5. Learning as We Go: Risk Taking and Relationship Building through Service Learning in Belize
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III. Community Service, Activism, and Civic Consciousness 77 5 Learning as We Go: Risk Taking and Relationship Building through Service Learning in Belize Mary R. Moeller, Lonell Moeller, and Susan L. Filler During the past three years of conducting a study abroad service-learning program for preservice teachers in a primary and high school in Belize, Central America, we, as US teacher educators, have learned along with our students about working in a diverse setting to become agents of change. Through the lens of our students’ perspectives , ourselves as participant observers (Spradley, 1980), and the frameworks of Villegas and Lucas (2002, 2007) and Ludlow, Enterline, and Cochran-Smith (2008), we will describe our new understandings about the requisite skills and dispositions to become culturally responsive teachers working in a multicultural setting toward social justice goals. Specifically, we will consider our experiences as both teacher educators and preservice teachers creating relationships across borders within a complex, multiinstitution study abroad service-learning program and to taking the necessary risks to do so. Using a narrative inquiry approach (Savin-Baden & Van Niekerk, 2007), we will use informal coding to analyze data from reflections, program evaluations, and focused interviews from program participants. As an important outcome, we will provide suggestions for best practices for teacher educators as they seek to improve their praxis related to culturally responsive teaching and social justice. The Need for Culturally Responsive Teachers “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. . . . You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” This warning from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954/1994, p. 84) about leaving the security 78 | Moeller, Moeller, and Filler of home resonates with many of us. We prefer the comfortable feeling of knowing the rules of the road, and we find friends by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people . In our schools, we, as teachers, often prefer working with students who look like us and speak as we do (Kea, Campbell-Whatley, & Richards, 2006; Marbley, Bonner, Malik, Henfield, & Watts, 2007; Villegas & Lucas, 2002), perhaps because we recognize the limits of our culturally bound communication skills and teaching effectiveness. Similarly, in our communities, we tend to associate with and live near those whose income level and lifestyle match ours. And yet, the demographic shift in our society and in US schools wherein minority groups have become the majority requires us all to be culturally responsive citizens and practitioners (Holsapple, 2012). Our democratic ideals require us to recognize and respect diverse voices; the professional standards in education require us to develop future teachers with dispositions and skills to effectively educate all students. As such, we intend to graduate culturally responsive students who critically examine their own assumptions and beliefs about the social order, who seek positive changes in their schools and communities to support the needs of all, and who see diversity as a positive attribute (Cochran-Smith, 1991; Villegas & Lucas, 2002, 2007). Further, we as faculty intend to become agents of change and reform on a larger scale than our classrooms. We recognize the need to create communities that are responsive to the needs of diverse neighbors at home as well as abroad. How is it possible to effect these daunting transformations? Doing so requires us as teacher educators and faculty to keep learning through experiences along with our students (Kolb, 1984). Service learning has been identified as a way for participants to “challenge their assumptions . . . of cultural diversity and poverty” and to augment “understanding of and appreciation for the complexities of others’ lives” (Villegas & Lucas, 2002, p. 140). Through service learning, faculty create authentic course experiences to engage directly with people in communities, such as schools, and to meet the community’s self-identified goals. Within that problem-solving context, students learn course content and meet course goals, and significantly, in this process, transformation happens. As we see people in a new light, stereotypes dissolve; as we identify previously unrecognized strengths, we become more hopeful about individual and community development. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning agenda envisions teaching as a public activity and “thus related to the formation of community” (Gilpin & Liston, 2009, p. 2). In pursuit of community and in looking for transformative methods, how might educators continue to develop service learning as a method for promoting civic responsibility, interest in social change, and advocacy for justice (Bolk, 2010; Bringle & Hatcher, 2011; Mitchell, 2008)? Our students are with us for only a few...