Community-Engaged Teacher Preparation and the Development of Dispositions for Equity and Social Justice

  • Eva M. ZygmuntEmail author
  • Kristin Cipollone
  • Susan Tancock
Living reference work entry


Drawing upon the 10-year history of a program of community-engaged teacher preparation situated in a predominantly marginalized/minoritized neighborhood, this chapter focuses upon the development of teacher dispositions for equity and social justice. The authors highlight how a program, alongside a cadre of community mentors, cultivates the requisite dispositions to become culturally responsive educators and ensure a socially just and equitable educational experience for the children they teach and from whom they are profoundly privileged to learn. The chapter details community-engaged and reflective pedagogies instituted within the context of an integrated and interdisciplinary semester of coursework, wrapped around a practicum experience in local schools. The authors assert the plausibility of assessing dispositions toward equity and social justice and call for a mandate to include them in the language of teacher preparation accreditation standards if the vision of education equity is to become a reality.


Dispositions Teacher preparation Community-engaged Equity Social justice Critical service learning Dialogue journals Courageous conversation Interdisciplinary coursework Conceptual framework 

It has been nearly two decades since the National Association of Colleges for Teacher Education instituted policy requiring programs of educator preparation seeking accreditation to assess not only candidates’ knowledge and skill set but also their dispositions toward teaching and learning (NCATE, 2002). This was not without controversy. As the field wrestled to cultivate consensus on the definition of a common set of dispositions integral to effective teaching, it also grappled with the question of whether mechanisms could be developed through which such evasive measures could be reliably assessed (Borko, Liston & Whitcomb, 2007).

Restraint in espousing particular political ideologies and a morality mandate (Wilkerson, 2006) informed the emerging conversation regarding educator dispositions. Exemplars of behaviors originally provided by NCATE included terms such as “caring and honesty” and commitments to constructs such as “equity and social justice” (NCATE, 2002) were later scuttled. It is important to note that the term “social justice” has been politically polarizing in the field, fueled by a fear that increasing rights for the marginalized means decreasing what is available to the majority (Landorf & Nevin, 2007). Ironically, it is this mindset that scholars who are wed to dispositions for social justice seek to extinguish in future teachers.

In part due to pressure to adopt a posture of political neutrality, NCATE, countering the criticism and counsel of social justice-committed scholars (Banks, 2004; Cochran-Smith, 1999; Zeichner, 2006), made the controversial decision to omit the term “social justice” in its glossary of potential dispositions to assess in those seeking entrance into the teaching profession (Wise, 2006). While distinct specialized professional associations (SPAs) responsible for vetting data provided for the purposes of program accreditation have included the term social justice among the desirable dispositions for teachers (notably the National Council for Teachers of English; see Burns & Miller 2017), the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), NCATE’s progeny, has yet to restore the term in the manual which guides programs of teacher preparation throughout the country. Similarly, while CAEP, (2018) defines dispositions as “the habits of professional action and moral commitments that underlie an educator’s performance” (p. 110), they refer readers to the InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards (CCSSO, 2013) for elaboration – another document that is void of the vocabulary of social justice.

Although a mandatory component in the accreditation of programs of educator preparation is documentation of the assessment of candidate dispositions, there is little consensus in the field on the specifics of which are required in order to provide a just and equitable education for all children. CAEP has provided an imprecise and somewhat nebulous definition of the term dispositions; thus the exact nature of such attitudes, values, and beliefs is left in the hands of programs of educator preparation to explicate. The result is a field with a vast continuum of mission-dependent emphases ranging from those purely professional and practical, to those with more nuanced foci on issues of critical consciousness, cultural fluency, and equity/social justice.

There exists a compelling argument that dispositions toward social justice are essential to the underlying foundation of public education – that being the guarantee that all children have access to a collective body of knowledge required to engender their active participation in a truly democratic society. The assurance of such requires the belief in the capacity of all children to learn, along with the will to enact pedagogies which are culturally relevant, responsive, and sustaining (Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Paris, 2012; Paris & Alim, 2017). Such dispositions additionally necessitate the desire to address structural and systemic inequities that compromise many children’s access and opportunity, leading to achievement differentials between culturally, socioeconomically, and linguistically non-dominant learners and their dominant peers that continue to plague the educational landscape.

While there is research to support that pre-service teachers with documented dispositions toward social justice have high expectations for all children, enact pedagogies that build on their cultural resources, and are advocates for larger efforts for social change (Cochran-Smith et al., 2009), there exists contention among scholars in the field regarding the plausibility of programs of educator preparation to develop such dispositions in candidates. In his work on the development of teachers with the dispositions required to reach and teach children emerging within the context of traditionally minoritized and marginalized communities (those teachers he coined as “stars”), Martin Haberman (1991) wrote:

Thus far the direct teaching of [beliefs required to be successful in such contexts] has proven elusive if not impossible. My fervent advice is to select those with star teacher beliefs to begin with and stop trying to demonstrate that college coursework or teacher development activities have significant impact on teachers’ belief systems. (p. 18)

