Jennifer Lindsay

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Jennifer Lindsay
Lecturer in Education
Mike Cohea/Brown University
Whether teachers recognize it or not, schools exist in a much larger context of community, politics, economics, and culture. Jennifer Lindsay says effective teachers need to understand and appreciate the larger forces that act on schools.

Education was always where Jennifer Lindsay’s interest lay, but after about 10 years in the classroom teaching elementary and middle school students, she found herself full of questions about her own understanding of the practice.

Realizing that a lot of teachers may manage their classrooms without giving much thought to how the context (cultural, political, economic) in which they are teaching affects students’ learning, she launched herself into the second phase of her career. Lindsay entered the University of Washington’s College of Education, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Ph.D. program. She dove head-first into researching issues of social context to understand better how those influences are shaping the field, particularly teacher preparation and school improvement efforts. She’ll continue that mission at Brown as a lecturer in education in the elementary education master’s program.

Her research, both past and ongoing, is two-fold. One half looks at how school and community intersect. Lindsay’s dissertation was an ethnographic study of an urban area in the midst of gentrification. The paper looked at how that process was changing the area school’s culture and how students’ families and faculty understood the history of the school and the neighborhood. Lindsay’s goal was to gain a better understanding of what a good school and school improvement look like and how those concepts might be affected by cultural and political factors in the community.

Lindsay also studies how teachers are trained to teach in urban, under-resourced communities. She urges that teaching not be viewed as a neutral practice, insisting that teachers need to have a contextual understanding of their students and schools, as well as the political and policy pressures that they will be faced with in the classroom.

It’s this latter strand that will inform much of what she hopes to do at Brown. Her goal is to better prepare student teachers for the classroom, emphasizing the importance of understanding the context of the community where they are working. “Some schools are in economically and politically challenged areas. Teachers need to bring a will to grapple with those issues and have an understanding of the larger forces on schools,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay sees her new post at Brown as an opportunity to pass along these lessons about education in an environment where social justice is a top priority. She says the Department of Education at Brown seems to understand her vision of teaching, which she considers to be a “rigorous practice, on an intellectual and creative level.”

Lindsay will be teaching two courses at Brown. The first is “Analysis of Teaching,” which will give students an opportunity to go over dilemmas they encounter in the classroom and troubleshoot them. Part of Lindsay’s goal for the class is to show students the importance of staying connected to professional colleagues who can challenge their thinking and using their interaction with colleagues to hold on to their larger ideals — habits of practice that she hopes students take with them after the program.

Her second course takes an interdisciplinary and philosophical look at how schools shape the communities around them, a course where much of her dissertation research will come into play.

Leaving behind a dual position as adjunct faculty member and supervisor in the education department at Humboldt State University in California, Lindsay says she’s excited to be living on the East Coast and eager to engage in some outdoor exploration with her partner and their 6-year-old son.

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