Tangling With Race and Racism in Teacher Education: Designs for Counterstory-Based Parent Teacher Conferences

October, 2021

Source: Urban Education, Volume: 56 issue: 9, page(s): 1399-1428

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors investigate the design of counterstory-based simulations of a parent teacher conference—used as part of a teacher education program with the aim of creating opportunities for teacher candidates (TCs) to develop asset-based thinking and practice while contending substantively with race and racism in dialogue with families.
In this way, these counterstories become uniquely situated in the formation of curriculum and pedagogy of teacher preparation.
We delineate the methods for designing these cases, offering a model for how teacher educators might construct such tools.
They ask the following questions:
• What processes and methods can center the lived experiences and knowledge of people of color in the design of counterstory-based teacher education pedagogies?
• What would it look like for TCs to learn to integrate discussion of race and instruction during a counterstory-based simulation?

The design demand of this project was to develop counterstory-based simulations that provide structured opportunities for the demonstration of assetoriented teaching practice, while also assessing where, and how, TCs were challenged to think, act, and interact in asset-oriented ways.
In designing these counterstories, the authors drew from the lived experiences of people of color in school settings and sought not to lead candidates to think and act in deficit oriented ways.
Rather, they designed the counterstories to include components that countered common deficit narratives, including stereotypes, thus increasing the likelihood that TCs who were less-developed in asset-oriented thinking and practice might have their frames challenged or interrupted.
The counterstory was designed to feature a parent who was highly conscious of racism in schools, actively responding to and resisting racist practices, and who wanted her child to be seen fully.
Thus, the case would afford opportunities for TCs to demonstrate their differentiated abilities to productively engage a parent of color and to elicit and utilize her knowledge, experience, and perspectives, in particular as they intersect with her race, in interaction.
The goal was to assess whether TCs’ interactions facilitated rapport with family members and garnered instructionally useful information to support student engagement and learning.

Methods for the Design of Counterstory-Based Simulations
The authors outline here their design process for the simulation, which included three stages:
(a) interviewing informants,
(b) analyzing information shared by informants, and
(c) generating a case narrative.

Interviewing Informants
The authors designed a case about a Black student and her parents, with whom their TCs would interact during the simulations.
To achieve this, the first and second authors facilitated a staged set of three focus group meetings, meeting with informants whose racial backgrounds aligned with the family in the case, a Black professional, high- socioeconomic status (SES) family.
Informants were all Black men and women who were graduate students and faculty at a Midwestern college of education.
The information collected from these focus group meetings were the main source of data.
Informants were selected because of their affiliation with teacher education in their college of education and because they had social or professional connections with the authors.
A majority of the informants had prior K-12 teaching experience, and five of the informants were mothers.
In Focus Group 1, the six informants were invited to share salient racialized experiences in school settings, either of their own or of their children.
The authors facilitated the discussion by asking questions such as “Were there moments in your schooling when being a Black child was positioned as a problem by educators?” and “Are there specific knowledge bases that you believe you have that are related to your racial identity, but that are consistently rendered invisible, insignificant, or problematic in schools?” They drew from the women’s responses to inform the drafting of a composite case, in which they described a child, her family and life experiences, and a problem she encountered in her classroom.
In Focus Group 2, three informants provided feedback on the draft case, pointing out ways that they might improve the authenticity of the events and experiences described in the case. Based on these suggestions, they revised the case, which they shared with Focus Group 3.
Informants in Focus Group 3 provided them with recommended revisions, which they integrated into a penultimate draft.
They shared this draft electronically with all 12 informants, solicited additional feedback, and consolidated their suggestions into a final draft.

Generating Case Narratives
Using the information provided by their colleagues, the authors generated a narrative about a fifth-grade student, Jasmine Jackson and her family—her parents Monica and Devin Jackson and her older brother.
They fleshed out details about Jasmine’s family, including their beliefs; pastimes; and commitment to their community, to education, and to arts and literature.
They wrote about a strong Black mother, a professor at a local university, who was an active and vocal advocate for her child.
These qualities confronted the stereotypes that their informants had often experienced, situating Monica as someone with higher SES and creating the potential that she might be read through a racist lens as aggressive as she advocated for her child.
The case narrative illustrates the guiding principle of the case design that utilizes the critical methodology of counterstory telling: that children’s homebased resources can be assets for their academic learning.
In this case, Jasmine’s oral presentation skills could likely be linked to her experience in Harambee, and her competence in discussing race, too, was founded in her Black family and community.

The authors have examined how counterstories—narratives that are not often told, stories that are often silenced and marginalized—can be constructed to ensure that they are robust, respectful, and can be used to develop learning opportunities for TCs.
They utilized the narratives to answer their two research questions.
They have sketched a set of methods for the design of this counter story based pedagogy, informed by critical race theory (CRT), for teacher education, while illuminating a set of tensions that need to be managed in the design and enactment of counterstory-based simulations.
Each of these highlights the power and possibility of designing substantive opportunities for TCs to learn with and from the voices, experiences, and strengths of communities of color.
They have provided an illustration of a simulation enactment to illuminate
(a) the ways that TCs can learn in the doing of the enactment, and
(b) how instructors can use these enactments to better understand TCs’ developing skill in engaging with families in ways that highlight sophisticated and nuanced racial literacy.
They detailed their process of creating these counternarratives and asset-focused counterstory-based simulations in the hopes that other teacher educators will see their potential for promoting change in the knowledge and practice of beginning teachers.
Beginning teachers need racial knowledge and racial literacy.
They must know about the impact of racism on the experiences of their students, and they must recognize their students’ assets—the assets that allow them to behave agentically in the face of racism to survive and thrive.
Furthermore, teachers must know how to act upon these student- and community-based assets.
This need is especially dire when they have had limited experience working with diverse communities.
It is here that CRT and counterstory can be used pedagogically, to create, as Solórzano and Yosso (2002) write, composite characters “and place them in social, historical, and political situations to discuss racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of subordination” (p. 33).
It is critical that all members of society learn to develop racial literacy— including teachers and students.
The authors leveraged counterstories toward this goal.
The steps their TCs took toward discussing race as it intersects with their instruction and recognizing the racialized knowledge of their student indicate some development of racial literacy.
The authors’ previous work shows that an asset-focused counterstory-based simulation can support beginning teachers (Goldin, Khasnabis, & Atkins, 2018)— first by exposing them to asset narratives of children and families of color and then by creating an opportunity for them to practice acting upon those assets.
They hope that their work here illustrates the tremendous care that must be taken in the design of such cases—the importance of harvesting and drawing upon CRT in teacher education practice and design, and most importantly the critical need for engaging substantive efforts to learn from and represent the knowledge and experiences of people of color.
The exposure and opportunity that TCs have to engage with and learn from people of color should not be so rare, but they are unusual opportunities nevertheless—and thus it is especially critical that beginning teachers have these opportunities.
Without such opportunities, much is at risk.
Only when teachers are able to see their students fully, for the knowledge bases and experiences that they have developed even in the face of racism, can they work to support their full brilliance.

Goldin, S., Khasnabis, D., & Atkins, S. (2018). Mining Gems, Nurturing Relationships, Building Teacher Practice. School Community Journal, 28(2), 189–212.
Solórzano, D. G., & Yosso, T. J. (2002). Critical race methodology: Counterstorytelling as an analytical framework for education research. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 23–44 

Updated: Jun. 14, 2022