While Haberman alleges the improbability of coursework and teacher development activities as mechanisms through which to instill in candidates the requisite dispositions toward working with culturally and economically diverse populations of students, others believe that an intentional, constructivist approach can be effective in preparing teachers. Specifically, Diez and Murrell (2010) assert that dispositions can be cultivated and developed. They state:

dispositions are neither invisible aspects of a teacher’s psyche, nor fixed personality traits. They are commitments of habit and thought and action that grow as the teacher learns, acts, and reflects under the guidance of teachers and mentors in a preparation program and in the first years of practice. (p. 14–15)

While many individuals in the field of educator preparation cling to the notion of dispositions as easily observable professional behaviors (see Watermark, 2019), others have elevated distinct values and orientations required in order to be worthy of teaching children in a socially just and equitable fashion – dispositions, which we believe require more in-depth field experience that interface with traditionally minoritized communities in order to effectively assess (see Bondy, Beck, Curcio, & Schroeder, 2017; Howard, 2009; University of Michigan, 2009; University of Minnesota, 2017; Villegas, 2007). Howard (2009), for example, articulates the embodiment of dispositions toward difference, dialogue, disillusionment, and democracy as essential in working with an increasingly diverse populations of children and families if an equitable education is to be realized. Similarly, Bondy et al. (2017) developed dispositions for “critical social justice teaching and learning” including radical openness, humility, and self-vigilance – all connected within a “justice as praxis” framework illuminating the structural injustice and inequity that shape our communities and schools. The University of Michigan employs an evaluation of candidates’ “ethical obligations” including dispositions toward care and commitment, competence, equitable access, difference and diversity, capacity for learning, personal responsibility, power and authority, respect, and subject matter integrity – all within an emphasis on privileging diverse perspectives, cultural backgrounds, and worldviews as resources with which to connect for the purpose of instruction. Similarly, the University of Minnesota Educator Disposition System (MnEDS) emphasizes the development of candidates “ethical agency” as they work toward teaching for greater equity in schools. Importantly, Villegas (2007) urged the field to consider that a lack of emphasis on dispositions for social justice in future educators cements the notion that “the primary goal of public education is to prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to serve as productive workers in the stratified socioeconomic system as it currently exists” (p. 379) rather than one we can collectively envision as providing equitable access to all its members.

In 1999, Cochran-Smith declared the three principal emphases of teacher education to be social responsibility, social change, and social justice. Similarly, in 2000, Sonia Nieto argued for equity to be placed at the forefront on teacher education. Nearly two decades have passed since these declarations, and some could argue that the field is further distanced from these precepts now than we were at what seemed to be a potential tipping point in the direction of commitment to equity. A competing neoliberal agenda thwarting Cochran-Smith and Nieto’s vision has reinforced the persistent “achievement gap,” played out through unequal access and opportunity and plaguing predominantly Black and Brown and low-income students and their communities. We argue that the vision of social justice in teacher education has been “disrupted, but not displaced” (Brodie, 2007), and a resurgence in commitment and conviction is on the horizon, fueled by a rectifying resolve to develop a new cadre of teachers with the will and skill to enact pedagogies informed by a moral and ethical obligation to end social inequity.

Cultivating and Assessing Dispositions for Social Justice

While a sect of the field is clearly committed to assessing candidates’ dispositions for social justice, the means through which to operationalize experiences that both cultivate and evaluate such dispositions has been less clearly articulated. The remainder of this chapter outlines one such example, notably a program of community-engaged teacher preparation at a mid-sized, midwestern North American university. With a decade-long history of preparing culturally responsive, equity-focused, socially just future teachers, the program provides an exemplar on how dispositions toward social justice and equity can be cultivated and how convictions and commitments can be assessed.

Program Description

The highlighted program of community-engaged teacher preparation removes pre-service teachers from campus and immerses them in a historically minoritized community setting for an entire semester’s coursework. This community-engaged approach introduces and engages future early childhood and elementary school teachers in the complex interplay of factors that influence children’s learning. The term “community-engaged” underscores the joint nature of collaborative effort with the neighborhood. A community-engaged model is comprised of distinctive elements that contribute both to the development of culturally responsive teachers and assist in furthering the priorities of the communities in which candidates work. Operationalized through candidates’ situated learning in historically marginalized communities, community-engaged teacher preparation emphasizes the concerted cultivation of collaborative relationships between universities, communities, and schools; the elevation of funds of knowledge and community cultural wealth; and an in-depth analysis of social inequality, positionality, and the intersections between the two, as essential knowledge for future teachers. As a means through which to address the persistent “achievement gap” between racially, socioeconomically, and linguistically non-dominant and dominant students, community-engaged teacher preparation is presented as a prototype through which to advance educational equity (Zygmunt et al., 2018).

At the local community center, and under the direction of six faculty members, candidates complete 18 credits in content related to classroom management, literacy, educational foundations, motivation and assessment, and social studies methods, all of which is integrated in order to provide a seamless experience. Additionally, candidates participate in a practicum placement in an early childhood program or elementary school, spending 10 hours per week participating in classroom life and experiencing school culture. They plan and teach lessons under the guidance of a cooperating teacher and participate in additional family engagement activities. At least 1 day per week, candidates plan and implement enrichment experiences for children in the after-school program at the elementary school.

