What do photographs really reflect?

Photographs stand as glimpses into our lives at different points in our journey. Chappell, Chappell and Margolis (2011) see pictures as “memories of seeing” (p. 56) and within an educational journey these pictures can reflect the “face” of the world today but also the ceremonies that many of us go through that shape our future. When I think about educational events captured in photographs, there are two “types” that come to mind for me: graduation and our class photographs.

From childhood, we are gathered every year for our class shot (or at least up to a point in elementary school and maybe junior high). Those pictures are a reflection not only of our own growth but can reflect the make up of a classroom (diversity, gender) but also be reflective of the times (styles, looks, etc). The experience is somewhat of a normative process: something that many (but not all) will have the opportunity to experience.  In that same vein, graduation serves as a transition point to the next stage of life for many young people. When I was growing up, I had two graduations – one from junior high, which signaled my transition to high school and one from high school that signaled my transition to college (or to becoming an adult as I saw it). When I look back at the pictures of these experiences, I think of what that signified to me as a growth opportunity and as an experience that both me as the learner and my family had all hoped for. I think we, as people, want the best for ourselves and our children. These educational experiences become tantamount to not only personal success but may even be considered as a success of the family.

Chappell et al (2011) related educational photographs to a play. In their terms, they indicated that the environment (school) may be the same similarly to how a play is the same but the changes in both of these are the people.  The article was rife with pictures from multiple eras which represented the changing times (racial diversity, gender diversity, etc.). Their notion is that the picture can tell a lot about the progression of our society and how the message of what we stand for could have changed as well. I like to think that we have become a more progressive society and that this is reflected in our societies but that would mean forgetting that there is still a lot of inequality in the world, not just around racial or gender dynamics but around sexuality and even in socioeconomic status and how that may influence who walks across the stage or moves beyond high school. I have worked in higher education for 10 years and I think back on student access – has everyone been given the opportunity to attend? Is it really access for all and if it’s not, are the pictures we take truly reflective of our society or just this segmented piece of it? Thinking through the pictures in the article, it also makes you wonder who are the ones capturing and, in turn, sharing/publicizing the pictures? The individual(s) holding that power are more likely to take it from what they see as relevant than what may actually be reflected in reality.

What will be most interesting for the future is how, in the age of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, our journey will be reflected and captured when each moment is often the cause for a “selfie” or some other picture. I think through recent graduation at ASU. I sat on the floor with my students and snapped pictures, posting them for share on Instagram. Will these pictures be characteristic of who we are as people and what we stood for or more just a reflection of our society and what we think the “others” will want to see? Will our ability to connect with people from anyone in the world who have access to this technology (again the key is access) influence how we look at the world and the pictures we share back? Hard to say but interesting to see as an articulated story for future generations.


Chappell, D. Chappell, S. & Margolis, E. (2011). School as ceremony and ritual: How photography illuminates performances of ideological transfer. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(1), 56­73.

Turning a New Leaf: The Realization of Exclusion

Teresa L. McCarty (2005) in the “Editor’s Introduction” of Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determined, Anthropology, and Human Rights, discusses several insightful points about indigenous history, language, and education.

I know this article was short in length but it was full of great information that I had never considered before. Personally, I had never had a draw or connection with indigenous studies, articles, or news. Every so often, working in higher education, I would hear about different indigenous issues and brush it off. It was not really until this article and this doctoral class that I really begin to take a different stance at looking and considering the many influences affecting indigenous populations.

One of the main reasons that I began to connect and wonder about indigenous populations was the use of the term ‘ally’. In the last sentence of the article, McCarty (2005) states, “We hope the articles…assembled here lead the way toward transformation…for indigenous people and their allies to build the…cultural infrastructures required to nurture self-determination in education” (p. 4). It was the first time that I had even considered that indigenous people need an ally to help support and protect their interests. I was so used to the term ‘ally’ referring to the LGBTQ population, that I never considered that other populations would need the same support – support from those who are not indigenous or connected to indigenous cultures.

I was also fascinated about the complexities and importance of language to indigenous people. McCarty (2005) opened my eyes to the fact that indigenous populations speak approximately 5000 out of the 6000 known languages. However, although there are thousands of languages, languages are disappearing at an alarming rate which researchers refer to as linguicide (McCarty, 2005). A lot of the reason for their disappearance is the dominance of other languages specifically in educational and urban environments. The author emphasized that languages are epicenters to indigenous populations as they are carriers of identity, knowledge, and ways of knowing, underlining that with a loss of language, there is a loss of history and culture (McCarty, 2005). One way in which to preserve languages is through the implementation of indigenous languages in education. By implementing specific indigenous languages in targeted areas of education, we begin to protect that particular population’s culture and history.

One way that language can be revitalized in education is through universities and language development course work. By implementing programs and spaces for students to have everyday speaking interactions, education can help keep the language alive and thriving (McCarty, 2005). By helping to teach and keep these languages alive, we help support a population that was “burned by centuries of repression, marginalization,and negation” (McCarty, p. 4, 2005).

I am excited to be expanding my education by reflecting and engaging in new information. Because of this class and this article, I can definitely say that I will work on being a better and more educated ally. Which in turn means being more educated about many different types of educational aspects through a willingness to listen and discover new areas of education and its populations.


McCarthy, T. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology Education Quarterly, 36, 1-7.

The Uncertainty of a New Environment

As I read Michelle E. Jordan and Reuben R. McDaniel, Jr.’s (2014) article, “Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams:  The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity, I began to reflect on how I have dealt with uncertainty from kindergarten until now, a current doctoral student.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) define uncertainty as “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past.”

All of this brought me back to the 5th grade, when I had attended 5 different elementary schools!  Yes, FIVE!  Two in Houston and 3 in Phoenix.  I spent kindergarten through 4th grade in the same school so making the transition to a new school, in a new state, terrified me.  But, because I did not have a say in the matter, I walked into my new 5th grade class.  It was definitely a culture shock.  I thought there was no way for sure that I would ever fit in…we were so different.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) stated, “social interaction is a primary means of expressing uncertainty and can also be a source of uncertainty.”

I remember all of the students listening to my every word.  I did not understand why, but they just kept asking me question after question about where I came from.  But, then a boy asked me, “why do you talk so funny?”  Me?  I talked funny?  Are you kidding me?  Have you heard what YOU sound like?  And, that is the first time I remember feeling out of place.

From there, it just got worse.  My neighbor downstairs asked me if I wanted to go play with her in the bayou and catch crawdads.  I didn’t know what a bayou or a crawdad was…but, I didn’t say that I didn’t know.  I just said, “sure.”  As Jordan and McDaniel (2014) would say, my uncertainty stemmed from my “partial knowledge and understanding” (I knew that it was going to involve “playing”) and “the negotiation of social roles” (I just wanted to make a new friend).  When we got to the bayou, I was confused.  Then, my neighbor skidded down the side of it and began running her hands through the water.  She picked up some creature and popped it into a jar.  Yep, that was the crawdad.  Talk about weird!  But, you know what?  After a few weeks of refusing to step foot in that bayou and try and catch crawdads it became my new favorite thing to do!  Go figure!  After reading Jordan and McDaniel (2014), it appears that I had received some support from my peer and was able to learn from her that it was the “cool” thing to do.

Then came the biggest culture shock of them all…line dancing!  I didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was and this was actually a part of our school day.  I remember watching from the sidelines and I did not have the slightest idea what they were doing.  I even asked my teacher if I had to learn how to line dance.  And, I got a very firm, “yes.”  I stumbled my way through line dancing and, eventually, I actually became good at it.

And, then, WHAM!, I was hit with another foreign task…SQUARE dancing!  Except this was different…I had to dance with someone else…a boy!  Not only was I faced with “content uncertainty,” but “relational uncertainty” as well (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014).  Like line dancing, I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was, and I remember wondering why would anyone want to dance in a square?  On top of that, I had never danced with anyone before.  I tried to avoid participating for a couple of days and asked if I could just watch.  Once I understood the lingo, I was able to start to make a connection with the content.  I practiced what I remembered at home.  But, once I began participating, it was clear that I had no idea what I was doing.  I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I remember some kids making fun of me because the girl from Arizona didn’t know how to square dance.  I remember some of the boys saying that they didn’t want to be my partner because I couldn’t dance.  The unsupportive responses (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014).  But, I also remember the boys and girls who volunteered to be my partner.  I remember them walking me through every move of every song until I got the hang of it.  The supportive responses (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014).  And, eventually, I did, but it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.

Later that year, we finally moved back to Arizona because my mom couldn’t take being in Texas anymore.  Thank goodness!  Looking back on it now, while I was back in familiar territory, I ended up attending three different schools in two very different areas of town.  I wish I remembered more about what I experienced in those schools, but it was one crazy school year and everything is a bit hazy.  But, I will never forget learning about bayous, crawdads, line dancing and square dancing!

Jordan, M.E. and R.R. McDaniel, Jr.  (2014).  Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams:  The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  The Journal of the Learning Sciences.  (00)0, p. 1-47.

Uncertainty as a Student, Teacher and Doctoral Student

“You’re hired!”  I was shocked, amazed, and scared beyond belief to be quite honest.

I just graduated in May of 1994 from the University of Richmond. I was 21 years old and searching for my first teaching job.  I applied to many of the public school districts in Virginia, where I was licensed to teach.  But, I was finding the search challenging.  I had a nibble with Fairfax Public School District, but not an offer.  I student taught in Henrico County, near Richmond, VA, but positions were limited, or at least that’s what I convinced myself as a reason for not getting offered a position.  Then, to my surprise, I received a call from Arlington County Public Schools, just outside of Washington, D.C., for an interview just a few days before Labor Day.  School was set to start in a week, and I was resigned to my next step substitute teaching, working at a restaurant, or trying to do some work with my professors at Richmond.  Little did I know that this interview, seemingly out of the blue, would change the direction of my career (and life) for good.

I interveiewed with Arlington on a Friday, received the offer from the principal on Tuesday and reported to our initial planning day on Thursday.  School was to start in two work days, and I was a mess.  I was filled with uncertainty:  Do I know how to teach?  How will the students respond to me?  How will my colleagues respond to me?  Where do I live!?!  But, I found reassurance with my new  community of practice – a caring, dedicated group of eighth grade teachers who took me under their collective wings and helped me survive my first year.

As I reflect on Michelle E. Jordan’s and Reuben R. McDaniel, Jr.’s article “Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams: The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity,” I am reminded of my first years as a middle school English teacher in Arlington, Virginia, and my role in a new community of practice and as a developing instructor.  In Jordan and McDaniel’s study, they describe how the students were placed in teams and were asked to complete an engineering project.  The students worked in groups of three or four, and the teacher only created one role, that of team leader (p. 9).  Similarly, as a brand new teacher, I was placed in a team where there one was clear role as defined by the school – team leader.  We were asked to work together, teach our respective disciplines, but support our students in a collaborative manner.  Uncertainty ruled my every day that first year.  How do I connect with students?  How do I motivate them to learn about writing?  About literature?  And in some cases, about life?    To a large part, my success as a first year teacher was very similar to that of these elementary school students.  Their success was “dependent on the willingness of their peer collaborators to respond supportively” (p. 26).  My success as a new teacher was definitely dependent on my colleagues’ abilities to respond supportively to me.  I brought new ideas, new methodologies, some strong…some weak.  But, my fellow teachers were always encouraging, always supportive, and always willing to provide input as needed.  I believe this feeling of uncertainty was critical to my development as an educator.  And, reflecting on how that initial group of wonderful teachers supported me during my years of uncertainty has helped me to work with other educators in my career as well.

This uncertainty I felt as an instrutor though led to some of my best teaching (in my opinion).  Specifically, I was part of a group of English teachers that decided to teach literature to our students through literature circles.  Rather than have teachers lead discussions, students would take control of the English classroom – self-select novels around a theme, lead discussion groups, and create group projects. Honestly, it was some of the most fun I have ever had teaching.  The students, however, struggled at first with all the uncertainty surrounding this style of teaching.  Choose their own books?  Create their own discussion questions?  Complete assessments that were not multiple choice or even a standard written response?  Watching students navigate their uncertainty in these moments was powerful.  They were amazing with each other; providing support when needed, providing a jolt when needed (What….you didn’t read your chapter?), and building off each other’s ideas in ways I thought not possible.  Uncertainty in the classroom can produce special results, although as the authors indicate, the teacher and students need to establish a supportive learning environment for this to flourish.

As this article definitely brought back memories of my early days teaching in the classroom, it also caused me to reflect on the uncertainty I (and others I believe) now feel as doctoral students.  The authors concluded in their research that, “peer support is important if students are going to successfully participate in collaborative projects in which they will encounter uncertainty in their relationships and in the execution of new content and new practices” (p. 36).  This conclusion resonates for me as I think of our newly formed community of practice.  We began this course as individuals, but I anticipate we will experience uncertainty at all levels – will we understand assignments, projects, articles we have read?  Will we be able to navigate varying teaching styles and expectations?  And ultimately, will we have confidence in who we are as researchers and doctoral students?  These are all questions we will have at some point, and they are all going to be met or answered in some manner through the support of our peers.

So, my journey as a new instructor to a new doctoral student has one major theme in common – uncertainty.  But, I am certain that my success in part will hinge upon the collaborative support of my peers.


Jordan, Michelle E. and Reuben R. McDaniel , Jr.  Managing Uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: the role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  The Journal of the Learning Sciences (00), 1-47. 

Reflection Starts with You

Access, Excellence, and Impact

Howard (2003) highlights the need for critical teacher reflection in the article “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.” He sets the stage by explaining the demographic divide and how “US schools will continue to become learning spaces where an increasingly homogeneous teaching population (mostly White, female and middle class) will come into contact with an increasingly heterogeneous student population (primarily students of color, from low income backgrounds.)” (Howard, 2003, p. 195) The author explains the importance of supporting teachers in gaining the knowledge and skills for teaching today’s diverse student community.

One of the ways Howard (2003) suggests acquiring the knowledge and skills for teaching our diverse learners is through critical reflection. He describes critical reflection as, “attempts to look at reflection within moral, political, and ethical contexts of teaching.” (Howard, 2003, p. 197) I can see how this type of reflection would be challenging. As teachers, we are familiar with reflecting on our actions and how it impacted student learning. However, this type of reflection requires much more than just identifying strengths and challenges within a lesson.   Howard (2003) pushes educators to “ask challenging questions that pertain to one’s construction of individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.” (p. 198)

This year I had an opportunity to participate in systematic reflection with colleagues. The experience was difficult but rewarding. We used journal writing to reflect and make sense of our experiences. Each session the facilitator would pose questions and give us uninterrupted time to write and reflect. One of the greatest gifts I received in this experience was the opportunity to go back and reread what I had written in my journal at different times throughout our journey. I could see how my thinking had grown and what I needed to do to move forward in my practice. During the systematic reflection, we were invited to share out with the group, but it was not required. I believe a similar format focused on critical reflection would be beneficial for teachers. The author refers to this format as race reflective journaling by Milner (2003) and further describes it as a “process wherein teachers are able to process issues of racial differences in a more private manner through writing as opposed to sharing ideas of racial and cultural differences in a more open and public forum that might be uncomfortable and difficult for some.” (Howard, 2003, p. 199)

I believe that race reflective journaling would be uncomfortable yet eye-opening for teachers and that is what is needed. It would force teachers to engage in an inner dialogue centered on race, ethnicity, social-class and gender and expose what Howard (2003) refers to as deficit-based thinking. In the article, deficit-based thinking is described as an authentic belief that students from culturally diverse and low-income backgrounds are incapable learners. (Howard, 2003, p. 197) My parents experienced the harmful effects of deficit-based thinking. Both my parents are second language learners. I grew up listening to stories about the difficulties they experienced in school as second language learners. As a result, they chose not to teach my brother and I Spanish. The language stopped in my generation because they saw it as a deficit.

I believe that the first step toward becoming a culturally relevant educator is to start with reflection and the article “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection” offers steps to consider, possible pitfalls, and the positive impact critical teacher reflection can have on our diverse student population.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory Into Practice. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4203_5