Reflections on my Teaching, Research and Service

Instruction. I believe that learning is primarily a social endeavor. Learning occurs when new ideas emerge through reflective, open conversation, exploration and through the free communication of experience (Dewy, 1916). This belief aligns with constructivists theories of learning where humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas (Dewey, 2016; Vygotsky, 2002). I am also inspired by adult learning theory (Mezirow, 2000), since the majority of graduate students in educational leadership programs are full- time professional educators, pursuing further educational leadership degrees present them an opportunity to integrate their personal, professional and scholarly selves. Therefor their graduate work should present them with the opportunity to apply new learning to their school-based practice (Mezirow, 2000). With the increased focus on student achievement, accountability and standard based educational leadership preparation programs, there is a fear that over emphasizing standards is “reductionist,” constraining and results in narrowing the focus of educational leaders, thus lowering the bar of professionalism as opposed to raising it (English, 2006). Within the school setting there is little or no room for discretion, judgment, or experimentation. School leaders are directed to handle diverse contexts with a multitude of different problems in a standardized (one size fits all) way that is dictated by policy makers who are far-removed from the problems (Elmore, 1979). Building school leaders’ capacity to manage change is a better strategy to prepare them to lead their ever changing and diverse school communities.

My responsibility as a facilitator is to create opportunities for capacity building in my classes by designing learning modules and creating learning environments in which the students will develop both leader (human capital) and leadership (social capital) capacities (Day, 2000). Tapping into my research on cultural competence, I support students’’ preparation for an increasingly interconnected and interdependent multicultural society through individual and collective learning experiences. As a lifelong learner myself, I seek additional instructional expertise by co-teaching with colleagues from my and other programs and departments.

Research. I see teaching and research as two sides of the same coin; research informs my instruction, which in turn drives research and so on, in an ongoing spiral of learning. To be able to provide my students with learning experiences to help them see beyond the barriers their own “culturally conditioned realities” (Howard, 2007, p.3) and to have the capacity of empathy towards their students’ different cultures and lived experiences. I focus my research on Cultural competence, issues of identity, advocacy for minority students and international education. I am also interested in studying the correlation between educational leadership preparation programs and the cultural competence of students and graduates, an identified gap in the literature.

Especially with a growing number of private, charter and public schools segregated along ethnic, religious, cultural and racial lines (Orfield & Gordon, 2001). I find myself concerned with the phenomenon of groups of marginalized students fleeing public schools, and a critical question about public school leaders understanding of the struggles of minority and vulnerable students and the leaders’ readiness for the increasingly multicultural settings that they lead.

Following my research agenda, I started by developing a conceptual framework for cultural competence and developing and validating an instrument to measure cultural competence of educational leaders that resulted in two conference presentations (Barakat & Lakin, 2013; Barakat, 2015) and a manuscript submitted to the Journal of School Leadership (Barakat, Lakin & Reames, under review, (JSL MS #18-015). I then conducted a nationwide study on preparation programs and their correlation to graduates cultural competence that resulted in two conference presentations (Barakat, 2012; Barakat & Reames, 2015) and a publication in the Journal of Research in Leadership Education (Barakat, Reames, & Kensler, 2018). In an attempt to get an initial snapshot of the big-picture and the general condition of prospective educational leaders’ cultural competence. I then followed with a case study published in the Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership (Barakat, Brooks, 2016) and two autoethnographic studies (a book chapter and a journal article) to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges of minority students and implications for school leaders. In following this research agenda, and in spite of using both quantitative and qualitative methods, I maintain my constructivist/post positivist stance. As I agree with Reichardt and Cook (1979), there is no necessary logical connection between paradigm and method type. Moreover, Method-types are more collections of techniques that can be mixed and matched to provide different kinds of information (Firestone, 1986).

Service. Engaging in meaningful service requires a disposition for democracy and a commitment to participatory citizenship, going back to the bridge person analogy I engage in service to develop connections for my program, department (Graduate Program Committee), college (UCEA Plenum Representative) and university (Faculty Senate). By sustaining meaningful dialogue, engaging effectively across differences, and building capacity to escape narrow certainties (Howard, 2007). Even though I value all my service experiences however, I will focus on the FAU partnership with Egypt for which I am the coordinator (See section 6).

By initiating and coordinating this international partnership, I have provided opportunities for the development of professional learning communities that has crossed department boundaries (collaboration with CCEI) as well was international boundaries. The partnership has bridged the gap between many dichotomies (for example: East-West, training-professional development, leadership-curriculum). Through this partnership, quality PD opportunities were afforded to 10,000 Egyptian public school teachers, the exchange of learning was possible and I was able to connect my teaching, research and service as interdependent endeavors, were all three support my ongoing efforts to grow as an educational leader.