Author Interview: Dr. Hilary Conklin and Dr. Hilary Hughes, “Practices of Compassionate, Critical, Justice-Oriented Teacher Education”

February 1, 2016

This interview features the authors of “Practices of Compassionate, Critical, Justice-Oriented Teacher Education”, Dr. Hilary Conklin and Dr. Hilary E. Hughes. We asked the authors to share the stories and experiences behind the research.  Their article is published in the January 2016 JTE issue and is currently available online here.

Q: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

A: We were motivated to examine practices of compassionate, critical, justice-oriented teacher education because of several intersecting interests that we share.  We are both deeply committed to the ideals of justice-oriented teacher education and share a common vision of how that kind of teacher education might unfold in practice. Conklin conceptualized a theoretical vision of compassionate, critical, justice-oriented teacher education a number of years ago. The idea behind this vision was our concern that sometimes when we do the work of social justice teacher education and encounter resistance among pre-service teachers, teacher educators—including ourselves—haven’t modeled the compassionate, justice-oriented practices that we aim to inspire among new teachers. Because this is a way of thinking about teacher education that guides our practice, we thought it would be useful to study what this vision might look like—and in particular, how each of us enacts this vision in our different contexts.

We have also been following the renewed movement on practice-focused teacher education closely and wanted to contribute to that conversation in the research literature. In our work as teacher educators, we are both committed to helping our pre-service teachers learn specific practices they can use in their classrooms, so we think there is a lot of value in this emphasis on practice. At the same time, our sense from the scholarship was that critical, justice-oriented goals were not being brought to the forefront in the discussions of practice-focused teacher education like we thought they should be.  We wanted to study our practices to be able to examine what it might look like to help pre-service teachers learn concrete practices, but practices that have a specific aim of working toward addressing the deep inequities that exist in society and in K-12 classrooms.

Finally, we were motivated by our sense from both the research literature and our work in different teacher education programs that the emphasis on social justice and equity is often relegated to social foundations or other specific, individual courses within teacher education programs. We feel that those courses should not be the only spaces where pre-service teachers engage with these ideas. Further, in some cases pre-service teachers may engage with important ideas about social, contextual factors that shape their secondary students’ experiences in schools, but pre-service teachers might not simultaneously gain practical tools to know how to address those inequities in their practice. So, our research was aimed at bringing together a practice-focused lens of teacher education with a targeted emphasis on justice-oriented goals.

Q: Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?

A: One important notion that didn’t make it into the article is that we focused on these two classes we taught—an 11-week class and a 15-week class—without contextualizing our courses in the scope of our broader teacher education programs. On one hand, we didn’t study our full programs or our pre-service teachers’ learning from our broader programs, so we didn’t have data to report beyond what occurred in our particular courses. However, it’s crucial to add the point that what we do in each of our courses should, ideally, be building on, connected to, and complementing other understandings and practices that our pre-service teachers are gaining from other course and field experiences. We want our students, for example, to have opportunities to engage deeply with the communities in which they aim to teach and learn more deeply about the broader social contexts of schooling, but this learning can’t all happen within the confines of one course. This limitation speaks to both the need for programs to engage in the challenging work of building coherence around common aims and also the need to study this work across programs rather than just courses.

We also think the particular classes each of us had during this study were in some ways anomalous, in that they each included students who were very willing to engage with the justice-oriented goals and practices that we focused on—and  were perhaps more predisposed to embrace these goals than students we’ve had before and since. So some of the students we wrote about in this study may not have exemplified the work we more often do with students who are less open to our focus on equity. Because of this, we see the possibility that our article may have presented the work of compassionate, critical, justice-oriented teacher education as being too “neat” because we had a different make-up of students that particular term.

Another related aspect of this work that we have reflected a lot on since writing the article is how difficult it can actually be to act with compassion toward some of our pre-service teachers when we are under professional and/or personal duress, especially as the external pressures on us as teacher educators escalate. Practicing compassion requires considerable energy and an ability to be present and mindful of the students in front of us—factors that can get lost amidst a broader landscape of teacher education that feels increasingly less compassionate. As our article has gone to press, we have caught ourselves being less than compassionate with some of our current pre-service teachers and recognized that the ideals we describe in our article require a strong, ongoing, and conscious commitment that necessitates additional time and energy on our part, all of which are often in short supply.

Q: What current areas of research are you pursuing?

A: Dr. Conklin is currently studying what marginalized youth in Chicago Public High Schools learn from participation in an action civics curriculum that aims to narrow the civic opportunity gap.

Dr. Hughes is currently working in a high poverty, majority-minority middle school to help teachers cultivate more autonomy and agency by learning to design interdisciplinary curriculum that is relevant to the students in their classes and that focuses more on the local community.

Contact Dr. Conklin at and Dr. Hughes at