All too often in teacher preparation programs, families and communities are portrayed as obstacles to teachers' work, says Ken Zeichner of the University of Washington College of Education.
"We're parachuting teachers into schools and communities to try and save students," said Zeichner, Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at UW. "Most universities have neglected their communities and the deep knowledge that parents and other community members can offer as we prepare the teachers of their children."
UW researchers and partners from Seattle's Multicultural Education Rights Alliance presented findings of a project to shift this paradigm at the American Educational Research Association's 2015 annual meeting this month.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, UW elementary teacher candidates began participating in a wide range of activities that introduced them to a diverse array of community members and issues impacting children outside of school. Teacher candidates visited key community sites such as El Centro de la Raza and the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, participated in a workshop about the school-to-prison pipeline with community members, and joined in regular conversations with more than 70 community mentors.
Dawn Bennett, co-founder of the Multicultural Education Rights Alliance, said the UW initiative helped teacher candidates better understand how parents can help them with their teaching.
"When you're trying to engage people of other cultures you need to know who they are," Bennett said.
Findings from the first year of the initiative indicated UW teacher candidates were more aware of how to partner with families and communities in the educational process, Zeichner said.
"Our efforts reflect teacher education as a shared responsibility of universities, local schools and the community," Zeichner said. "It's a more democratic architecture of teacher education."
Hear more from Zeichner about the UW initiative and their AERA presentation "Engaging Local Communities in Preparing the Teachers of their Children":
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