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Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work


Abstract and Figures

It’s never easy to realize that, despite good intentions, one’s efforts to be helpful may cause more harm. That is, in part, the reckoning the ISE field must address as we emerge from the global pandemic striving to do and be better. While there are instances and examples of educational work that exemplify our vision for equity, access, and inclusion, for the most part, ISE practice continues to operate within paradigms from the larger systems of society that perpetuate inequalities. We argue work towards the just and egalitarian goals in ISE organization’s equity and access statements fall short without the organization’s staff (the humans who do the work) engaging in critical consciousness together. Building on a model from youth development scholars, we advocate for the need to include humility, compassion, and belonging in critical consciousness. Without these components, unconscious biases shade people’s abilities to see the strengths in those different from them, to offer care to everyone (especially people who have been pushed into the margins), and to work towards ensuring everyone is rightfully welcomed, just as they are. Importantly, we must embody these ideas with our staff and in our work culture before we can genuinely practice them for our audiences. Doing so requires a mindset towards professional learning and reflective practice, and then intentionally designing and refining structures to support learning from individual staff into the collective organization.
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Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious
in Our Educational Work
Lynn Uyen Trana and Preeti Guptab
aLearning and Teaching Group, Lawrence Hall of Science, University
of California Berkeley, USA; bYouth Initiative, Education Department,
American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to lynn.u.tran@
Lynn Uyen Tran, Ph.D., is a Research Director in the Learning and Teaching
Group at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. Her work focuses on
relating the science of learning to the teaching practices of informal educators
and university faculty. She designs professional learning experiences to
develop shared language and build learning communities, in-person and
Preeti Gupta, Ph.D., is Director for Youth Learning and Research at the
American Museum of Natural History. She is responsible for strategic
planning, program development, human capital development, and research
and evaluation for out of school time for youth initiatives.
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our
Educational Work
It is never easy to realize that, despite good intentions, one’s efforts to be helpful
may cause more harm. That is, in part, the reckoning the ISE eld must address as
we emerge from the global pandemic striving to do and be better. While there are
instances and examples of educational work that exemplify our vision for equity,
access, and inclusion, for the most part, ISE practice continues to operate within
paradigms from the larger systems of society that perpetuate inequalities. We
argue work towards the just and egalitarian goals in ISE organization’s equity and
access statements fall short without the organization’s staff (the humans who do the
work) engaging in critical consciousness together. Building on a model from youth
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
development scholars, we advocate for the need to include humility, compassion, and
belonging in critical consciousness. Without these components, unconscious biases
shade people’s abilities to see the strengths in those different from them, to offer care
to everyone (especially people who have been pushed into the margins), and to work
towards ensuring everyone is rightfully welcomed, just as they are. Importantly,
we must embody these ideas with our staff and in our work culture before we can
genuinely practice them for our audiences. Doing so requires a mindset towards
professional learning and reective practice, and then intentionally designing and
rening structures to support learning from individual staff into the collective
Keywords: professional learning; reective practice; critical consciousness;
belonging; humility; compassion
Setting the Context
The informal science education (ISE) eld has been engaging in efforts to address
equity and inclusion for several decades. Scholars (e.g., Dawson, 2014a; Feinstein
& Meshoulam, 2014) offer evidence of particular practices and insights for ways to
advance the work in our designed settings (e.g., science centers, zoos, aquariums;
referred to here as ISE organizations). These works take a critical stance on the
hopeful narrative the ISE eld crafted at its nascency, as we strived to legitimize
ourselves alongside learning science in formal, school environments (National
Research Council, 2009). We believed ISE organizations to be places that could
serve all people of the community, especially those who have been marginalized,
through engaging and accessible programs and exhibits. Referencing the US
National Research Council’s rst comprehensive scholarly review, Feinstein and
Meshoulam (2014, p. 269) called attention to the argument that:
… museums and science centers may be better at eliciting positive emotional
responses to science, better at demonstrating the relevance of science to everyday
life, better at embodying the nature of science, and better at positioning science
as something that young people can do. They even suggest that informal science
education can bring science to a broader audience, helping to address the persistent
inequities of science education.
The argument at the time was based on mounting evidence that supporting science
learning and engagement was not the exclusive purview of schools, and that the
signicant inuence of ISE organizations needed to be recognized and understood.
Indeed, the free-choice nature of experiences outside of school are valuable
for social, emotional, and motivational reasons. Equity-focused scholars urge us to
be more critical of the reality of these contributions. Using visitor demographics,
they point out visitors to such cultural organizations were predominantly White,
middle class (Dawson, 2014a; Farrell & Medvedeva, 2010). Other research and
evaluation efforts shine light on the ways in which the design of these designed
settings uphold the values, ways of knowing, and languages of the dominant
culture, making ISE organizations potentially unwelcoming and inaccessible
to marginalized communities (Ash, 2004; Dawson, 2014b; Garibay, 2009), and
especially for Black populations (Martinez, 2020). Programs in such learning
spaces are often designed to attract the elite (Chaffee & Gupta, 2018), or perhaps
designed with a decit-approach that positioned visitors as void of capital and
opportunity (Habig et al., 2021). In other words, we are potentially widening
disparities in science education by enriching those who are already enriched
or problematizing those who are othered. As Feinstein and Meshoulam put it,
“unless the situation changes, museums and science centers could even worsen
the inequities of science education, rather than improving them” (2014, p. 369).
These are prescient words considering the current global situation. The
COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ISE eld in devastating ways. When the
doors closed to the public in March 2020, so too did the revenues. An estimated one-
third of ISE organizations may remain closed permanently (American Alliance of
Museums (AAM), 2020; Collins et al., 2020). Among those who can reopen, staff
size and composition has changed, as layoffs and furloughs led to loss in talent.
