While teaching in elementary and middle schools serving largely minoritized communities for more than a decade, Shaneé Washington-Wangia felt a constant, at times desperate, desire to see her students thrive in an educational system that wasn’t structured for their success.
Washington-Wangia, who joins the University of Washington College of Education faculty this fall as an assistant professor in teacher education, aims to reconceptualize family-school-community engagement in ways that sustain and revitalize communities of color.
Washington-Wangia recently earned her PhD from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, where she received the Donald J. White Teaching Excellence Award. She also has served as a lecturer in education at Brandeis University, teaching courses in teacher research and critical perspectives in urban education.
In the following Q&A, Washington-Wangia discusses her research agenda, what courses she’ll be teaching this year and more.
What drew you to education?
I am the daughter of a retired special educator. My mother loved teaching and would always come home sharing stories about her students. My mother was also the superintendent of Sunday school at the church that we attended for most of my childhood. She was, hands down, the best teacher of all the teachers I had throughout my K-12 schooling experience.
She was a brilliant teacher who was able to expertly explain biblical stories and doctrine using pedagogical methods that held my full attention and that of my classmates while literally having us on the edge of our seats with anticipation. Also, as superintendent, she gave me many opportunities to teach Sunday school lessons which I loved prepping for and delivering. My mother’s example as a teacher and my experiences teaching Sunday school are the reason that I decided to major in elementary education for my undergraduate degree.
Moreover, my experience attending an HBCU, which was the first time in my schooling experience that I took courses that were culturally relevant and affirming of my identity as an African American, ignited my longing to teach and uplift students whose stories are missing, marginalized, and/or misrepresented in the culture and curriculum of schools.
Describe your research agenda. What makes this work meaningful to you?
My research focuses on family-school-community engagement in Indigenous contexts explored through the lens of culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy using Indigenous and decolonizing methodologies. While I hope to continue this research focus in Indigenous and other communities of colors locally, nationally and, potentially, internationally, I would also like to explore how aspiring and developing teachers and leaders become culturally revitalizing and/or sustaining educators of Indigenous and other minoritized students who experience schools as colonizing institutions.
This work is deeply personal to me as a former student of schools that were mainly cultural and linguistic termination sites and as a former teacher who desperately wanted my own students to thrive in an educational system that was not structured to foster their academic, social and emotional success.
What attracted you to UW College of Education?
There are multiple things that attracted me to the UW College of Education. First, I felt a firm affinity to the College’s focus on equity and educational justice in the education of minoritized communities, which aligns with my own stance as an educator and researcher. Second, I was attracted to the strength and reputation of the program and the opportunity to work with and learn from established and distinguished faculty who are doing noteworthy work in fulfilling the justice and equity mission of the College. Next, I saw UW as the perfect home to continue my research focus and a place that would support my theoretical and methodological orientations as a researcher. Last and most importantly, from my first interactions with faculty of the College, I have felt at home. I feel so fortunate to have landed in a place where the faculty are so welcoming, personable and supportive.
What's a course you're particularly excited to teach?
Of the three courses that I will be teaching this year — which include Social Studies Education (EDCI 465) and Critical Perspectives in Urban Education (EDCU 210A), two courses that I have taught before at other universities — I am most excited about teaching Seminar in Teacher Education (EDCI 524), a course that I will be teaching for the first time this fall. I am excited about building on what other prominent faculty of the College of Education have done with the course through an initial focus on and critical examination of U.S. teaching and teacher education generally while spending the bulk of the course exploring how teachers have been prepared for schools and classrooms serving culturally and linguistically diverse students. Moreover, the course will center the educational experiences of Native, Black and other historically and contemporarily minoritized and marginalized students in the U.S. while conceptualizing culturally sustaining/revitalizing educational environments.
Tell us about an education-related book or movie that has influenced you.
While there are so many education-related books that have influenced my thinking and practice as an educator and researcher, one that stands out is Shawn Wilson’s “Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods.” It is a book that one of my favorite mentors and professors, Dr. Leigh Patel, recommended that I read and reread during my dissertation work. Wilson’s book, with its focus on Indigenous protocols and methodologies, including the need for relationality and relational accountability in research, spoke to the core of my being as a researcher wanting to engage in research that respects, honors and is answerable to the Indigenous and school communities that I was working with at the time and to those communities that I hope to engage in research with in the future.
What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?
I love the outdoors, particularly walking or hiking in natural, scenic places. Walking while beholding and breathing in the beauty of nature is my therapy. Also, I strive to live by Maya Angelou’s wise counsel, “Purpose to live with such charm and confidence that you are able to move in and through society appearing neither inferior among the most privileged nor superior among the most needy.”
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
As a woman who has been gifted with the amazing privilege of being a mother, I am most passionate about my children. Nia-Lael and Imara, my two beautiful and brilliant daughters, are the inspiration for all that I do.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications