Dr. Maria McKenna: Education, Unified.
Think. Pair. Share. Podcast Transcript
0:00:09.7 Audrey Scott: Welcome to this modern education podcast that explores learning from the everyday exchange of thoughts and ideas to the theories and practices behind entire systems. Think education is cool? So do we. So, we pair two conversations, learn about our guests, then learn from our guests. Share your takeaways and come back for more. You're listening to Think. Pair. Share., with me, Audrey Scott.
0:00:40.5 AS: Today's educational focus is on youth empowerment, helping children find the tools they require and the agency they have to develop the skills and dispositions the world needs going forward. We'll talk about equity, inclusion and diversity as foundations of education as well as how vulnerability impacts all teaching and learning.
0:01:03.0 AS: I'm honored to welcome Dr. Maria McKenna, to Think. Pair. Share. Maria is an Associate Professor of the Practice, holding a joint appointment in the Department of Africana Studies and the Education, Schooling, and Society Program. Her teaching and research spans the disciplines of education and ethnic studies, focusing on the social, cultural, and philosophical contexts of American education. She conducts her research in the service of youth, families, and communities. And as I learned, she is patient and has a sense of humor; important qualities in a teacher and an interviewee. Here are a few out-takes from our brief time together, which include the moments right after a beverage mishap.
0:01:41.6 Dr. Maria McKenna: Well, you look lovely. I can't tell you spilled any tea.
0:01:44.4 AS: Thanks. Firehouse sirens. I'm so sorry, give us two seconds on that as well as jack hammering construction. So here you go. And she took it all in stride. Welcome, Maria.
0:01:58.8 Dr. Maria McKenna: Much better.
0:02:00.7 AS: Okay. We're officially a go. First of all, thank you very much for joining me today.
0:02:03.7 MM: You're welcome.
0:02:04.4 AS: I'm excited to talk to you about... Gosh, we could talk for hours, 'cause I realize you're helping out with so many things. So, we'll do what we can, and I'm gonna ask you some icebreaker type of things, and we'll just jump into that. What is your go-to dessert?
0:02:17.8 MM: Oh, my go-to dessert is anything creamy. So, chocolate, whipped cream, ice cream, anything creamy.
0:02:26.7 AS: Okay, you only get two condiments for the rest of your life. What are they?
0:02:31.2 MM: This is hard. Salt and...
0:02:35.5 AS: Did you say salt?
0:02:36.4 MM: Yes.
0:02:36.8 AS: You cut out just a little bit. Oh yeah, salt's a good one, okay.
0:02:40.1 MM: Salt and I would have to say sugar.
0:02:45.1 AS: Basics.
0:02:45.8 MM: Sweet and salty.
0:02:47.3 AS: Love it. Is that your nickname?
0:02:49.7 MM: No, definitely not.
0:02:53.8 AS: What would your nickname be? Do you have one?
0:02:55.4 MM: Bossy. Is that bad?
0:03:00.9 AS: Yes.
0:03:00.9 MM: That's probably bad, but I think my kids would call me Bossy, Bossy Barbara is what they often would say, even though my name is not in anyway related to Barbara, Bossy Barbara.
0:03:10.2 AS: Bossy Barbara with a heart.
0:03:11.9 MM: Yes, something like that.
0:03:13.9 AS: Alright, fair enough. Okay, I'll say, maybe this is another hard one for you. If music played every time you entered a room, what would your theme song be?
0:03:22.1 MM: If music played every time... The Eye of the Tiger.
0:03:27.3 AS: Oh, I like that.
0:03:28.3 MM: And no one under the age of 40 is gonna know what that song is, but that's okay.
0:03:32.6 AS: I was just gonna say a throwback but... It's great. That's a good one. What sandwich is the perfect sandwich and why?
0:03:40.4 MM: Tomato mozzarella. It's easy, it's simple. You can put lots of other things on it, or nothing else on it.
0:03:46.8 AS: Delicious.
0:03:48.7 MM: Fast answer.