Each candidate is matched with a community mentor or mentor family who engages the candidate in a process of “facilitated acculturation” (Lee et al., 2013). Research demonstrates the benefit of community mentors as cultural ambassadors (Catapano & Huisman, 2010; Lee, 2013; Szasz, 1993; Zygmunt & Clark, 2016). Absent this guidance, candidates are likely to misinterpret experiences, applying their own “cultural map,” which is likely to be inadequate and possibly damaging. Volunteer mentors, many of whom have been acting in this role since the program’s inception, were recruited from neighborhood churches and the local neighborhood council. With their mentors, candidates attend family gatherings, worship services, and community meetings and events, gaining additional perspective and experience with children’s lives outside of school and garnering insight into the values of families within the community. The inclusion of mentor families in our model was conceived by members of the local neighborhood council as a means to welcome candidates and impart essential knowledge about children’s lived experience. Mentor families are positioned as essential members of our team of teacher educators.

Throughout the semester, candidates also participate in critical service learning (Mitchell, 2008; Rosenberger, 2000) alongside their mentors and members of the neighborhood community council. This model provides the vehicle through which the typical “outside-in” view of a community can be transformed. Differentiated from more traditional models of university service learning characterized by “doing for,” and which tends to favor those who serve over those being served (Sandy & Holland, 2006; Tryon & Stoecker, 2008), candidates participate with and alongside residents in programs and projects integral to community revitalization identified by members of the neighborhood. Critical service learning provides an opportunity to position candidates as coagents of social change. Reflection on this participation within the frames of race, power, and privilege provides additional opportunities for significant and meaningful learning.

Through the various components of this program of community-engaged teacher preparation experience, candidates have the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do, but above and beyond theory and practice, through candidates’ daily experience in the program, they are demonstrating their emerging dispositions – dispositions which impact their ability to successfully navigate the complexities of becoming a community-engaged, culturally responsive, critically conscious, equity-focused, and socially just future teacher. Triangulation of data collected from the sources indicated below – a portfolio of community-engaged experiences coupled with significant opportunities for reflection – inform faculty evaluation of candidates’ dispositions toward equity and social justice and therefore their endorsement of candidates as they move into the student teaching experience. The demonstration of these dispositions positions them well for success in student teaching and beyond, as they set about the venture of making educational equity a reality for all children.

Community-Engaged Pedagogies

A common refrain shared with candidates is the following: No significant learning happens outside of the context of a significant relationship. Driving the various community-engaged pedagogies employed is the belief in the power of relationships to transform education, relationships with children, families, and community. Candidates come to see that in order to successfully teach, they must better understand the contexts shaping children’s lived experiences. This process is certainly humbling; candidates often undergo a process of disequilibrium and disillusionment as they come to learn about the legacies and current realities resulting from societal oppression – legacies and realities of which many had the prior privilege to ignore. This work requires operationalizing authentic care (Rolón-Dow, 2005) as faculty mediate and negotiate this process of deconstruction of prior schema and rebuilding a new lens through which to view the world – work that can challenge candidates’ cognitive, emotional, and spiritual bandwidth. It also requires a variety of strategies through which to assemble experiences in order to maximize candidates’ opportunities for growth throughout the semester. Taken together, the community-engaged pedagogies detailed below facilitate opportunities to develop dispositions that will compel them toward a pedagogy of cultural responsiveness and social justice.

Community Learning with Mentor Families

Candidates consistently cite their relationship with their mentor as significant to their learning. As Zygmunt et al. (2018) argue, mentors provide students with authentic pathways to participation in the community, scaffoldings candidates’ contextual cognizance of community, families, children, and community values. The critical component of this relationship, however, is the care afforded to students by their mentors. It is due to this care – wherein candidates feel deeply and authentically cared for – that candidates are then able to more fully care about the children with whom they work in culturally responsive and authentic ways (Zygmunt et al., 2018).

Mentors’ role as educators is made apparent to candidates immediately. Within the first week of class, mentors facilitate discussions about the community and lead candidates and faculty on a community walk, wherein they share the history of the neighborhood and point out places of pride. Mentors also serve as curriculum consultants, working with candidates to select culturally responsive literature, advising candidates on how to engage difficult conversations around race and racial oppression with children, and conferring with candidates on a civil rights unit that they conduct with children in the after-school program. In this way, mentors are more than community guides; they are co-members of the educational team.

Candidates are carefully matched with mentor families in order to maximize fit for both the mentors and the candidate. After some intensive community building, which begins in the spring and summer prior to the semester, candidates’ interests and personality are carefully assessed in order to make a strong pairing. A mentor breakfast at the conclusion of the first week of the program is hosted wherein introductions are made and the candidates and mentors have some time to get to know one another. While formal mentor events are held throughout the semester, the expectation is that candidates and mentors will continue to build the relationship without faculty facilitation. Mentors are advised to simply go about their daily routines and invite candidates to participate rather than plan special events – candidates are invited to attend school and sporting events, family game nights, community events, and church (if the student feels comfortable so doing), and in turn, candidates often invite mentors to dinner and to meet their families.

