There are several reasons why TT materials may be more commonly used in enrichment courses than their foundations or methods counterparts. It may be that faculty teaching these classes have more flexibility to incorporate materials as they see fit. These faculty members may also be more familiar with TT itself, given that its stated goal of “educating for a diverse democracy” aligns with their disciplinary focus. Or it may be that TT materials are just particularly well-suited to integrate into enrichment course syllabi. Whatever the reason, the courses detailed in the following pages showcase the flexibility and diversity of TT resources as they fit into a range of courses tailored to different institutions and populations.
Centering Critical Practices in Undergraduate and Graduate Courses
The first example comes from Colorado. Elizabeth Dorman is an associate professor of teacher education at Fort Lewis College. Located in the southwest corner of Colorado, the college mirrors the local community and is a Native American- and Latinx-serving institution. Although Dorman’s pre-service and practicing teachers often share identities with the students they serve, she finds that there is still considerable work to be done to foster sophisticated understandings of identity, diversity, equity and social justice. “I am always looking for resources to help my students become students of their students,” said Dorman.
Although she has used TT resources for many years, Dorman most recently incorporated them into two classes: Instructional Equality and Cultural Competence. Undergraduate education majors enrolled in Instructional Equality are eligible to teach in Colorado after completing their degree. Cultural Competence, a graduate course, is part of Fort Lewis’ Teacher Leadership program, enrolling current teachers pursuing an advanced degree. The courses have overlapping instructional goals and learning outcomes, including exploring social identity and the identities of K–12 students as well as differentiation between a deficit orientation and an asset orientation when approaching diversity.
In her undergraduate class, Dorman makes use of several TT resources, including the site’s professional development webinars, articles and publications. While her students have participated in some webinars in real time, she assigns others as homework prior to in-class discussion. She also frequently uses key blog posts and magazine articles about current and controversial subjects, like inclusion of transgender students and religious tolerance. And she asks students in all of her classes to follow Teaching Tolerance on social media to receive current updates about new and particularly relevant materials. As for TT publications, Dorman includes Speak Up at School, a practical guide for teaching students how to respond to biased remarks and stereotypes, and Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education. The latter serves as an essential element, a core text that structures both her undergraduate and graduate classes.
Critical Practices covers important advice for teachers in four areas: instruction, classroom culture, family and community engagement, and teacher leadership. Instructional Equality, Dorman’s undergraduate class, focuses mainly on the instructional section of Critical Practices, organizing students around critical engagement with materials, differentiated instruction, and cooperative and collaborative learning. Dorman uses verbal and visual activities to encourage students to carefully examine the practices. She says that differentiated instruction, cooperative and collaborative learning, and real-world connections consistently stand out as the most meaningful practices for her undergraduates. Critical Practices allows Dorman to build bridges in her classroom, connecting students who will be teaching a range of different grades and subjects. “It really helps the students to get a more concrete idea of what it looks like specifically to teach in a culturally responsive way,” she said. To check for understanding, Dorman groups students and asks them to make presentations about what it might look like to teach for equity in their content area.
“These are not methods classes,” said Dorman, “but I was hearing from students that they felt like they needed some more specifics to apply ideas in the classroom. Awareness is one thing, but they wanted to turn what they were learning into action. I have found that Critical Practices is really helpful for that.”
Dorman also integrates TT publications and webinars into her graduate class, Cultural Competence. Students in this class may have anywhere from two to 20 years of experience teaching. Because the graduate students are learning how to design and facilitate professional development for their peers (the course’s culminating activity), their class draws more extensively from all sections of Critical Practices than its undergraduate counterpart. One particularly rich source for these students is the leadership section. “These teachers have a lot of background knowledge,” Dorman explained. “They’re able to grasp the ideas of the Critical Practices more easily because they see them in their classrooms.”