0:03:48.8 AS: Good. Oh, let's see. Would you rather be the first person to set foot on a new planet or the first person to live forever and why?
0:03:57.4 MM: The first person to step on a new planet. I don't think I wanna live forever. I think that I'm perfectly happy knowing there's a finite period of time that we're on the earth or another planet for that matter.
0:04:11.6 AS: If you could design a postage stamp, what would be on it?
0:04:15.2 MM: If I could design a postage stamp, I think that I would put the creator of Sesame Street. I know Sesame Street has been on the stamp, but I think that the idea of Sesame Street and universal preschool through the television was an amazing one. And so, I would pay homage to that.
0:04:43.4 AS: Nice, that's really great. I like that a lot, actually. I don't think we all quite realize how much we learned from sesame Street.
0:04:51.6 MM: Right, and it was here and in good stead before we really started talking about universal preschool or childcare or any kind of early childhood education in big spaces.
0:05:05.8 AS: That's great. This is a really weird one, but is cereal soup or not?
0:05:10.9 MM: No, absolutely not. Cereal is like a fundamentally different category than soup. Soup requires far more preparation... Well, I don't know, canned soup doesn't. Cereal is not soup, no. I don't have a logical answer as to why, but no, it's just not.
0:05:31.4 AS: I agree with you. I'm not quite certain why, but I was like, "What a weird thing, of course, it's not." But I'm like, "Well, I don't really know what constitutes either of those things, but, oh well."
0:05:39.9 MM: True.
0:05:41.0 AS: Okay, so years and years from now, when you're sitting down with your great great grandchildren maybe, and they ask you what kind of work you did and why you did it? What would you tell them?
0:05:51.1 MM: I would tell them I was a teacher and thinker about children and families' lives, and the way we could make them better.
0:06:02.5 AS: I'm gonna play one of them. Why did that matter to you?
0:06:08.7 MM: I think I've loved children in a way that's sort of intrinsic to my being for all of my life. I knew really early on that I was supposed to be a mother. I knew pretty early on that I was probably supposed to be a teacher of some sort. And so I just followed what I knew I was supposed to do with what God gave me.
0:06:29.7 AS: I like it. And you're doing it well. Let's help orient people a little bit to where you are in the university. Can you tell me about your roles in the Africana Studies Department, and also Education, Schooling and Society?
0:06:42.9 MM: Yeah. I think I have a little bit of a complicated story when it comes to a university space. So most folks have one department that they're associated with or unit, and they do one specific thing in their research, and they teach a really sort of straightforward set of courses that relate to their research. Because of the work that I do and the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary nature of both my education, but also my perspective on teaching and research, I kind of fit in a couple of different buckets.
0:07:17.5 MM: So my teaching and research for Africana Studies and for ESS or the Education, Schooling and Society program really overlap. When I think about youth empowerment and education, particularly in the United States, you can't get away from equity and inequity and questions of inclusion and diversity. So everything I do for both units in many ways overlaps. I cross-list most of my courses, my research can fit in conferences and academic spaces that relate to the African and the Africana diaspora, but they can also fit neatly in the world of education. And so it just so happens that here at Notre Dame, the best fit for me was a joint appointment in those two places.
0:08:04.7 AS: I think we talk a lot about people's minds, especially in education etcetera. But it seems like that you have maybe a particular thought about their hearts as well. I don't know if that makes any sense.
0:08:13.9 MM: Yeah. So early on, when people asked me what I studied, I used to say I studied caring and caring in education and with youth and with kids. And no one understood that, first of all, because who studies something as ethereal as care? But it also became really clear to me that I didn't define the work I did in the same way that a lot of other people do in the academy. My work is defined by how many people it can reach or... Not even numerically. Reaching individuals, reaching groups, reaching communities. You help the person in front of you, or the person who comes to you, and you do that work. And if that work means that you're working with one person, that's what it means. And if it means you're working with a whole community or a city or a school, then that's what it means. And so I'm very clear about where I fit into the world of education, into the world of policy, into the world of community engagement. And I think there's lots of roles for lots of different people, but my gifts are people-facing.