Critical Service Learning

The opportunity for authentic engagement in this program of community-engaged teacher preparation is extended through candidates’ participation in critical service learning (Mitchell, 2008; Rosenberger, 2000) alongside members of the neighborhood community council, whose ambitious agenda and strategic plan outline neighborhood mobilization priorities. Contrasted with a more typical “doing for” orientation of traditional service-learning practices common in universities, the notion of “doing with” differentiates a critical service-learning approach, affording significantly increased opportunities for meaningful learning.

Traditional service learning, defined by Neururer and Rhoads (1998), is “a vehicle for connecting students and institutions to their communities and the larger social good, while at the same time instilling in students the values of community and social responsibility” (p. 321) and has been criticized for its potential benefit imbalance, favoring those who serve versus those being served (Sandy & Holland 2006; Tryon & Stoecker, 2008; Vernon & Ward, 1999). According to Hess et al. (2007), students participating in traditional service learning may benefit from increased self-worth, but such sentiment can reinforce feelings of power and privilege, thereby reinforcing negative stereotypes of already marginalized/minoritized communities.

Differentiated from traditional service learning, Mitchell (2008) presents critical service learning as a means through which to address this imbalance of power and increase the mutuality achieved alongside members of communities. Generally initiated from the identification of injustice, this critical service learning positions participants as agents of social change, creatively working together toward equitable solutions. In the spirit of this ethic, students are encouraged to deeply and critically reflect on their attitudes, work with and not for, address community-identified needs, and study of the social policies/problems that contribute to “need” (Rosner-Salazar, 2003). As such, through these experiences, university students develop both the skill and the will to reinterpret the very contexts in which their work is situated, critically examining social, cultural, racial, and economic stratification and reimagining the possibility and potential of a more equitable enterprise (for an example of projects, see Zygmunt and Cipollone 2018).

The development of a critical consciousness through which to view the social issues that their service addresses, as well as the “impact of their personal action or inaction in maintaining or transforming these problems” (Mitchell 2008, p. 54), drives this pedagogy and its potential impact on candidates’ development. With additional research to support such learning experiences in teacher preparation (Hannah, Tinkler, & Miller, 2011), participation in both organized and emergent critical service-learning projects contribute significantly to the dispositional development of future educators.

Classroom Teaching and Learning

Throughout the semester, candidates spend approximately 10 hours per week practice teaching in a classroom at a K-5 elementary school or early childhood program, under the direction of a classroom teacher. This practicum experience – one of candidates first in their program of educator preparation – familiarizes them with the logic of the school day, gives them practice with lesson planning and implementation, and affords them the opportunity to develop relationships with individual children. Additionally, 1 day per week, candidates teach in an after-school program in which they provide individual literacy tutoring. In the after-school – an environment that has less restrictions than the traditional school day – candidates have the opportunity to run literacy centers, as well as develop and teach a week-long integrated unit. In sum, candidates complete approximately 150 h in the combined practical experiences, gaining valuable experience in teaching.

When they are not in the school setting, candidates’ coursework is delivered at the local community center by six faculty representing four departments and two colleges. Together, these colleagues weave 18 credits of interdisciplinary coursework into a seamless, interdisciplinary experience for candidates. Coursework, including a junior-level practicum, classroom management, literacy instruction, educational foundations, educational psychology, and social studies methods, is integrated thematically in order that topics can be approached from distinct disciplines in a cohesive and connected fashion. Faculty meet once per week for a planning session during which a theme for the week ahead is determined based on candidates’ experience during the previous week, thus modeling for candidates’ how content can be made relevant and responsive. Content is varied, delivered through numerous interactive and engaging pedagogies, and often team taught. Faculty are frequently on-site, while other faculty are teaching and are thus able to build explicit connections between content. Curriculum is rigorous and designed to intentionally interrogate issues of power, privilege, and oppression.

Reflective Pedagogies

Engaging deeply in the community absent meaningful, mediated, and sustained reflection will not result in the transformation of dispositions needed to become a culturally responsive educator; and, in fact, it may lead to a reproduction of the very dispositions and assumptions that we seek to dislodge. Candidates are frequently exposed to messages which reinforce the notion that “you can’t teach who you can’t see,” and it is impossible to truly see children without first understanding one’s own cultural lens and how this affects the ways in which one interprets the world. Candidates learn that social identities and positionality profoundly influence how one moves through the world, shaping values, beliefs, and what one does and does not “see.” Thus, critical reflection is an essential component to candidates’ development. Ample and varied opportunities for reflection are embedded within the program experience to support the deconstruction and reconstruction of candidates’ schema. The semester begins with a reflective exercise, titled “My Eyes Were Made,” constructed from a passage of the work of Ta’Nehisi Coates (2015) wherein he discusses an experience in Paris that was influenced by his eyes, which he says “were made in Baltimore”:

