanwhile, the range of characters available to students at a university (and it’s almost always a university) is broader—but certainly nothing near exhaustive.

Regardless of the type of professor, the thing to know is that yes, there are those professors at a real college. But they aren’t the norm. Most professors are regular people, trying to do good work. Professors are whole people. The sentiment underlying these portrayals is part of what scholars Tobolowsky and Reynolds call anti-intellectualism. These images, repeated often enough, form a perception of faculty that “devalue scholarship and intellectual endeavors.”

This perception has real effects on what the general public thinks about college, who should go to college and why, and how higher education should be funded.

Students as represented by popular culture, without fail, drink to excess out of red solo cups at a fraternity house with a hard-partying reputation.

UT students enjoying a night, sans alcohol

UT students enjoying a night, sans alcohol

In show after movie after film after episode, college parties are depicted. We see them in Van Wilder, Old School, and Pitch Perfect. And lest we forget, the “quintessential” college party movie is Animal House. In fact, Animal House has become such a touchstone and influence on how students behave that a poster of John Belushi in a shirt that says “college” is still a best-selling item. This poster, however, leaves out the context of the film, which was a critique of the fraternity and sorority system.

Some college students drink, so do non-students. Some college students party, so do non-students. And some college students don’t do any of these things, and neither do non-students. The point is that this stereotype, while based in some students’ reality and experience, is not every student’s reality and experience.

In fact, researchers Lewis and Neighbors concluded that students over-estimated the drinking behaviors of their peers, sometimes by a whole six-pack!

College is just like high school with jocks at one table and nerds at the other.

Revenge of the Nerds and even Monsters University tell us college students fall into several separate groups. Similar to the way high school cheerleaders and jocks might sit together, and the band geeks and artistic types sit together, and the nerds keep to themselves, the portrayal of college students is that they also “stick to their own.” In Higher Learning one character identifies all the groups on the quad, who are grouped by race. For example, “Disneyland” is the group of white students who come from an upper socioeconomic status background. (Not a compliment, but also not inaccurate.)

Two UT students enjoying a coffee break

Two UT students enjoying a coffee break

Researchers Astin and Pascarella and Terrenzini all highlight the importance of one’s peer group in college. In fact, one study (Antonio, 2001) noted that friendships between groups were common, but those students who had interracial or interethnic friendships saw themselves as outliers instead of the norm. Thus, campus is perceived as more segregated than it actually is. We can apply similar assumptions to intergroup friendships between fraternity and sorority members and “nerds” or the debate team and the basketball team.

Making different kinds of friends, living or working with people different than one’s self can be one of the benefits of college. Sometimes this makes it to the screen. “Unlikely” friendships show up in Felicity, Scream 2, and Grown-ish. And that’s our point: they are presented as unlikely rather than common. Yes, college students generally find a group of friends similar to themselves; however, they also make friends who are different from whom they are used to interacting. There is, after all, no one single way to “do” college.

Rape culture is highlighted, but not critiqued.

In media, college women are present for only a few reasons, mostly sex-related: to prop up or propel a man’s storyline (PCU), be an object of lust (Neighbors 2), or to be a prize to be won (see all the Revenge of the Nerds films). Even when women are central characters, their lives are still defined in part or whole by whom they date or have sex with (Legally Blonde; Pitch Perfect) or their lives are not complete until they have come to realize their feminine powers (The House Bunny). These portrayals depict aspects of rape culture, which permeates even the frothiest of media, and few media critique it in any way.

In the most graphic depictions (horror), women are punished for their sexuality and usually only the virgin gets to live to the end (Scream Queens; Scream 2). Let’s note that lesbians are usually portrayed as benign “predators” looking to turn sweet straight girls to the “dark side” of sexuality (Higher Learning; Pitch Perfect).

While few television shows or movies take up rape as explicitly as in Higher Learning, there is a clear message that women are not safe on college campuses. And the reality is that women aren’t particularly safe anywhere in American society. According to RAINN, 23 percent of all women experience rape or sexual assault. But about 5 percent of males experience it, too. And while 18- to 24-year-old women are more likely to be the target of sexual assault compared to all women, non-students are more likely than college women to be targeted (four times vs. three times).