0:09:23.4 AS: What is the most important part of what you are trying to educate people about?
0:09:29.0 MM: So I think that there would be three pieces to that. The first is that we recognize children as complete beings. They come to us with a history, with a story, with their own gifts and talents and their own understandings of the world and aspirations, that children come to us with agency and with a completeness that we have to embrace and embody and really help nurture. Sometimes that just means getting out of the way, that they know what they're doing and where they're going. And sometimes that means building up and scaffolding in really specific ways for specific children. The second is, education is a central component, a centerpiece of not just democracy, but civil society. So if we don't have an appreciation for the various ways that children and families are educated, then we're missing something fundamental to how we think of the structures of societies and how we think about creating a world where the common good takes precedent over individual achievement or individual success.
0:10:38.1 MM: The last thing that I really want people to learn and think about is, everyone has a place in the societies and the world that we're building, and we need to go into education thinking about how it is that we're going to help children find the tools they need, figure out how to use the agency they have and develop the skills and dispositions that the world needs wherever they are in that moment in time, and wherever they wanna get to or go.
0:11:08.1 AS: That's a good framework. And let's try to talk about some of those elements. And maybe we can do so in some of the projects or areas that you're helping with right now. You're working with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee?
0:11:20.0 MM: Yeah. So I think that one of the roles that has come to me maybe accidentally or over time that wasn't something that I intended is working in the realm of equity and inclusivity when it comes to education. The particular moment in time that we're in, not just in 2021, but sort of over my adult life, I've come to an awareness of privilege and power that I was pretty sheltered from as a young person. And so as I've come into the world and recognized some of the ways in which the world operates fundamentally differently for me as a White person than it does for other people, I have an obligation to think about that privilege and to use that privilege to upend the systems that gave it to me.
0:12:13.9 MM: And so whether that's working on committees or work specific to the campus of Notre Dame, or working on that through my co-directorship of the AnBryce Scholars program, which is focused on first-generation scholars and their success as young people in the academy, or filtering into my teaching and my everyday research, you can't set that aside and have that be an add-on or an extra piece. That is the water that you swim in. And so all of what I do is really, hopefully, and maybe that's... This is aspirational, is designed to be explicit about inclusion and be explicit about figuring out how it is that we provide opportunities. People are looking for really specific actions that they can do, and they can do immediately to say, I'm an ally.
0:13:15.1 AS: Can you talk to me about allyship?
0:13:16.7 MM: Sure. The first thing about allyship is to recognize that the definition of allyship is broader than simply checking some boxes. It is life-long, it is constant, and you will mess it up. And so when you think about allyship, you have to be ready to continually reflect and assess on your own biases, on your own understandings of the world, and the ways in which you may or may not be contributing to continued structural or systemic disenfranchisement. So much of allyship is not about doing things for other people, it's about doing things with other people, even when those things might actually be counterproductive to your own well-being, in your mind.
0:14:11.0 MM: We have a long history of people understanding that it needed to be more than just the folks who were being harmed that were going to affect change, that they needed the support and the tacit approval of those around them to continue that work. But allyship sort of signals an even deeper level of commitment to that work. And I think we saw that. Lots of listeners will be familiar with the freedom writers. We saw that with sort of the way college students and high school students who were willing to really stand at the forefront of some of the civil rights movements.
0:14:55.7 MM: But I think that one of the important pieces when we think about allyship and the term of allyship is that we not lose sight of the fact that for centuries, people have been trying to take care of liberating themselves from oppressive regimes, be those racially related or ethnically related or linguistically related or fill in the blanks. And so oppression is not new, and allyship is not new, but our understanding of mutual beneficence and mutuality, I think, is, hopefully, continuing to evolve. And the more folks that we get to recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that scarcity is not the way that we need to think about resources or opportunity, then we will all be better off.