Moreover, due to concerns over virus transmission, the ways people move through
spaces and physically interact with each other and things in their surroundings has
changed. “Hands-on” science cannot be done in the ways they always have without
some modications, at least within the immediate future. Amidst global interruption
from these closures, the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while
in police custody on May 25th propelled the dialogue about the pervasiveness of
systemic racism and anti-Blackness into the mainstream. This incident is not the
rst to be publicized. But with no place to go and a constant stream of social media,
people could not hide from the images of violence and inequities that marginalized
groups, and particularly the Black community, have endured for centuries. More
people are nally talking about racism, anti-Blackness, and systemic oppression at
their dinner tables and in their (video) conference rooms; conversations that we, as
a nation, have been taught to avoid. All this to say, the situation has changed, albeit
likely not in the way Feinstein and Meshoulam had in mind.
From these tragedies is the opportunity to rebuild teams in ways that put
ISE organizations (and the eld more broadly) in a better position to address the
issues of equality and justice in science education. There cannot be a return to the
“normal” that advantaged a select segment of our society and marginalized so
many others. Normal is “the usual, average, or typical state or condition” (New
Oxford American); it is what we have become accustomed to in this moment, in
this place. What is normal here today (e.g., smartphones, composting) is not normal
everywhere or a few years ago. Normal can be designed. Recent eldwide inquiries
suggest cultural institutions place high value in doing work in diversity, equity,
access and inclusion (DEIA), though many do not have a clear plan or know how
to begin (AAM, 2018; Garibay & Olson, 2020). It is important to recognize there
is no single solution to x a problem within a system. People’s tendency towards
a centralized mindset (Resnick, 1996) leads to the erroneous assumption that “this
one thing” will x the problem of racism or social inequality. The system could be
society; it can also be an organization and the delicate network of departments that
collectively create the identity of that organization. In this article, we look at the
part in the system where we have knowledge, experience, and inuence, and begin
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
there to make changes. We specically focus on ISE professionals whose job roles
involve creating, offering, and supporting learning experiences for audiences (i.e.,
primarily education departments and educators, but not exclusively).
To begin, we consider the proposed framework for equity in ISE organizations
that Dawson (2014a) articulates. Her thinking is inspiring. We argue, however,
all of that change is not possible if the humans doing the work are not critically
conscious. Next, we describe our theoretical framework in considering the
relationship between staff and organizations, and how we think about this
relationship for making systems-level change. In the second half of the paper,
we offer two propositions (on professional learning and critical consciousness)
for rebuilding education teams to enable ISE organizations to work towards the
visions of equity and justice.
Framing the Argument
Emily Dawson (2014a) has a call to action for those of us who lead and work in ISE
organizations. She asks us to think deeply about the socio-cultural practices and
ways of thinking that shape our institution’s engagement with audiences through
exhibits and programs. She points out working towards DEIA is challenged, in
part, because our practice tends to operate within existing paradigms that favor
dominant groups. We are enacting assimilation practices. Dawson describes
interlocking constructs to reshape an ISE organization’s approach to DEIA work:
infrastructure access, literacy, and community acceptance.
Infrastructure access refers to whether people can access ISE spaces and
experiences. Barriers to access can be visible (e.g., wheelchair ramps, reachable by
public transportation) and invisible (e.g., awareness of the institution, unappealing
marketing, and staff demographics that do not represent the community). ISE
organizations knowingly or unknowingly hold the power for who is welcomed or
not (ibid, p. 214). While there are good examples, the reality is that organizations
still maintain power when calling the meetings and setting the agendas for
collaborative work with communities (Bandelli & Konijn, 2013). With patterns of
participation and access to ISE venues consistently narrow (white, middle class,
cisgender), organizations are potentially reproducing the disadvantages that exist
in the social systems in which they are a part. So, how do we break this cycle?
Literacy examines the rules of engagement when people access ISE spaces; put
differently, can people use what they have accessed. There are power dynamics in
our designs, such as assumptions about fundamental literacy, scientic background
knowledge, or ways of knowing. Learning experiences in ISE organizations often
favor English language practices and Western representations of science and
people in both exhibits and signage. The physical spaces are structured in ways
that exclude people with disabilities. Thus, contrary to Frank Oppenheimer’s
(1975, p. 11) now infamous statement, “no one ever unks a museum,” our ISE
practices can result in people from some communities feeling like they “unked”
(Dawson, 2014b; Martinez, 2020). We add that organizations double down on these
exclusionary practices through the ways that educators are prepared and supported
to do their work. For instance, youth oor facilitator programs are training grounds
for science communicators (Gupta & Negron, 2017) wherein diverse young people
learn how to engage visitors in conversations about science. However, oftentimes,
these programs focus on science content and facilitation practices that perpetuate
dominant ways of knowing and speaking, even as youth are taught to engage with
cultural competence. This situation begs the question, how can we re-balance the
power dynamics to disrupt narrow forms of literacy and re-imagine the processes
that have historically privileged certain communities and left out the majority of
Community acceptance inquires whether people are made to feel they belong
in the ISE spaces, and how the organization is situated in its local community.
This construct pushes staff to take responsibility for practices and mindsets
that unintentionally exclude or position audiences at a decit. There is need to
shift towards asset-based schemas that leverage the cultural wealth and capital
marginalized communities possess through their lived experiences (Yosso, 2005).
So, how do we value and celebrate differences without fetishizing and essentializing
Dawson’s review provides examples across the eld for each of these constructs
where organizations, programs, and individuals are addressing social inequities
in their work. Indeed, there are instances from which to learn. Knowing all the
thought, planning, and resources put into designing ISE spaces and experiences,
we are condent that the prevailing persistence of inequalities in ISE practice is
not due to intentions to exclude. We argue they continue, in part, through staff’s
lack of critical consciousness when designing and engaging with the public.
