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May 2009  |  Return to issue home

Audra Gray Awarded Prestigious Huckabay Fellowship

College of Education doctoral candidate Audra Gray has been named one of 10 University of Washington Huckabay Fellows. A doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction: Multicultural Education program, the Huckabay award is intended to prepare future faculty for their role, specifically to broaden their graduate education in the area of teaching and learning at the university level.

Audra Gray
Audra Gray

Gray was awarded an opportunity to design her own course titled “Teaching for Change: Equitable Strategies for Teaching in the 21st Century,” intended for the College of Education’s new undergraduate minor in Education, Learning and Society.

When speaking of her project, Gray’s voice shimmers with pride and hope as she discusses the fantastic timing for her own call for change in education just at the time that President Obama has made a national call for change. As she writes, “The 2008 United States presidential race has re-energized a national discourse about the need for social change. In education, one 'call for change' is to close the persistent gaps in academic achievement for the increasingly diverse student population.”

Her own call for change? Equity pedagogy. Specifically around finding successful models of culturally responsive and transformative pedagogy that work for racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse students. 

She defines equity pedagogy as: “teaching strategies and classroom environments that help students from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural groups attain the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to function effectively within, and help create and perpetuate a just, humane and democratic society.” (Banks & Banks, 1995, p. 152)

Gray’s background in practice and in research truly prepared her for this unique course. After finishing an undergraduate thesis at Brown University, where she examined the impact of African-American students’ use of Ebonics and their potential to be over-classified as learning delayed, she received her master’s in Educational Psychology from the UW with an emphasis on the foundations of reading development. Then, Gray decided to answer her own call to teach and spent a few years in her own classroom in California before returning to continue her academic work at the University of Washington.

It was her work as a fifth grade teacher in California’s Compton Unified School District, where she learned to let the classroom lead her own research. Gray attributes her roots in teaching to her family’s collective 125+ years of teaching in the Compton and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. The joy and growth that Gray experienced during her time as a teacher taught her to think even more critically about how students learn and the best ways to design classroom practices to benefit the students she served.

“At the time, I was so focused on thinking through research and observing in teachers’ classrooms about how students learn,” Gray asserts, “that it was great to bring all of my experiences and training into my own classroom, to think about designing curriculum, developing strategies, working with parents, and thinking about how I’d connect with my students in order to push them a little further. I had always tutored middle and high school students, mentored undergraduates and been a part of community-based educational programs but never fully had my own classroom until then. I discovered that I have a knack for it and I could find better ways to improve my own teaching.”

As a current student in Curriculum and Instruction, where she works with Drs. Geneva Gay and Leslie Herrenkohl on the foci of multicultural education and sociocultural approaches to learning, Gray works on the role of African-American students’ cultural communication in learning broadly, and literacy development specifically. She hopes to legitimately add a focus on K-8 African-American student communication and math literacy to her research as her career progresses. Her dissertation is rooted in a culturally responsive pedagogical framework where she is examining the dimension of communication in the classroom. In this work, Gray is following three “successful” middle school teachers of African-American students.

She summarizes her research: “I located three outstanding teachers through a community nomination process and engaged them in videotaped analysis of their classroom instruction in order to look at the dimension of teacher communication—of teacher talk. Communication is a huge component of effective teaching and as we try to engage pre-service and in-service teachers in the work of multicultural education we often still get the questions, well what does it look like, and what does it sound like. I hope that my dissertation will add to the literature by contributing more sound bytes and examples from these three seventh-grade teachers to begin to answer those questions.  

Gray’s primary mentor for the project is Dr. Doris McEwen, who has nothing but praise for Gray’s accomplishments.

"The Huckabay award is a wonderful opportunity for Audra to work on her goal of 'teaching for change,'"  McEwen says. “As we look at serving every child in school districts throughout our country, we can begin with university teaching practices and continue throughout pre-service and assignment of teachers to classrooms.  Audra's project will help us do this in a thoughtful manner."

Gray is most grateful to the Huckabay family for this incredible professional growth opportunity and excited about working with her mentors in a different capacity on this project.

“Doris [McEwen] and Geneva [Gay] are great examples of quality teaching at the university level. Doris is the primary mentor for the design of this course and, because I’ve been an observer of her extraordinary delivery, teaching and presentation style, I know that she will help me discover and understand what my style is at the university level. Geneva has been an invaluable mentor to me through it all. Even as a conceptual theorist in curriculum and multicultural education, she takes so much pride in how to present the foundations of multicultural education to pre-service teachers in class. Geneva will be a valuable resource on content and providing examples of excellent university teaching.”

Gray will also be supported by the director of the UW Education minor Dr. Erasmo Gamboa, who brings a background in ethnic studies to advising her project.  As she states, “I’m hoping that my first audience will be participants in the undergraduate minor so that Erasmo will help me think through that audience. He also provides a good example of how to engage local communities in teaching and research—a principle of equity pedagogy. If I get the opportunity to implement my project, then I plan to have all three mentors observe me through their multiple lenses to inform how I can best model equity pedagogy through my teaching in higher education.”

Outside of her academic work, Gray is very involved with an international public service sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Through this organization, Gray volunteers for self-empowerment and enrichment programs for African-American middle and high school girls. As she summarizes, “Over the past several years living in Seattle, I’ve co-chaired the sorority’s local chapter educational programs involving Seattle Public School students, led workshops for youth, coordinated a tutoring center in Yesler Terrace for a year, and have tried to stay active and busy even though I wasn’t in the classroom full-time. I am also a member of my church choir—the alto section—when I’m not on hiatus due to the demands of writing my dissertation.” 

See the full list of 2008- 2009 Huckabay teaching fellows and mentors.

May 2009  |  Return to issue home

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