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Research

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The Joint Enterprise of Social Justice Teacher Education

by Morva A. McDonald — 2007

Background/Context: Responding to the challenges of the demographic imperative and calls for greater program coherence, social justice teacher education programs aim to integrate social justice in the professional preparation of teachers. Such programs intend to improve the preparation of teachers to teach students from diverse backgrounds, and in doing so they strive to keep the moral and ethical purposes of teaching and schooling at the center of teachers’ preparation.

Purpose/Object/Research Questions: This study examines two social justice teacher education programs to explore teacher educators’ conceptions of social justice and the conditions that appear to support their joint enterprise.

Research Design: Findings presented are based on a year-long qualitative case study. Data sources include interviews with teacher education faculty and a review of program and course documents.

Findings: Grounded in communities of practice theory and a theory of social justice, I found that faculty conceptions of justice varied from an emphasis on meeting the needs of individuals to a concern with broader structural inequities. The mutual engagement of faculty appeared to be supported by external resources that provided structure and expertise, the selection of faculty with commitments to social justice and collaboration, and formal and informal opportunities to collaborate.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study has implications for both practice and research in teacher education. In terms of practice, this study suggests that social justice teacher education relies on more than the efforts of individual teacher educators. Teacher education programs aiming to integrate social justice may benefit from implementing structures that enable faculty to work together in both defining and enacting such a vision of teaching and learning. The dimensions of social justice articulated by Mills and SJSU faculty offer teacher educators with a way of conceptualizing justice that attends to a core concept in the field—the goal of attending to individual student’s needs—and to a less common concept of justice as tied to alleviating oppression.

In terms of research, the emerging area of social justice teacher education is in need of systematic studies designed to introduce changes such as those described in this article into extant programs aiming to address social justice in the professional preparation of prospective teachers. Such studies could explore the actual practices of teacher educators engaged in such efforts as well as the impact of such efforts on prospective teachers’ knowledge and practices with students from diverse backgrounds. 

 

 

Increasingly teacher education programs emphasize social justice, equity, and diversity as central concerns in the professional preparation of teachers. Social justice teacher education programs view preparing teachers with the knowledge, dispositions, and practices to work with students from diverse backgrounds as a fundamental responsibility of teacher education and require that the multiple settings of programs—university courses and field placements—contribute to prospective teachers’ learning to teach from a social justice perspective.  In such programs, social justice and equity are key aspects of the vision of teaching and learning that informs program decisions at all levels—from program policies, to curriculum and pedagogy.

 

Arguably “social justice” has become a new buzz word in teacher education with many programs indicating attention to such issues, however, there is scant research documenting the conceptions of social justice implemented in the actual practice of teacher educators.  This paper aims to identify conceptions of justice articulated by teacher educators intending to improve the preparation of teachers to work with students of color, low-income students, and English language learners.  To do so, I examine the following questions:

 

What conceptions of social justice do teacher educators articulate when aiming to integrate social justice across their programs?

 

What factors appear to enable teacher educators to engage in the joint enterprise of social justice teacher education?

 

To address these questions, I present results from an in-depth qualitative study of the Mills College elementary Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools program and the Teacher Education Intern Program at San José State University.1 To begin, I argue that the emphasis on social justice in teacher education grows out of concerns related to the demographic imperative and the push for greater program coherence in teacher education. Second, I discuss constructs from communities of practice theory and a theory of justice, which guided data collection and analysis.  Next, I identify the research design and methods before turning to a discussion of the major findings.  Briefly, I found that teacher educators articulated the joint enterprise of social justice teacher education as emphasizing issues of individual equity and broader, structural inequities.  For example, teacher educators articulated a view of justice in which the needs of individuals were paramount.  To a lesser extent, they included issues of oppression and structural inequality in their conceptions.  I found that a number of factors such as external resources, faculty selection, and collaboration appeared to support teacher education faculty in their effort to develop social justice teacher education programs.  I conclude with implications for practice and research in teacher education.  

 

BACKGROUND

 

Social justice teacher education programs respond to both the demographic imperative and to calls within the teacher education community to develop programs with greater coherence.

 

Demographic imperative

 

The demographic imperative characterizes three interlocking challenges that converge on teacher education: 1) the increasing diversity of the students enrolled in U.S. public education; 2) the gap between such students and their teachers in terms of their lived experiences; and 3) the disparity in educational outcomes between students of color, low-income students, and their white middle-class peers.2  I briefly describe each of these aspects and highlight the challenges they present to teacher education.

 

More than ever, students enrolled in U.S. public schools are a diverse group.  They come from a mix of racial and ethnic communities and from diverse language communities.   This is true across the United States from California to Maryland.  In the state of California, 62 percent of students are students of color with that percentage exceeding 70 percent in many urban districts (Educational Data Partnership, 2003).3 Similarly, in Maryland close to 50 percent of students enrolled in public schools are students of color (Maryland State Report Card, 2005).  Along with the increasing racial and ethnic diversity, the enrollment of English language learners and students in poverty also continues to rise. One quarter of California students are English language learners and 47 percent qualify for the federally supported free and reduced lunch program (Educational Data Partnership, 2003). In Maryland, an increasing number of students are English language learners and more than one third of elementary students receive the free and reduced lunch program (Maryland State Report Card, 2005).  As these statistics suggest, teachers and teacher education programs across the country need to adapt to the changing context of today’s public schools.

 

Despite the changing face of the student population, the pool of prospective teachers remains relatively monolithic with more than 80 percent of prospective teachers nationally identifying as White (American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, 1999; Zumwalt & Craig, 2005).  In California, nearly 75 percent of teachers are White (Educational Data Partnership, 2003).  In some cases, these differences result in students of color, low-income students, and English language learners receiving less than high quality opportunities to learn.  Research finds that White middle-class teachers are challenged to 1) assist students as they negotiate the gap between the school-culture and that of their family and community, 2) develop culturally responsive curriculum and instruction, and 3) avoid perceiving diversity as a deficit (Fine, 1986, Gay, 1993, Hollins & Guzman, 2005; Ladson-Billings, 1999, Villegas & Lucas, 2002).  To help teachers revise their conceptions of students and to give them the skills and dispositions to support students to become border crossers—between school and their families and communities—scholars suggest teachers develop a sense of their racial and cultural selves as well as an understanding of students’ lived experiences (Banks, 2002; Britzman, 1986; Delpit, 1995).

 

Finally, students of color and low-income students continue to under-perform in comparison to their White, middle-class peers despite the well-intentioned efforts on the part of some schools and teachers.  African-American and Hispanic students achieve at lower levels and are less likely to graduate from high school than their White peers (Jacobsen, Olsen, Rise, & Ralph & Sweetland, 2001; Kaufman, Kwan, Klein, & Chapman, 1999).  In addition, these students often attend schools with fewer resources (Darling-Hammond, 1995, 2004).  For example, students of color and low-income students in urban areas likely encounter severe shortages of qualified teachers (-Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002).  These disparities will likely intensify in the context of increasing student diversity.

 

Teacher education programs—responsible for preparing the majority of new teachers entering the profession—face the challenges posed by the demographic imperative.  To improve the educational opportunities of students of color, low-income students, and English language learners, teacher education programs may need to rethink and reshape the ways in which they prepare teachers for today’s complex task of teaching.  Toward this effort, social justice teacher education programs aim to prepare teachers with the knowledge, dispositions, and practices necessary to provide students from diverse backgrounds with high quality opportunities to learn.    