0:15:55.1 AS: I feel like there's something that runs through a lot of your work probably anyway, but maybe a piece of what you were just mentioning, when a person has to be open to it. Is there a vulnerability aspect to a lot of this that is daunting and hopeful?
0:16:09.3 MM: Yes, both. Both hands. So some people might know that I recently co-edited a book with Edward Brantmeier at James Madison University called Pedagogy of Vulnerability. And this was a collection and a collaboration of authors from across the United States, including other authors here on our campus, to really talk about the way vulnerability plays into teaching within higher education. Because we often think, Oh, in college now we have to become experts in a discipline or a field. We have to put all of that touchy-feely stuff aside.
0:16:43.8 MM: And I think quite the opposite is true, that if we're trying to grow into healthy, whole humans, we really need to think about the way vulnerability interacts and impacts our teaching and our learning. And so the book is a collection of studies from different disciplines, from different spaces, and with authors with very different perspectives that talk about the ways vulnerability matters to teaching and learning and scholarship, and the ways that vulnerability is sometimes easier for some of us than others to actually enact and work through. So it's a lot riskier for people of color, for women to be vulnerable, because those are not... Those folks already have an uphill battle. And vulnerability is not seen as an academic strength, an intellectual strength. And so I'm trying to change that, whether we're talking about college or whether we're talking about pre-school and elementary and high school.
0:17:48.6 AS: Great. In your opinion, can you be strong and vulnerable?
0:17:52.2 MM: Absolutely. I don't think you can be strong without being vulnerable. Somewhere along the way, you had to sort of prove to yourself that you could do whatever it is that you're doing, whether you have the stamina or the wherewithal or the expertise to do that. And so that takes vulnerability. Vulnerability's become kind of a buzzword because of Brené Brown. And part of me thinks, Oh, man, I wish I would have written this a decade ago, 'cause everybody thinks I'm just riffing off Brené Brown. But Brené Brown's done a really important service, actually, in the world, I think, with her work, because I think of her very much as a public intellectual, as someone who's moving the conversation forward about vulnerability in important ways, particularly in relationship to allyship. And if you don't know her work, I'd encourage you to listen and to read it, because it makes you understand that it's okay if we don't know everything.
0:18:47.0 AS: As an aside, I worked at Harpo with Oprah, and we had Brené on, and I love her. She's just so amazing. It was my favorite show to work on. It was amazing.
0:18:54.8 MM: I don't think that's an aside. I think that's amazing. I would put that in here. People are gonna be like, "Audrey, you got to meet Brené Brown? And you worked with Oprah? Huh. Okay."
0:19:04.9 AS: It was so nice. Both women were very nice and very... I admire them both very much, so... But thank you. Is there an element of forgiving yourself and others, though, in that vulnerability?
0:19:16.6 MM: Yes. In terms of thinking about vulnerability and forgiveness... I think because we're a Catholic University, we have a very particular context and definition for forgiveness that has to do with our relationship with God, and the Trinity, and our actions in the world... Our sort of external actions. And I think that the forgiveness that is, in some ways, related to vulnerability is that and something else.
0:19:44.1 MM: It's about appreciating our own moments of weakness or deficits. We're never our perfect version of ourselves. If we were, what would be the point of growing or continuing on? And so when you asked me really early on, "Would you rather live forever or be the first person to step on a planet," I think that to live forever without growing would feel really stagnant. So maybe I'd live forever if I was always feeling like I could grow and continue to be able to forgive myself. But without that, life isn't the same.
0:20:16.4 AS: Yeah. I agree. I think that there is an element of that, especially for educators... How can the person that you're trying to teach be expected to learn and grow in a safe space if there isn't that admittance that I too am learning? Does that make sense?
0:20:32.9 MM: Sure. So I think it's really hard when that isn't the mindset that a classroom or a school has. And I think that is, in part, the responsibility of educational leaders. I know a lot of our colleagues here in the IEI talk about educational leadership and climate and school climate. And one of the things I appreciate about a lot of that work is the way in which leadership signals to educators, to staff, to people not even inside the classroom that we are a community that cares about one another, and we are a community that is always learning and can make mistakes and can come back the next day.
