Learning to teach for social justice in early childhood classrooms of privilege
Blackmon, Laurel Catherine
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The purposes of this study were to examine how Social Justice Education (SJE) was envisioned and enacted at an elite school and to examine what the experiences of the school’s early childhood teachers were as they participated in professional development (PD) programming around SJE. Through embedded case study methodology, the researcher analyzed the school as one unit, with the five teacher participants as bound cases within this context. Conducted in 2017, data included interviews with school leaders, curriculum documents, school documents, PD materials, teacher interviews, and classroom observations. These data were analyzed in the context of a theoretical framework of SJE developed from the literature. Findings indicated that SJE was largely defined by the teacher participants and the School Head as a way to create a welcoming school community and that observed classroom practices aligned with this definition. Administrators and the School Mission & Statement of Community Values, however, included taking action against inequity in the definition, a conceptualization of SJE that would be challenging to fully realize in the context of the school and professional cultures at the time of the study. The school and professional cultures were also found to be key factors in how teacher learning was experienced by the teachers. Each teacher participant positioned herself as an outsider to these cultures in some way, and each described this position as having an impact on her implementation of SJE. Participants described their learning experiences as both personal and professional, and they expressed that PD that supported development of their critical lenses and their classroom practices was impactful. Implications for professional developers and school leaders include the importance of understanding the school and larger socio-political context in which teachers are learning about SJE. Three areas of focus for PD were also identified: teacher self-knowledge, critical lens development, and training programs for specific curriculum and pedagogy that supports SJE. Implications for research include inquiry into the role of school and professional culture in shifting schoolwide practices to SJE and into the impact of PD that emphasizes teacher self-knowledge, critical lens development, and training in SJE curriculum programs.