Like many faculty, Dorman relies on Teaching Tolerance for up-to-the-minute resources that will support her pre-service and current educators. “I try to model being an ongoing learner,” she said, “and bringing in materials from Teaching Tolerance and other places encourages my students to take on that disposition as well.” Although Dorman feels that her courses in general are improved by TT materials, she particularly loves Critical Practices:
I feel like specifically since I’ve started using the Critical Practices guide, that has been a godsend because it helps my students access more concrete ways to use and apply these ideas in their classroom—and have it go beyond just awareness. I’ve become very clear that it’s not just about awareness. Where my students are developmentally, they need some concrete application skills so that the awareness doesn’t just fizzle into the ether after they leave my class. I hear from students semesters, even years after they take my class, how it really transformed them. They say over and over how transformational it is, and probably the biggest reason for that is how much emphasis I put on exploration of their own identity, their own culture’s privilege. I have a huge focus on race and racism because I feel like that’s the hardest “ism” to talk about, and if we can make some progress with that, then the other “isms” are easier to deal with.
Dorman’s case shows the utility and flexibility of these resources in preparing educators to work with diverse students.
Sparking Student Interest with TT Articles
700 miles away, in Kansas, Melissa Reed teaches undergraduate teacher candidates and graduate students at Emporia State University (ESU). To teach in Kansas, educators must complete a four-year program and receive an initial license. ESU’s education department uses what Reed describes as a “medical model,” with students beginning internships in their third year. This means that students graduate with four semesters of student teaching, beginning with classroom observations and leading up to teaching their own classes. The majority of the program’s pre-service teachers are white, while the majority of students in the city of Emporia are Latinx and Asian.
One critical problem that Reed faces is that many of her students have never been exposed to cultures other than their own, including languages and religions. She needs easy-to-understand materials that will open conversations about diversity without intimidating students new to these kinds of conversations. She finds that Teaching Tolerance materials fit this goal. Reed requires students to subscribe to the program’s electronic newsletter and its magazine, and she finds that articles on events like Mix It Up at Lunch Day or on topics like the needs of immigrant students routinely catch the attention of her students and spark serious discussions in class.
One reason she says she relies on TT resources is that they are easy for her students to read:
The materials there are teacher and student friendly. They’re written so that the kids can understand. Sometimes when you get into research journals or you get into textbooks, they’re written almost for a false world. The Teaching Tolerance materials are real. They take you to articles that are written by teachers who are doing those kinds of things. Or they’re news articles or newsworthy things that are trending—again, that are very student and teacher friendly, for kids who may not have enough prior experience or prior knowledge before coming to the class to be able to work from. I have to have this foundation in place before we can do some of the other things we must accomplish in class.
Because they’re accessible to undergraduates, the materials encourage creative discussion around the real issues that K–12 students face. For example, one TT article about Syrian refugees led to her students in an activity during which they decided what to pack in a backpack if that were all they could carry. This activity, in turn, led into an empathic discussion of the challenges faced by migrant students, students these pre-service teachers might one day serve. Using TT materials, Reed explained, helps her engage students in critical discussions without provoking defensive reactions. “If I use these materials, it doesn’t sound like I’m telling students how to do something, or I’m accusing them of being biased.”
Reed also integrated Teaching Tolerance materials to improve pre-service educators’ understanding of English language learners (ELLs). For one assignment, she asked her undergraduates to create a website library of links and TT resources about serving ELLs. In the process, students not only identified valuable content, they also began to see the shape of conversations about best practices in the field. “This was a good opportunity for self-learning regarding trends and issues,” said Reed. The library they created with TT materials continued to serve students throughout the semester. They regularly select one resource from their library for a course segment called “Education in the News” for small-group discussions and class sharing. And Reed’s students also create a digital storybook, designed to teach an aspect of a new culture to another person. Reed says that her students’ interest in their topics was often sparked by the TT website research that originated the project.
Finding and Teaching Diverse Texts with TT Resources
A final example of how faculty have included TT resources in enrichment classes comes from Boise State University. The school boasts a large teacher education program, and it places graduates into the increasingly diverse Boise-area schools. Sonia Galaviz is a long-time advocate for TT materials; she has also served on the program’s advisory board. In 2016, Galaviz structured an entire class around TT materials, using Perspectives to teach unit design and other basic principles while also guiding her students into the more advanced arenas of multiculturalism and diversity.