0:21:10.7 MM: And so when leaders say that, and when they are open and willing to apologize for mistakes that they have made, that trickles down. So certainly you can do it in your own classroom, whether you have a leader like that or not. Or you can do it in your own home, whether or not everybody else around you is doing it. But it definitely helps when you have a community of learners who all agree that vulnerability, that joy, that caring, that mistake making and co-learning is the boat... The water that you're swimming in.
0:21:45.5 AS: But I always feel like when you get to that space, and you feel like you're about to make a breakthrough, it's difficult for someone... 'Cause we're like, "No, 'cause someone's gonna see me as, I made a mistake." I admitted I made a mistake, and here's their in or something. Does that make sense? How do you counteract that?
0:22:02.2 MM: So I think that we live in a world where competition is often valued over cooperation. And whether we're talking about the professionalization of youth sports, or we're talking about the ways in which the arts have become really serious really early on, and the differences in equity around some of the access to those things... Competition has become a mantra of the American discourse. That my vision of education, and so many others' visions of education really pushes back on. Because, certainly, you want to always be striving to do your best intellectually, emotionally, communally, but I think it's really important from really early on to talk about to what end and for what purpose.
0:22:56.0 MM: And so if we're really always hung up on, "If I make a mistake, somebody's gonna swoop in and send me on my way." Or, "If I make a mistake, I'm not gonna get picked for this next thing." Sometimes one, we're gonna have to be okay with not being picked for the next thing. It might be okay to not make that team or that program, because that's not really where I wanna be if that's the bar... That you never make a mistake.
0:23:22.2 MM: And so when we think about vulnerability and being able to make mistakes, it requires us to believe in a vision of a cooperative good and a collective imaginary, and thinking through how it is, particularly in education, we are acknowledging the ways in which including and allowing for vulnerability means that we can work on some of these tougher, more challenging, more complex questions.
0:23:52.7 MM: Vulnerability doesn't become a detriment or a deficit, it becomes an asset. Because you can't do work that is as complex as, how do we make sure that housing is equitable in the United States. Or, how do we understand American history from the lens of women. Or, how do we make sure that we are not creating policies or programs that are just reinforcing segregation in the United States?
0:24:24.3 MM: Those are really complex questions that require more than just one discipline or more than just one idea or more than just one area of expertise. And what they really require is a whole bunch of folks being experts in those disciplinary spaces, but also experts in using vulnerability and compassion and care and belonging to really inform how it is that we teach and think about solving the biggest problems that we're gonna face and that we faced over time going forward.
0:25:00.0 AS: Is there more of a recent focus on social-emotional learning?
0:25:05.4 MM: Interesting you ask about social-emotional learning. Lots of people think about this as soft skills or non-cognitive skills or executive functioning skills. I don't think it's a new focus. Folks particularly in cognitive psychology have been doing this work for years. What I do think is new is that we're starting to recognize those ideas as not ancillary or extra, but as essential to the educative process. And so I'm hopeful that as we're training educators, as we're thinking about the ways we construct curricula, as we're thinking about the ways that we construct even school buildings and spaces, that we are thinking about developing the social and emotional skills of children as central and integral to their intellectual formation as cognitive skills.
0:26:03.6 AS: Great. Thank you. I watched your TED Talk, but I know it's been a couple of years, but I can't imagine that these don't still apply. The things that stood out to me were a caring education, joyful learning, human integrity. Can you talk to me about some of that stuff that seems integral to the way you treat and see people and to the way you see education?
0:26:22.8 MM: So I think I'm not alone in the way that I think about education and the way that I think that caring and integrity and joy factor into whether or not a child flourishes. Whether that's in your home or it's in an after school program, or it's in the context of a traditional classroom, or even a non-traditional classroom. I think over the last year, we've seen more than ever that there are lots of different ways that we can connect, that we can be empathetic, that we can still have joyful spaces with children. But I think we've also learned that human contact and human interaction not through a screen is essential and central to holistic education.
