Teacher Inquiry Groups

Antonio Martinez and Karen Salazar, ARE Los Angeles
Editor’s Note: The following brief, written by members of the ARE Los Angeles
Publicity / Community Relations Committee, is based on the Association of Raza Educators – Los Angeles: Teacher Inquiry Groups (T.I.G.’s), which were formed within the ARE Los Angeles Education / Membership Committee during the Spring of 2010. Since their inception and revival, teachers have been meeting to discuss pedagogical issues as they pertain to curriculum and their own development as progressive educators.

History, Vision, & Purpose
“Education is the property of no one; it belongs to the people as a whole. And if
education is not given to the people, they will have to take it.” – Ernesto “Che”
Guevara Schooling in the U.S. has historically served as a project of colonization, designed to rob People of Color from their true identities and thus, ensure our continued oppression and subservience. Teachers within these colonial complexes called schools, therefore, become the agents responsible for  carrying out this project on a day-to-day basis. Teacher preparation programs, in turn, must prepare teachers to become these colonial and neo-colonial agents. ARE Los Angeles recognizes the direct contradiction between this mission of schools and institutionalized teacher prep programs, and our mission of ultimately building a teacher-led movement that fights for the liberation of our people. We recognize that no state institution will ever teach us the decolonizing and rehumanizing pedagogies we must engage in to truly educate our youth, and thus, decided to take our own teacher education back into our own hands through the creation of ARE Teacher Inquiry Groups (TIGs).

The TIGs came about from the need to create a space for politically likeminded and like-hearted educators to come together to develop our pedagogies as critical, decolonizing educators. These collaborative groups would
serve as nurturing and supportive spaces for ARE teachers to struggle
through the challenges of teaching for social justice in urban contexts.
Participants would engage in liberatory political education that developed our
capacity to promote more democratic classrooms, create consciousness raising curricula, and support proactive student organizing. This collaborative, teacher-led professional development stands in direct contrast to district and school-mandated PD that focuses almost exclusively on standardized test scores and curricula that is removed from the daily realities of our students. The idea for these TIGs was  born out of discussions in the Education / Membership  Committee that highlighted these needs. In Spring 2010, planning began for a Critical Educators’ Symposium that would bring together experienced critical, decolonizing pedagogues and educators committed to developing their practices to become the former. Developing educators had the opportunity to learn from these mentor teachers as they presented examples of yearlong curricular frameworks and their process for crafting them. At the end of the symposium, content-specific TIGs were formed. The TIGs then met regularly over the summer to develop curriculum together, and the Education / Membership Committee supported by facilitating political education segments designed to help educators further develop the political clarity necessary to engage in decolonizing pedagogy. By the end of the summer, three TIGs had emerged: elementary education, social science, and English Language Arts.

Social Justice Teaching: Guiding Principles
Because good teachers make the greatest impact on a student’s learning it
is importance to look at what makes teachers good beyond the notion of
“best practices”. Instead, through the use of teacher inquiry groups, ARE
seeks to identify the elements of a good teacher in an attempt to redefine
what professional development can look like for teachers and in hopes of
creating an infrastructure that supports the longevity of effective teachers
working with Brown and Black students. ARE teacher inquiry groups have
developed into small groups of teachers that agree to meet monthly for
several hours to discuss an essential question, readings and challenges they face in the classroom. To clearly understand what drives the pedagogical practice of the teachers in the inquiry groups, ARE teacher inquiry groups have developed principles they believe guide their quest be effective in their classroom. The elements are:

– A critical, decolonizing pedagogy
– Teacher collaboration
– Self transformation
– Grassroots professional development

The decolonizing pedagogical framework guides ARE teachers, serving as a
guide for navigating the path towards being effective social justice educators.
Collaboration is fundamental; thus, learning from one another in the inquiry
group, these educators have voiced that TIGs have proven to empower their
practices. The educators participating in the ARE English TIG echo the
sentiments researchers have found in creating spaces for teachers to come
together as important so that they remain connected to their profession, their
students, and one another. Ultimately, ARE TIGs are a grassroots form of
professional development.

ARE Teachers Redefine Their Roles as Professionals
Through collaboration, ARE teacher inquiry groups collectively examine how
to teach for social justice. While some teachers are seduced into using a
banking approach to education, ARE teacher inquiry groups seek to develop
pedagogies and curricula that benefit their students. This is done by creating
pedagogical spaces that validate the student’s community cultural wealth and
using a pedagogy of transformative resistance to instill a sense of agency in
students so that they can act on the conditions within their community. ARE
teacher inquiry groups highlight the intellectual and professional development that these teachers receive from each other. It is through monthly meetings that teachers who have been in the profession for some time, reflect on their practices with teachers who are new to the profession of teaching, thus serving as co-mentors to each other. By coming together to develop curriculum and pedagogical practices that provide a counter-narrative to dominant society, ARE teacher inquiry groups have generated a wealth of pedagogical, social, and knowledge resources amongst ARE teachers, thus reclaiming professional development and their identities as organic intellectuals.


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