Scholars in the field of Multicultural teacher education are calling for a "new Multicultural education" that moves beyond rhetoric and engages with the many challenging realities of marginalized students.1 Whether the topic involves the savage inequalities that plague impoverished communities or the debate over deficit thinking of students of color, the fact remains that university faculty have the responsibility of preparing professionals to effectively work with individuals of all backgrounds. Furthermore, as a community of educators committed to strength-based, humanizing pedagogy, we are responsible for engaging pre-service and human services educators in building on students and community members "funds of knowledge".2 This becomes increasingly complicated as our communities and schools grow more diverse in terms of race, class, and language.
The Woodring College of Education, according to its vision statement, "fosters community relationships and a culture of learning that advances knowledge, embraces diversity and promotes social justice." Within the college's commitment to diversity, "transformational change that supports increased understanding and respect for differences and similarities among people and cultures" is at the forefront of the college's mission. This commitment is embedded throughout the college through units like The Center for Education, Equity, and Diversity, a college-wide diversity committee, and student programs such as the Future Scholars and the Promise Scholars. In addition, the faculty unanimously agreed to infuse Multicultural issues and philosophies throughout Woodring courses and curriculum to better meet the growing needs of U.S. students, pre-service teachers, schools and communities.
In September of 2008, an invitation went to all Woodring faculty members to submit a request to participate in the Multicultural Faculty Fellowship. An overwhelming number of faculty members from all departments, on and off campus, responded favorably. Based on time, scheduling, and availability, seventeen faculty members were chosen and thirteen committed themselves to the two-year inquiry.
The Multicultural Faculty Fellows meet every other week, for a minimum of an hour and a half. The critical inquiry model that is followed is required of all participants. The democratic principle that education should position every citizen to govern is essential in the co-construction of the goals and themes of the Multicultural Faculty Fellowship.3 Therefore, although we began with promising practices, the direction of the group depended on the needs of the faculty involved. We began our collaboration by defining critical inquiry and generating a list of agreements that we have consistently revisited. The agreements provide opportunities to interact with our colleagues and approach the process with honesty and integrity. We allow ourselves to make mistakes, but are responsible for our actions. Our list of agreements are dynamic; they may change or be added to at any time to meet the unique needs of the group. At each meeting, our agreements are posted on the back of our agenda.
At our first meeting, we expressed our goals for participating in the fellowship and began defining collaborative critical inquiry, examining the work of scholars in the field of critical literacy. After grappling with several key concepts, we created a common meaning that defined critical inquiry as the conscious creation of community by sharing the multiple perspectives and voices of group members through critical reflection and dialogue about who we are, individually and collectively, from sociopolitical and historical perspectives, thus creating the foundations for social justice in our lives and the academy.4 The framework of social justice that initiated this conversation derived from Nieto and Bode's definition of social justice as a philosophy, an approach, and actions that embody treating all people with fairness, respect, dignity, and generosity.5
Many aspects of collaborative critical inquiry inspired the Multicultural group, including narrative research and self-study,6 creating sites for self-critical reflection,7systemic study of issues related to identity, access, power, and learning,8 transformation beyond course boundaries,9 a realization of the importance of "others" to clarify and construct knowledge,10 "a spirit of community and lasting alliance to support both personal and professional growth"11, a commitment to wrestling with the questions rather than finding absolute answers,12 acting collectively and institutionally on the importance of Multiculturalintegrity,13 navigating political terrain, multiple perspectives, resisting binaries, and marinating in complexity.14
Our agendas generally began with an extended welcome. It is during that time when themes emerged from our locally contextualized conversations, such as defining Multicultural education and social justice; the complexities of faith, race, ethnicity, classism, and heterosexism; having courageous conversations;15 critical examination of language and learning; the power of language; professionalism; critical pedagogy; developing and honoring social imagination; remapping teaching and learning; culturally responsive teaching; accountability; critical personal narratives; and the challenges and possibilities of creating sensing and thinking environments.16 For an example of addressing culturally responsive education in her Early Childhood Education course, see Marilyn Chu's Action Research Project (PDF).
How we co-created our own learning environment and the paths in which our dialogue took us are important and worthy of exploration, but this could not have been possible without a committed group of scholars. Therefore, an argument can be made for the most important aspect of the Multicultural Faculty Fellows: that is the faculty involved and willing to engage in courageous conversations and create powerful communities of conscience. Each Fellow brought and continues to bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, and wisdom to the group, which makes for the rich dialogue and reflexive learning. They actively attend meetings, bringing their whole selves, mindful of their multiple identities and the complexity of the identities of others. Their willingness to collaborate, grapple with difficult issues, while striving for solidarity is inspirational.
Intellectual inquiry provided the first step in our group process. We then recognized that our intellectual rigor needed to be matched with our development of a sense of our own community in order to build the relationships necessary for creating authentic dialogue. Using Linda Christensen's "Where I am From" article,17 we developed our own Where I Am From poems to share with one another. Christensen creates a space through poetry in her classroom that grounds pedagogy in students' lived experience. As the Multicultural Faculty Fellows shared their "I Am From" poems with one another a shift occurred that transformed our group. We learned about the complexity of our colleague's identities and our shared lived experiences, as well as the realities of our lives that were quite different.
