This interview features insights from the JTE article “Loving Out Loud: Community Mentors, Teacher Candidates, and Transformational Learning Through a Pedagogy of Care and Connection” by Eva Zygmunt, Kristin Cipollone, Susan Tancock, Jon Clausen, Patricia Clark, and Winnie Mucherah. The article is published in the March/April 2018 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education. You can read the full text by visiting this link.
Q1. Can you share a little more about the role of the mentors?
Along with their role as cultural ambassadors to the neighborhood, community mentors frequently serve as curriculum consultants to our teacher candidates who plan culturally responsive and sustaining experiences for the children with whom they work. Two notable examples of this relate to our efforts to ensure grade-level literacy for neighborhood children through expanding access to culturally relevant literature in the school, the after-school program, and throughout the community.
One such project involved teacher candidates amassing a collection of award-winning African-American children’s literature, and then inviting community mentors to an event during which they were asked to vet the collection. Community mentors carefully selected the books to which they wanted to ensure access for every child in the neighborhood. Candidates led book talks as mentors rotated throughout the selection of books, and the event culminated with community mentors voting for their 20 favorite titles. This canon of community-identified African-American children’s literature was then gifted to the elementary school, neighborhood early childhood programs, community churches, and community centers, so that all children had ready access to books carefully selected by members of their own neighborhood. To view a video detailing this event, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moQSVrtRmoA
Another project engaged teacher candidates in the careful selection of literature through which to dialogue with elementary school children about the issue of race. After selecting literature and preparing read-alouds to be implemented in the afterschool program, candidates invited their community mentors to an event during which they practiced reading the text, with mentors as the audience. Community members generously shared their impressions, encouraging candidates, in some instances, to further emphasize certain concepts or language, and in other instances, to modify their plan. This event privileged mentor families as teacher educators – those with the knowledge, wisdom, and expertise to build candidates’ competence and confidence in navigating these all-important conversations with neighborhood children.
Q2. Have there been any unanticipated outcomes of the mentor partnerships?
One of the first things that we did when we began our program ten years ago was to host an event during which we could listen to and learn from neighborhood families. We called it “Mom’s Night Out” and we had dinner, manicures, massages for moms in one room, and a meal and activities for children in a separate space. During the evening fellowship, we asked moms about the most pressing needs for children in the neighborhood, and heard a resounding call for experiences after school, on weekends, and during the summer that would keep children on track academically. With this community-identified need, we were then able to apply for, and receive, a large grant from our state department of education to fulfill the dreams of neighborhood families.
One of the best decisions we made after receiving the grant was to hire a highly-respected member of the neighborhood (also a member of a mentor family) to direct the program. With great passion, she constructed and communicated a program vision to families, many of whom eagerly enrolled their children. We proudly share the long-term accomplishments of our program participants, 100% of whom this year are reading at or above grade level – significantly out-performing their state-level peers.
As our program director was hired by the university, she became eligible for tuition remission, and went on to pursue a master’s degree, qualifying her for an adjunct position in our department. She now teaches courses in family and community engagement – relaying her passion to our undergraduate students in the early stages of their teacher preparation program. She inspires our candidates to consider the funds of knowledge and community cultural wealth that exist in all neighborhoods, communicating that partnerships through which to engage families are essential to children’s educational promise. In her role as a teacher educator, she continues to advance our intentional efforts to be community-engaged and culturally responsive in our program of educator preparation, ensuring a culturally affirming and sustaining environment for all of our teacher candidates.
Q3. Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?
We have certainly touched on this, but we would like to elaborate a bit more on our definition of community-engaged teacher preparation, and how we differentiate this from other approaches which may be based in the community, but miss the opportunity to authentically connect with and privilege the wisdom and expertise of communities in the preparation of teachers. Specifically, we define community-engaged teacher preparation as an innovative paradigm through which to prepare socially just, equity-focused teachers with the capacity to enact pedagogies that are culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining. Operationalized through candidates’ situated learning in historically marginalized communities, this approach emphasizes the concerted cultivation of collaborative relationships between universities, communities and schools; the elevation of funds of knowledge and community cultural wealth; and an in-depth analysis of social inequality, positionality, and the intersections between the two, as essential knowledge for future teachers. The collective impact of our collaborative efforts over the last 10 years on candidates, the community, and children’s learning obligates us to advance this paradigm as a compelling and justifiable direction for the field of educator preparation. As such, we have formed what we are calling the Alliance for Community-Engaged Teacher Preparation – a national training initiative that offers customizable experiences for universities, schools, and community partners who seek to better prepare community-engaged teachers who can implement culturally relevant instruction in order to address the achievement gap and improve educational equity for children. We are soon be hosting our 4th Summer Institute on Community-Engaged Teacher Preparation, and look forward to continuing to build a network of scholars committed to authentic community-engagement in their programs of preparation. For more information, and to join the Alliance, visit www.bsu.edu/acetp.