A partnership between the University of Redlands and the Redlands Unified School District (RUSD) is making it possible for educators to learn how to affect social change in their schools.
“It’s really about supporting teachers who are interested in doing social change work with their students and who were looking for direction,” said U of R School of Education Professor Brian Charest. “We offered to facilitate a series of workshops that would get district educators to reflect on ideas about leadership and social change, then think about developing goals and action plans that they could take back and work on with their students at their schools.”
Charest and Professor Mikela Bjork, with the help of School of Education Naslund Endowed Dean Mario Martinez, wrote the proposal to partner with the RUSD, under the auspices of the recently established Inland Empire Educators for Social Justice (IEESJ). An extension of the School of Education’s Center for Educational Justice, the IEESJ was formed at the urging of the School’s undergraduate and graduate students.
Martinez said the IEESJ and its new partnership fits well with the School’s vision to inspire justice-related dialogue and action. “The partnership between the School of Education and RUSD exemplifies how we work with our community on social and leadership issues to strengthen justice and equity in education and beyond. We feel it a privilege to work with RUSD on this important initiative.”
A series of three workshops
About 25 RUSD participants were selected to participate in the IEESJ’s three-workshop program, which included assessments before and after each session.
In the first pre-assessment, participants were asked to speak honestly about how comfortable they feel doing activist work and what activist work looks, sounds and feels like to them. “The word ‘activism,’ or any iteration of that word, can be daunting, and depending on who you're talking to, or where you are, it can also be a source of contention, rather than ease,” noted Bjork.
The post assessment after the first workshop revealed many of the participants typically felt stressed for time. That information influenced the content of the second workshop, which included a 30-minute session on mental health, trauma, and taking care of oneself while also caring for students.
“The first workshop was about self-awareness and self-reflection,” Charest said. “The second workshop bridged from that, from the self-reflection and wellness into kind of a critical consciousness.”
The third workshop will focus on action and goal-setting, giving participants an opportunity to think about their work and how they can make it align more intentionally with justice, social justice, and anti-racism.
Temika Morris-Washington, an assistant principal with the Moreno Valley Unified School District and a doctoral student in the University’s School of Education, is helping facilitate the workshops. She said the partnership is a “true blessing” that allows her, “as a leader for social justice, to put practice and theory together.”
She observed the workshops have benefited from the honesty of RUSD teachers and leaders about the current struggles: “Their truths are paramount in preparing (globally) for the return of teachers and students, who will desperately need districts that are social-justice minded to help ensure our students are prepared for a world that is not always just and fair. I have seen firsthand that educators and leaders are hurting just as much as our student and parent community is hurting. We are all trying to figure out the best route for healing, for collaboration, for equitable and fair education.”
RUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Sabine Robertson-Phillips ’92 said the partnership with IEESJ has given participating teachers, administrators, and classified staff the tools they need: “Mikela and Brian are passionate educators and skilled facilitators. The feedback from participants has been excellent. We look forward to our final workshop where participants will address the invaluable impact of mentorship as they define their role as advisors to students in our district.”
Both Bjork and Charest hope students, teachers, and other school community leaders will learn to engage in democratic practices, through the work that they do with the teachers who participate. “It's also about movement-building and social change work,” Bjork said. “To create space for those kinds of things to happen is really exciting for both of both of us.”
Learn more about the U of R’s School of Education.