 

Coherence in teacher education

 

Social justice teacher education programs build on more than a generation of effort in teacher education to prepare teachers to work with diverse students.  Since 1978, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education has required programs to include multicultural education as part of the preservice curriculum (Gollnick, 1995). Program approachesthat address this requirement have tended to focus on changing teachers’ beliefs and attitudes, provided teachers with content and curricular knowledge on the histories and experiences of different cultural groups, and supported them to learn specific practices for working with diverse students (Banks, 1995; Gay, 1994; Goodwin, 1997; Grant, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 1995; 2001).  Many of these efforts, however, do not occur as part of a programmatic commitment to address the preparation of teachers for diversity (Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2003). To a certain extent, multicultural education has been mapped onto the fragmented structure of teacher education programs with issues of diversity and multiculturalism peripheral to the core curriculum and isolated in individual courses (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Goodwin, 1997; Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998).

 

Fragmentation in teacher education is well documented (Feiman-Nemser, 1990; Goodlad, 1990; Howey & Zimpher, 1989; Tom, 1997). Howey and Zimpher found elementary preservice teacher education programs significantly lacking in program coherence and argued that programs with a clear vision of teaching and learning articulated across program settings likely move toward greater coherence. Goodlad (1990) found only a small number of programs went against the grain to prepare teachers around a coherent vision of teaching and learning.  In the worst instance, he described programs that “patch courses together and place student teachers wherever he or she can find teachers willing, for whatever reason, to take them on. . . .” (p. 246).  This research conceptualized teacher education programs as systems in which program improvement required attending to the interconnectedness of all program settings.  

 

A growing body of scholarship investigates how individual teacher education programs move toward coherence by developing a specific vision of teaching and learning.  The Studies of Excellence in Teacher Education (see Darling-Hammond, 2006) examined seven teacher education programs engaged in creating coherence around a vision of teaching and learning emphasizing a learner-centered approach. This collection provides an alternative to the view of teacher education programs as fragmented and haphazard and points to the importance of developing continuity across program settings.  Similarly, scholars in multicultural education echo the importance of program coherence and call on teacher education programs to more fully and explicitly address issues of diversity and multicultural education (e.g., Cochran-Smith et al., 2003; Nieto, 2000; Villegas & Lucas, 2002).  The empirical research on how particular programs implement an integrated strategy of multicultural education is small, but growing (Cochran-Smith et al., 2003).  For instance, Vavrus’ (2002) highlights how teacher education at Evergreen State College infuses multicultural standards into program standards—one approach to how a program might address issues of multicultural education . Ladson-Billings (2001) provides an example of a program explicitly focused on making diversity and culturally relevant teaching central to teacher preparation and explores the experiences of prospective teachers.  This scholarship points to a few programs that buck the trend to implement an integrated strategy to address social justice.  From this perspective, social justice teacher education programs—that use an integrated strategy—offer a promising approach to preparing teachers to work with diverse students.  This paper looks closely at two such programs and in particular, examines teacher educators’ conceptions of social justice and the conditions that seem to enable them to engage in the joint enterprise of integrating social justice.

 

THEORETICAL FOUNDATION

 

Communities of practice theory (Wenger, 1998) and a theory of justice (Young, 1990) provide the theoretical foundation for this inquiry. The literature on communities of practice offers a lens for examining the efforts of teacher educators who engage in a community intending to integrate social justice and provides constructs for understanding their participation.  To understand the particular conception of social justice teacher educators employ, I rely on a theory of justice to identify various dimensions of that conception.  In the following, I explain concepts from these two theories and show how they focus attention on aspects of teacher educators’ efforts.

 

Communities of practice

 

A theory of communities of practice offers constructs to understand the participation of teacher educators as they aim to integrate social justice.  This theory is particularly appropriate for understanding the work of teacher educators striving to identify and implement a social justice vision of teaching and learning at the core of the professional preparation of prospective teachers.  A fundamental assumption of this study is that teaching and in turn, teacher education are learning enterprises—enterprises in which individuals in communities are potentially engaged in inquiry around their own practice and the practice of others in an attempt to improve program design, pedagogy, and student outcomes (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1999).

 

Communities of practice, with the emphasis on learning as social participation, provided a perspective that captured the complexity of teacher educators’ practice as they engaged in developing a social justice teacher education program.  The theory’s focus on participation refers “not just to the local events of engagement in certain activities with certain individuals, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identity in relation to these communities” (Wenger, 1998, p. 4).  In the context of teacher education programs in which teacher educators actively engage in the process of integrating social justice, this theory highlights two important distinctions of learning: 1) individuals’ learning occurs in the process of engaging in and contributing to the practice of their particular communities, and 2) community learning is a process of refining and revising the community’s practice and ensuring a new generation of members.  These distinctions suggest this inquiry consider individuals’ participation as well as how faculty—as a community—go about the joint work of social justice.

 

Additionally, this theory identifies three characteristics of practice as a source of coherence in community: mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire.  How teacher educators develop a shared repertoire related to social justice and integrate such a repertoire into their practice is an important aspect of the implementation process, however, this paper addresses how teacher educators conceptualize the work of social justice and what factors potentially support them to participate in such an effort—focusing specifically on the constructs: joint enterprise and mutual engagement.4

 

Joint enterprise. Participants in a community of practice engage around a joint enterprise, which results from a collective process of negotiation defined by participants.  The joint enterprise of any community of practice evolves through the process of negotiating what that enterprise is and might be—evolving as participants continue to negotiate its meaning.  However, negotiating meaning is not a synonym for consensus.  The purpose of the negotiation is to deliberate about what constitutes the joint enterprise and to leave room for disagreement among participants.  Negotiating such an enterprise consists of continuous interactions and relationships among participants and requires their constant and sustained attention.

 

This concept directed the study to consider how teacher educators negotiate the joint enterprise—social justice in teacher education in this case, how teacher educators conceptualize this enterprise, and how they engage in the continuous process of making sense of their efforts.  The joint enterprise that a community of practice constructs directs the values, concepts, and actions of both the community and the individual participants (Engeström, 1996; Wenger, 1998).  In the context of these two social justice programs, what matters and what does not, what is important and why it is important, and what teacher educators choose to do and not to do are all aspects of their joint work.

 

Mutual engagement. Wenger asserts that participants’ mutual engagement in a community helps establish a sense of coherence—a concept particularly relevant to understanding the work of teacher educators striving to develop greater program coherence.  From this view,  “practice exists because people are engaged in actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another” (p.74).  Participants when they mutually engage begin to establish relationships within a community of practice and when such relationships are sustained it can connect individuals in ways that center on shared goals and efforts. An important aspect of mutual engagement is not that everyone in the community agrees on a particular conception or practice, but that they engage in the process. Mutual engagement does not simply occur, but often requires activities and events that enable such participation.  From this view, developing a joint enterprise and engaging together in that work requires structures and conditions that facilitate such participation.  In this study, I focus the analysis on identifying conditions that seem to support teacher educators’ efforts to integrate social justice in teacher education.

