Teachers’ duties often go beyond the classroom, and teachers are expected to be vital parts of the communities where they teach. However, as commute rates rise and teachers begin traveling farther for their work, many are entering communities they do not know well.
One Ithaca College professor is looking into how teachers can better serve their communities by getting to know the resources they have available. Felice Atesoglu Russell, assistant professor in the Department of Education, recently presented her research on a community asset inquiry model, a theoretical model that would inform teachers of the different places in communities where members spend their time and encourage them to go out and interact with them. She presented at the Japan-U.S. Teacher Education Consortium with colleague Amanda Richey, associate professor at Kennesaw State University, in Kyoto, Japan.
Opinion Editor Meredith Burke spoke with Russell about how the inquiry system will be utilized in the future, how it is being developed and why it is relevant to the education field today.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Meredith Burke: To start, could you give a brief overview of your research or presentation?
Felice Atesoglu Russell: So I know that you were asking me about the presentation I did most recently at the Japan-U.S. Teacher Education Consortium … that organization is a collaboration between Japanese and U.S.-based teacher educators. At that conference, I was presenting some research that my colleague at Kennesaw State University and I had been working on. Looking at community-based assets and how those can help educators in service and preservice engage with communities and with students and their families more productively.
MB: I saw that your presentation was on the community asset inquiry. What is that?
FR: So my colleague, Dr. Amanda Richey, and I have theorized a model of community asset inquiry. The idea is to pursue transformational learning for our teacher candidates. She and I used to work with master’s [degree] students who were already practicing teachers … and we wanted to help support them in thinking about the strengths and assets found in their communities so that they could better participate in family and community engagement with their students and their families. … Some of the teachers didn’t really know that much about the communities where they taught — they commuted on highways often to get to their schools, so they would come into the schools but then not have any idea about what the assets were in that community. … So we invited them to go into the community and visit different places where their students were spending their time, and ultimately we had them complete an oral history with a participant from the community. … We wanted to push up against of the deficit ideologies, so the negative ways that they perhaps were thinking about some of the students and their families and their communities. … We wanted to help them kind of think more asset-based.
MB: How is this system going to be further developed or implemented in the future?
FR: I am working with a graduate student [Vanessa Wood, MS ‘19] here right now who is working out in one of our local elementary schools, and she’s working on a project where she is looking into the assets both in her immediate school geographic area as well as more globally across the Ithaca area. … It’s emerging, but the idea is that we’ll come up with some sort of shareable map that could help inform our preservice teachers’ thinking about their schools and their field placements. … We’re just starting to think about it — at this point, it’s exploratory.
MB: How could students and their families benefit from a teacher who is aware of the different assets in their community?
FR: The idea is that instead of not knowing or making judgments, using your biases and stereotypes to assume why students are doing what they’re doing, … for example, not doing their homework or parents not coming to open houses or not coming to parent-teacher conferences, … kind of thinking, ‘Well, what are the barriers between parents coming to the open house night?’ Like, what can we do to make this a little different to better engage the community where the students are living?
MB: Have there been any recent changes to the education field that make this inquiry more significant today?
FR: I think that with the current political climate and our work has focused on teachers — TESOL [Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages] teachers specifically — and now I’m trying to think about that in relation to general education teacher education. But the political climate for English language learners who might also be refugees, immigrants — it’s not been the best climate for all our students who have language and cultural difference. Helping our teachers become more understanding of the assets that all of our students bring, in particular, English learners, is really important just to thinking about inclusion and respect and how all of those kind of come together.