Gatepost Interview: Folashadé Solomon Professor of Education
By Jesse Sannicandro
What is your educational background?
I have a doctorate in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I studied
administration, planning and social policy in education. ... I have a post-doctorate fellowship, that was research-based from TERC, which stands for Technology Education Research. They are a STEM think-tank – science, technology, engineering and math. I did that post-doc for a couple of years after graduating from Harvard. ... I have an M.Ed. from Wheelock College, and I graduated from UMass Boston with my B.A. and my teacher certification.
How did you become interested in education?
My great-grandmother was – they called her a club woman. She was someone who was interested in activism. She was the first woman to hold an office for the NAACP in Boston – my family has this history of thinking about education as a tool of advancement – and the office that she held was about education. I come from a family of educators. My mom was a principal and teacher, my dad, same thing. ... I grew up in the context of seeing a teacher as someone who could make a difference in the world for students – particularly from my mom’s example. I think she really opened the door to seeing that a teacher can make an impact. And so, I wrestled with that throughout my life, thinking about, “Is a teacher the way to go?”
What research have you conducted about educational methods?
I taught for nine years, and after that I was an educational researcher at TERC for 12 years. So, within that, I focused my research on learning and teacher development. I have researched on several National Science Foundation grants, mostly focused on understanding how teachers learn science and learn about the students that they have in front of them. ... Over that 12-year time, there were specific research grants ... multi-million dollar grants that focus on teaching to the intellectual strengths of students of color specifically. ... Currently, my work is focused on integrating arts as a tool for learning in STEM. I’m waiting to hear back about a grant from the National Science Foundation focused on how students ... can learn physics through the medium of dance.
What are some ways that you focused on teacher professional development connecting race,
culture and language, among other issues?
One way I do that is through teacher research ... helping teachers understand and look at their students differently – being able to help teachers look specifically at what students say in their classrooms. So, taking video of their lessons and transcribing their lessons and then doing text-based reviews of the transcripts to really start to understand what students are saying. Because sometimes, in the moment, you don’t recognize what a student is saying because there are so many things going on in a classroom discussion. But the transcripts really allow teachers to stop time and think specifically and go back to the words that kids say, and try to understand how what the students say is related to the content that they’re teaching. That helps teachers identify, through a more strength-based approach, what kids are actually saying instead of always relying on their assumptions about what kids are saying in the moment. That’s one practical way – looking in a disciplined way at the words that students use through the analysis of transcripts.
What is one book, regardless of major, that you think every student should read?
I’m not sure if I have a specific book, but it would probably be something that would be a biography. ... I feel like you can really learn a lot from thinking about how other people’s stories fill out some of the structural ways that we look at things. For instance, I’m interested in underrepresented groups in STEM. For one, women in science is a big interest of mine. One of the books right now that I’m interested in now is called “Lab Girl” [by Hope Jahren]. It’s a memoir by a woman scientist and what she goes through in her life. I think that that kind of brings a real-life story to a subject that I’m interested in. ... I think it’s really illuminating to see how real-life people come in contact with these bigger structures and themes.
What advice would you give to FSU students?
I think it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities that they have and to take risks. I find that, sometimes, we need to follow our passions and everything, but we also need to push ourselves in directions that we may not be comfortable with. College is a place – specifically – to do that. I would advise students to, if they can, take classes that are different from what they usually would be drawn to, or to attend conferences or drop into a meeting that you wouldn’t usually drop into, like a club – to just pursue things that may not be necessarily the thing you’re always drawn to, but expand your horizons a little bit.