 

A theory of social justice

 

To understand and identify the conceptions of justice articulated by teacher educators, I turned to a theory of justice discussed by Iris Marion Young in her book Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990).  I chose Young’s view of justice, in contrast to conceptions emphasizing a more distributive approach, because she recognizes social structures, culture, and relationships among individuals and groups as fundamental to achieving justice.

 

Distributive theories of justice tend to argue for leveling the playing field of opportunity by equal distribution of goods to individual citizens, and tend to view those citizens as independent of institutional context or social structure (Anderson, 1999; Fraser, 1998; Rawls, 1971; Sturman, 1997).  As a consequence, understanding justice usually occurs from the perspective of the individual.  Is this individual being treated fairly? Does he or she have equal access to opportunities? In addition, such a conception argues that universal principles can be derived through reason without attention to the particulars of any social context or situation.  From this perspective, answering the question, “Is this individual being treated fairly?” does not take into consideration the structural inequities such as those based on race or class differences that may be reflected in a particular social context or setting (Sturman, 1997).  In reflecting upon the demographic imperative discussed earlier, which suggests that students of color, low-income students, and English language learners experience different educational opportunities because of their affiliations with particular social groups, and which acknowledges the structural inequities evident in public education, a view of justice that primarily highlights the perspective of the individual without attending more fully to the impact of structural arrangements and oppression would not fully capture the potential complexity of a view of justice articulated by teacher educators.  Applying such a concept would have focused attention on how social justice teacher educators prepare teachers to distribute opportunities across individual students, but would not have provided constructs for understanding how they conceive of justice as preparing teachers to become agents of social change who view teaching as a political act and who develop knowledge of students that takes account of their ties to oppressed groups such as those based on race, ethnicity, class, and/or language.

 

To understand teacher educators’ conceptions of justice, Young’s perspective which emphasizes issues of oppression and structural inequity seemed more appropriate given the aim to prepare prospective teachers to work with students of color, low-income students, and English language learners.  Young argues that issues regarding the “sovereignty of women, homosexuals, and people of color involves culture as much as the distribution of goods” (as quoted by Sturman, 1997, p.6).  From this perspective, achieving justice requires explicit attention, not only to the distribution of goods and resources across individuals, but to the relationships among individuals and groups in particular settings as they are shaped by social group differences (Young, 1990).  Addressing injustice—as social justice teacher education aims to do—requires developing respect for group differences without reaffirming or reestablishing aspects of oppression.  This perspective also suggested that I consider if and how teacher educators’ conceptions of justice varied in their recognition of students as individuals independent of broader institutional structures and as connected to social groups such as those based on educational categories (e.g., special education students or English language learners) and/or social categories (e.g., African-American students or low-income students).

 

In contrast to distributive notions of justice that argue for universal principles, Young suggests that understanding and achieving justice must take account of the particulars of any social setting and the ways in which social relations of oppression and privilege are enacted in that setting.  She argues that it is in the specifics of situations and not in the abstract that we come to understand justice.  The emphasis on justice as occurring in particular situations focused the analysis of teacher educators’ conceptions to consider how they defined justice within the context of teaching and learning and how they prepared preservice teachers to strive for justice within the context of their work with students from diverse backgrounds.

 

In sum, constructs from a theory of communities of practice and a theory of justice framed data collection and data analysis and focused attention both on teacher educators’ participation in defining the joint enterprise as well as the conceptions of justice underlying that enterprise.

 

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS

 

Findings presented are based on a year-long qualitative case study of two elementary preservice teacher education programs: Mills College Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools and SJSU Teacher Education Intern Program.5 A qualitative approach supported an in-depth examination of teacher educators’ conceptions of both social justice and the conditions they viewed as enabling their work (Graue & Walsh, 1998; Merriam, 1988; Ragin, 1987).

 

Site selection

 

I used a strategy of purposive sampling to select strategic sites (Miles & Huberman, 1994).  I selected programs that: demonstrated a commitment to social justice, engaged multiple faculty in the work of integrating social justice, supported teachers to work with students from diverse backgrounds, and were similar in terms of program structure.6

 

A number of institutions across the county might have met these criteria, however, I chose these sites because of their proximity to where I lived, which facilitated intensive data collection.7

 

Data sources

 

This study draws on data collected from August 2001 through June 2002—the entire preservice year.  Data consist of individual semi-structured interviews with teacher education faculty and ten case-study teachers; observations of university courses and teachers’ clinical placements; and a review of documents such as accreditation reports, course syllabi, and assignments.  I conducted a total of 22 interviews with teacher educators to gauge the extent to which programs intended to integrate social justice, how faculty conceptualized social justice, and to understand how course goals and purposes reflected faculty conceptions.8

 

In addition, I conducted 67 observations of university courses to examine the inclusion of social justice in the content and pedagogy of individual courses.  These observations facilitated an understanding of teacher educators’ conceptions of justice and how course activities reflected such conceptions.  The analysis presented in this paper—because of the emphasis on conceptions—draws heavily on interviews and document analysis.

 

Data analysis

 

Data analysis occurred as an iterative process. As themes and patterns emerged, I developed codes and data displays derived from the conceptual framework (Miles & Huberman, 1994).  I systematically coded faculty interviews for concepts that reflected Young’s conception of social justice.  For example, I used codes to indicate when conceptions addressed structural inequities, emphasized a view of individuals as identified with broader social groups, and a view of individuals as independent of such affiliations.  In the analysis, I triangulated interviews with observational data and the review of program and course documents to develop a holistic understanding of teacher educators’ conceptions and the structures that appeared to support their efforts (Yin, 2003).

 

FINDINGS

 

This study reveals several findings.  Multiple sources of data confirmed 1) the joint enterprise of social justice as conceived by faculty varied from an emphasis on individual students’ needs to a concern with broader structural inequities, and 2) conditions at various levels of the teacher education programs appeared to support the joint work of teacher educators.

 

The joint enterprise of social justice

 

Program missions potentially illuminate an organization’s primary intentions and in some cases, articulate an organization’s identity (Scott, 1998; Villegas & Lucas, 2002; Wenger, 1998).  At both Mills and SJSU, faculty collaborated to reshape the program mission to more completely reflect their intention to integrate social justice.  For example, Mills faculty developed a set of core principles to clarify their commitment to social justice.9These principles included a view of teaching: as a moral act based on an ethic of care; as an act of inquiry and reflection; as a collegial act; and as a political act.10 Faculty intended these principles to clarify their views of social justice, the standards for prospective teachers, and to facilitate their decisions about program policies, curriculum, and pedagogy.

 

SJSU faculty also revised the program mission to more explicitly include social justice and equity.  The larger college of education and this particular program designed a mission that emphasized equity and excellence. An excerpt from the mission illustrates:

 

The College of Education faculty hold that excellence and equity matter—that each is necessary, and neither is sufficient in the absence of the other. . . . Equity speaks initially to access and ultimately to outcomes.  As a College, we work, and prepare educators to work both at the instrumental policy-making levels to ensure that every child has the opportunity to benefit from available educational resources.  Our College works toward equity in action, i.e., equity not only by policy, but through process and practice (San José State University, 2003).

