by Debbie Zacarian & Michael Silverstone
How do two separate people from different places and with different roles actually go about writing one sentence let alone a book? Our answer takes some explaining as it reflects what we believe is needed in education, now.
Partnerships are key
The process of co-writing this book began by talking about teaching, talking to define what we were after as educators, and talking about what we thought was working and what wasn’t. Our talking together meant that we had to listen carefully to each other’s ideas.
Collaborating means valuing differences
Our collaboration was as stimulating and thought provoking, as it was circuitous. When we had different views (and we did often and still do!) or weren’t sure how to proceed, we paused the writing process and didn’t start up again until we had a clear idea of how to truly factor them to go forward. These stop, reflect on each other’s ideas, agree/disagree and come to agreement experiences are what we believe is urgently needed.
Valuing Differences Is Not a New Battle Cry
We’re in a time of dramatic changes in education with more coming (including the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, whether annual standardized tests will or even should continue, and whether the states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards will eliminate them). However, when it comes to the struggles of Latino, African American, Alaskan native and indigenous American, English Learners, and students living in poverty, little has changed for decades regarding how badly school is going for many of them. The sheer number of students from these underrepresented populations (they are predicted to be the majority population by 2020) should raise our alarm to an even higher level.
In 1988, Lisa Delpit, renowned for her contributions in education, called for us to listen, really listen, and value different perspectives. She also called for educators to embrace the diversity that is occurring in our classrooms. With the sharp increase in diversity among our nation’s students, fostering responsive, reciprocal, and inclusive relationships should be at the core of what we do.
Real Change Happens Through Partnerships
We believe that schools work when everyone is active and welcomed and where interactions, and lots of them, are constantly encouraged and promoted. It is akin to our writing process. Many drafts were written– each making us work harder, more precisely, and ultimately more efficiently at what became our final product. In the process, we came to know and value as well as challenge each other while at the same time trusting that what we wrote would be based on mutual respect and collaboration. Public education is a collaborative endeavor, too, every bit as much dependent on respectful negotiation of differences, and the active participation of students, families and teachers. In the end, it can only succeed where the development of students into capable and well-educated adults is everyone’s common project.
Being In It Together
No one person or authority has the answers. Rather, when we invite and are open to what others bring, when we allow ourselves to be changed by different perspectives, and when we see these as gifts rather than obstacles to what we can achieve, then we can truly be in it together.
In this spirit, we called upon members from various professional organizations including ASCD, TESOL, American Federation of Teachers, and Colorín Colorado to furnish us with much needed examples in practice. To articulate specifics and provide a practical roadmap for this work, we also infused several research-based preparation and instructional strategies to show how we can support learners from many different cultural, racial, linguistic, and economic experiences to be successful in school. The result of our collaborative efforts is a book that is dedicated for teachers and teachers in training who, like all of us in public education work, are experiencing the productive tensions of working with an increasingly diverse student population against a backdrop of regulatory initiatives. We believe strongly that we can make education work for all when we are truly in it together and that there is no better or more important time to doing this than right now.
This article was drawn from Zacarian & Silverstone (2015) In It Together How Student, Family, and Community Partnerships Advance Engagement and Achievement in Diverse Classrooms.