So while documentaries like The Hunting Ground are pretty accurate in portraying the complexities surrounding how rape culture plays out on college campuses, portrayals can also mask how endemic rape culture is to U.S. society as a whole.

College is mostly for White people

College is for White people between 18 to 22 years old who live with roommates and don’t do much other than party, occasionally show up to class, and play hacky-sack on the quad. Almost all of the examples we’ve given so far feature mostly White casts with a few exceptions (Higher Learning), so student bodies are White bodies. And while there are contemporary and complex portrayals of Black experiences in college (A Different World, Dear White People, Grown-ish, Drumline, Stomp the Yard, etc.), portrayals of Asian or Latinx characters in college are usually reduced to caricatures at worst (Revenge of the Nerds) and stereotypical support characters at best (PCU, Pitch Perfect).

UT students at graduation

UT students at graduation

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as of fall 2016, White students comprise about two-thirds of the college population, 19 percent are Latinx, 13 percent Asian, 13 percent Black, 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 2 percent Other. Pitch Perfect illustrates the issue well. There are 10 Bellas: seven are White, one Black, one Asian, one Latina. While the film provides back stories of over half the White characters, the three ethnic minority women are reduced to tropes: an oversexed lesbian who happens to be Black, a quiet Asian, and an English-language-learning Latina. Even when representation looks about right, non-White students get to show up, but they don’t get a storyline or a realistic personality, and their struggles and achievements are made invisible. The rare exception to this is Ronny Chieng’s sitcom, Ronny Chieng: International Student, which portrays Asian college students attending an Australian university.

Community does this as well but the characters are fuller, which is to be expected in a long-running sitcom with an ensemble cast. This show actually portrays a community college, which is rare as most representations are of four-year universities. Community colleges have about 45 percent White students and tend to be more diverse than their four-year counterparts in other ways as well (first-generation students, veterans, English language learners).

What do these portrayals reveal?

Some truths for sure. Yet those truths, if anything, reveal issues that institutions of higher education are trying to solve, including issues of access, inclusion, diversity in the professoriate, and sexual assault.

But the most important take away is this: while White students can see themselves in college through multiple TV and film portrayals, and Black students can look to some (still limited) portrayals, students with other minoritized identities (Asian, Latinx, indigenous students, yes, but also veterans, English language learners, adults returning for certification or a degree, LGBTQ students, etc.) have few to no possible models that are anything other than a stereotype. And that needs to change.

America is only becoming more diverse, and portrayals of higher education in media influence potential students, shape the attitudes of those with and without college experiences, and may even impact the way politicians view and fund higher education. The purpose of higher education is to be a public good, to produce educated citizens ready to participate in a robust democracy. In this day and age, this mission is more important than ever, despite the red solo cup often portrayed in film and TV.

Bukoski and Jones were featured in a podcast about their research on the socialization of transgender and queer graduate students. Listen in!

A mother and daughter walking through a city

The HIV/AIDS epidemic that started in the 1980s devastated populations around the world, reaching its peak in 2005. International awareness and research efforts have made strides to combat HIV, but the battle is far from over.

The rate of new HIV infections has significantly decreased from 130,400 new infections in 1985 to 39,393 new infections in 2015. While this is good news, there are still populations that are considered high risk for contracting HIV. Among these are low-income Black and Latina women who may not have sufficient resources to protect themselves from HIV infection.

A momentous development in the prevention of the spread of HIV has been the PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) prevention, a pill that can reduce the chance of contracting HIV by up to 99 percent. Although this medication has been available since 2012, access and awareness are still an issue.Photo of Liesl Nydegger

Liesl Nydegger, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, is working with local communities in Austin to help find effective interventions for Black and Latina women in high-risk environments for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV.

“There are obstacles such as housing, transportation, relationships, poverty, gentrification, and structural barriers that make it hard for women to focus on their sexual health,” says Nydegger. “If we can help with basic needs, that would decrease issues such as substance abuse or living with an abusive partner. These supports create positive effects that can trickle down into overall health improvements.”