0:27:12.9 MM: Certainly, you can learn a lot... You can learn a lot of things by Googling or going to YouTube. But my... One of my favorite philosophers is named Nel Noddings, who writes about educational care. And most of my work is rooted in her philosophy. And she writes all the time about these sort of core components of what educational care has... Involved in it.
0:27:38.2 MM: And the first is that there's a motivation on the part of the carer in particular, but both parties, that they want to be there and that they want to engage with each other. That there's a mutuality of understanding that there may be times where I need the care and you are offering it, and there may be times where I need to be the carer and you are receiving it, and we have to know how to do both.
0:28:04.5 MM: She talks about that as a reciprocity that's essential to education. And so if I translate that into a classroom, it means that children have to understand that the adults in the room are human too, that they can have bad days, that they can make mistakes. And that in particular that they can make mistakes. That they can fail, and that they can still come back from that. That they can apologize. That they can say they're sorry. Or they can say, I didn't understand.
0:28:33.9 MM: There needs to be classroom space for us saying, "I don't know." And again, some people listening to this might think, "Well, I'm too busy teaching multi-digit addition." Or, "I'm too busy making sure that I make it through the fifth grade history curriculum that covers all of the Civil War to really be thinking about this kind of integrity, joyful, filled, caring world that Professor McKenna has got in her pie in the sky vision of schooling."
0:29:02.3 MM: But the reality is that that's the core of what you do. And you have to figure that out before you can do any of the academic stuff. And we need to give teachers the autonomy and the respect and the space to do that. And we need to give teachers the opportunity to say, "Actually, I'm not sure I know how to do that. I didn't go to school and have it look like that."
0:29:29.2 MM: And we repeat what we know. So everybody's sort of an expert in education, 'cause we all went to school. And that's one of the things we gotta demystify and we've gotta be able to say, "You're not sure how to do the social-emotional learning thing," or, "You don't wanna think of this as an add-on. Okay, let's talk about that. Let's learn about that. Let's think about that." And I think the best way to do that is actually with kids. Kids are really forgiving, they're really loving, they're really thoughtful, and they will be patient with you while you learn.
0:29:57.9 MM: So in every situation that I walk into with kids, I say, "Okay, so we're learning together. We're gonna figure these things out. Here are some things I don't know anything about or I'm really trying to figure out, and I'm gonna need your help. And I'm gonna need your forgiveness, and I'm gonna need you to be patient with me. And in return, I'm gonna give you help and I'm gonna give you forgiveness and I'm gonna be patient with you." And so that mutuality is essential.
0:30:23.0 MM: But the last thing that Nel Noddings talks about with education and educational care, she talks about engrossment. That you can't do it halfway. And I think this about allyship, I think this about being part of movements to create more equity and more inclusivity in whatever space I'm in. You're all in or you're not. And it's okay to say, "I'm still learning. I don't know everything." Because none of us know everything, and we're all still learning. But you can't do this halfway.
0:30:58.1 MM: Whether we're talking about educational care or allyship or teaching in general. And at the point at which you feel like you have to do it halfway, it's time to take care of yourself and take a break or take a step back and say, "I'm needing something that I'm not getting, and I need to go back to taking care of my own needs so that I can take care of others'."
0:31:22.2 AS: I think that a lot of teachers, especially now, a lot has been asked of them. People might think, "Well, I don't have time for the touchy, feely part. I've got the subject matter to attend to." Even if that's just a fraction of people nowadays, what can you say to folks like that?
0:31:38.6 MM: So I think that you say you can't afford not to have social-emotional learning and inclusivity at the heart of what you do, particularly as an educator. You can start small. You can be a high school Physics teacher that for the first time ever points out female physicists and folks of color who have contributed to the world of physics. You can, talk about the ways in which your own career to being a Physics teacher meant that you thought you were gonna be an astronaut, or you thought you were gonna go work for NASA, and you ended up being a Physics teacher.
