by Lara Smetana
The Crossroads call for blog posts came out during a tense mid-September week during which Chicago was gripped by a Chicago Teacher Union strike. Like many across the city, I was tied to the various Twitter feeds reporting minute-by-minute updates from the picket lines and negotiation headquarters and trying to make some sense, for myself, out of the recent events that had been on the horizon for months but had finally materialized. How do I, a relatively new assistant professor of teacher education, sort through the personal and professional dimensions of these local controversies?
Following the logic that Alan Lichtman has used to predict the outcomes of presidential elections since 1860 (Vedantam, 2012), it could be argued that the Chicago Teachers Union strike was inevitable. The strike represented an upheaval such as that which naturally results from deep tectonic forces that cause earthquakes. I view the wave of teacher strikes that have passed through Chicago and other nearby school districts during Fall 2012 as part of larger national tremors of frustration with persistent inequalities (Ariely, 2012) and social inequities, including in educational opportunity and outcomes (Schmidt & McNight, 2012).
While reflecting upon my own professional efforts in the midst of these challenging times, I returned to a copy of the recently published Research on Schools, Neighborhoods, and Communities: Toward Civic Responsibility. Here, William Tate (2012) calls for the development of research and practice pathways, or “mutually informing set of interactions among scholars, civic leadership and educational professionals with the goal of supporting children and by extension their families” (p. 523). He also warns against the sort of “parallel play” that too often characterizes highly departmentalized academic research efforts.
Expanding upon his vision of united engagement, I see solutions to the deep, underlying problems troubling school systems across the country as possible through braided efforts of teachers, administrators, school support staff, district officials, students, families, neighborhoods, universities, community organizations and agencies. Individual strands are identifiable, recognized and celebrated, but the strength and tightness of the braid as a whole comes from a demonstrated common commitment to looking out for the best interests of students and families; to lifelong learning, growth and development; to transparent sharing of information and explanations through open lines of communication; to genuine dialogue and discussion; to just, moral and benevolent behavior. The sort of “us against them” mentality that colored much of the Chicago Teacher Union strike conversations from both sides of the picket line and in the media is in unfortunate contradiction to this perspective.
The School of Education at Loyola University Chicago is optimistic that recent and ongoing changes in the structure of our teacher preparation programs take a small step toward reaching the formidable, idealistic goal described above. We believe that education has the potential to be empowering, and thus our teacher candidates must be committed and well-prepared to consistently make positive impacts on the students, schools, and communities in which they work. In order to do so, our programs must seek the same outcomes as that of effective schools: supporting and sustaining successful students, innovative classrooms, exemplary schools, enriched communities, and global citizenship (Zhao, 2010). Further, we must work in true – purposeful, mutually beneficial and non-hierarchical – partnerships (Kruger, 2009) with schools and communities to achieve this. My colleagues and I have worked diligently over the past year to design and gain approvals for the Teaching, Learning, and Leading with Schools and Communities program (see infographic below). This clinically-based initial teacher preparation program, fully embedded in local schools and community organizations, takes a systemic perspective on the development of sophisticated, reflective, and resilient educators who not only possess the knowledge and skills of effective teachers, but also a deep understanding of the varied roles and responsibilities that educators who work in collaboration with their school and larger communities assume.
I look forward to continuing to share the progress of this new initiative, as well as side consequences for the schools and communities with whom we are working, with my Crossroads colleagues. As always, your feedback, questions and conversations will help to keep me focused on a research and practice pathway that results in lasting positive outcomes for all involved.
Figure by Erik Barraza and un-ravel
Ariely, D. (2012, August 2). Americans want to live in a much more equal country: They just don’t realize it. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/08/americans-want-to-live-in-a-much-more-equal-country-they-just-dont-realize-it/260639/
Kruger, T. (2009). Effective and sustainable university-school partnerships: Beyond determined efforts by inspired individuals. Canberra: Teaching Australia. Retrieved from: http://www.aitsl.edu.au/verve/_resources/Effective_and_Sustainable_University-School_Partnerships.pdf
Schmidt. W.H., & McKnight, C. (2012). Inequality for all: The challenge of unequal opportunity in American schools. New York: Teachers College Press.
Tate, W. F. (2012). Toward civic responsibility and civic engagement. In W. F. Tate (Ed.) Research on schools, neighborhoods, and communities: Toward civic responsibility. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Vedantam, S. (2012, November 9). What earthquakes can teach us about elections. National Public Radio. Recording retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2012/11/09/164711093/what-earthquakes-can-teach-us-about-elections
Zhao, Y. (2010). Preparing globally competent teachers: a new imperative for teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(5), 422–431. Retrieved from: http://jte.sagepub.com/content/61/5/422.full.pdf