Nydegger’s study involves a partnership with Austin’s local SafePlace, a shelter for people affected by domestic violence or sexual assault. By interviewing these individuals over three months, she will be able to find longitudinal stresses that contribute to poor health. This research phase will help to inform structural interventions that can be proposed to improve health in these groups. Nydegger is conducting this study alongside Kasey Claborn, an assistant professor in the Dell Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.

Some of the women in the high-risk group that Nydegger studies have been survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which can have psychological impacts that make it hard for them to have healthy sexual relationships. These include relationships in which the woman was under 16 years old, and more than five years younger than her partner. The age difference creates a power differential that can be carried into adulthood, making it hard for women to negotiate condom use with their current partners.

Nydegger conducted similar interviews with women in Milwaukee and found that there was little awareness for options such as PrEP. “Although women were aware that STIs were prevalent in their community, they did not consider themselves as high-risk for HIV infection. Even more concerning, three of the four women interviewed reported that their doctors were unaware of PrEP,” says Nydegger.

“Advertisements and awareness campaigns for the PrEP option do exist, but they are most often targeted towards men who have sex with men. This group is considered higher-risk for contracting HIV than women, but women have certain vulnerabilities that make it difficult for them to protect themselves from infection.

Women who are in abusive or coercive relationships often do not have the option to negotiate condom use with their partners, which leaves them vulnerable to infection,” says Nydegger. “Options such as PrEP offer a discreet way for women to protect themselves.”

 

The winter Olympics may have wrapped up earlier this year, but charges of doping still reverberate.

With all of the scandals surrounding this year’s Winter Olympics, it’s hard to ignore the importance of ethics in sports. Between Russia being barred from the Olympics for doping and former U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar being sentenced for sexual abuse, news headlines have been rife with controversy.

But controversy and ethics in sports is not new.

Society tends to put professional athletes on a pedestal – casting them as idols and role models. In reality, professional sports can serve more as a mirror to society, but are not always held to the same standards. Tolga Ozyurtcu, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, says “In times like these, it is important to uphold ethical principles and not let a person’s reputation or fame downplay their actions. Although sports have numerous positive benefits, people should not ignore the bad when celebrating the good.”

Ozyurtcu addresses issues like these in his teaching. He cites many sports events and controversies of the past that still resonate with us today, such as:

He also teaches a course, Historical and Ethical Issues in Physical Culture and Sports, that helps undergraduate kinesiology and health education students consider these topics. It’s a course with value that extends beyond the realm of athletics. “We focus on the ethical decision-making process: how do we identify an issue as a matter of ethics, examine it, and find the courage to take action,” says Ozyurtcu.

His course uses historical events to examine ethical issues, and current events also shape much of the class discussion. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics, for example, provoked ethical conversations around:

  • competing for a nation you don’t reside in or have much connection to,
  • allowing children to try risky sports, such as luge or skeleton,
  • and gold-medalist Shaun White’s sexual harassment allegations.

Says Ozyurtcu, who welcomes anyone to contact him to attend one of his lectures, “These examples allow students to develop a process of reasoning that, hopefully, should translate into their careers and lives beyond the Forty Acres.”

Tolga Ozyurtcu instructing a class

Tolga Ozyurtcu instructing a class

Though the discussions in Ozyurtcu’s classes focus on sports and ethics, the concepts can be applied to other aspects of life. Ozyurtcu, therefore, tries to highlight the moral dilemmas that arise from justifying less than exemplary behavior in the pursuit of competitive success.

“An example I often use in class is based on youth sports, which we tend to justify because of non-sports benefits like discipline, integrity, teamwork, and leadership.  However, when we turn around and coach kids to do something such as deceiving a referee, we completely undermine our justifications. This may seem like a minor indiscretion, but the lessons we learn as children have outsized legacies in our lives,” says Ozyurtcu.

Although students may not have to deal with issues as grave as those that plagued the Winter Games, studying ethics can help them develop a process of reasoning that extends beyond their time in school.

Cervantes-Soon’s Juarez Girls Rising provides a counter-narrative to popular conceptions of Juarez, Mexico, and a guidepost for school communities who want to foster agency and resistance in the face of violence.

