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Education department promotes antiracism within future educators

The education department studies antiracism in an effort to enlighten the work of the next generation of teachers

March 23, 2022

Becoming an antiracist institution is one of the six themes in Mount Saint Mary’s University’s 2021-2026 strategic plan, “Educating Global Leaders for the Next Century.” While every department plays an important role in this effort and is charged with examining its policies to assess how it does or doesn’t meet this challenge, the education department feels a double responsibility, as it is guides the K-12 educators who serve as role models to the students in their classrooms.

A blog by Education First, a team of advisors to leaders responsible for delivering quality public education particularly to underserved communities, recently featured two Mount education faculty members, Kimberly Nao, PhD, and Julie Feldman-Abe, PhD, who discussed steps their department is taking toward antiracism. 

Kimberly Nao, PhD (left), and Julie Feldman-Abe, PhD (right), both education faculty, were featured in a blog by Education First, a team of advisors to leaders responsible for delivering quality public education, particularly to underserved communities. The discussion centered on providing a diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism focus in the teachings of future educators.
Kimberly Nao, PhD (left), and Julie Feldman-Abe, PhD (right), both education faculty, were featured in a blog by Education First, a team of advisors to leaders responsible for delivering quality public education, particularly to underserved communities. The discussion centered on providing a diversity, equity, inclusion and antiracism focus in the teachings of future educators.

As an early starting point, the book “Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School” was read as a department. Nao, the Fritz B. Burns Endowed Chair of Education and director of induction and instructional leadership, selected it “because it’s practical and outlines what antiracism is, and gives a wide variety of topics for people to consider. We chose it partly because we work with K-12 teachers. Yes, we look at how we teach at the higher-ed level, but also how we’re educating our teachers who are at the K-12 level.”

Feldman-Abe, director of the elementary teacher preparation program and the Center for Cultural Fluency, says part of the education department’s antiracism process was to create vignettes for “Complexity in the Classrooms,” a collaboration with other teacher prep programs through Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. “The assessment provides an opportunity for Mount teacher candidates to reflect on challenging issues they may realistically encounter teaching diverse students. Our team had a big voice in the project – helping shape how teachers reflect on both the intended and unintended consequences of their responses.” 

Feldman-Abe said they thought it was important to contribute to the facilitation guide for that instruction. “We want our teacher candidates to look at what’s in the best interest for the kids,” Feldman-Abe says. “That means considering how their own identities and biases influence their responses. They also need to consider if there are legal implications to what they might do as a teacher and how the community and/or the administration might respond to what they do.

“By looking through those lenses and having dialogues with their colleagues, our students can deepen their understanding. We realize we can’t predict all possible scenarios in a diverse classroom but practicing analysis through these lenses can help our students gain in competence and confidence by the time they leave our program.”

Nao says it’s vital to put this kind of work into action. “It’s important to go beyond activities and lessons around antiracism and apply it as a practice throughout teaching and learning,” she says. Part of this will be through a future call to all faculty to revise their curriculum based on the work currently being performed.

Nao and Feldman-Abe agree that the work can be difficult but rewarding. “I’ve been doing this work for around five years at The Mount,” Nao says. “In a way, it’s my life’s work because of where my passions lie. But it’s not just another teaching strategy or another approach. It’s felt very personally and takes conversations and, just as importantly, being motivated to do the work.