A few weeks into our stay [in Paris] I made a friend who wanted to improve his English as much as I wanted to improve my French. We met one day out in the crowd in front of Notre Dame. We walked to the Latin Quarter. We walked to a wine shop. Outside the wine shop there was seating. We sat and drank a bottle of red. We were served heaping piles of meats, bread, and cheese. Was this dinner? Did people do this? I had not even known how to imagine it. And more, was this all some elaborate ritual to get an angle on me? My friend paid. I thanked him. But when we left, I made sure he walked out first. He wanted to show me one of those old buildings that seem to be around every corner in that city. And the entire time he was leading me, I was sure he was going to make a quick turn into an alley, where some dudes would be waiting to strip me of … what, exactly? But my new friend simply showed me the building, shook my hand, gave a fine bonne soiree, and walked off into the wide-open night. And watching him walk away, I felt that I had missed part of the experience - because of my eyes, because my eyes were made in Baltimore, because my eyes were blindfolded by fear. (p. 126)

After analyzing the preceding passage, candidates are encouraged to reflect upon the many factors that have contributed to shaping the person they are today. Candidates are asked to consider family members, friends, experiences, traditions, ideas, hobbies, their home, schooling, values and beliefs, as well as what was happening in the world and include the things that are essential to their being, both what is special/unique about them and what is mundane. Candidates then transform this brainstorm into a free-form poem. Candidates and faculty read these poems aloud, and it is a powerful first experience, bringing attention to our lens and our experiences as cultural beings, as well as highlighting both our diversity of experiences and how little we actually see when we encounter one another.

Below, modes of reflection are detailed through which candidates’ dispositions for equity and social justice are nurtured.

Dialogue Journals

The pedagogy of dialogue journaling (Bode, 1989) is situated within the framework of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), which emphasizes the interdependence of social and individual processes in the construction of knowledge. Candidates write weekly reflections, which they share with all program faculty, informed by their experiences in the community and classroom, course readings, and their prior schema. Candidates are explicitly advised to put forth a thoughtful examination of their meaning-making process in relation to the week rather than a summative account of the week’s events. Faculty read and respond to candidates’ reflections, using multiple strategies to scaffold candidates in the process of accommodating new learning into existing schema (Piaget & Cook, 1952; Wadsworth, 2004). A great deal of individualized, responsive teaching happens within this space. For example, faculty encourage candidates’ positive growth, challenge candidate proclamations, interrogate candidates’ questions, and finally juxtapose candidates’ concerns with additional resources (both historical and contemporary) to which they are directed and through which to expand the breadth and depth of their knowledge on particular issues and constructs. Candidates are expected to read and respond back to faculty and thus a dialogue ensues. These dialogic interactions would not be possible without the level of authentic community engagement engendered by this experience or the role of ethical care afforded to candidates by faculty. The impact of such intersections of community learning in cannot be overemphasized relative to the richness of their reflections.

Courageous Conversation

Based upon the work of Singleton and Linton (2005) and Singleton and Hays (2008) regarding how to have critical dialogue about race, Courageous Conversation is a weekly practice wherein candidates, faculty, and sometimes mentors and community members come together to have brave conversations about relevant and current topics. This is a space in which to practice critical listening and radical honesty. Guided by the principles outlined by Singleton and colleagues (1998; 2005) (to stay engaged, to expect and lean into discomfort, to speak one’s truth, and to expect and accept a lack of closure), participants gather into a circle and are prompted to share what lay on their heart and mind. While one person speaks, all others listen intently. Hand-raising is discouraged while others are speaking to encourage listening to understand rather than listening to respond. Speakers call upon one another and share the moderating role. While frequently a video clip, a short article, or an event start the conversation, the dialogue moves where participants take it.

This practice is significant for several reasons: it builds community and solidarity; it develops empathy; and it creates a space where candidates can practice speaking up, negotiating conflict, accepting challenge (and be challenged), and listen. Rather than cultivating a “safe space,” Courageous Conversation becomes a “brave space” (Fox & Fleischer, 2004) wherein “we can speak openly, envision possibilities, ask authentic questions, listen to each other well, reflect, theorize, revise our thinking, and grow” as educators and as human beings (p. 3).

This practice assists candidates in developing their dispositions toward dialogue and democracy (Howard, 2009). A truly pluralistic and democratic society is not free from strife and conflict. For the most part, candidates in this program have been raised on the mantra of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” and have been advised to avoid rocking the metaphorical boat at all costs. Their default is to feign agreement for the sake of consensus, believing it is better to be “nice” than to be contentious. Yet silence, in the face of oppression, is a form of complicity, either tacitly or explicitly; “nice” racism is still racism, arguably a more insidious version. Thus, if candidates are to become the culturally responsive educators we seek to prepare, they must learn to wade into conflict effectively, to truly value multiple perspectives, and to accept the messiness that is democracy.