Theoretical Underpinnings
We posit that changes towards DEIA in ISE practice fall short without the
organization’s staff (the humans who do the work) engaging in critical consciousness
together. The work culture to enable developing critical consciousness requires a
mindset towards professional learning and reective practice. To understand this
argument, it is helpful to articulate how we build on Sewell’s (1992) theorizing of
structure and agency. Structures include the resources, tools, ways of thinking, and
rules of engagement in different aspects of society, such as an ISE organization or
our eld. Structures facilitate and organize social activities and interactions. They
contribute to what becomes the “culture.” Structures can be visible/invisible and
Each staff individually contributes to the organization’s mission, and many
individuals comprise the collective that constitute the organization. Individuals carry
with them the socio-cultural and political views, histories, beliefs, philosophies,
styles, knowledge, abilities, and skills from their lived experiences. They bring
these characteristics of themselves and the structures that shaped them into the
organization as they work. The organization also has its history and structures (e.g.,
ways of working with partners, approaches to designing exhibits and programs,
protocols for proposal writing and fundraising) that come from the collective over
time. Since humans have agency and individuals make up the collective, each of
us is supposed to be able to inuence the organization’s structures and transform
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
the culture of the collective. But that does not always happen. The structures of
the individual might or might not align with those of the organization, resulting in
tension and exclusion among those with less agency when organizational structures
do not value their voices. Due to their social position (Kezar & Lester, 2010) from
their job role, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc., some individuals have
more agency than others (Sewell, 1992).
With care and attention, we believe structures can be designed to ensure all
staff have agency within the organization, not just those in particular groups. Since
each ISE organization is part of society, we are hopeful these local transformations
can mediate changes in societal structures. Building on this theoretical perspective,
in the next section, we offer two propositions for rebuilding education teams to
enable and empower educators and organizations to engage in equity work.
Two Propositions for Rebuilding Our Field
Proposition 1: Professional Learning Is Foundational for Organizational
Rebuilding our teams need to be grounded in professional learning and reective
practice, rather than current models and mindsets for training and development that
position staff as lacking and cultivate the mentality of “xing” and “being xed”
(Tran et al., 2019). This shifted perspective moves our focus away from treating
learning opportunities for staff as transactional. Calculating whether this amount
of investment in staff will yield that amount of return in their work is a futile
exercise. Humans are not robots. Efforts to identify direct correlation between staff
development and organizational performance has fallen out of favor, in recognition
of this futility (Fuller & Unwin, 2004). Understandably, the desire for improved
performance from investments in staff remains. While it is valuable for learning
acquired by individuals to transfer to the organization, it is important to recognize
that learning is done by humans, not organizations as entities. Learning gains by
individuals benet the entity when people can apply what they learned into how
they do their work; the organization “learns” when people transform or create new
structures for doing and thinking about their work. Consequently, organizational
learning falls short if the individual’s learning is not attended to appropriately.
By professional learning, we mean practitioners’ ongoing learning about their
practice in order to develop their expertise and skills; it is valuable for improving
practice regardless of the profession (Webster-Wright, 2009). It places professionals
in the role of learners, learning about their own practice. As a corollary, reective
practice is integral to professional learning (Tran, 2019) because reective practice
is the process of learning from one’s work experience (Dewey, 1933; Schön,
1983). The educators themselves are hungry for deepening their practice. In a
recent survey of 400 educators across a spectrum of ISE organizations, 80% of
respondents expressed interest in learning more about how to actively engage with
visitors (Ennes et al., 2020). The eld has been trending towards these foundations
over the past decade (Martin et al., 2019), though progress is slow.
The Workplace as A Place of Learning
Truly anchoring in professional learning involves positioning the ISE workplace
as a place of learning for the people who work there (Martin, 2019). This shift can
be a challenge because the key objective of a workplace is not learning, but rather
successful delivery of their goods and/or services (Fuller & Unwin, 2004). Even in
education-focused organizations, like museums and universities, where goods and
services pertain to “learning,” that learning is for their patrons not their employees.
But, learning happens for employees because humans are social organisms who
learn as we participate in social activities (Brown et al., 1989; Lave & Wenger,
1991). Work is a prominent social activity throughout our lifetime, especially in
adulthood. Places of work are places of learning, regardless of whether workers
and managers consider the workplace as such. As we participate in our social
activities, humans learn by imitation, collaboration, and instruction (Bransford et
al., 2000; Vygotsky, 1978; Wood et al., 1976); in work environments, the places
where learning happens have been described as informal, incidental, and formal
(Elkjaer & Wahlgren, 2005; Marsick & Watkins, 2001).
Thus, as we anchor education teams in professional learning, we must apply
onto ourselves, the robust understanding of learning that we use with our learners
(National Academies of Sciences, 2018). That is, learning: is a lifelong process,
does not just occur in formal settings, builds on what we know, requires us to
dialogue about our thinking, involves space to reect and wonder, and relies on
motivation and emotional engagement. Reection is an integral part of learning.
It involves knowing one’s thinking and how to regulate it. Doing so enables a
person to detect inconsistencies of thought and identify connections between areas
of conceptual understanding. Reective practice is engaging in the metacognitive
aspects of professional learning. It is inuenced by a person’s motivation, focuses
on understanding and solving problems within one’s practice, making change from
what is learned, and is deliberately learned over time within a community (Tran,
A Framework for Structuring Professional Learning from Individual to
In positioning the workplace as a learning environment, professional learning
becomes a shared responsibility and opportunity for everyone. However, when
it is everyone’s responsibility, there is risk that, in practice, no one is responsible.
Merely acknowledging that learning at work happens as people participate in
doing work can possibly make it difcult for both workers and managers to hold
one another accountable for opportunities and gains. In other words, structures are
necessary to ensure the informal, incidental, and formal learning that staff engage
in at work does not remain compartmentalized, solitary, and invisible. Particularly
among those with less agency due to their social position.
Crossan, Lane, and White (1999) offer a multi-level framework to conceptualize
links across the three levels of interaction within organizations (individuals, groups,
and the organization) based on four social and psychological processes (intuiting,
interpreting, integrating, and institutionalizing). These processes inform each other
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
to lead to organizational learning. Intuiting is “the preconscious recognition of
the pattern and/or possibilities inherent in a personal stream of experience” (p.
525) that happens individually; it affects others if they interact with the individual.
Interpreting is the process of explaining ideas and experiences to oneself and
others, which can occur at both the individual and group levels. Integrating is the
process through which a shared understanding is developed among individuals
and coordinated action is taken through mutual adjustment, and this process
takes place at the group and organizational levels. Institutionalizing occurs at the
organizational level when routinized actions transpire or become part of the taken-
for granted patterns.
It is possible to use this framework in the architecture for rebuilding
departments, as well as designing programs for staff learning (Figure 1). Protocols,
tools, and routines for these processes are needed for transparency and consistency.
We offer our own experience creating and disseminating the Reecting on Practice
program (Tran & Halversen, 2021), and implementing it at the American Museum
of Natural History (AMNH) specically (Tran et al., 2019) to illuminate this
Figure 1.
Application of Crossan, Lane, and White’s (1999) multi-level framework for organizational learning in
Reecting on Practice.
The Youth Initiatives (YI) group that Gupta directs made a collective commitment
to learn together using the Reecting on Practice program to strengthen their sense
of community (Tran et al., 2019). The program comprises a suite of routines,
activities, and readings (the structures) that push individual staff to express their
intuitions and interpretations of learning and teaching for colleagues to consider.
The readings are information, arguments, and ideals from the research literature
that members take in, ponder, and interpret for their own and shared use. These
structures from the program enable individuals to make their practice public, thus
pushing the exchange of ideas, values, and experiences between the individual and
collective. Meanings are negotiated as the staff interpret their thinking and actions
together. The structures become normalized and get integrated by the group as
“the way they do things.” Members of the group facilitate movement of their new
habits and meanings across the institution as they interact with other groups within
the organization.
YI is one group nested within a larger group (Education Department) that also
sits alongside other large groups within the organization (AMNH). As members
of YI move across these arbitrary boundaries that organize work, they bring with
them the structures from Reecting on Practice and their shifted ways of thinking
and doing. Members of YI contribute to transforming the Education group and
AMNH in a cohesive way, while also being shaped by these interactions because
the movement is two-ways. YI continues to evolve, and the group is not without
its aws. However, the structures that facilitate the social and psychological
processes for professional growth and learning have also helped cultivate trust
and connections that enabled members to have tough conversations, especially
during a crisis such as a pandemic, knowing that members care for each other’s
Proposition 2: Reective Practice with Critical Consciousness Includes Humility,
Compassion, And Belonging
Rebuilding our teams on the foundations of professional learning and reective
practice makes space for the mindset and culture that is needed for engaging in the
ongoing and difcult work towards equality and justice. Current myopic focus on
“outreach to underrepresented communities” as the common approach to doing
work in equity and inclusion leads us to overlook that educators are members of
the same inequitable societies as their learners. Every staff is a member of their
society. Even if they are not the targets of exclusionary policies and behaviors,
they are affected by them vicariously, by shaping the stereotypes and assumptions
educators hold about groups of learners. The human brain is a social organ and is
shaped by the social interactions in our culture (Park & Huang, 2010). We learn
from the society in which we live to avoid what we feel threatens us and approach
what we feel is rewarding (Barrett, 2006; Rock, 2008). We form stereotypes and
prejudices of people different from us based on language and images from our
surroundings, not just from our direct experiences (or lack thereof). Educators’
unawareness of this inuence is what is most detrimental because, despite their
best intentions, educators can perpetuate the existing harm that marginalizes
people. For instance, while educators might aim to build on the strengths of all of
their learners, they do not “see” everyone’s strengths and instead (unknowingly)
privilege certain learners at the expense of others. It is difcult to unlearn our
implicit biases built over years of socialization in an inequitable society (Lai et
al., 2016); however, people can learn to regulate their behavior against their bias
through recognition and intention (Mendoza et al., 2010).
Having critical consciousness (both learners and educators) can help to get
us there. Critical consciousness is the ability to recognize and analyze systems
of inequality and the commitment to take action against these systems (Freire,
1970, 1974). Developing critical consciousness is foundational in multicultural
education and critical pedagogy (Gay, 2018; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Muhammad,
2020; Nieto & Bode, 2018). Ladson-Billings (1995, p. 474) argues for culturally
relevant educators to enact three propositions in their pedagogy where students
must: experience academic success; demonstrate cultural competence, and;
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
understand and critique the existing social order. To do so, she (2006) points out
the educator needs to be cognizant of social inequities and their causes. Gay (2018,
p. 43) species culturally responsive teachers are emancipatory and liberating from
oppressive educational practices and ideologies as they lift “the veil of presumed
absolute authority from conceptions of scholarly truth typically taught in schools.”
Nieto and Bode (2018) explain, social justice in education involves pushing
against the misconceptions and stereotypes that lead to and perpetuate inequities
and discrimination based on social and human differences, like race, class, gender,
ability, etc. It involves cultivating learning environments and designing learning
experiences that encourages learners to be critical thinkers and conscious of the
sociopolitical context in which they live. Despite its presence in teacher education
thought and scholarship, inclusion of critical consciousness in coursework remains
limited (Gorski & Dalton, 2020). Teachers often have persistent faulty and simplistic
understanding of multicultural education and critical pedagogy that contributes to
marginalizing the use of these pedagogies in the education system (Sleeter, 2012).
We argue the lack of developing their critical consciousness can result in educators
and educational practices celebrating diversity and essentializing culture without
deeper interrogation into social inequities and making change.
The ISE eld does not have any professional education requirements,
and research on educators’ equity-focused practice is scarce (if at all). Unless
individuals pursued critical studies themselves (formally or informally), it is not
surprising many ISE professionals have not considered systems of inequalities
in our society. Without critical consciousness, ISE professionals inadvertently
maintain the erroneous narrative that “science is neutral,” “education is apolitical,”
and “informal science education can right the inequities that schools create.” At
worse, they can become dysconscious, “an uncritical habit of mind (including
perceptions, attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs) that justies inequities and
exploitation by accepting the existing order of things as given” (King, 1991, p.
135). For decades, the ISE eld, through exhibits and program experiences, has
strived to challenge the transmission model of learning and teaching that treat
learners as empty vessels to be lled. This model not only does not reect how
people learn, but it also enables dominant oppressive structures to be maintained
(Freire, 2018). Unfortunately, we fail to push against this model for ourselves
when we emphasize efforts to “train staff.”
Enacting Critical Consciousness
To guide efforts towards enacting reective practice with critical consciousness,
we build on a framework from youth development. Watts, Diemer, and Voight
(2011) describe critical consciousness as having three key components. Critical
reection refers to a social analysis and moral rejection of societal inequities, such
as social, economic, racial/ethnic, and gender inequities that constrain well-being
and human agency. Those who are critically reective view social problems and
inequalities in systemic terms. Critical action refers to individual or collective
action taken to change aspects of society that are perceived to be unjust, such as
institutional policies and practices. This is a broad view of activism that includes
participation in activities such as voting, community organizing, and peaceful
protests. Watts, et al. add the concept of political efcacy from political science
because, sometimes, people do not take action. Instead, they become “armchair
activists.” Political efcacy is the perceived capacity to effect social and political
change by individual and/or collective activism. People will be much more likely
to engage in critical action if they feel their actions lead to change.
Figure 2 depicts how we visualize Watts, et al.’s model and add to it, as we
consider engaging in reective practice with critical consciousness in our work. We
place power, privilege, oppression, and diversity as concepts on which to reect
critically and belonging, justice, equity, inclusion, and access being efforts to take
actions toward. Additionally, we identify the signicant role of humility in critical
reection, and how compassion can also push us towards taking critical action.
We elaborate further on Figure 2 and how the components apply to ISE practice.
Figure 2.
Building on Watts, Diemer, and Voight’s (2011) components of critical consciousness with humility,
compassion and belonging.
Critical Reection
Critical consciousness begins with critical reection, which is a fundamental part
of reective practice. It is helpful to understand that reection, critical reection,
and reective practice are all related concepts (Larrivee, 2000), though they are
not mutually exclusive (Fook, 2015). ISE professionals can reect on what they
do, but not make any changes in their thinking or habit from those reections; in
such cases, they are not engaging in reective practice (Tran, 2019). Educators
can engage in reective practice, but not interrogate “beliefs, assumptions, and
expectations and make visible [their] personal reexive loops” (Larrivee, 2000,
p. 296); thus, they are not engaging in critical reection. Finally, educators can
focus critical reection on themselves (Mezirow, 1998), and remain unaware and
inconsiderate of how power operates to perpetuate privilege and oppression in
our social systems (Brookeld, 2009). Engaging in reective practice with critical
consciousness requires ISE professionals, within their professional communities,
to be mindful of the sociopolitical context and intentional in how they leverage
their power.
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
Power, Privilege, and Oppression in our Diverse Society
ISE professionals cannot enact change towards equity in their work if they do
not notice the existence of inequities entrenched in the policies and patterns of
education, and how they affect and are affected by these social structures. What
this implies is the need for critical reection to involve recognizing how power
exists and works in society and education. Power is a feature of social relations
in which people have relative control or inuence over outcomes, for themselves
and others (Fiske & Berdahl, 2007; Lammers et al., 2009). It can be a social force
(Fiske, 1993; Keltner et al., 2003) and personal agency (Van Dijke & Poppe, 2006).
Power can be acquired from privilege because individuals are accorded unearned
special advantage through membership in a dominant social group (Bailey, 1998).
Importantly, privilege is built into societal structures and so exists at the level of
social group (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation); it is not something a person
takes or has the option not to take, regardless of their intentions (Johnson, 2005;
powell, 2012). Power can also be gained from a person’s social position within
shifting networks of relationships: manager/worker in work environments; adult/
child in family units; and constructed hierarchies from social groups. Oppression is
the unjust or cruel exercise of power and privilege by a dominant group over others
to maintain its domination; it exists on multiple levels — individual, interpersonal,
institutional, systemic (Hanna et al., 2000).
Power is not inherently good or bad, though it can be used for benevolent
and malicious purposes (Lammers et al., 2009; Sassenberg et al., 2012; Scholl et
al., 2018). People can perceive social power as an opportunity to advance their
own self-interests and emphasize independence. People can also think of power
as responsibility for the well-being of others and recognize interdependence.
People can use their power, knowingly or inadvertently, to keep laws, policies, and
“normative” practices in place that repress groups of people and subjugate them
to the dominant group (David, 2013; Feagin, 2013; Jones, 1997). People can also
leverage their power to change the structures that oppress groups of people. While
the choice on how we use our power may not always be easy because it could
involve relinquishing control or sharing resources, many people do have a choice.
The dynamics of power and privilege in society that result in oppression also
exist in education systems in schools and ISE organizations. Modern society
is multicultural and pluralistic, that is, it is diverse. It is necessary for staff to
question why doing outreach to “reach diverse audiences” is problematic without
examining the extent to which their spaces and practices are inclusive and cultivate
a sense of belonging among the diversity of people in their local community. For
a eld that is dominated by middle-class, cisgender cultural norms and personnel,
and where 98% identify as white (Ennes et al., 2020), it is necessary for all staff to
be critically reective of their social identities and positions so they can recognize
and change structures in their work to rebalance power dynamics towards the just
and egalitarian outcomes they seek.
Humility. Engaging in reective practice with critical consciousness involves
normalizing ongoing critical dialogue among colleagues during their daily work
where and when things happen, not relegating them to occasional, training
meetings led by outside experts. The signicance of dialogue in critical reection
is well-known. We add the need to be attentive to our cultural humility. Humility is
a characteristic within each person (intrapersonal) and emerges when we interact
with people (interpersonal) (Owens et al., 2013; Van Tongeren et al., 2019).
Intrapersonally, humility involves the degree to which a person seems to have
a relatively accurate view of self (Tangney, 2000). This aspect of humility can
show up as the ability to acknowledge and own one’s limitations and recognize the
fallibility of one’s beliefs and thinking. It is not simply being modest but includes
a willingness to seek and consider feedback. It is not having low self-esteem or
being meek and self-deprecating, but instead, having a more accurate view of one’s
assets and aws. Interpersonally, humility involves the degree to which a person
has an orientation towards the needs and well-being of others (Davis et al., 2013),
thus having relatively low self-focus. This aspect of humility can be indicated
through restraint of the ego (not being narcissistic) and respectful interpersonal
interaction (not being braggadocious).
Importantly, having humility means being teachable (Owens et al., 2013); that
is, being open to new ideas and contradictory information, and wanting to learn
with and from others because one genuinely believes what others have to share
is inherently meaningful and valuable. People can express humility about their
own cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes (Van Tongeren et al., 2019). It is having
an awareness of the limitations of one’s own cultural worldview while curbing
the tendency to view one’s own values and ways as superior. It is also a genuine
willingness to learn the cultural orientation of other people.
Expressing humility in our critical reection urges us all to be open to learning
from one another because we value each other, and simultaneously pushes us to
seek feedback on our own thinking and actions as we work to be more accurate in
our understanding of ourselves, and the power and privilege we hold. We cannot
truly engage in reective practice without humility, and it needs to be practiced
as a part of the broader system. This also means there needs to be differentiated
and diversity-sensitive communal structures to support staff of color to practice
cultural humility (Moon & Sandage, 2019). The predominantly white educational
ISE workforce cannot achieve cultural humility without confronting their own
white identities.
Critical Action
Critical consciousness works towards taking critical action to bring forth social
change for just and egalitarian outcomes articulated in equity, inclusion, and
access statements (AAM, 2018; Garibay & Olson, 2020). Critical action can be
both individual and collective. For educational practice in ISE, we echo Dawson’s
(2014a) well-articulated equity and access framework. At the organizational level,
specic actions can involve changes in hiring practices, governance, infrastructure,
and funding. For education teams and educators, it can involve changing how
learning experiences are designed, and the ways educators interact with learners
and one another. For this discussion, we add the need to address efforts towards
belonging because all DEIA efforts fall short without it.
Belonging. Belonging is being and feeling that one is a welcomed and rightful
member of a group. It is multi-dimensional, and “encompasses citizenship,
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
nationhood, gender, ethnicity, and emotional dimensions of status or attachment”
(Antonsich, 2010, p. 647). Belonging involves perceiving and experiencing
interpersonal bonds with people in a group, as indicated by stability in the
relationship, concern for one another, and continuation of the relationship into
the foreseeable future (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Social interactions and
relationships like these are so fundamentally important to every human being that
the pain from a social experience (e.g., breaking up with a partner, being rejected)
activates the same regions of our brain as the affective distress from a physical
experience (e.g., a broken arm, torn muscle) (Eisenberger, 2012; Eisenberger &
Lieberman, 2004). Personal (feeling of being “at home”) and public (socio-spatial
inclusion/exclusion) sentiments of belonging are intertwined. For instance, the
lack of wheelchair ramps or English only exhibit labels exclude people in public
spaces, which in turn affects their personal sense of feeling “at home” in these
places. The absence of this sense of belonging is not exclusion, but a sense of
loneliness, isolation, alienation, and displacement that can lead to motivational
and mental health problems.
“The right to belong is prior to all other distributive decisions since it is
members who make those decisions” (powell & Menendian, 2017). In other words,
members within a group (in this case, ISE professionals) are the decision-makers
to redistribute resources, make spaces accessible, ensure practices are equitable,
and strive for diversity. ISE professionals must inherently believe all people
belong, not simply tolerate and respect differences, in order to genuinely ensure
that all people feel welcome and have the right to co-create and make demands
of the group. It is important to understand that “any dominant … group tends to
ll the notion of belonging with a rhetoric of sameness, which clearly prevents
any recognition of difference” (Antonsich, 2010, p. 650). Then, the requisite for
belonging means to assimilate to the language, culture, values, behavior, religion,
etc. of the dominant group (Yuval-Davis, 2006). This condition is a false notion of
belonging. Dawson’s review points out how our (historical and current) practices
actually embody this awed thinking.
As we rebuild our teams, we need to adopt more inclusive forms of belonging
(Antonsich, 2010; powell & Menendian, 2017) and make deliberate efforts
to ensure groups that have been excluded know and feel they belong without
attening differences that naturally exist between people. It involves co-creating
structures wherein staff can feel comfortable bringing their voice, pointing out
tensions with the intention of improving the system, and engaging in actions that
support the learning culture. We must do this amongst ourselves in order to be able
apply this understanding towards our audiences. Expanding identities (e.g., what
it means to be a woman) and narratives (e.g., multiple stories and voices) widen
the narrowed conceptions of people that we have been socialized into forming.
Focusing efforts to build bonds within social networks and bridges across social
divides can cultivate different forms of social capital that distribute educational
resources equitably (Murray et al., 2020). Reviewing policy and practices to
ensure structures are in place that normalizes pluralism can broaden who belongs.
These efforts push us all to express our humility and learn; doing so, allows for
power to be shared with those who are typically suppressed and underscore their
actions, voices and ideas.
Political Efcacy
The assumption is that engaging in critical reection urges people (particularly
from oppressed social groups) to take critical action; and as they take action to
enact change, they loop back to reect deeper and more critically (depicted in
Figure 2 as the two headed arrow). But sometimes, people do not take action
(the shaft of the two-headed arrow is dashed). Within their articulation of critical
consciousness, Watts, et al. (2011) consider political efcacy as inuencing whether
people engage in critical action (the solid arrow pushing on the dashed two-headed
arrow). Political efcacy can be internal referring to people’s beliefs about their
capacity as political actors, and external referring to their beliefs that government
structures and ofcials are responsive to their interests. Politics need not be
exclusive to government; it can be found within organizations. In the workplace,
this concept can be analogous to staff believing they can affect organizational
change to confront and oppose dominant norms that maintain structures that cause
harm, and belief that management is responsive to their interests for social change.
Compassion. To Watts, et al.’s model, we add compassion as another inuential
driver towards critical action. Compassion is a fundamental aspect of multicultural
education (Gay, 2018; Nieto & Bode, 2018), with emphasis being on ways culturally
responsive educators express their compassion by caring for the intellectual and
emotional well-being of students of color. Caring relationships is a fundamental
human need. Positive and secure attachments with caregivers and people in our
communities stimulate production of neural growth hormones that, in higher
levels, can buffer critical regions of the brain against stress, and enhance learning
(Esch & Stefano, 2005; Feldman, 2017). They also stimulate more receptors for
these neurochemicals to be formed in many regions of the brain, which in turn
allow for dampening fear and anxiety while increasing attention, curiosity, and
exploratory behavior. This caring framework in teaching, however, is predicated on
the assumption that educators offer compassion for all their learners, not just those
they (consciously or unconsciously) deem favorable. The hope is that, through
critical reection and awareness, educators will develop compassion for learners
who are different from them, and then take critical action in their teaching practice.
We push further into this aspiration by inquiring about the roots of compassion and
how to practice it. Our belief being that staff who experience compassion in their
workplace are more likely to extend it to others in their work.
Compassion involves having a sensitivity to suffering in self and others, and
the motivation and commitment to try to alleviate or prevent it (Gilbert, 2015;
Singer & Klimecki, 2014). It involves social cognitive processes in our brains to
perceive the mental state of others and making inferences about human behavior
(Lieberman, 2013). Compassion has two psychological aspects: (1) the intention
and act of turning toward and engaging with suffering rather than avoiding or
dissociating from it; and (2) the intention to acquire the wisdom to learn how to
alleviate and prevent suffering and act on that wisdom (Gilbert, 2015, p. 241).
In other words, compassion is being courageous to attend to someone’s distress,
being wise to learn the person’s situation and how to help, and then being strong
to take action, in spite of opposition, to mitigate and stop the pain from happening
Rebuilding Our Teams to Be Critically Conscious in Our Educational Work
While being compassionate is being human, people do not offer compassion to
everyone. There are other aspects of being human that that shade to whom we offer
compassion (Gilbert, 2015; Gilbert & Mascaro, 2017), one of which is grounded
in early human history and tribalism. The survival advantage to care for members
of our ingroup means we are reexively less likely to offer compassion towards
those perceived as outgroups, especially outgroups that seem to be different, have
been stigmatized, or socialized into us as being a threat. Despite changes in the
ways that humans live and socialize, this allegiance towards ingroup members
is still present in modern humans. Here, cultivating compassion dovetails with
belonging. Expanding our notions of who belongs within our ingroup can
contribute to extending our reexes to offer compassion to those who seem to be
different from us (Antonsich, 2010; powell & Menendian, 2017).
We draw on research from neuroscience to further clarify the signicance
of this connection. Social cognitive neuroscientists have identied the area in
our brain that is activated when we think of others, suggesting that this region
functions to monitor the intermingling of our own action with the actions of others
(Amodio & Devine, 2006; Lieberman, 2013). This area of the brain is activated
when we consider groups of people society has classied as human (e.g., middle-
class, white Americans), but less so for groups social norms have dehumanized
(e.g., people who are homeless, refugees) (Harris & Fiske, 2006). Put differently,
it is difcult to think about the mental state of others, to consider them and their
relationship with us, and offer compassion to them, if we unconsciously consider
them as being less than human in the rst place. An implication from this area of
work involves re-humanizing marginalized individuals and groups of people so
that we re-socialize ourselves to view them as worthy of empathy, compassion,
and social engagement. In short, doing this work correctly means activating those
areas of our brain that will be involved in helping us regulate our behavior against
our implicit biases against certain groups of people and offer them compassion.
As we rebuild our teams, it is imperative that we practice compassion towards
one another all across the organizational hierarchy. Compassion as a part of
reective practice with critical consciousness can nudge staff to understand the
power structures that cause harm and suffering among marginalized communities
in order to know better how to help, and then take action where they can prevent or
mitigate the pain. Simultaneously, encouraging more inclusive forms of belonging
works toward reshaping our conceptions of human differences and members of
our ingroup, and enables staff to offer compassion to all, not just to those based on
narrowed denitions of who belongs.
Final Thoughts
In this paper, we engaged in critical reection to consider to how to take critical
action to heed the inequities in ISE that scholars across the eld have raised for
many years. Absent critical consciousness in reective practice on how educational
work is done, good intentions to leverage the value of ISE spaces to cultivate
joy, curiosity, and passion for science results in enriching the already enriched,
problematizing the othered, and inadvertently advocating assimilation practices.
We explained the need to include humility, compassion, and belonging in critical
consciousness. Without them, we cannot see the strengths in people different from
us, genuinely offer care to everyone (especially people who have been pushed into
the margins), and work towards ensuring everyone is rightfully welcomed, just as
they are. Importantly, we must enact these ideas for each other and in our work
culture before we can genuinely practice them for our audiences.
Doing so means anchoring ourselves in an ethos of professional learning that
abandons the transactional and transmission models of training, and instead applies
what we know about how humans learn onto ourselves. Structures can be designed
to support this endeavor. It can be challenging, but it is doable as we work to
rebuild and recover from the pandemic. In moments, one might wonder if the ideas
and actions put forth in these propositions blur the boundaries of personal and
professional life. Indeed, they do. The problems of social inequality and racism
(and other forms of oppression) are systemic, meaning there is no single solution.
Fortunately, the eld does not start from scratch. There are individual staff within
our organizations who have been working within this critical consciousness; it
is time we join together to think, talk, and reect critically. Decades of research
and practice across many disciplines provide a wealth of insights on rst steps
and missteps. We know how humans learn, and the central role of reection and
dialogue in learning. We know compassion sparks learning, and humility keeps our
minds and hearts open to be taught. It is time we apply this wealth of knowledge
upon ourselves. More discourse, details, and practical ideas are needed. We hope
that our thoughts spark imagination for new possibilities moving forward.
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... The "digital divide" reinforced that educators need additional skills to address different aspects of digital literacy, and several scholars have highlighted the need for variegated and continuous professional development, instructional tools, and support to aid educators in accessing and integrating resources into their practices (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation 2007;Elliott 2017;Callanan 2021;Tran and Gupta 2021). Frameworks were adopted regarding the use of digital technology in the classroom with the skills needed for effective learning. ...
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This article reports lessons learned from educator need-centered professional development offerings (PD) on accessing and using digital museum resources through the Smithsonian Learning Lab (SLL), a free, interactive platform for discovering digital resources, creating content with online tools, and sharing with communities of learners. Since the platform launched in late 2015, the Smithsonian Office of Education Technology has engaged more than 20,000 educators on the use of the SLL through PD that was offered both in-person and digitally, synchronously and asynchronously, frequently through partners within the network of Smithsonian Affiliate museums. Results from more than 1,100 aggregated surveys, 50 in-depth interviews, and five focus groups were triangulated and demonstrated that PD was associated with increased participants’ awareness of, skills in, and frequency in using the SLL, creating, and sharing content, and overall satisfaction with the platform. Educators, especially those who participated in PD, agreed with statements about successfully achieving student learning outcomes when using SLL in classrooms. Findings highlighted the importance of cultivating long-term, supportive relationships with PD participants and partners and offering consistently available support with museum staff well beyond the workshops. They also pointed to the value of user-centered marketing research and strategies to broaden the reach of digital learning resources. As museums and cultural organizations work to meet the increasing demand to engage educators digitally, these concrete lessons can be adapted and applied to institutions that provide access to digital resources to educators.
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Informal learning organizations such as museums, zoos, aquaria, gardens, and community-based organizations are often positioned as having programming that fill a void that may exist in the lives of youth participants. Often these institutions do not recognize the assets that youth gain from their own homes and communities and bring to bear in these programs and that contribute to their success and persistence in STEM and academics. In this paper, we problematize the prevailing deficit-oriented approach to STEM enrichment programs for youth who are underrepresented in STEM. Drawing from Tara Yosso’s theory of community cultural wealth, we describe the STEM identity and trajectories of three individuals as they navigated a long-term, museum-based, informal science learning program. Using Yosso’s framework, we describe the capital that youth brought into the program and the ways that they leveraged this capital as they moved from middle to high school, and into their postsecondary studies and early careers in the sciences. Furthermore, we describe how their existing capital intertwined with capital they gained from the museum program in ways that fostered persistence and achievement in science.
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During April 2020, the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a survey to learn about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the environmental and outdoor science education field nationwide. This policy brief describes the importance of this field, the findings of our survey, and recommendations for mitigating the potentially devastating threats facing this field. These recommendations were developed based on conversations with individuals at the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the California Environmental Literacy Initiative (CAELI), and Ten Strands, as well as other organizational leaders.
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Scholarship on the links between families and schools encompasses contradictory notions about social capital and its relation to inequality. One view holds that schools can narrow inequality by generating dense relationships among families, while others suggest that advantaged parents can use these networks to hoard opportunities. This multiple case study analyzes qualitative data from diverse North Carolina elementary schools to learn how parents build and deploy social capital. We distinguish between bonding social capital, built in dense, homogeneous networks, and bridging social capital, gained through relationships across a social distance. Our analyses suggest that bonding alone is associated with opportunity hoarding; however, when schools are committed to building both bridging and bonding social capital, they can produce more equitable and inclusive schools.
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Multicultural and social justice teacher education (MSJTE) scholars often have argued the importance of critical reflection in the cultivation of equity and social justice minded educators. In this critical content analysis study, we used existing conceptualizations of critical reflection to analyze reflection assignments from MSJTE courses in education degree and licensing programs in the United States to identify the nature of critical reflection incorporated into them and what distinguished critical reflection opportunities from other reflective assignments. Based on this analysis, we offer the beginnings of a typology of five approaches to reflection in multicultural and social justice education courses: (a) amorphous “cultural” reflection, (b) personal identity reflection, (c) cultural competence reflection, (d) equitable and just school reflection, and (e) social transformation reflection. We describe the characteristics of each and the role they might play in MSJTE contexts.
This article surveys the history of the relationship between museums and communities of color in the United States, particularly those identifying as Black and African American. Studying the history of research of this topic in the Curator archive and other sources points to the paucity of studies that focus on this part of the population. The article illustrates the effect of these omissions and historical trends in a contemporary museum setting. Highlighting inclusive approaches and practices from the literature, the article offers solutions to the issues of representation and authority that have challenged many museums’ ability to embrace African American communities.
There is increasing recognition that significant amounts of science learning take place over the course of one’s lifetime and much of this learning takes place outside of the formal educational settings. This learning is often facilitated by educators in these informal science settings. While much is known about educators in formal classroom settings, the research on informal science educators is nascent. This study aims to add to the literature through a survey of informal science educators’ levels of self-efficacy related to their work. The participants in this study (n = 400) completed a 35-item survey the survey which included 32 Likert scale questions on perceived levels of self-efficacy in different aspects of teaching in an informal science setting. When examining the results, the areas where the respondents felt less than skillful fell in areas related to facilitation and teaching about physical sciences concepts. Identifying areas where informal science educators feel less than skillful can help improve professional development opportunities by tailoring them to cover specific skills.
It is through the collective work of museum educators that an organization grows its social capital in its local community and beyond its physical footprint. Given the significant contributions of museum educators to an institution’s outcomes, we argue for a shift in mindset on investing in their growth and development. We share our reasoning for this change through our experiences from the Reflecting on Practice program. Two leaders in our community offer their reflections on why they took this leap of faith and the outcomes 5–10 years since their first step.