 

Missions symbolize faculty commitment to social justice and potentially shape their practice—making it clear what matters most in the context of their work. However, practice is a negotiated response to policies such as missions and mandates (Wenger, 1998).  The joint enterprise of integrating social justice is not simply a matter of enforcing a mission statement, but a process that occurs and evolves in interaction with those responsible for moving that mission into practice (Chrispeels, 1997; Wenger, 1998).  The mission potentially acts to frame the actions and practices of faculty (Engeström, 1996; Grossman, Smagorinsky, & Valencia, 1999).

 

In interviews, Mills faculty agreed that the mission and the core principles influenced the structure of the program as well as individual action.  In response to a question regarding what enabled the integration of social justice, a faculty member replied, “Oh, certainly the principles help.  That everybody is mindful of those principles in every course they teach.” Similarly, another faculty responded, “I think we could say that we try to do that . . . we try to have our assignments be consistent with our program principles.”  For these faculty, the program’s mission informed their individual motivations and actions.

 

In addition to the mission statement, faculty conceptions of social justice informed the joint work in which they engaged.  Mills and SJSU teacher educators shared similar conceptions of social justice.  Importantly, the conceptions reported here represent faculty perspectives of social justice in the context of their work as teacher educators and may not fully represent their understandings of social justice more broadly. I found that faculty conceptions of social justice varied.  They viewed social justice as the following:

 

Requiring attention to individual students’ needs, and when necessary providing them with differential supports.

 

Requiring attention to social relations and issues of oppression, and demanding that teachers view diversity as an asset.  This emphasis recognizes that students’ experiences are shaped by their affiliations with particular social groups such as English language learners, special education students, students of color, or low-income students.

 

A political stance—one that demands teachers to be cognizant of their own social location, and committed to changing the social structures that often limit students’ opportunities to learn.

 

Creating justice by attending to individual needs and relationships

 

Mills and SJSU aimed to prepare teachers with concepts and strategies for meeting the needs of individual students.  The programs also challenged teachers to acknowledge differences and to see diversity as an asset to their teaching and students’ learning.

 

An excerpt from the Mills student handbook illuminates the program’s social justice commitment:

 

Guided by an ethic of care and social justice, which includes a commitment to equity and access, we aim to create a context for teacher learning that promotes an honest exploration of questions associated with teaching in the changing and complex circumstances of urban schools (Mills College, 2001–2002)

 

As indicated, the Mills program promotes a conception of justice similar to Young’s that argues for the importance of valuing and respecting diversity and acknowledges that providing access to opportunities—in this case to all students—is essential.   Additionally, this conception reflects aspects of culturally relevant teaching identified by Ladson-Billings (1994), such as developing a deep understanding of students’ lives both in and out of school.

 

When asked to define social justice, a number of Mills faculty underscored the importance of valuing and respecting individual diversity. Samantha commented,

 

. . . trying to see things from [the student’s] perspective and model paying attention to individual learners and who they are and where they are coming from—being responsive to that and accepting that people are starting at different places . . . which to me, you know, again is part of this sort of equity, social justice [way] of saying that every individual has a right to succeed and it may be different for different folks. . . .

 

Similarly, the SJSU faculty articulated social justice as attending to the needs of individual learners.  Instead of narrowly defining in-school success or achievement, faculty recognized that students come to school with a diverse set of talents, and that part of teaching is to recognize those individual talents and build on them within the classroom. When asked to define equity, two faculty members highlighted the importance of taking an assets-based approach to teaching.

 

Jessica: If I say treating people equally, I could mean two very different things there. I could mean that you just treat people exactly the same . . . on the other hand you could say treating people equally means you treat people in a way that is respectful, knowledgeable about what they bring, and helps the individual achieve whatever that person is wanting to achieve or capable of achieving.

 

Carol:  I see when people talk about equity, many people interpret it as equal and seldom does excellence go with equity . . . if their backgrounds are foreign to the children’s, they see the children as victims and they say, ‘These poor student can’t do anything.’  So seeing the children, who they are, and seeing the children as . . . a teacher as funding the knowledge, like Luis Moll talks about, it’s a much different orientation to equity than treating everyone equal.

 

From faculty perspectives, a fundamental aspect of a conception of justice is the belief that all students can learn, have strengths, and can succeed—concepts identified as central tenets of multicultural education and culturally-relevant teaching (Banks, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1995).

 

As evident, Mills and SJSU faculty articulated a conception that emphasized the needs of individual learners, the importance of recognizing their differences, and providing them with necessary supports for learning. A traditional view of equality emphasizes the equal distribution of goods and resources across individuals, without particular attention to individuals’ differential needs (Sturman, 1997; Young, 1990).  In contrast, faculty in both programs maintained a more nuanced view of equality—a view that creating equal opportunities for students requires taking account of individual differences and attending to those differences.  Brenda, one SJSU faculty member reflected,

 

. . . a lot of people think of equity and sameness as the same and it isn’t, because in order to get a level playing field you may have to give more to one than you do to another.

 

This comment accents the notion that equity may require teachers to attend differentially to students.  At Mills, Julie represented this perspective:

 

I think about equity this way. Equity in the classroom means whenever you do something, somebody is going to be uncomfortable. Equity means that it’s not always the same person or the same people who are uncomfortable. You sort of distribute the disequilibrium and the discomfort in an equitable fashion . . . [in ways that] have to do with certain learning styles and cultural backgrounds and language and all those things.

 

Julie accents the importance of ensuring that students have opportunities to participate in classroom events and recognizes that often individuals are systematically excluded from full participation in classroom activities because of their learning styles, cultural backgrounds, or language proficiencies.  Underlying such a conception is recognition that an aspect of the teacher’s role is to level the playing field for students by ensuring that no individual student or type of students are repeatedly excluded from learning opportunities.

 

Creating justice by recognizing oppression and viewing teaching as a political act

 

Although articulated to a lesser extent, faculty also accented a conception in which students’ affiliations with broader social groups such as race, ethnicity, class, or gender might impinge on their educational opportunities. This conception reflects Young’s (1990) notion that social justice is constituted through social relations and is informed by individuals’ affiliations with particular social groups.  In interviews, faculty mentioned that attending to social justice within the context of education required attending to institutional forms of oppression that often lead to some students being systematically disadvantaged within schools.  Monica at SJSU commented that the program’s focus on equity included,

 

. . . attending to the needs of diverse students, culturally diverse and racially diverse students. I think equity translates into addressing the needs of second language learners, in particular as a sub-unit of minorities in the classroom, and I think at times it translates into [teaching] students who are generally low-status in the classroom for a variety of reasons.

 

From this perspective, the conception of equity attended to students’ differences as informed by their status in oppressed groups, rather than solely as a result of their individual preferences, attributes, or needs. Agreeing with this conception, other SJSU faculty highlighted that integrating equity required challenging prospective teachers to develop greater self-awareness of their own social location, and increased awareness of cultural diversity.  In this conception faculty indicated, most often implicitly, that addressing issues of equity demands an acknowledgement of differences as informed by institutional arrangements and processes (Banks, 2002; Young, 1990).

 

Similarly, but more explicitly, the Mills faculty underscored the political nature of teaching for social justice.  One faculty member reflected,

 

Being equitable in school is getting rid of as many things as you can that label and make people incompetent and actually create incompetence, and doing everything you can positively to have people have realistic and honest understanding of ways in which they are smart and competent in the world and what their responsibilities are in a democracy . . . it’s related to how schools are structured, what the halls are like, who kids get to have as peers . . . and a teacher’s political beliefs are not irrelevant to what they do in the classrooms.