Conceptual Framework

Jonassen (1996; 2006) suggests that conceptual change can be modeled through the use of different technologies. Technologies such as databases, spreadsheets, concept mapping, and specialized software serve as “intellectual partners of learners.” Concept mapping can act as cognitive constructions of the internal processes taking place and make them external so others may understand how the person is conceiving the world around them. Candidates are charged with creating construct semantic maps of their learning and development thought their experience in our program of community-engaged teacher preparation. These maps serve as intellectual partners for candidates and a comprehensive assessment for faculty. Construction and use of a semantic map of candidates’ learning and development serves as a model of their internal cognitive processes and conceptual understanding over time. It allows candidates to make their thinking visible to others and serves as a reflective tool for candidates to identify what may be causing them to have cognitive dissidence, to test the comprehensibility of additional information, and to make decisions about whether alternatives are plausible alternatives to their existing conception. For faculty, the maps serve as a means for assessment to see how candidates are making sense of the experience and how they are making connections between theory and practice.

Candidates are introduced to free, web-based software applications to use as tools to create their conceptual frameworks of their learning and development throughout the community-based teacher education program experience. Candidates construct a semantic concept map of their preexisting conceptions of the community, school, families, and children and then develop the map over the course of the semester to critically examine and reflect on how their experiences, readings, concepts, activities, and interactions are connecting with one another and developing their conceptual framework of teaching and learning over time. Candidates are able to add audio, video, images, and hyperlinks to their maps. This provides candidates a variety of ways to represent the factors that held meaning to them and/or represented an incident that caused them to be reflective about an existing conception. They are also able to graphically draw connections between experiences and concepts and add text or audio to articulate the significance of the connection they are making. Candidates provide faculty with the URL to their frameworks and submit weekly screenshots to faculty who monitor their progress throughout the semester. The development of these maps takes place within the context of a variety of previously mentioned activities and assignments that frequently end up as elements within the semantic map.

Candidates work on their frameworks throughout the 16-week semester and present them to faculty in a final meeting where they have the opportunity to share the most meaningful aspects of the semester and to verbalize the connections between instructional experiences, course content, community engagement, and their experiences teaching. These meetings also provide opportunities for faculty to ask additional questions about those connections and how candidates have made meaning of their experiences throughout the semester relative to their development as culturally responsive, socially just, equity-focused teachers.

Parker Palmer (1999) wrote, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent” (p. 3). The conceptual framework exercise provides candidates important opportunities to practice metacognitive processes, resulting in the accommodation of varying elements of their experience into their cognitive schema. By doing the hard work of “listening to their life,” candidates are well positioned to clarify their values and convictions and how they lead them to the development of personal truths which will light their way as they embark on the privileged position of being an educator.


Photovoice is a form of participatory action research wherein, participants are invited to document aspects of their lives through photography and then provide written or oral accounts of the images they create. Designed to situate participants as experts on their lives and their experience, photovoice is a power and visceral approach to policy change. (Latz 2017, n.p.)

Adapting this method as a metacognitive device to reflect on the process of becoming a community-engaged educator, candidates document their journey by taking two or three photographs a week, which they caption and hashtag with relevant codes and upload to a private digital platform. On a bi-weekly basis, candidates work in groups to thematically analyze the photographs across weeks, developing categorization schema to develop a theme for the week. Candidates are provided with the printed photographs and are asked to independently identify potential codes and themes. Then, with their small group, they negotiate appropriate identifiers for the photographs, placing them in categories, sometimes double and triple coding them. Candidates then must develop explanations and justification for their codes, followed by the creation of an overarching theme. At the end of the semester, the candidates look across the codes to develop a series of findings regarding what it takes to become a community-engaged educator, and they will present these findings to stakeholders.

This project engages candidates on multiple levels. First, candidates must determine their most significant learning during a given week and then develop metaphors to represent these takeaways. Then, in the process of coding, candidates must negotiate difference and conflict as they build consensus when determining codes and themes. In the process, candidates develop the language to articulate their process of becoming a community-engaged, culturally responsive educator.

Photovoice, while a powerful metacognitive tool, is also instrumental to the development of dispositions for democracy, social justice, and action. As Picower (2012) reminds us, we must practice what we teach. Becoming educators with dispositions for equity and social justice means educating in a way that focuses on student individual and collective empowerment, something that cannot be done if educators are not themselves engaged in the messy work of democratic change.

Culminating Assessment: Defense of Dispositions

Practicing what one preaches and teaches means articulating a clear set of pedagogical values and developing a plan to enact it. As such, the culminating assessment for candidates is a manifesto in which they state their core beliefs and values as educators, create a plan to put said beliefs and values into action, and formulate a pledge to hold themselves accountable. By articulating their convictions, commitments, and ethics and detailing how they plan to make them actionable, faculty are able to assess candidates’ dispositions toward the work of culturally responsive teaching.

