Dr. Arnetha Ball believes great teachers can help to save the nation, and even the world.
“If we can create these great teachers, we can begin to educate all the students in our classrooms,” she said. “There is hope – if we can do this – for our great nation.”
But as things stand, she said, education is in a state of crisis, particularly for poor and marginalized students of color.
“We have a challenge before us, lots of work to do,” said Dr. Ball, a professor of education at Stanford University, “and I believe we can do it here.”
Ball presented Lesley’s 23rd annual June Fox Lecture on Wednesday evening to a large crowd in the University Hall Amphitheater, home of Lesley’s Graduate School of Education. The event also featured scholarship awards for three graduate students. A video of the ceremony is available here.
Ball’s talk was titled “Preparing Teachers Who Are Agents of Change: The Role of Generativity in Creating Great Teachers.” In it, she spoke about the education research she has conducted in the United States., Spain, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and advocated for methods that empower and train educators to serve all students well.
“Marginalized populations are most likely to suffer from the consequences of living in high poverty neighborhoods. I would think that’s where the most high quality teachers should go, to where there is the most need, but that’s not the case,” said Ball, who is director of Stanford’s Race, Inequality, and Language Program and co-director of its Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Language.
“Urban education has become code word for high-poverty areas for low- achieving students,” she continued. “We know the most important classroom factor that influences student success is a classroom teacher. This is why I focus my attention on creating great teachers. It’s going to have an impact if we can do this.”
Ball’s research highlights growing child poverty rates in developed nations, largely among marginalized populations, drawing a direct correlation between poverty and school success.
“Twenty percent of U.S. children are what we refer to as food insecure – they don’t know for sure where their next meal is coming from,” said Ball. “I really think that’s not necessary in a rich country such as our own.”
This underscores the critical work to create teachers “who can help to save a nation,” she said. “In my research, we’re finding they can help to save the world.”
How to prepare teachers for diverse classrooms
During her lecture, Ball reviewed her research and the models that she uses to aid teachers and teacher educators.
“I’ve been dedicating my life to action in teacher education,” said Ball. “We just can’t go in and do the same old things, which is what some teacher education programs prepare their teachers to do. We have to realize that action is required for teachers to come in and be able to teach in different ways than the ways they were taught.”
Using PowerPoint slides that included graphic representations of her methods, peppered with an array of inspiring quotes, Ball outlined principles and practices to prepare teachers for diversity in areas that serve large numbers of historically marginalized students. Her methods encompass intensive awareness and realization exercises for teacher candidates to develop a personal voice in education and “teach as if their lives depend on it.”
“I’m so glad Lesley is on the move, doing the work. Not all teacher-preparation programs do that,” said Ball, who was recently elected to the National Academy of Education for her “outstanding contributions to education research and policy.”
She gave examples of ways in which she trains teachers to build a healthy dynamic with students, such as creating biographies of students who perplex them in their classroom so they don’t fear students nor feel the need to control them; rather, they develop a different relationship. It’s “a metacognitive approach,” she said.
“Narratives are a good way to get into people’s heads and build awareness,” Ball said.
“Almost 40 percent of teachers entering the classroom report they do not feel adequately prepared for the challenges they know they’re going to encounter in a diverse 21st century classroom,” she said. “The best thing we can do is give them all the information we can, prepare them to think on their feet, outside the box, to be pedagogical problem solvers.”
Few teachers and teacher educators have ever set foot in an urban classroom, she said. By exposing teacher candidates to a wide range of ideas, concepts, experiences and schools, they develop a sense of agency, Ball has observed.
“You have to believe that you can make a difference,” said Ball. “You have to believe that all students can learn.”
Ball urged the faculty, students and other attendees in the audience to move beyond recognizing these educational inequities and surge into action.
“Reflection is not enough. If you reflect and go no further than that, the question is, What have you accomplished?” she said. “If we make an observation, then we have an obligation.”
She said a free and public education for all children is a crowning achievement of our society.
“We cannot take it for granted,” said Ball. “The freedom to learn is under attack. … It’s important we dedicate ourselves to this continued work.”
Honoring our students and former dean June Fox
The evening included award presentations to three students in Lesley’s Graduate School of Education: Interim Dean Amy Rutstein-Riley presented the June Fox Scholarship Award to graduate student Emily Davis; former dean William Dandridge presented the William Dandridge Book Award to graduate student Erin McDonald; and Professor Erika Thulin Dawes presented the Mario Borunda Book Award to graduate student Corley Sims.