 

In viewing teaching as a political act, Mills faculty stressed the importance of addressing social inequities and institutional issues such as race and racism.

 

In sum, I found that the conception of social justice most articulated by faculty emphasized addressing and attending to the needs of individual learners and when necessary providing students with differential resources and opportunities.  This conception of social justice easily grafts onto a more general principle of teaching and learning articulated and accepted within the field—the principle that teachers ought to attend to the individual needs of learners.11 For example, the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CCTC) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) both emphasize teachers’ abilities to assess individual students’ learning and to adapt instructional practices to attend to their individual needs (CCTC, 1997; NBPTS, 2003).  Arguably, faculty only had to make a small shift to view meeting the needs of individual students as associated with a social justice orientation.  In contrast, a conception of justice that emphasizes the political nature of teaching and the view that teachers should address larger structural inequities may require faculty to explicitly stand outside the mainstream of what constitutes the role of teachers and teacher education within the field more generally.

 

Mutual engagement

 

Analysis of interview data reveals that the teacher educators in each program continued to negotiate about their conceptions of social justice as well as what it meant to develop a coherent program.  Faculty suggested that integrating social justice was both the road and the destination.  There was no end to the road—a point at which they could claim with certainty that they had successfully arrived at a satisfactory conception of social justice or that they had fully implemented social justice across the program.  The following faculty comments suggest the process nature of integrating social justice:

 

Tracy (Mills): I think there is certainly integration but there is always more work to do. . . . So I really do think it’s everywhere. I don’t know. . . . I don’t think we’ve gotten to the point where we are as effective as we would like to be in everything we do.

 

Allison (SJSU): I don’t think we have gotten to a place yet where it is clear how we are addressing all these issues [social justice and equity] . . . so I think we are just starting to take those steps, but I mean we are doing it.

 

Maintaining and nurturing a process of addressing social justice seemed to require conditions that enabled faculty to mutually engage. In the discussion below, I highlight three factors that appeared to matter to faculty’s capacity to participate in the joint enterprise of social justice teacher education:

 

1)

External resources, which provided structure and expertise,

 

2)

Selection of faculty with commitments to social justice and collaboration, and

 

3)

Formal and informal opportunities for faculty to collaborate.

 

External resources

 

As discussed earlier, faculty acknowledged that developing a mission focused on social justice was an important condition to implementation.  It was not simply the articulation of a mission focused on social justice that mattered, but the processes that led faculty to focus on a joint enterprise and which required them to participate in shared activities and events that proved critical. In both cases, external resources appeared instrumental to program efforts.  For Mills, the accreditation process provided them with the impetus to spend a concentrated amount of time reviewing their commitment to and conceptions of social justice.  For SJSU, participation in an effort focused on school reform provided time to discuss such issues and gain access to others with expertise.

 

In 1998, Mills renewed its accreditation with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC).  According to faculty, the accreditation process provided a specific event in which to clarify their core principles and consider how to enact those principles in practice.  Mills faculty could have responded by adopting the new CCTC standards for teacher education programs and reorganizing the program to reflect those standards, however, they applied for a waiver to develop their own standards.   Overwhelmingly, faculty viewed the process as beneficial:

 

Joseph: Partly it’s [we collaborate] because we decided at some point to do this experimental model or write our own standards.  That made a huge impact on what we were—I mean we already were doing it, but it made us articulate it.   That was a truly valuable process for us.

 

Tracy: We spent lots and lots of time together writing and re-writing and talking about what we really thought we meant by things . . . and so having all that retreat time it was really, really wonderful and it was exhausting.

 

These comments accent two important features of the way faculty enacted the accreditation process.  First, the clarification of the principles as related to the CCTC requirements did not fall on the shoulders of a few faculty as can sometimes be the case. According to faculty, individuals mutually engaged in the self-study of the program and worked collectively to clarify its overarching commitment to social justice.

 

Second, selecting the waiver option provided faculty with a specific event through which to clarify their principles and to consider how they were enacting those principles in practice—up until this point, faculty recounted that although they had articulated the majority of the principles, concentrated time to discuss the principles as they related to practice had remained elusive.  The accreditation process provided faculty with the much-needed time to discuss and revisit the core principles.

 

SJSU’s affiliation with organizations beyond the College of Education supported its adoption of equity as a central goal of the program.  The Teacher Education Intern program’s original mission was to provide prospective teachers with a seamless preparation experience—from preservice through induction.  The program’s shift toward a more explicit focus on equity occurred over time, and was aided by its participation in the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative (BASRC) from 1998–2002.  In interviews, faculty agreed that BASRC was instrumental.  Brenda recounted,

 

That [the emphasis on equity] happened when we became a part of BASRC and at that time, their focus was closing the achievement gap between Latino and African-American students and White students . . . they were very instrumental in sort of giving us a wake-up call. . . . I think down here [in San José], we tended to have blinders on and we listened to what our colleagues were saying in Oakland that was really affecting them and so it made us really look at ourselves and look at what we were really trying to achieve and if we were doing it and if not, how we should go about implementing it.

 

As reflected, the program’s participation in BASRC provided faculty with an avenue for considering equity as part of the program’s mission. Wenger (1998) suggests that any community of practice relies to a certain extent on the knowledge and expertise of its members as well as its ability to reach out and access others with expertise.  Early in the implementation process, SJSU faculty relied on their own understandings of social justice and equity, but also benefited from outside resources garnered through their participation in BASRC.

 

In some instances, the program took an active role in bringing in resources.  For instance, the program invited a critical friend from Mills College to review program documents, visit a selection of university courses, and observe prospective teachers in their student teaching placements to assess the integration of social justice.  In an interview, one faculty recounted that this critical friend suggested they just paid “lip service” to equity, having not yet included those concerns in course syllabi or course content.  For SJSU faculty, this was another “wake up call.”   Individual faculty also reflected that their BASRC participation challenged them to think individually about their practice as teacher educators and prompted a number of hallway conversations.  SJSU’s access to outside resources that could help them begin to implement an equity focus, their willingness to learn from others engaged in social justice issues, and the opportunity BASRC provided in terms of bringing key faculty together around issues of equity, supported faculty to refocus the program mission.   

 

To summarize, faculty in both programs credited external resources as a major factor in enabling them to focus on social justice.  It was not simply the existence of the opportunities these external influences provided, but the ways in which faculty responded and negotiated these opportunities (Wenger, 1998).  Importantly, faculty highlighted that these opportunities provided specific events in which to talk with one another about the program mission and their commitment to social justice.  More important than coming to an agreement about the meaning of social justice, faculty pointed to the opportunity to discuss with one another what they envisioned. Their experience reflects findings from other research on teacher education programs which indicates that opportunities for faculty to collaborate about the program, about their work as teacher educators, and to learn from one another are essential factors to the process of integration (Cochran-Smith, Albert, Dimattia, Freedman, Jackson, Mooney, Neisler, Peck, & Zollers, 1999; Snyder, 2000; Zeichner, 2000).