Culturally Responsive Classroom Manifesto

A description of the assignment follows:

As Gloria Ladson-Billings reminds us ‘we teach what we value.’ Understanding what you value and how you will enact these values through your pedagogy and management is essential to your development as culturally responsive, socially-just, equity-focused educators. If we are to be worthy of this profession (Howard, 2009) and our future students, we must work diligently and intentionally. This comprehensive assignment is designed to help you define and refine your teaching philosophy, craft a plan to enact it, and lastly devise a way to hold you accountable to your beliefs and actions.

Directions: Prepare a comprehensive statement of philosophy that articulates the following. These will be the SUBHEADINGS for your finished manifesto:
  • Your core beliefs and values as an educator

  • A plan to put these values and beliefs into practice

  • Your personal pledge to hold yourself accountable

It is one thing for a group of pre-service candidates, cocooned within an intensive 16-week program wherein they are surrounded by like-minded folk who are living and breathing the work of community engagement and social justice, to profess a commitment to social justice and equity; it is an entirely different thing to put these values into practice once candidates leave this space. In this way, the Culturally Responsive Classroom Manifesto is designed both as an assessment of candidate learning and dispositions as well as an opportunity for candidates to construct a road map that can guide them in enacting their identities as culturally responsive educators as they transition into the field. Candidates are advised to consider this an evolving document; one they should keep close as they move into the field. In this assignment, candidates are required to draw extensively from course readings and materials to inform and offer support for their beliefs and values as educators. Two faculty members first independently review the assignments and then do so collaboratively. Candidates are given ample feedback and are encouraged to revise to further strengthen their statement.

Through their development of a culturally responsive teaching manifesto, candidates articulate what it takes and what it means to be a worthy teacher. As an expression of their convictions, commitments, and core beliefs, the manifesto forces candidates to distill a semester of coursework into statements of passion and purpose that shall serve as a guidepost moving forward. The manifestoes provide clear evidence of candidates’ dispositions, wherein they passionately articulate an understanding of and commitment to the practices of culturally responsive practice. Candidates take as given that society, and hence schools, are fundamentally unequal, shaped by oppressive forces that work to disadvantage marginalized and minoritized students while benefitting the dominant groups. And, they take as given that it is their duty, as worthy teachers, to disrupt these oppressive practices on multiple levels: with individual students, curriculum, schools, and ultimately, themselves.

The manifestoes provide clear evidence that candidates understand that relationships matter significantly; that in fact, relationships are the fulcrum upon which learning turns. While accrediting bodies and traditional programs of teacher preparation tend to focus on professionalism and technical aspects of teaching (e.g., writing lesson plans), candidates’ visions speak to an understanding that a well-written lesson plan is only a “good lesson” insofar as it relates to the children in one’s classroom.

While not indicative of what they will actually do upon entering the classroom – more research is needed to assess how candidates are able to actualize their creeds – as part of this assignment, candidates are asked to write personal pledges that will guide them as they transition to the field. Candidates’ responses include statements such as “I pledge to immersive myself in the community of my students to understand the context of students’ lives,” “I pledge to stay active in organizations and causes that fight for social justice and equity in the world – specifically in education,” and “I pledge that if I ever become unworthy of teaching our children, that I will step out of the teaching field, as to never become part of the problem instead of the solution.” Such statements further demonstrate their understanding of what it takes to operationalize this notion of worthy teacher. Candidates are under no illusions that this work is easy; their pledges illustrate the scope of the work and the tenacity needed to tackle it, as well as their commitment to work for justice and change.

As Picower (2012) reminds us:

Rather than allowing the term to be abandoned or co-opted, it is critical for those of us who see education as a vehicle for liberation to be clear about what we mean when we say social justice education (SJE). The first is for teachers to have a recognition and political analysis of injustice and how it operates to create and maintain oppression on multiple levels. The second is teachers’ willingness and ability to integrate this analysis into academic teaching in the classrooms. The third is that teachers must have the mindset and skillsets to expand their social just work outside the classroom as activists, with students and on their own, to combat multiple forms of oppression. (p.3–4)

Taken together, candidates’ pledges and philosophical statements take seriously a vision of social justice teaching that aligns with the tenets Picower outlines above. While putting their dispositions into practice will be difficult, candidates are committed to reimagining a more humanizing education that disrupts the oppressive, white supremacist project that education has been to date. It is easy to teach candidates how to write a lesson plan or how to align standards with objectives and assessment – that has been the task of teacher education for some time, and the result has been a cadre of educators ill-equipped to address the inequality perpetuated in and through schools, who often do more harm than they realize to the children with whom they work. The work of cultivating dispositions for social justice, for equity, and for democracy, on the other hand, is much more difficult, but it is the only ethical option there is.


Paulo Freire (2014) wrote, “Ethicalness is a concrete attitude that does not come from abstract discourse, but rather from living it in all its fairness and plentitude” (p. 30). In this program of community-engaged teacher preparation, candidates have the opportunity and privilege to live their way to the ethics that will guide their practice, developing the dispositions required to be culturally responsive, equity-focused, socially just future teachers. As described throughout this chapter, this work is done by providing the opportunity for situated learning in a predominantly marginalized/minoritized community, rigorous and integrated coursework, and intentional and intensive reflection. The construct of authentic care (Rolón-Dow, 2005) is emphasized as an umbrella under which all teaching and learning is made possible and through which the construction of truth can be realized. This care is instrumental in mediating candidates’ direct participation in experiences in and out of the classroom in which injustice is illuminated and through opportunities for intentional reflection to devise strategies to counter a culture which has unacceptably acquiesced to inequity.

