A new course is helping future educators at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) and Appalachian State University look at classrooms in a different way, with the goal of creating an environment in which all students thrive.
Student diversity is increasing nationally and in North Carolina, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). Research in the journal Education Next shows that teachers’ biases — both explicit and implicit — affect the way they perceive their students, impacting the expectations they hold for diverse students, the amount of attention they give individual students and their discretionary disciplinary practices.
Considering these facts, Dr. Fran Bates Oates ’74, director of the Office of Field and Clinical Experiences for WSSU’s Department of Education and an alumna of both Appalachian and WSSU — initiated a collaborative social justice course between her alma maters.
Social justice dispositions of educators has been an interest of Oates — in 2016 she was awarded Appalachian’s Alice Pheobe Naylor Outstanding Dissertation Award for her dissertation about the relational and institutional impact of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on the social justice dispositions of white female education graduates.
Oates designed the course with Dr. Chris Osmond, Associate Professor in Appalachian’s Department of Leadership and Educational Studies, and Dr. Nickolas Jordan, associate professor in Appalachian’s Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling.
Launched in January, the course (EDU 2322 Promoting Social Justice) partnered WSSU’s Department of Education and Appalachian’s Reich College of Education (RCOE) to help future teachers develop social justice dispositions while exploring school and community diversity.
“My goal has always been to cause a ripple effect of social justice disposition and self-reflection across our communities,” Oates said. “The students are now ready to look at their professions and their future classrooms in a different way.”
Twenty students – 10 from each university – participated in this field course, which included the following:
- A session on recognizing implicit bias — the attitudes or stereotypes that affect one’s understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner.
- A day at Bethel Elementary in Watauga County — a rural mountain school — that included a tour of the school, classroom visits, observations, lunch with students and a discussion with school principal and Appalachian alumnus Brian Bettis ’05 ’08.
- A day with a similar itinerary at Appalachian’s laboratory K–5 school, the Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork — an urban school in Forsyth County and at WSSU.
- Open discussions on social justice and sharing experiences.
Based on the positive results and feedback from the students, the universities plan to continue the program in spring 2020.
“From the first day, the Appalachian and WSSU students were interested in learning about each other and forming real friend connections,” Osmond shared. “As we visited Bethel Elementary and the Academy at Middle Fork, and as we talked and reflected, the students showed a willingness to share their deep stories of implicit and explicit bias toward those different from themselves, where they learned them and how they were working to overcome them.”
Several of the students said they became more aware of and learned to identify their own implicit biases.
Trabeca Hughes, a WSSU senior majoring in Africana Studies and middle grades education, said the course allowed her to interact with people from varied backgrounds and upbringings.
“I know this experience and the knowledge I obtained will not only positively affect my teaching performance, but positively affect every interaction I have with children while promoting, implementing and providing an open, accepting, inclusive, safe and trustworthy environment inside and outside the classroom,” she said.
Appalachian student Claire Garcia, a junior middle grades education major from Asheville, said, “Learning more about the experiences of others was humbling and insightful. We should always continue to seek one another’s truths to establish community.”
Adam Ortega, an Appalachian senior from Wilmington majoring in English, secondary education, said being able to openly discuss his thoughts and opinion on matters of social integrity with other students in the program gave him peace of mind as he discovered others shared his struggles and sentiments, and that he is “proactive in matters regarding social equity.”
“Keeping what I have learned, observed and questioned, I hope to provide an equitable classroom for all my students . . . where the students will become more tolerant and understanding of the diversities of their peers around them,” Ortega said. “I will provide a brave space in my classroom where every student’s individuality and background are respected, and no one feels excluded or marginalized.”
Lavana Johnson, a WSSU senior from Red Springs majoring in birth-kindergarten education, said she realized during the course that she is capable of teaching and inspiring students regardless of their socio-economic status. “From my colleagues, I learned different perspectives and approaches, allowing students to obtain the education they need to succeed.”
“The impact of experiences like this on our students’ future classrooms will be immense,” Osmond said. “Teacher dispositions are a powerful factor in student success that every teacher, at every level, can work to manage, control and change.”
About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
NOTE: Article was written by Jan Todd, a staff writer for University Communications at Appalachian State University.