 

Selection of faculty

 

A key aspect of any community of practice is how newcomers to the community are initiated into its practices and how they learn to become familiar with the values, concepts, and ways of being that are encouraged by that particular community (Wenger, 1998).  Wenger pays particular attention to how newcomers become socialized into a community of practice and how they learn the community’s routines and taken-for-granted norms.  I found that specific events and activities—such as the accreditation process at Mills and SJSU’s participation in BASRC—acted as socialization activities that inducted newcomers and maintained old timers’ commitment to the joint enterprise of social justice.  In addition to socializing faculty, the selection of faculty appeared essential to developing, sustaining, and maintaining a community of practice focused on social justice.  Extending communities of practice theory, this study reveals the importance not only of socializing members into a community of practice, but the importance of selecting members into that community.  Faculty agreed that the goal was to hire faculty with a commitment to issues of social justice and to working collectively on the development of the program, regardless of whether that faculty’s conception exactly matched the conceptions of others.

 

Although Mills and SJSU have different processes for selecting faculty, they each managed to attract tenure stream faculty with a commitment to preparing teachers with a focus on justice.  Both programs avoided hiring large numbers of adjunct faculty who—given their contractual relationship to the institution—may be less likely to have the time or motivation to invest in program development.

 

Mills faculty agreed that a primary criteria for hiring new faculty was their demonstrated commitment to social justice and equity in their professional lives—both their teaching and their research.  One Mills faculty suggested, “If they don’t buy into the principles, there’s no point.”  Importantly, faculty indicated that they do not look for faculty who can parrot back the principles, but who express a commitment to social justice and can bring new knowledge about such issues to the program.  The selection criteria that faculty have an explicit commitment to social justice ensured that the individuals involved in the program shared similar concerns and would participate in a community of practice engaged in the work of integrating social justice. Instead of having to convince faculty to invest in the joint enterprise of emphasizing social justice, Mills selected individuals already invested.

 

In addition, Mills faculty selected individuals who would engage in the work of integrating social justice as part of a collective effort.  Faculty agreed that one’s willingness to collaborate was of critical importance.  They reflected:

 

Tracy:  I want somebody who has recognition in the field but I’m not interested in a prima donna. . . . I would want someone who is really interested in collaboration.

 

Julie: Somebody who is interested in being a collaborator.  We don’t need any prima donnas around here.

 

As we can see, faculty viewed collaboration as integral to their efforts to develop a coherent program focused on social justice.  Mills’ community of practice required constant attention and the selection of faculty with a social justice orientation and commitment to collaboration supported the maintenance of a community committed to that enterprise.

 

SJSU negotiated a very different organizational context in order to build a program emphasizing social justice.  In contrast to Mills—which had substantial control over the hiring of faculty—the SJSU program had to attract faculty from the existing pool already teaching within the College of Education.  Despite this difference, SJSU attracted faculty with a commitment to equity and to collaboration. Monica recounted,

 

. . . the criteria has been we want people who are really good. . . . I want someone who is really strong in pedagogy themselves, in teacher education pedagogy, and has a commitment to using an equity focus.

 

New faculty commented that the program’s reputation for collegiality and particular activities such as the Teacher Educator Inquiry Group attracted them. Two new faculty switched to elementary education from secondary in part because their participation in the Inquiry Group made the elementary group feel more like their  “collegial home.” As a result of the program’s gravitational pull, the entire faculty expressed a commitment to equity and each noted the program’s collaborative quality as mattering to their efforts.  Similar to Mills, SJSU had attracted a core of tenure stream faculty who shared a commitment to the joint enterprise of making equity central in the preparation of teachers and who valued collaboration.  According to some faculty, having a core of tenure stream faculty added to the stability of the program and to its focus on equity.  One faculty reflected, “Having it be a small group strengthens the program.  It does . . . because it’s easier to be on the same page with the same people you have worked with over a couple of years than constantly having people come in and out.”

 

Hiring and attracting faculty with shared commitments to social justice and collaboration and the stability of the faculty seemed to support the joint enterprise of integrating social justice for a number of reasons.  First, the consistency of faculty over time allowed the group to negotiate the meaning of social justice without the constant disruption that faculty turnover might have caused.  Arguably, the collaborative process Mills faculty engaged in around accreditation would have been more difficult had it occurred in a context of high turnover or in a program with a high proportion of adjunct faculty whose teaching commitments might be spread across different institutions.  Second, the stability of the faculty allowed individuals to accumulate knowledge of each other’s courses, including knowledge of how specific activities or assignments across courses related.  This point regarding knowledge accumulation is best understood when set against events that disrupted faculty stability at Mills.  

 

Prior to, during, and after the year of this study, a string of Mills faculty took sabbaticals. A number of faculty indicated that this limited their understanding and knowledge of the content and curriculum of individual courses, as well as their ability to collaborate, thereby impeding the integration of social justice. For example, as a result of sabbatical schedules, the Introduction to Teaching course had a change of instructors.  Many faculty recounted feeling uncertain about how their course would continue to connect with this core course.  In response to a question regarding the integration of social justice, Joseph commented,

 

The Introduction to the Teaching Profession that is sort of the core, the central core, that is where all the students come together, it is different this year.  In past years I’ve been able to reference readings from Debbie’s [the previous instructor] course.  In fact you heard me ask [today in class] have you read the McKinney article, and everybody sort of looked at me, ‘No we haven’t read that.’

 

Joseph asserts that the change in the instructor and the assumed changes to the curriculum made it more difficult to connect readings and content.  Tracy commented more directly on the challenges resulting from sabbaticals and other changes:

 

We are right in the middle of sabbatical hell and it makes it [collaboration] harder during these couple of years where somebody’s always out . . . it cuts down on the time people have to talk together because people are spread thinner and other people [referring to adjuncts] in the program don’t have the institutional support to do the things that we can—it’s harder to ask them to spend hours and hours and hours just yakking. So as the program grows, as the education department grows, and people are also involved in things other than the credential program, it’s getting harder to maintain the same level of talking with each other.  This is the first year I’ve taught that I’m not quite sure my assignments are making sense with other assignments.

 

Tracy’s comment reflects a shared view that the instability of faculty stretched their ability to collaborate, impaired their knowledge and understanding of the content and curriculum of the whole program, and challenged their certainty about how they were engaging in the joint enterprise of developing a coherent program around social justice. For both programs, however, the hiring of faculty with a commitment to social justice and the consistency of the faculty over time allowed them to accumulate knowledge of the program and to develop a shared commitment that enabled the implementation process.  When faculty stability and efforts to collaborate were compromised, the joint enterprise of social justice teacher education was also compromised.

 

Formal and informal opportunities for faculty to collaborate  

 

As suggested above, faculty’s capacity to engage in the work of social justice teacher education depended in part on their opportunities to collaborate.  These opportunities provided faculty with key avenues for engaging in social justice both individually and collectively (Wenger, 1998). From faculty’s perspective, opportunities to talk about social justice, to focus on their practice as teacher educators, and to discuss the entire curriculum were vital to their joint work.  When asked what advice they would give the teacher education faculty of a program just beginning to focus on social justice, the Mills faculty emphasized collaboration.

