Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral student Meredith Mira spent the 2010-2011 school year at Beaver investigating the school’s approach to social justice education. She also examined how teachers, students, and administrators enact, experience, and make sense of the mission of the school and what source of norms and values define the Beaver environment.
Coordinating with Beaver’s Hiatt Center for Civic Engagement and the school’s administration, Mira arranged to spend a significant amount of time on campus during the year performing research for her doctoral dissertation.
Over the year, Mira conducted classroom and school-wide observations along with interviews with key teachers, administrators, and students. She observed approximately 115 classes across all disciplines in both the Middle and Upper School and conducted interviews with 20 faculty, 22 students, and 10 school leaders. She also attended numerous all-school meetings, Tuesday forums, Social Action Leader meetings, faculty meetings, and community service meetings.
While she has yet to begin her data analysis, Mira’s observations have led to a few initial ideas about how Beaver integrates social justice education into the life of the school:
- Beaver places value on collaboration and the importance of community building instead of having an exclusive focus on competition and individualism;
- Beaver has created a caring community through the 1:1 relationships between teachers, students, and school leaders; this, in turn, opens up opportunities to have challenging discussion around issues of justice;
- With regards to teaching and learning, a student’s process of learning is just as important, if not more, than the content itself;
- Students are not defined by just one thing; instead, Beaver encourages and allows their students to be many things, thereby increasing their ability to see things from multiple perspectives. In this way, students become aware that there are different ways of viewing the world;
- Social justice is both something you can teach in the classroom and an approach you can use in the classroom; that is, your teaching techniques can be socially just even if the subject matter is not about social justice.
“When Meredith first came to Beaver last spring she described the type of investigation she would be doing as a ‘participatory action research project,’” said Robert Principe, the Hiatt Center’s Director of Educational Leadership. “Now I know what that means! So much of what Meredith has observed and then shared back with many of our teachers has been so helpful and will continue to inform teaching practice for years.”
During the upcoming year, Mira will analyze the interview transcripts and field notes she has taken throughout the year, synthesizing her findings and reflections into her doctoral dissertation. The hope is for the dissertation to be turned in to some form of publication that can inform other schools, teachers, and school leaders who are interested in taking a more socially just approach to the process and content of education.
Photo: Meredith Mira