Claudia Cervantes-Soon, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, grew up in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. Described on this side of the border, often sensationalistically, as a drug den and killing field, especially of young girls, Juarez also is a place that Cervantes-Soon understands as so much more. As she says, “to many Mexicans, Juarez  … [was] a land where they could get a chance for survival in the global capitalism that had swallowed their country.”

Claudia Cervantes-SoonCervantes-Soon is a faculty member in the bilingual and bicultural education department within the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. She’s interested in ethnographic approaches to studying, in part, what’s taught in the classroom and how identities are used, navigated and presented, particularly among culturally and linguistically diverse learners and young Latina/Mexican women.

Her book, Juarez Girls Rising has recently been selected by the Society for the Study of Social Problems as one of five finalists for the 2017 C. Wright Mills Award. In the book, Cervantes-Soon presents narratives of 10 high school girls coming of age within the backdrop of Juarez. Through their stories, the reader gains insight into how the unique educational experience the girls have in their schooling environment offers them tools, agency and voice that they can use for survival, renewal and resistance.

The girls in Juarez Girls Rising attend Prepatoria Altavista, an urban school founded on social justice principles in the late ’60s. The curriculum of the school is guided by a philosophy called autogestión, “a holistic and dialectical approach to individual and collective identity formation rooted in students’ experiences and critical understanding of their social realities.” This “self-authorship” empowers the young women to overcome barriers and develop meaningful identities within an overarching atmosphere of oppression and violence.

One has only to consider the protests against gun violence all across the United States to see how the stories and resiliency of these young girls, who are soon to be women, translates across and beyond the border on which they live. And, says Cervantes-Soon, “the teacher movements going on around the United States ask us to reflect on the meaning of education.” In that light, Juarez Girls Rising provides a guidepost for educators and students in creating transformative and empowering school communities that foster the strengths, identities, and agency of marginalized students in a complex world.

Cervantes-Soon is currently conducting research into black and Latino coalitions in dual-language programs in Austin-area schools. The project has been awarded the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. Read more about it on the College of Education website.

 

Students and student teachers seated on the floor for a reading exercise.

Including Race in Literacy Instruction Opens Up the World

On a Thursday afternoon last fall, approximately 20 pre-service teachers arrived for class at Guerrero-Thompson Elementary in Austin. They were students in the College of Education enrolled in Literacy Methods, a course on reading methods in elementary school.

Their initial assignment: critically analyze non-fiction texts.

The goal was for the pre-service teachers to experience the same kinds of assignments they might give their future students. As they balanced in chairs meant for learners half their size, they read articles in small groups and discussed and debated their peers.

They were guided by doctoral student Natalie Svrcek, while Curriculum and Instruction Associate Professor Melissa Wetzel provided assistance.

After they finished, they fetched their fourth-grade reading buddies and positioned themselves on a large colorful rug at the front of the classroom. That’s where the read-alouds—and the fun—began.

One youngster shared with her pre-service teacher a new pun she’d learned. She’d been learning and sharing a new pun each week. Svrcek reminded the younger students about the books she’d read and they’d discussed in the last weeks. Each book was related to UT’s tagline, What Starts Here Changes the World.

The students talked about what that meant to them: “What starts in your heart as something small can become a passion that creates positive change for others,” says one.

“Which stories do you like to hear the most?” Svrcek asked the group. “Ones with characters similar to you or ones where the character is different from you?”

One young girl says, “I like to read stories about people who are similar to me because I like to relate to what they did to fix their problem. I can do what the person did and follow in their footsteps.”

Another says, “I like to read about people different from me because I get to learn about different cultures.”

“Reading a book with characters similar to you is like looking in a mirror,” Svrcek says, “while reading one with characters who are different is like looking out a window.”

Previously, she’d read to the group, Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, which recounts a story of children whose parents are migrant farm workers and are not paid fairly. In the book, Dolores works to gain fair treatment for the families.

This day they were going to hear, The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth and Harlem’s Greatest Book Store.

Students listening to a reading exercise.

Curriculum for Our Times

Although the format is similar to courses that have been taught in the College of Education for years, the intentional addition of themes of racial equity and social justice is new, says Wetzel. “After Charlottesville, the election, and anti-immigration reforms, I really thought a lot about what it means to be a teacher in these times and how to prepare our students to respond.

“Elementary teachers are often motivated by their love for students. They often want to help. But what does it mean to help?” Wetzel says.

“Many of our students will teach children who come from diverse backgrounds, who face challenges, who are refugees impacted by war or other trauma. We are challenged to take those passionate feelings of people who want to be teachers and help them understand what it means to care for these children. We want to help them shore up their abilities to be a teacher in the complex classrooms they will find in Texas,” Wetzel says.

An Opportunity for Collaboration

As Wetzel and other colleagues across the department were modifying the methods course to address these time-sensitive issues, their colleague, Associate Professor Keffrelyn Brown, had been named a UT Austin Provost’s Teaching Fellow.

The prestigious teaching fellows program empowers faculty to advance education through individual initiatives that improve teaching and learning at UT, and through participation in campus-wide events that promote the quality of education and its status in the campus culture.

Brown’s research for the two-year fellowship focuses in part on the sociocultural knowledge of race in teaching and curriculum. She wants to use her fellowship as an opportunity to facilitate working groups for faculty who are interested in infusing anti-racist teaching and practices in their coursework.

The timing was ripe for college faculty collaboration on the topic. Says Brown, the faculty working groups “meet monthly in an intentional learning community. Faculty share their work sample or challenge. We listen closely to each other. We use inquiry within the learning community. Then we add the theoretical work and revise the curriculum around race,” she says.

“We also discuss strategies to better facilitate conversations around race as well as ideas such as what it looks like to take an asset-based stance with our students,” a view that each student comes from a community with assets rather than deficits, she says.

This spring, Brown is extending her reach beyond the College of Education across the university campus.

“I personally want to develop a stronger theoretical understanding of race, better understanding and use of important theoretical constructs, and means of having better conversations about race,” Brown says.

Passion Leads to Change

Brown sought an opportunity to work with Wetzel on the methods course and Wetzel participated in these faculty learning communities last fall.

She and Svrcek added concepts to the literacy methods curriculum—racial and social equity, and intersectionality.

“Students’ experiences are complex,” Wetzel says. “We all live complex lives, experience complex factors, and have complex classrooms. Our pre-service teachers need to be able to address that.

“The Literacy Methods course’s read-alouds create a space, or tutorial, to model these ideas. Each text has an intersectionality topic—race and gender, for example—along with the theme that “’I can be anything.’ We want to disrupt racial stereotypes,” Wetzel says.

She adds, “The theme highlights that small change makes big change. We can feel disempowered and all feel oppressed by systems we are involved in, but the things we are passionate about can make big change.”

Pre-service teachers and their co-operating teachers have found the methods and conversations with students to be surprising and meaningful to their work. “I didn’t know the kids could go that deep,” one cooperating teacher says.

Change-based Teaching

Pre-service teacher Collette Nguyen, a senior who plans to teach 3rd grade, says, “I didn’t really know what to expect from the students, but they have been very insightful. I read The Memory Coat; Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America; The Lotus Seed, and My Name is Sangoel. We explored the big questions—‘Why did people have to leave their home country to go to America? What struggles did they face and how did they feel?’ This allowed the students to develop empathy for others who had to flee because they were in danger. It opened a window for them to look into other cultures, and the severity of the situations they were put in that was out of their control.”

Nguyen adds, “By having them learn about these situations, my hope is that they will be tolerant people from the get-go and continue being people who embrace and respect differences in others. With that, they can learn to use their voice.”

Says Wetzel about her work with Brown and the incorporation of racial equity into the Literacy Methods curriculum, “As a department, anti-racist work is part of what we do. Teaching about diversity and sociocultural knowledge will be different in different times, shaped by a particular historical moment, in a particular context and place. It will never be just one syllabus.

“As knowledge in the field is changing and the social context is ever–changing, the teaching will always be change-based,” Wetzel says.

