The Teacher’s Teacher

Associate Professor of Child Development and Tisch College Faculty Fellow Christine McWayne has a vision for applied research and teaching that places active citizenship at the heart of professional practice.  As Director of Early Childhood Education in the School of Arts and Sciences’ Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, McWayne’s energy has been focused on preparing teachers for urban pre-kindergarten through grade two classrooms.  With the first class of teachers now in the preparation programs, she is broadening her scope to include masters and doctoral students interested in early childhood policy and applied research.

“The goal is to develop teacher-leaders who deliver good pedagogy and use the best, evidence-based strategies for diverse learners in systems that are often broken,” said McWayne.  “We want critical thinkers who can bring a balanced view to managing multiple tensions.  We want our students to be very cognizant that there is a lot we still need to learn, we have a long way to go, and this is exciting work to be a part of.”

Active citizenship is at the heart of that work, she says.

“As faculty and researchers, I think that whenever possible we need to incorporate community members into our work.  In the past I’ve done studies with Head Start programs where parents have served as members of the research team, collecting and analyzing data right alongside university students.   That involves developing ways to engage families by making our academic concepts accessible, and learning to hear what’s important to families so that knowledge and expertise can be integrated into peer-reviewed research.”

McWayne’s Tisch faculty fellowship project reflects this understanding, and the importance of having deep connections with the communities in which she works.

“In Somerville, we’re working with the city and a number of community partners to create a data sharing system that can help to answer policy questions and guide decision making with timely, valid, population-based information that is broadly accessible,” she said.  “As a researcher, my guiding question is to understand how children growing up in urban poverty succeed within their families, schools, and communities.  I don’t think you can make meaningful interventions without a really deep knowledge of those contexts.  Tufts is unique in valuing and having appreciation for community-based research and the nuances of its methods and results, which includes valuing our community partners and supporting their work.”

McWayne has connected her classroom teaching to her research as well.  Partnering with the Somerville Public Schools, and supported in part by Tisch College’s Project PERIS program, McWayne’s students have explored the impact of cross-agency collaborations on urban education while conducting research requested by the school system. Made possible by a 2009-2012 grant from Learn and Serve America of the Corporation of National and Community Service, Project PERIS cumulatively engaged 12 community organizations, 14 faculty, 40 summer fellowships, and 340 students in 24 courses addressing emerging Somerville needs in 24 courses.

The Tisch College Faculty Fellows program brings academics from across the disciplines together to discuss engaged teaching and research, and build their capacities as educators and investigators.

“To be able to sit down with colleagues, hear their perspectives, and learn from each other in an environment that’s nurturing is so valuable to doing this kind of work,” said McWayne.

McWayne is committed to deepening the engagement of students, colleagues, and the university as a whole.  This past fall she joined the Tisch College faculty, and she is serving on the Modes of Research Working Group for Tufts’ strategic plan.

“I want to be involved in shaping Tisch College, and to help ensure that this important work keeps happening,” said McWayne.  “To get students deeply involved in their communities takes dedicated mentors, and there are always questions about how best to prepare them for engagement and political realities, and provide guidance as they learn to negotiate relationships and identify common goals.  Unexpected things are going to come up, but you have to be able to get back to the big picture, and appreciate all the positive ways you can affect change.”