Kathleen Edwards, a PhD student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations in the UNCG School of Education, discusses her experiences during her service-learning course at the Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro.
1). You currently are teaching a service-learning course entitled “The Institution of Education” (ELC-301) with the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) of Greensboro this semester – can you describe what students have experienced during this semester while working at the IRC? Have any memorable ‘a-ha’ moments stood out this semester for your students while working at the IRC?
The Interactive Resource Center (IRC) is Greensboro’s only daytime center for people experiencing homelessness. With the help of the guests and staff at the IRC, students are learning about the wide range of experiences that people have had with regard to education, whether that is their own education—past or current—or their children’s education. As often as we can, we hold class at the IRC and guests join us in the discussions. I believe this is important because of how it alters the learning environment. In later conversations with students I hear them refer to guests by their names and describe follow up conversations they’ve had while completing their service hours. And similarly, guests at the IRC remark on how they’ve continued discussing the concepts and sharing stories with the students.
Additionally, this semester we are emphasizing the importance of community and community building in our class and the IRC, as well as within any educational space. At the end of March during class at the IRC a group of about 20 of us—UNCG and A & T students, guests, staff members—gathered to discuss how we wanted to encourage more community building and engagement within and between service-learning students, community volunteers, guests, and staff. It was a very exciting way to collaborate and emphasize how we are all co-teachers, co-learners, and co-generators of knowledge and action. It was powerful to watch different people initiate questions, facilitate portions of the conversation, take notes, write on the dry erase board, and share resources with one another. We identified goals and action steps, and guests and students are now paired together with specific tasks to accomplish in the next few weeks before we come back together.
2). What has been the most rewarding aspect of teaching service-learning classes at UNCG?
For me, the most rewarding aspect of teaching service-learning classes is helping to destabilize the status quo ideas people have about what knowledge, skills, and values are important to learn; where learning can happen; how we learn and for what purpose(s); who is allowed to learn; and from whom we learn. The guests and staff at the IRC are educators, teaching and learning alongside and with us in our service-learning class. The guests and staff, their stories and ideas, have deeply shaped the content and structure of the course, as have the students and their interests. It hasn’t been only content and processes that have been redesigned though, my very outlook on what I teach has shifted. I used to describe the course as being about power, privilege, and oppression, however, now I explain it as being about power, privilege, oppression, and resistance. It’s the concept of resistance that I believe is most important for all of us to be reminded of and to participate in, and that concept is what is practiced everyday at the IRC, so we are all able to get firsthand, collective experience of it.
3). In addition to being a student and a teaching assistant, you presented at several conferences this year, as well as had your work published in a top tier journal. Can you talk a little about these presentations and publication, and what you enjoy about presenting and writing?
What I enjoy about presenting and writing is the opportunity to work with other people, to really think through and wrestle with ideas, and learn from the multiple perspectives that are a part of the process, whether that is in planning a presentation, writing an article, or facilitating a conference session.
The article, “Reciprocity: Saying what we mean and meaning what we say,” (Dostilio, Brackman, Edwards, Harrison, Kliewer, & Clayton, 2012) was a result of meeting a few graduate students from across the US and Canada at a conference and realizing that we, along with a close senior scholar in the field, were asking similar questions. It was a two-year process of community building, perspective sharing, and asking ourselves tough questions about the meaning of reciprocity in service-learning and community engagement, in addition to the deeply collaborative writing process that occurred, which happened through skype calls and google docs.
A very meaningful part of my learning this year has been the opportunity to collaborate more closely with Tiffany Dumas, the Volunteer Coordinator at the IRC. She and I have been working together for more than three years and teaching a service-learning course with the IRC has deepened our partnership. We submitted a few conference proposals that explored some of the ways we’ve tried to develop more authentic service-learning relationships—students, community members, community organizations, and faculty—by moving away from framing service-learning as what we do and, instead, moving toward service-learning as how we are in relation to each other. In February we presented at the Gulf South Summit, in Louisville, KY, and the Institute for Civic Engagement, at Elon University. We were one of very few community-academic partner pairs at either conference. It deepened my commitment, as well as Tiffany’s, to working toward more inclusive spaces that emphasize the importance of co-constructed, reciprocal, and social justice oriented community engagement.
4). What have you valued about your experience in the Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations department at the UNCG School of Education?
I am motivated and deeply inspired by my involvement with communities, and my scholarly interests are focused on the cultural foundations of popular education and the radical potential of community engagement. In this program I’ve been able to explore social justice issues I see enacted in various communities; interrogate forms of power, privilege and oppression; and imagine new ways of being in this world. I’ve had the flexibility to shape my own studies and the support, both within and beyond the department, to pursue critical community engaged research and practices. Most importantly I value being in a place where faculty and students proudly identify themselves as both scholars and activists.
Beyond the ELC department, what I have valued about my experience at UNCG has been the opportunity to collaborate with, support, and learn from so many students, faculty, and staff. My commitment to critical community engaged research and practice is strengthened by these partnerships, particularly the Public Scholarship Graduate Network, the Institute for Community and Economic Engagement, and the Office of Leadership and Service-Learning.
The Interactive Resource Center is a major service-learning partner for UNCG. If you are interested in learning more about the organization and the folks that spend time there, please visit www.gsodaycenter.org