Racial Inequality & Schooling: Providing opportunities for access and identity in a changing educational landscape

This talk examines the nature of racial inequality in schooling, and through drawing on findings from multiple empirical studies, argues that we can and must find ways to provide equitable access to high-quality instruction, using STEM as an example, both within and across schools and districts. Na’ilah Suad Nasir also will discuss the critical role of student identities— racial identity, gender identity, and disciplinary identity— in the learning process and share ways that districts, schools, and teachers have worked to provide new kinds of opportunities for identity construction for marginalized students.

Nasir is the sixth president of the Spencer Foundation which supports research about education. She was a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley from 2008-2017 where she served as Vice-Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley from November 2015. Nasir earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at UCLA in 2000 and was a member of the faculty in the School of Education at Stanford University from 2000 – 2008. Her work focuses on issues of race, culture, learning, and identity. She is the author of Racialized Identities: Race and Achievement for African-American Youth and has published numerous scholarly articles. Nasir is a member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In 2016 she was the recipient of the AERA Division G Mentoring Award.

POST TAGS:

Promotion image of Q&A with Victor Saenz

Victor Sáenz began his tenure as chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in June. He discusses how changing the department’s name from Educational Administration better reflects the dynamic field, and what’s happening within the department and in the educational leadership and policy arena.

You have said that changing the name of the department reflects an evolution that aligns with changes in education. What are the most critical changes in the field right now?

The new department name reflects immense changes in the field of education, brought on by innovations in school leadership and management as well as shifting policy priorities. Issues such as school choice, demographic change, the rights of undocumented students, state divestment of public education, the compounding effects of poverty on school systems, and innovations in technology are re-shaping the education landscape. We need to train our school leaders and policy researchers for contemporary K-12 and higher education contexts, and our current faculty are engaged in research and practice that informs these new educational realities.

The department has a history of graduating principals and superintendents who go on to lead schools and districts not just in Texas, but across the country. What sets your graduates apart from other public education leaders?

Our department has built a national reputation for producing award-winning educational leaders and policy researchers. To ensure this legacy continues, we must be proactive and stay ahead of new educational leadership and policy challenges. Our department has a strong core of senior faculty with years of executive experience in training leaders and scholars, mid-career and junior faculty who employ cutting-edge methodological training in their expansive research agendas, and clinical faculty who possess years of professional experience that they bring into their classrooms. This balance is a key asset for our department and our students, and it must be carefully supported as our educational systems are disrupted by technology, curricular innovations, and shifting educational policy priorities.

What is the role of leaders in today’s educational arena?

Our leadership program’s goal is to achieve equity and excellence in academic outcomes for all students. As demographic changes portend more racial and ethnic diversity in the coming decades, especially in urban contexts, it is imperative that our educational leaders have a bold vision to promote the way in creating greater access to meaningful education opportunities for all students. We train educational leaders to have a strong grounding in research and best practices, to focus on improving teaching and learning, and to utilize inquiry-based, data-savvy, and strategic-planning skills. Training strong and effective educational leaders then leads to strong and effective schools, and this is how we aim to achieve our goal of equity and excellence for all.

How do faculty and students in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy work together to address pressing policy issues?

Our department has a rich legacy of students and faculty working collaboratively across sectors to address key policy issues in education. It begins with a group of faculty committed to working with students to provide meaningful experiential and field-based experiences that enrich learning in and out of the classroom. As a result, some of these opportunities have led to real policy impact. Our students emerge from our programs equipped to not only navigate multiple policy arenas but also to effectively influence and impact key policy conversations in education spaces.

What are your recommendations for anyone considering a career in educational leadership and policy?

Prospective students interested in applying to our educational leadership and policy programs should consider our strong legacy of training equity-minded scholars and practitioners. We train policy scholars who address emerging education policy issues and are committed to researching inequities in schools for all students. We prepare school leaders who anchor their practice in social justice and anti-racist leadership. We provide powerful learning experiences that are deeply grounded in fieldwork within schools and communities. These experiences launch our master’s and doctoral students into meaningful careers as scholar-practitioners with an optimal blend of theory and practice.

Victor B. Sáenz is chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and is an associate professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership. In 2010 Sáenz founded Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), focused on advancing success strategies for male students of color across the education pipeline.