 

Julie: First I think I would tell them to make sure everybody wanted to come in and work, in fact I would tell them to talk about what that meant and think about how they were already doing it so that even if they didn’t all agree with each other they all sort of knew which page they were on.  I don’t think it’s something you can do in an isolated way. It has to be something that is shared by all faculty together.

 

Tracy: I’d want them to find some structure where, if it’s a whole program or a whole faculty or parts of the faculty where they can have some real collaboration to figure out what’s important to them as a faculty and to not just think about equity but to think about those less than eight things around which they want their program to be cohesive.

 

Heeding their own advice, Mills faculty collaborated in formal and informal ways to support the integration of social justice.  In interviews, faculty indicated that the weekly faculty meetings and the spring retreat provided formal structures in which to discuss the inclusion of social justice.  The mere existence of faculty meetings or retreats did not ensure that the conversations focused on social justice.  One faculty member recalled that the preceding year’s retreat was mostly a celebration, rather than an in-depth evaluation of the program’s inclusion of social justice.  In general, however, faculty suggested that these opportunities enabled them to consider the curriculum of the whole program and how individual courses and course assignments related.  Tracy commented, “That’s an important part of a meeting that the faculty does [get] together to talk about curriculum and students, and [tries] to make sure that our assignments sort of weave together rather than pile on.”

 

These moments in which faculty took a holistic view of the program and discussed the relationships between assignments supported their integrated approach in a number of ways.  First, it provided faculty with an opportunity to intentionally design assignments in ways that connected to one another.  In some instances, prospective teachers had assignments that crossed over the content and curriculum of multiple courses.  For example, for the General C&I course, teachers had to develop lesson plans in conjunction with the Teaching English Language Learners course.

 

Second, these opportunities provided faculty with information and knowledge of other courses so that within their own course they could help prospective teachers build bridges between the content and curriculum of individual courses.  Observations of course conversations indicated that faculty sometimes referred to other courses and assignments.  In the following example, the instructor of the Teaching English Language Learners course highlighted a connection between what prospective teachers had just read and an idea from the General C&I course:

 

Did you have a chance to read the Nunon article [sequencing and integrating tasks]. . . . The article is going to be a little challenging.  In terms of sequencing he also talks about themes and learning pathways. Keep this in mind when Samantha [C&I instructor] warns you not to do a whole bunch of activities together and call them a unit. A unit on dinosaurs is problematic.

 

Although these instances did not focus exclusively on social justice, the opportunities that teacher education faculty had to learn about each other’s courses and to make connections facilitated their development of a more coherent program.

 

In addition to formal events in which faculty consulted with each other about the program, faculty informally collaborated with one another in ways that, by their account, supported their work toward developing a coherent program around social justice. Asking for help or advice from other faculty appeared to be an accepted practice at Mills.  For example, during the second semester Tracy—who taught the Introduction to Teaching course— consulted with other faculty before revising one of the course assignments.  She reflected on the ability to just call on other faculty for advice, “Mostly, more than anything else, it’s that really knowing that I can pick up the phone, walk into an office, demand and get half hour, an hour within the next day to talk about whatever is on my plate, and we do that for each other.”

 

Joseph concurred that the ability to knock on some one else’s door and to ask for help was critical to the development of the Teaching English Language Learners Course. He explained,

 

I finally came to Debbie and said, “You know what? I’m in trouble. This course stinks. So sit down with me and just help me out.” And she’s the one who really pushed me toward “less is more.”. . . . So she is the one who pushed me in that sense and through that work, we were both able to [say], “Oh, by the way, I’m going to be working on this, this class.” That was really powerful and our students noticed it.

 

This informal collaboration relied on individual faculty’s initiative to ask for help, but also on a culture that valued and encouraged asking for help.

 

Formal and informal collaboration among faculty did not occur effortlessly.  For example, although faculty meetings often addressed issues of course curriculum and content, assessment of individual prospective teachers, and the inclusion of the guiding principles, faculty indicated that other concerns and logistical issues often infringed on this time.  Efforts to safeguard these meetings were not always successful.  In addition, some faculty mentioned over-packed schedules and multiple responsibilities as inhibiting their efforts to collaborate.  Despite these constraints and shortcomings, faculty concurred that their opportunities to talk with one another about what they meant by social justice, to explore their practice with colleagues, and to develop assignments with knowledge of other course content and curriculum was central to the implementation of social justice.

 

SJSU faculty also indicated that formal and informal opportunities to collaborate with faculty specifically around the inclusion of social justice stood out as a factor in the implementation process.  Two formal structures developed within the Teacher education intern program:  The Teacher Educator Inquiry Group and the Curriculum Revision Process.

 

By the year of this study, the Teacher Educator Inquiry Group had been up and running for two years.  Monica who initiated the Inquiry Group recalled,

 

I was concerned at the time that our interns were engaging in inquiring into their practice.  The [CTs] had meetings and talked about it. The support providers at the time were talking with other support providers. And then there was the university faculty who were doing nothing. So I decided to see if I could pull it together to have the faculty also have time to inquire into their practice as teacher educators.

 

Faculty volunteered to participate in the Inquiry Group and carved out time from their schedules to attend.  Reflecting the program’s broader emphasis on equity, its participation in BASRC, and the interests of the participating faculty, the Inquiry Group also focused its inquiry on issues of equity.  The group met approximately four times per semester with individual faculty facilitating each session.  For example, one session focused on Gary Howard’s book (1999), You Can’t Teach What You Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools.  Prior to the discussion, Allison commented,

 

I think it would be helpful to me to have a dialogue about that book with the rest of the group, and I think it would be good for the rest of that group to think about the ideas in the book.  Particularly about Whiteness and the way we [White folks] continue to demand privilege, even when we think we’re being equitable.

 

Other faculty indicated that the Inquiry Group helped them develop and maintain the program’s focus on equity by providing an avenue through which to grapple with both the concept and practice of equity in teacher education.

 

In addition to the Inquiry Group, interested faculty members worked together to revise the curriculum—this was often referred to as the Curriculum Revision Process. The revision process aimed to reshape the curriculum to focus more explicitly on equity and to develop crosscutting strands. Through this process, faculty gained knowledge about the content and curriculum of other courses and had another opportunity to reconsider their own practice.  One faculty stated that as a result of the curriculum revision process and the Inquiry Group the faculty was more on the “same page.”  Another faculty member focused on how the process had impacted her own course, “Yes, it certainly helped me rethink some of the stuff that I have been doing and wanting to do.  I think it has been successful at putting equity at the forefront.” Although one of the goals of the curriculum revision process was to look in depth at the content of each course, faculty reported that overall the process helped them understand where particular concepts related to equity would appear in their course, but that they did not yet have sufficient opportunities to explore the intersections across courses or to discuss how to implement such concepts in practice.

 

Similar to the experience of the Mills faculty, packed schedules and multiple responsibilities made it difficult for individuals to participate in the Inquiry Group, the Curriculum Revision process, or to collaborate informally.  At Mills, the faculty retreat and meetings were included in faculty’s expected responsibilities.  For the SJSU faculty, participation in these two formal structures was voluntary and additional to their other responsibilities as faculty in the Department of Elementary Education.  Faculty indicated that their responsibilities to teach multiple courses in a semester and to work in multiple credentialing programs compromised the consistency of their time and efforts to collaborate in the development of the program’s new commitment to equity.

 

To summarize, I found that opportunities to collaborate with others appeared critical to faculty capacity to engage in the joint work of integrating social justice.  As Wenger (1998) suggests, specific structures such as faculty meetings or special teacher educator groups likely enabled these collaborative efforts.  The size of the two programs, their relative stability, and their ability to either select or attract faculty with similar commitments facilitated collaboration, and in turn faculty’s mutual engagement.

 

CONCLUSION

 

Social justice teacher education programs promise to improve the preparation of teachers to teach students from diverse backgrounds—particularly students of color, low-income students and English language learners.   In doing so, they strive to keep the moral and ethical purposes of teaching and schooling—purposes such as providing all students with high quality opportunities to learn—at the center of teachers’ preparation.  Their effort is critically important in a time of high stakes accountability when the pressure to resort to a technical view of teaching and teacher education underlies much of the day-to-day work of teacher educators.  This article provides much needed illustrations of the efforts of teacher educators to keep issues of justice and the purposes of education at the center of learning to teach.

 

What do we learn from the teacher educators at Mills and SJSU and where might we go from here?  As this article illustrates, a cookie-cutter definition of social justice in teacher education that can be adopted uniformly across teacher education programs does not exist and perhaps is not a goal to which we should aspire.  As predicted by the theory of communities of practice and exemplified by the work of Mills and SJSU faculty, developing a vision of social justice at the center of teacher education is a negotiated process that occurs among the faculty at a particular institution—a process that can benefit from outside expertise as well as structures and policies that facilitate collaboration and which select faculty with such commitments.  Taken to its extreme, the argument that every teacher education program constructs its own process for developing a social justice teacher education program and for defining what social justice means in teacher education suggests that every teacher education program necessarily reinvents the wheel.  However, based on the analysis of Mills and SJSU, I suggest some common themes that cut across programs and which others might adapt and extend as they aim to develop an emphasis on social justice in the preparation of teachers to work with diverse students.

 

This article describes findings from a preliminary study in the area of social justice teacher education, an area with little empirical evidence identifying how teacher educators conceptualize their work or the conditions that they perceive as enabling their efforts.  This study suggests a number of factors in these two cases that seem important to the work of teacher educators.  Mills and SJSU illustrate that formal and informal opportunities for teacher educators to collaborate with one another around their overall vision of teaching and learning and concerted attempts to keep such spaces safe from the day-to-day press of administrative issues may aid the integration of social justice.  Additionally, Mills and SJSU faculty highlight that social justice teacher education is a process that calls for continuous learning and revision, and suggest that such work requires faculty engagement over time and access to outside resources and expertise.

 

This recommendation has implications for research on teacher education as well.  We are in need of systematic studies designed to introduce changes such as those described in this article into extant programs aiming to address social justice in the professional preparation of prospective teachers.  Such studies could explore the actual practices of teacher educators engaged in such efforts—methodologically and theoretically grounded research that offers conceptual frameworks, which others could adapt to suit the resources and needs of their own teacher education context.  In addition, such research could study the impact of such efforts on prospective teachers’ knowledge and practices with students from diverse backgrounds.  This study contributes to this emerging scholarship by locating teachers’ conceptions in a broader vision of justice and by employing constructs from communities of practice theory to guide analysis.  The aim is for teacher educators and researchers to build on the findings from this study to refine our understanding of what we mean by social justice teacher education.

 

In terms of defining what social justice means, I suggest that teacher educators tend to focus on a conception of justice that emphasizes the needs of individuals without necessarily recognizing how individual experience may be shaped by issues of oppression.  For programs aiming to address the structural inequities present in schooling, inequities that disadvantage students of color, low-income students, and English language learners, such an emphasis may not fully prepare teachers to face the challenges of teaching diverse students. However, Mills and SJSU teacher educators articulated a fairly complex notion of justice that also emphasized students as affiliated with broader social groups, that recognized broader structural issues such as race and racism, and that viewed teaching as a political act.  This dimension of their conception suggests that teacher educators may want to more fully acknowledge and articulate social justice as attending to issues of oppression.

 

The dimensions of justice articulated by faculty at Mills and SJSU offer teacher educators with a way of conceptualizing justice which attends both to a core concept in the field—the goal of attending to individual students’ needs—and to a less common concept of justice as tied to alleviating oppression.  Attending to issues of oppression and structural inequity calls on teacher educators to go beyond a conception of justice based on distributive notions to a conception that sees social relations as central to understanding and achieving justice.  Young’s conception of justice, which undergirds the analysis presented here, offers teacher educators with an alternative to the more traditional notions of justice, which tend to maintain a focus on individuals without locating those individuals in broader social structures.

 

Although not fully articulated by the teacher educators at Mills and SJSU, adopting a view of justice that recognizes broad social inequity and issues of oppression lays the ground work for supporting teacher educators to connect the goals and purposes of education and teacher education with other social movements such as those aimed at improving the economic, health, and neighborhood conditions of people of color and low-income communities.  After all, if we are to improve the educational opportunities of students of color, low-income students, and English language learners, teacher educators may need to consider how they help prospective teachers see that achieving justice in education requires understanding the broader social structures that impact the lives of their students.

 

I want to thank the reviewers and editors at TCR for their thoughtful comments and Linda Valli and Meredith Honig for their feedback on initial drafts.  I also want to thank the faculty at Mills and SJSU for their time and for their commitments to teacher education.

 

Notes

 

1 For brevity, I refer to these programs as Mills and SJSU.  Both programs have agreed to be identified, but the names of all individuals are pseudonyms.

 

2 See Banks, 1995; Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2003; Dilworth, 1992; & Zeichner, 2003 for discussions of the demographic imperative.

 

3 The term students of color includes those students identified as Indian/Native American, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian/Pacific Islander—the categories typically included in census reports and demographic surveys.

 

4 For a discussion of the implementation of social justice in teacher educators’ practice see MacDonald (2005).

 

5 For more information on both programs see: Markowitz, N., Swanson, P., Whitaker, A., & McDonald, M. (2005) and Kroll, L., Donahue, D., Galguera, T., Laboskey, V., Richert, A., Tucher, P., et al. (2005).

 

6 Both programs are cohort based, fifth-year elementary preservice programs that require a full year of clinical internships.

 

7 The author does not have any formal affiliation with either institution or program.

 

8 I interviewed a total of seven Mills faculty and staff and seven SJSU faculty and staff, in some cases multiple times.

 

9 For a thorough discussion of the Mills program and the core principles see Kroll et al., (2005)

 

10 The principles also included a view of learning as a constructive/developmental process and teaching for acquisition and construction of subject matter knowledge.

 

11 Theories of decision making support this explanation by indicating that individuals are likely to graft new concepts and ideas onto prior conceptions and previous actions (e.g., March, 1994).

 

References

 

American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. (1999). Teacher education pipeline IV: Schools, colleges, and departments of education. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.

 

Anderson, E. S. (1999). What is the point of equality? Ethics, 287–337.

 

Banks, J. (1995). Multicultural education: Historical development, dimensions, and practice. In J. Banks & C. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education(pp. 3–24). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

 

Banks, J. A. (2002). An introduction to multicultural education (3rd Ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

 

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 8, 2007, p. 2047-2081
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14094

 

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