0:32:14.6 MM: And people will say, "Well, that's not as good as working for NASA." Or, "That's not as good as working in a robotics lab." And being able to say, "I chose this. I chose to be here." It can be as simple as making sure that we are working as institutions to have adequate representation of Black and Brown teachers in classrooms. It can be as simple as saying, "Every day, I want you to sort of flip a sticky note on your desk that tells me, Green, I'm good to go. I'm great. Red, I'm having a rough day, I need you to leave me alone. Yellow, alright, I'm a little tired," or, "Things aren't great, but I'm okay."
0:33:01.2 MM: So that I know I'm not gonna call on that person to tell me about Macbeth, or to tell me about Napoleon's last stand wherever Napoleon stood last. I'm gonna let that student have a minute and have a safe place to be, so that they see I'm respecting them as a human being. I'm gonna be thoughtful and compassionate and generous when someone comes to me and says, "I really can't get this done." And I'm also gonna hold them accountable and say, "Okay, tell me your plan to get it done. What can I do to help?"
0:33:32.2 AS: Two things on that. What do you say to a teacher who says, "No, I have to be the leader in the room? There's no room for me to be the person that they don't have confidence in."
0:33:42.0 MM: So I don't think being a kind teacher or a teacher who promotes joy or care doesn't mean that you're not the leader in the room or you're not in control of a classroom. In fact, you're hopefully in more control of the classroom in the sense that you have an understanding with those students that you can both have fun and work hard. You can both be respectful and be able to say, "I don't understand this." It's a both and.
0:34:11.1 MM: So it's not, I'm gonna be a soft teacher, and I'm gonna teach all of this lovey-dovey social-emotional learning things. Or I'm gonna really work on allyship and diversity and equity and inclusion to the exclusion of something else. It means that you are an educator whose vision of leadership and vision of being the person that's responsible for these young people in front of you, whether you're teaching college, or you're teaching three-year-olds, that you're doing this together. And that you are going to work for a mutual respect that allows you to challenge, allows you to do creative things, and allows you to take the time you need when you need it to backtrack or to do something different.
0:34:55.5 AS: Right. Because when you say joyful learning, you don't mean, "Oh, it's playtime."
0:35:00.8 MM: Right. Certainly play is important. I would argue that everybody needs time to play, everybody needs time to let their hair down. And the older you get, I think the more important that is, in some ways. But joyful learning means that you wanna be there, and the people in your classroom wanna be there, and that you wanna be there because there is a goal that is a collective goal.
0:35:22.4 MM: We are a community, we are thinking about things as a community. When students come to me and say, "Hi, I'm just lost. I'm a new fourth-grade teacher, and it's all going off the rails, Maria. What do I do?" And I often say, "Find a project that's completely outside of your classroom that you all need to collectively work on." You need to raise money for trees in Baltimore. Or you noticed that all of the sweet sisters at St. Mary's haven't been able to have their regular visitors, and they need some notes of encouragement.
0:36:00.4 MM: Or, "Hey, I noticed that we have not been very good at keeping our playground real nice. We're gonna go out and... We gotta fix this up." When you shift the focus to a collective goal, you often start to build camaraderie and community, and some of those social-emotional learning pieces that you might have missed or that aren't clicking that allow you, little by little by little, to work that out.
0:36:23.2 AS: Great. I like that. I know that you have sort of a three-pronged attack, maybe. [chuckle] I'm interested in that. Can you expand on that?
0:36:31.9 MM: Yeah. So lots of times when people ask, "What do you research?" I often talk about, it's not what I research, it's how I research. And I use three key ideas with that. The first is, does the work span disciplinary boundaries that make sense to me. That it's about youth, it's about children, it might be about education, it might be about community. Those all fit together for me.
