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ISU hosts conference on cultural responsiveness

The Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline has been a part of Chicago communities and schools for more than 11 years.

The Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline has been a part of Chicago communities and schools for more than 11 years.

On November 6 and 7, Illinois State University hosted its second annual Culturally Responsive Campus Community (CRCC) conference. The conference intended to “create spaces that work to bridge divides and challenge us all to become better allies.” The CRCC website explains, “This conference is aimed at continuing to honor the contributions and talents of our diverse community and further dismantle systems of oppression.”

The Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline (CTEP), alongside its four community-based organization partners, presented its work at the conference. CTEP and the National Center for Urban Education’s mission is “grounded in social justice and works to cultivate and sustain innovative, resilient, and effective educators for urban schools and their communities.”

CRCC’s goal to address topics such as race, religion, sexism, among others is aligned with the work carried out by CTEP in fostering culturally responsive educators who will enter the Chicago Public Schools district upon matriculation. The programming at CTEP has long addressed issues such as co-teaching, English language learner supports, in addition to topics that deal with trauma-informed teaching and teaching through a critical race theory lens. CTEP finds this work to be important in dismantling misconceptions that can often be prevalent in new teachers entering schools in Chicago’s less resourced neighborhoods. Highlighting the efforts of CTEP and the neighborhood agencies was important to the mission and collective work that the CRCC conference hopes to address.

Valentina Gamboa-Turner, CTEP program coordinator, alongside Carlos Millan, Gynger Garcia, and Brienne Ahearn, presented “Producing Student and Community Knowledge within Institutions.” Millan is The Resurrection Project (TRP) liaison, a community based organization in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Garcia is the community liaison for Breakthrough Urban Ministries located in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, and Ahearn is the education coordinator at North River Commission in Albany Park.

“Our goal was to conceptualize what a community school looks like and how in the past, institutions have been at the center of knowledge and had ownership of ‘knowledge’—and we were trying to creatively demonstrate that that’s not necessarily the model that is going to be fruitful for everybody at the table,” Millan said. One of the reasons that CTEP works closely with community-based organizations is this very idea that centering community knowledge can lead to “everyone at the table” having a voice.

Logistically, it was important for the group to model best practices in the way they presented their own work. “We modeled the presentation the way we model restorative justice practices. We started the circle with P.I.E.S,” Millan said. The format of presenting in a circle formation is to ensure that there is a balance of voices between presenters and audience.

“It was great because right away it changed the dynamic of the room, in fact it kind of shook some people,” said Gamboa-Turner. “You’re used to sitting in rows and just being someone that’s going to take in information as opposed to being an active participant in the presentation.”

P.I.E.S. serves as check-in with all participants, including the audience, wherein everyone goes around and speaks to their own physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state. This type of “share-out” is a model, on a smaller scale, of how self-care and decentering of knowledge functions within the collaborative. Decentering the knowledge “holders” is pivotal in transforming “whose knowledge matters in the community,” said Millan.

CTEP Program Coordinator José Alfredo Guerrero, with Derris Cameron and Apryl Riley, presented “Developing Allyship and Student-Centered Spaces Through Reciprocity.” The idea was to present CTEP’s collaborative model of working together with partner community-based organizations to lead a panel discussion with an Illinois State representative and select students. Cameron is the civic and cultural engagement coordinator at the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation. Riley is CTEP’s mentoring and induction program director.

The team focused on how their model of “reciprocity” and “allyship” play a significant role in ensuring an equitable and beneficial relationship among all stakeholders involved in the work of fostering prepared educators for Chicago partner schools. The team defined the term “allyship” to mean “a capacity for collective impact towards the intersectionality of urban education and community development” within their own work, and hoped to work with workshop participants to construct a meaning of the term and what it could look like if implemented on campus.

“We didn’t want to be outsiders coming in and saying, this is what you do to create your student centered space,” explains Riley of the planning process. She continues, “We wanted to see what resources exist, not only on campus, but in the community.  We started to reach out to those in the campus community who are the key players  in creating these spaces for students of color and other minorities.”

Amongst the participants in the panel were Sandra Osorio, from Illinois State’s College of Education; Julie Shaffer, from the Dean of Students Office; Robert Warnsley, an Illinois State student; and other students who took turns being part of the panel.

During the panel, students expressed their needs and concerns for having both physical and intellectual space where they can feel supported and validated as contributors of campus culture. Illinois State faculty and staff shared ideas and thoughts on how to move forward given the ideas they have heard both in the panel and throughout the entire conference.

At the end of the presentation all participants, both panelists and audience members, were encouraged by Riley and Cameron to think of a way in which they could continue the work of creating student-centered spaces, be it in their own classrooms, or on the campus at large.

Riley believes that it is important to actively participate in conferences like CRCC because “it truly connects to our work. When you have students who are different from those who are doing the teaching there needs to be an understanding, a respect of culture and community” in order for asset-based teaching practices to be accomplished.

“My hope is that there is more diversity in the future workshops and conferences to come so that we can further engage these needed conversations,” said Riley.

Gamboa-Turner‘s positive experience at the CRCC conference left her feeling re-energized. “For us as a community in Chicago, it was great to lean in, listen, feel validated, and know that people want more and that we can continue to find ways to keep bridging knowledge and contributing to the ISU campus.”