Spring 2021

Greetings from the Chair

Tom Shields headshot I recently came across a picture on my iPhone that was taken a year ago in the courtyard behind my house. We live in Laburnum Park, a historic development of 24 houses on the Northside of the City of Richmond. In the middle of our neighborhood is the courtyard, where families celebrate and gather for life’s milestones: birthdays, retirements, and even weddings. A year ago, we gathered not knowing when we would be able to meet or socialize again due to a virus spreading across the U.S. Little did we know or understand in March 2020, how much COVID-19 and its variants would change us. Our personal and professional lives have been disrupted as we have donned masks, counted for 20 seconds while washing our hands, used hand sanitizer, experienced Zoom fatigue, uttered the phrase “you’re muted,” practiced physical and social distancing, been tested with nose swabs, and endured shortages of paper products.

More seriously though, this year has seen tremendous loss, with parents, grandparents, family members, and friends getting sick, with some succumbing to COVID or to other medical issues. We have had a year of not seeing loved ones, particularly those who are elderly, and no handshakes, hugs, or high-fives. Unfortunately, the virus has been particularly harsh on our marginalized and lower income communities due to long-standing societal inequities. Reflecting on the past twelve months, I am struck by how challenging the past year has been because it robbed us of connectedness, closeness, and contact with one other. With vaccinations rolling out, it looks as if relief may be in sight, but the collective upheaval still exists.

In this spring 2021 e-newsletter, you will note how Education has persevered and moved forward through it all. You will see how we shifted our courses and professional development to hybrid and online instructional modalities. We continued to work with students on research projects, capstones, and portfolios, albeit by Zoom. We worked to complete our Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) self-study, which is due in May. We have developed new courses, created partnerships, hosted seminars and put together programming for local school divisions. Yes, the pandemic has been disruptive, but like all areas across the University of Richmond, we have adapted and even thrived in this new environment.

Throughout the year, we have also focused on the other challenge facing our institutions and society — understanding diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) and working to create a thriving community. We have taken our lead from the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, which under the leadership of Dean Jamelle Wilson has launched an examination of these areas at the school level. In Education, we have formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Working Group that has focused on understanding how DEI are part of our courses, instruction, staff and faculty hiring, and how students view the ability to fully participate in our academic community. We have held one focus group with alumni of our programs and another is scheduled for April. We have created a discussion group that meets every two weeks to discuss Bettina Loves’ book, We Want to Do More than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. We have also analyzed our admissions data and begun to implement a recruitment plan that will focus on students of color, recent immigrant groups, and candidates who are from historically underrepresented groups in K-12 teaching and school leadership.

photo of Benson the puppy in his dog bedIt has been a trying year, but it has been a year of unexpected joys. The next photo on my iPhone is of Benson, our family’s “pandemic puppy.” Benson has proved to be a great companion for our family. After long days of Zoom meetings or remote learning on Google Classroom, there is nothing like a walk with Benson to get some fresh air and decompress.

So, hopefully as you think back over the past year of the pandemic, there are a few pictures of joy and happiness that have helped you endure. Wishing you a great spring!

Be safe and be well!

Tom Shields signature
Tom J. Shields, Ph.D.
Graduate Education Chair