Freire (1994) reminds us that hope requires an “anchoring in practice” if it is to bring about social transformation, and McInerney (2007) reinforces that this work is sustained by conviction and moral purpose – a “robust hope” – alert to the inherent tensions and difficulties of the task ahead. Thus, this work is moored in the practice of authentically engaging future teachers in the spaces and places through which they develop conviction and moral purpose while experiencing, understanding, and developing the resilience and resolve they will require in addressing the tensions and tumult of the task ahead.

Duncan-Andrade (2009) articulates the construct of “critical hope,” which is not characterized by naïve optimism, but rather by active struggle and commitment to address injustice. This construct is further elaborated as grounded in rigorous academic pedagogy which connects content to students’ lived experience, expressly established in the preservation of students’ humanity, and resolutely rooted in the audacious resistance of “the dominant ideology of defense, entitlement, and preservation of privileged bodies at the expense of the policing, disposal, and dispossession of marginalized ‘others’” (p. 190). Duncan-Andrade’s counsel that such hope is required when “growing roses in concrete” speaks to the dispositions necessary to navigate current systems of oppression, in and outside of classrooms – dispositions which compel the creation of spaces that inspire healing rather than injecting harm – dispositions which inform a vision that the singular option is a posture of love. Paris and Alim (2017) offer that this requisite love “can help us see our young people as whole versus broken when they enter schools and can work to keep them whole as they grow and expand who they are and can be through education” (p. 14).

Lest it remains unclear; the work presented in this chapter emphatically argues that the development, cultivation, and assessment of dispositions toward social justice are a necessary mandate for the field of educator preparation. As Howard (2009) articulates:

It is true that all U.S. citizens have the First Amendment right to remain imprisoned in their own cultural narrowness. This luxury of ignorance, however, is not available to us as teachers. Ours is a better calling, and for the sake of our students and their world, we must acquire more adaptive human qualities including dispositions for difference, dialogue, disillusionment, and democracy. These will enable us to thrive as a species. These render us worthy to teach. (p.197)

The model of community-engaged teacher preparation described in this chapter provides an innovative path through which dispositions for social justice required of those “worthy to teach” can be fostered, along with pedagogies through which such dispositions can be both cultivated and authentically assessed. With a 10-year history during which this paradigm has been honed, and in which the development of candidates’ consistent demonstration of dispositions for social justice has been documented (Zygmunt et al., 2018a, b; Zygmunt & Cipollone, 2018; Zygmunt & Clark, 2016), it is clear that community-engaged teacher preparation is a compelling and justifiable direction for the field of educator preparation.

Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral wrote, “We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children … Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot” (published in Castleman, 1984). Considering the urgency of children’s need for teachers equipped with dispositions required to heal and transform an educational system fraught with inequity, the inclusion of dispositions toward equity and social justice in the specific language of teacher preparation accreditation standards is imperative. No other mechanism can broadly elicit the collective will and creative muster necessary to ensure opportunity for all students to realize their promise and potential. As Cochran-Smith et al. (2018) urge, it is time that we reclaim accountability in teacher education to realize the democratic goals of schooling. Measures of timeliness and use of a “appropriate” language is not what makes one a truly effective teacher; rather, we need educators committed to the eradication of injustice and oppression and willing to do the work to transform schools and society.

The potential for all new teachers to be equipped with dispositions for equity and social justice holds the promise of children’s liberation, disrupting and replacing the deficit perspectives which inform how teachers frequently see children and the standards of excellence to which they are held. This potential has the capacity to inform teachers’ responsibilities to work to not only understand the systemic oppressions that undermine educational equity but to actively advocate for rectifying practices and reparative policies that advance children’s voice and vision. Teacher dispositions for equity and social justice hold the promise of reframing the view of marginalized and minoritized communities from broken spaces to those with significant funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzales, 1992) and cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005), whose members are integral to the generation of solutions instead of propagative of the problem. Such dispositions require the cognizance that our liberation from our harmful past is bound together, and we must work together in order to realize a new tomorrow. As our collective futures hang in the throes, time is most certainly of the essence. For far too long, teacher education has focused on the technical aspects of teaching. While content knowledge and pedagogy cannot be diminished in importance, the focus on professionalism as indicative of teacher dispositions over moral and ethical convictions has allowed an oppressive system to remain intact at the expense of children’s lives. It is time to insert social justice back into dispositions and back into programs of teacher preparation if a more equitable and liberatory vision of education is to be cultivated.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eva M. Zygmunt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristin Cipollone
    • 1
  • Susan Tancock
    • 1
  1. 1.Ball State UniversityMuncieUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Fenwick English
    • 1
  1. 1.Ball State UniversityMuncieUSA

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