Interdisciplinary Connections: Teacher and Student Empowerment through Social and Cultural History, Critical Pedagogy, and Collaboration

Article excerpt

[ASHP/CML] is just what we need in terms of content and methods. It is great having the planning time and the intellectual stimulation of adults and colleagues. Participation in their program has opened up new ways of thinking on how to teach.

High School Social Studies Teacher

Several years ago, I began working for the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning (ASHP/CML) as a teacher mentor/program coordinator. One of my earliest experiences involved working with a teacher who initially believed that ASHP/CML engendered an anti-American stance, always focusing on the negative aspects of U.S. history and that our intensive teacher training program demanded too much time away from state exam preparations. During the course of two years, this teacher took part in our New York City Making Connections Program and collaborated with other educators by examining up-to-date scholarship on social history, multicultural literature, and innovative pedagogy in intensive citywide summer institutes and monthly seminars. Within that period, I had the opportunity to witness a transformative process in her professional growth--she gradually introduced new content and student-centered approaches in her classroom and engaged students in more meaningful ways. She later commented tha t our materials and approach strengthened her students' academic skills.

Today, as education co-director of ASHP/CML, it is still evident to me that instructional change is difficult, demanding, and sometimes unfamiliar work for teachers. It requires one to reflect on, rethink, and reenvision ones practice. It is also apparent to me that teachers should have to play a key role in the development and refinement of their curriculum. That process requires that teachers deepen their content knowledge and understand how to translate course content in ways that deepen student understanding.

Teachers need to have a voice in decision making, to have opportunities to examine new scholarship, and to be given more time to plan and interact with colleagues--in summary, teachers should feel empowered. The process of engaging in self-aware inquiry in a collegial setting fosters intellectual growth for each of us. And having the time and space to gain new knowledge by exploring new scholarship and effective teaching methods is a necessary and ongoing process for all educators.

I write this essay today as an educator involved in directing, designing and implementing professional development programs and interdisciplinary curriculum resources for secondary school humanities, Social Studies, and English faculty. My work is highly collaborative, so in that spirit, I write this piece with my close colleague Cynthia Jones of the Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College English Department of the City University of New York (CUNY). Cynthia has served as an ASHP/CML faculty partner and a member of an interdisciplinary team in our Making Connections Program. For two years, she partnered with John Blodgett, English teacher, and Pat Peacock, Social Studies teacher, both from Hostos High School.

The purpose of this essay is twofold: 1. to discuss the importance of sustained professional development and collaboration in achieving reflective practice and teacher change and 2. to describe how social and cultural history and literature and innovative critical pedagogy work together to enrich curricula, advance teacher practice, and engage students in rigorous ways. Of course, good models of professional development or innovative classrooms do not exist in a vacuum; no exemplary program or course can represent a panacea in education. We will describe Making Connections as one successful model of in-service professional development, exploring the Hostos team as a case study, and we will discuss the ongoing challenges the program &ces in public schools. The focus will be on three specific components of the Making Connections Program: the integration of social and cultural history and student-centered, inquiry-based methodology; the interdisciplinary approach to humanities teaching; and cross-institutional c ollaborations. …