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Shanker Blog: We Choose to Reimagine Education: Centering on Love and Emotionally Responsive Teaching and Learning

This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest authors today are Tia C. Madkins, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin, and Alexis Patterson Williams, assistant professor in science education at the University of California Davis. Other posts in the series are compiled here.

Receiving new and conflicting information about COVID-19 is sending families, educators, and communities into a tailspin. Schools remain closed, students and their families are frustrated with remote schooling (RS), and school reopening plans are being revealed slowly—if at all. Many conversations about the upcoming school year have been rooted in fear of  what could go wrong. We argue that it is critical to start our conversation from a place of hope and reimagine what could go well in PK-12 education. This requires reimagining PK-12 education through the lens of love. If we don’t use this moment to reimagine education, we are missing an incredible opportunity, which will leave our children wondering why we didn’t work harder to leverage the moment to make their lives and schools better.

What does it look like to center love as we prepare to reopen US schools? When we say love, we mean a commitment to making each other better. Educators commit to being responsible for and to each other, to students, and to families. This is accomplished by having explicit high expectations and demonstrating care through both actions and words. At a time when schools are incredibly unequal, it is really important to show love and uplift the experiences of Black and Brown students. Thus, educators in PK-12 classrooms, both in and outside of schools, must engage in humanizing pedagogies that 1) foster emotionally responsive classroom environments; 2) support students’ critical consciousness development; and 3) co-construct curricula and knowledge with their students. Here is how educators can enact these practices.

Foster emotionally responsive classroom environments. When we center love, we create emotionally responsive learning environments. Educators who see their students as fully human and as children provide meaningful and robust instructional experiences. This requires examining, confronting, and rejecting deficit views of students, families, and communities needing to be repaired or fixed. Children deserve educators who recognize and build upon the wealth of educational experiences students bring to school from their homes and communities. These classrooms are culturally responsiveadditive, and welcoming for children. 

Children need their homes—which are now their school sites—to remain places where they can find love, peace, and happiness. Schools may represent sites of oppression for Black and Brown children. Educators are now in students’ homes, and they must be mindful of how their presence and learning activities via remote schooling add to,disrupt, and/or detract from students’ home environment. 

Additional steps toward creating a learning setting for Black and Brown children based on love include:    

  • Being emotionally in tune:  Educators should work to foster and maintain a classroom environment where both educators and students are in tune with their own AND others’ emotions. This includes getting to know students and their families.
  • Being vulnerable:  Educators should cultivate classroom environments where they embody vulnerability and where it is safe for all students to be vulnerable. This includes allowing students to get to know educators.
  • Being worthy of emotional care-taking:  Educators should position all of their students as worthy of emotional care-taking

Ultimately, educators’ intentional design of this type of classroom environment and learning supports students in knowing it is safe to express, give, and receive emotional responses

Support students’ critical consciousness development. Educators must also recognize and further develop students’ critical consciousness in their learning activities. Critical consciousness is the ability to identify, analyze, and address systems of oppression. Teachers must begin cultivating their own critical consciousness before they can support students in understanding and acting against injustice. While often treated as an addendum to standards, it is important for teachers to connect social justice issues to the curriculum. Doing so not only highlights societal inequities but also shows students there are opportunities to understand and analyze systemic oppression within each academic discipline. In addition to the Albert Shanker Institute's lesson planning resources, organizations such as Rethinking Schools and Teaching Tolerance provide resources for this across content areas and this resource is unique to science and mathematics instruction. 

Co-construct curricula and knowledge with students. Teachers must also be willing to engage in reciprocal relationships with their students. In taking on flexible roles as both teacher and learner, educators can co-construct curricula and knowledge with students. This work for teachers can look like tapping into students’ funds of knowledge or allowing students to shape lessons or curricular units. One of the greatest gifts of teaching is the learning we experience from/with our students. These moments do not have to change due to remote schooling—we can still listen to and learn with and from our students. Given the remote venue for most teaching and learning, it is even more important for educators to make space for students’ ideas, interests, and concerns.

Humanizing pedagogies allow educators to show love, solidarity, and commitment to working with their students, families, and school communities. Educators’ work should be grounded in the recognition of communities’ strengths—what we call assets-based approaches. This approach is starkly contrasted to one where educators view students and their communities as deficient and in need of saving or intervention. Part of this work includes unlearning the micromanagement of children’s behaviors—such as those labeled as “disruptive” rather than childlike. These actions can move us from reimagining to promoting justice in education. For some, engaging in justice-focused teaching is new. For others, justice-focused teaching has been a lifelong journey toward collective learning. Either way, we must reimagine education and do the work that is necessary for our children’s educational futures—their lives literally depend upon it. 

Resources for Further Learning:  Centering Love and Engaging Humanizing Pedagogies

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Tia C. Madkins

Tia C. Madkins is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Madkins explores equity-focused...

Alexis Patterson Williams

Alexis Patterson Williams is an assistant professor in science education in the School of Education at the University of California Davis. Her research lies at th...