In April, I attended my first American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in Chicago. As a researcher and educator I was excited to be surrounded by so many interesting people doing good work. At the same time, I was a stranger in this familiar land. I am adjunct faculty at VCU in the department of Educational Foundations. I love teaching my courses and doing research but I am not full time faculty. I felt like a school teacher in the halls of the academy. As an National Board Certified Teacher I kept asking myself, “How does this relate to students?” It took me a little while to find my people.
My dear friend Kerry Robinson at University of Tennessee helped me figure out a strategy that eventually took me down a rabbit hole of wonder.
I started looking at the sessions that seemed interesting to me. What I found was the sessions that were most interesting were concerned with two major themes, social justice and the lives of teachers. I identified some Special Interest Groups (SIGs) that were interested in these themes and attended their organization meetings. What found was that the professors at these meetings were not big data people or researchers trying to make a name for themselves. They were mostly former school teachers who wanted to learn about how teachers’ sociocultural understandings interact with and affect their teaching and their interactions with students. The two main SIGs that seemed to resonate for me were the Lives of Teachers SIG and the Biographical and Documentary Research SIG. In fact, I came away inspired to research the lives of teachers I respect, especially those working beyond the classroom to improve education for students. Some key ideas I learned about were:
The idea of teacher resistance to inappropriate educational reforms as a professional obligation.
The incredibly strong grounding of the research field in social justice or, as my heroine Gloria Ladson-Billings put it in her speech, Justice, Just Justice.
In the linked video I asked Gloria Ladson-Billings a question at approximately 53:00 minutes. I asked, “What would you tell someone entering student teaching about how to enact justice?” Her response has informed my understanding of the research and my role in teacher preparation. She said, “Ask them to collect some data about that place they are in. What do suspension rates look like? What do expulsion rates look like? Who gets to be in the strings/orchestra program? Who is in the gifted program? Who’s in special education? And when they have that data, the first thing I want them to think about is, What’s the pattern?”
This is where my experiences as a NBCT, my research and writing, and my next steps as an educator using technology to support teaching and teachers came together. Ladson-Billings says, “We have to start with the excavation of the injustices that exist.”
Everyday there are teachers telling their stories across social media platforms about these injustices and telling their stories of overcoming these injustices. In the field of research, this is where I hope to lend my experiences, abilities, and expertise as a teacher leader; to amplify the voices of teachers who are telling these stories of struggle and success in our schools. The intersection of technology and social justice is critical to the next evolution of teacher leadership.