Skip navigation links

Nov. 12, 2014

Patricia Edwards: Building learning communities

Nov. 11, 2014

Patricia A. Edwards is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education and the first African American president of the Literacy Research Association. She has developed two nationally acclaimed family literacy programs: Parents as Partners in Reading and Talking Your Way to Literacy and her research focuses on issues related to families and children. She has published numerous research papers, book chapters and books on the topic and has been honored and recognized as a leading expert . 

When I was growing up I often heard my mother say “teaching was a good career for women, especially for black women." I made a choice to follow my heart and go into teaching at a very young age. I was destined to become a teacher. In my family, education was seen as a valuable possession, as a beacon of hope and as a means to personal freedom.

One of the images that I saw in my community and church were African American adults who were illiterate, but highly respected. As a result, I quickly recognized that I needed to focus on teaching children as well as adults learn how to read.

I attended Albany State University, a small black teachers' college in the South, and was constantly reminded of how important my role would be as a black educator in the lives of boys and girls of color. My professors often informed me that black students needed to see positive role models in the classroom. Specifically, they needed teachers who understood something about their cultural heritage/background as well as their learning styles.

My professors, who themselves had only taught in segregated settings and were unsure of what it would mean to teach in integrated settings, cautioned me that before I completed my undergraduate education I would be faced with the challenges of teaching in such settings.

They warned that I would not only have to build a learning community for students of color, but for a diverse group of learners as well. My professors also sensed a slow decline in the number of minority students entering the teaching profession and explored with me the possibility of being the only black teacher in a school.

They informed me that I just might be charged with the responsibility of helping my white colleagues think about teaching black students, and my white colleagues could in turn help me think about teaching white students. My undergraduate professors' predictions have become a reality.

As a scholar and teacher educator, I have helped white teachers gain a better understanding of teaching black students and creating a learning community for diverse learners and I have noted a slow decline in the number of minorities entering the teaching profession. I have helped white teachers and teachers of color understand the complexities of teaching in today's classrooms and the difficulties that might occur in communicating with children and families different from themselves.

My teaching spans more than thirty-five years in classrooms. All of my experiences in a range of educational contexts shape and frame my work as a teacher, as a researcher, as a learner and as a mentor. I have been committed to teaching and helping both in-service and pre-service teachers better understand their relationship with children and families.

I have been committed to the generation and integration of knowledge and to the application of knowledge in authentic situations. I have been committed to making visible how contexts outside of the classroom can influence life in one’s classroom. I have been committed to conveying that what goes on in the classroom is influenced by experiences beyond the classroom door, including the larger school, family, religious and neighborhood contexts. In each of these commitments, I have sought to bridge the cultures of parent and teacher perceptions of one another and of home, school and community literacies.

As an African-American researcher and educator, I have done much to build bridges and cross boundaries that have traditionally constrained African-American children and youth. In the new millennium, we now face tremendous problems of educating diverse children in our country, and we have great need for educational reform and leadership that will address these problems. Through my leadership, mentorship, research and service, I have contributed significantly to moving our field forward in addressing the literacy problems that face our diverse society.

The legacy of my career has not been built around easy ideas to explore, as matters of mind and process have never been straightforward things to observe. Nonetheless, my notions about families and children as well as my notions about culturally and linguistically diverse children have not been based on armchair speculations. It is a privilege and an honor to be a teacher and a researcher and I am humbled by the opportunity and responsibility.