It is quite a privilege to have the Multicultural Faculty Fellows (Multicultural) recognized and honored in this Showcase for their contribution to Western Washington University, as a liberal arts university, or an institution dedicated to liberating education, while in the midst of our journey. We continually transform our space to make meaning of our experiences and dialogue to continue to develop as outstanding scholars and teachers. Our Multicultural community mirrors what Indigenous, qualitative researchers consider the Maori Spiral Discourse Model.18
A hand-carved mother of pearl maori spiral symbol. The spiral represents a fern frond, bringing new life, and new beginnings. © Andrew Kerr, 2006
Our journey began with an extended welcome where we approached our new critical inquiry group with integrity through our common visions and group agreements. We also took the necessary time to invite open dialogue. We understood and reflected on our process together. Not only were we reading about the contemporary issues in Multicultural texts, we recognized that we were also the texts. This became our creative space for praxis—knowledge, reflection, and action. By providing rigorous demands, high expectations and above all support for one another,19 which includes forgiveness and pushing the possiblities of personal and collective transformation, we engaged in the enduring understanding that this is a lifelong process. Awareness is not linear. We must revisit our lenses and reflect on our biases and beliefs. We don't just become aware, we are always in this spiral process. This extended welcome helped us to develop relationships of connectedness and responsibility to and for one another.
Because active decision-making for all participants was a vital component of our process, we were able to recollect, reflect and make sense of our experiences together as a community. We worked toward sharing power and analyzed our group dynamics as we started to retell, modify, delete or adapt the stories our group has created for our future goals.
As we continue this process, our conversations have included discussions about collaborative research. What we have created as an academic and humanizing learning community with Woodring is quite unique. Very little has been written about critical inquiry groups of faculty members within colleges that have focused on Multicultural awareness and agency. As we begin to look at the discussions we have engaged in, we hope to learn more about how this kind of critical inquiry collaborative can live up to a "new Multiculturaleducation" that reflects action rather than rhetoric. As the spiral continues, how can this experience become enduring as we move forward in our own courses, collegial relationships, and institutional change? In addition to our hopeful research agenda, we have discussed the possibilities of presenting at local and national conferences.
Finally, we recognized the values of learning from leaders in the field of Multicultural education. With the incredible efforts and commitment of our Multicultural colleague, Maria Timmons-Flores and the CIRCLE grant, we had the honor of learning from two-faculty centered workshop seminars on language and power with Linda Christensen, author of the "Where I Am From" article and social justice educator. We hope to bring to our campus Dr. Sonia Nieto and Dr. Patty Bode, authors of Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education, to continue our fundamental desire to learn about the ways faculty in Woodring and at Western Washington University can provide equitable education for all students.
It is important to add that the Multicultural Faculty Fellowship supports faculty members on their own journey of Multicultural personhood. These members embody the intrinsic motivation needed to commit time to the Multicultural community. Although no monetary reward is involved in this collaboration, there are certainly benefits associated with participation:
1 Nieto & Bode, 2008; Darling-Hammond, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 2006; Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Cochran-Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2003; Cochran-Smith, 2003; Darling-Hammond, French, & Garcia-Lopez, 2002
2 Moll, 2005
3 Duncan-Andrade & Morell, 2008
4 Darling-Hammond, French, & Garcia-Lopez, 2002
5 Nieto & Bode, 2008, p. 11
6 Cochran-Smith, 2003
7 Darling-Hammond, French, & Garcia-Lopez, 2002
8 Cochran-Smith, 2003
9 Richert, 1991
10 Richert, 1991
11 Hollingsworth, 1994, p. 229
12 Hollingsworth, 1994
13 Vavrus, 2002
14 Nieto & Bode, 2008; Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005
15 Pollock, 2008
16 Rendón, 2009
17 Christensen, 2001
18 Bishop, 2005
19 Nieto & Bode, 2008
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Christensen, L. (2001). Where I’m from: Inviting students’ lives into the classroom. In B. Bigelow, B. Harvey, S. Karp, and L. Miller (Eds.), Rethinking our classrooms, Volume 2. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Teaching For Equity and Justice, Rethinking Schools, Ltd.
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Cochran-Smith, M., Davis, D., & Fries, M. K. (2003). “Multicultural Teacher Education: Research, Practice and Policy.” In J. Banks (Ed.) Handbook of research on Multicultural Education (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey Bass: pp. 931-975.
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Darling-Hammond, L.; French, J. & Garcia-Lopez, S.P. (2002). Learning to teach for social justice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Duncan-Andrade, J. M., & Morell, E. (2008). The art of critical pedagogy: Possibilities for moving from theory to practice in urban schools. Bern: Peter Lang Publishing.
Hollingsworth, S. (1994). Teacher research and urban literacy education: Lessons and conversations in a feminist key. New York: Teachers College Press.
Ladson-Billings, G.J. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Presidential address at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.
Moll, L. C. (2005). Funds of knowledge: theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. London: Routledge.
Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of Multicultural education (5th Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon
Pollock, M. (2008). Everyday antiracism: Getting real about race in school. New York: New Press.
Rendón, L. I. (2009). Sentipensante (Sensing/Thinking) Pedagogy: Educating for wholeness, social justice and liberation. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
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