The undergraduate course, Language, Literacy and Culture, was offered during three out of five weekends in the fall of 2015 and 2016. Interestingly, not all of her students were pre-service teachers. While all were interested in pedagogy, some worked in the private sector, including one student who ran a preschool. The course objectives centered on understanding research, policies and practices in terms of their relationships with language, culture and literacy. Twenty percent of students’ grades relied on their work with TT materials.
Galaviz began with the goal of helping her students identify diverse and rigorous texts for their classrooms. She brought in more than 60 examples of texts from her personal library, encouraging her students to do the same. “Books can lead us into really meaningful discussions,” she said, “because they prompt meaningful conversations about what they are presenting or the questions that they beg.” Using Reading Diversity, a TT tool designed to help teachers select diverse and rigorous texts, Galaviz’s students spent several hours dissecting the texts and choosing among them for lessons that they would subsequently prepare. Then, they dove into the TT text library and explored the site independently.
Another major objective of the course was unit design. Galaviz showcased model Learning Plans she had created with TT’s Learning Plan Builder. Displaying shorter and longer plans, she showed students how the tool can be used to customize the content. Some students who were elementary school teachers were very focused on using TT’s step-by-step process for building Learning Plans. Others used the tool to find texts and strategies that met other needs—looking, for example, for texts and strategies that could help the user work with international students.
Although secondary teachers often struggle to find time for longer units—particularly in highly sequenced social studies classes—Galaviz found that her secondary education students really wanted to use complex texts and to include TT’s “Do Something” tasks at the end of their Learning Plans. “I feel like that brings in all sorts of higher-order thinking skills when you have a doing portion of it,” she said. “That’s close to my heart and how I teach.” Courses like hers demonstrate the ways that TT materials can fit into pre-service classrooms that bridge content areas, bringing Teaching Tolerance to audiences who might not otherwise encounter it.
Resources to Encourage Self-Reflection
At the University of Maine at Farmington, Elizabeth Yeaton-Evans uses TT materials for a similar purpose. She seeks to uncover white privilege for her predominately white student body first through the lens of poverty and class, then race and gender. She said that this process has helped her to reach what she calls her “Trump Community.” To ensure that she reaches as many students as possible, she asks herself, “How do I maintain objectivity, encourage students to open up without turning off while I honor and understand people’s perspectives and educate them to be critical thinkers?”
The multiple viewpoints available through TT materials have helped her do this. Yeaton-Evans says that she trusts TT resources because they are reflective of best practices, vetted and accessible. According to Yeaton-Evans, TT materials help her students learn to ask, “What is your story?” The question is key to their ability to self-reflect, build empathy, and participate in difficult or uncomfortable yet productive conversations.
Building Learning Plans and Culturally Responsive Competencies
The teacher education program at SUNY Plattsburgh has a strong social justice focus that begins in the first year. Denise Simard, who teaches a required first-year course designed to examine how diverse identities and perspectives can be applied in classrooms, uses TT resources to help meet these guidelines in the class. Working with two other collaborating faculty, Simard incorporated TT texts, strategies and lesson planning tool into her course Ethics, Relationships, and Multicultural Competencies in Education. In the class, Simard explained, “We ask questions like, ‘How do you as a teacher identify your biases and how do you navigate knowing yourself so that you can serve other people’s children?’”
One key requirement is an assignment called “Teach Me Something,” where students design and practice enacting lesson plans. Simard and her colleagues had teacher candidates log on to the TT website to design Learning Plans, complete with texts and culminating tasks, and submit them for review. The teacher candidates then taught the lessons in aftercare programs as part of their applied field experience. Finally, they reflected on their experience together in class. Simard said that students appreciated the breadth of texts available online, that TT’s tools for building Learning Plans provided an “excellent” way to teach unit design and construction, and that her students found them easy to navigate. “My students never once expressed any difficulty using the site,” she says. “They just jumped in and figured it out.”