Reflecting on a Vision of United Engagement in Chicago

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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.

LoyolaTeacherPrepFigure by Erik Barraza and un-ravel

Works Cited

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

2 thoughts on “Reflecting on a Vision of United Engagement in Chicago

  1. Mark Enfield

    Thanks for sharing this. I really appreciate the succinct way that you pull all these pieces together. It caused me to reflect some on both my views of teacher education and how my views, as well as the implied views of the program I teach in reflect the points that you make.

    One challenge is that this model can constrain faculty research. That has been an on-going discussion with my colleagues. If the school partners and the researcher have different agendas, this does not mean either are wrong but it does create a dilemma. Simplistically, if the school wants to focus on social issues in the school but the faculty member has a research agenda about critical thinking around experiences, while there is some overlap both are limited if there is an attempt to force collaboration. Have your colleagues discussed this as you develop your model? Similarly, I wonder if this thinking has led to curricular changes in teacher education.

    Good luck with this and again, thanks for sharing.

  2. Lara Smetana

    Thanks for your comment and questions! We have spent a lot of time thinking about various aspects of our partnerships and I think the part of your question that stands out to me most is the suggestion of “forced collaboration”. I would argue that anything that is forced is not really collaboration. Our partners are invested in our program and have come on board voluntarily. Additionally, folks have had the opportunity to sign on for what they are interested in, what will be of benefit to their school community, and at a level that is comfortable to them. Similarly, no faculty member intends to give up their personal research agendas, but we are interested in considering how we might work together with our school and community partners to pursue common research interests that arise from problematizing the practices that we are jointly engaged in. Marilyn Cochran-Smith’s (2010) Toward a Theory of Teacher Education for Social Justice has been helpful to us here.
    Your comment about curricular changes in teacher education also peaks my interest. I would be curious to know what others think about the changes to teacher education that a structure like the one we have proposed, or that your institutions might be proposing, necessitates.
    Thanks again for your interests and questions! Keep them coming.

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