0:36:56.4 MM: Does it use qualitative descriptive methods and frameworks that I can be of service with? So Youth Participatory Action Research, often referred to as YPAR, which our colleague Ernest Morrell is a definitive expert in. Or Art space research, or critical race theory, or the one that I've used more than any other is really Photovoice in conjunction with YPAR.
0:37:20.6 MM: So using photography and cameras to help children articulate what they think about the world. The third is that it's always a question that someone else has, and it's in the service of youth, families and communities. And if I can say yes to those three questions, then that's work that I can do with integrity and with expertise, and with a feeling it hopefully will make a difference to someone else besides me in the world.
0:37:47.3 AS: What does Photovoice mean? Why does digital storytelling matter?
0:37:50.4 MM: Yeah. So Photovoice really originated in the medical and health sciences professions to give patients and patients' families a way to express some of the things that they were feeling that they didn't necessarily have language for. So using photography to document care, or carers, or treatment. It was adopted by spaces of education because it was a really, really nice way to think about expanding our understanding of literacy and our understanding of how literate practices work.
0:38:24.2 MM: And so when we think about Photovoice, and now digital storytelling and lots of other mediums like podcasts or webinars or even TikTok or graffiti on the bathroom walls. When we think about literacy, and we think about the way photography, particularly because of the ubiquity of cameras on phones now, and we think about the ways in which students can put together multi-media pieces with music and with text and dialogue and pictures and images and film, we've opened the door to ways of accessing how children and young people understand the universe, of the world and understand the way the world is operating.
0:39:10.2 MM: That's just so exciting. It has so many possibilities. And so where we used to ask kids to write an essay for a scholarship or we used to ask kids to write an editorial... Those things are still important and valid, but what about a photo essay? What about a recording of you learning to play the ukulele because you just decided to learn the ukulele. What about a digital story that documents the world and the lives of being a migrant farmer, or being a child of a migrant farmer. That's just... There's so much possibility that Photovoice and digital story telling open up that provide us windows into children's thinking, and children's lives that make us better humans and that make us understand the world better.
0:39:58.4 AS: I just feel like those can be so impactful. I really respect that you are listening to people's stories and valuing them. Is there one overarching thought going forward about the hope you see in the work that you do?
0:40:13.6 MM: I think that... And the thing that keeps me going is that young people have so much to offer. They have so much creativity, they have so much energy, and they are thinking in ways... They are experiencing the world in ways that do not come naturally to those of us who are older. And so when people sort of put down younger generations and, "Oh, they don't know how to work and they don't know how to do this, and they're not as good at X, Y and Z," I stop them over and over again. And I say, "You have no idea how these folks are gonna transform the world." They're gonna help us get back to a balance of work-life balance. They're gonna help us get back to seeing the beauty in the world instead of only ever talking about the deficits.
0:41:05.5 MM: They are gonna help us to understand that you solve problems in teams and not as individuals. And so I'm hopeful because I think the young people have a different view of how the world operates and how the world works, that technology is no small part of. And that we need to embrace and we need to think about how are we going to harness the creativity and the joy and the potential of these young people. And maybe the word is, and how are we gonna harness it? How are they gonna harness it to move us forward? They're gonna solve problems that we don't even know we have yet. And so all we can do is say, "Here are all the tools. And I am right here next to you to walk alongside you. And I will get out of your way if I need to." And if we do those things right, then I'm absolutely hopeful about the world.
0:42:00.6 AS: Thank you so much for all that you're doing and thank you so much for joining us today.
0:42:04.9 MM: I'm so, so glad to be here and thanks for folks listening. And my door is always open, my email is always open, feel free to come find me any time.
0:42:13.2 AS: Thank you so much.
0:42:14.4 MM: Take care. Bye bye.
0:42:19.1 AS: And thank you all for joining us for Think. Pair. Share. If you enjoyed this episode, head on over to Apple Podcasts to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. It's very much appreciated. Check out our website at iei.nd.edu/media for this and other goodies. Thanks for listening and for now, off we go.