Graduate Admissions Blog

Practicing Radical Care During Supervised Fieldwork

Soyoung Park
Soyoung Park

“I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for this group.”

These are words that a graduate student recently shared in one of my supervised fieldwork conference group meetings. They convey a sentiment that I’ve heard from various students across my experience as an advisor, a sentiment that I myself have felt during conference groups. 

Supervised fieldwork is at the core of the Bank Street graduate student experience, and a primary component of fieldwork is attending a course called “conference group,” which is a weekly meeting with a faculty advisor and six to seven other graduate students who are also working in the field as student teachers, working teachers, administrators, and other educational service providers. The conference group is a professional learning community where students explore a wide range of inquiries together. 

But the Bank Street conference group is also so much more. It’s a space where educators from a variety of communities, backgrounds, and experiences get to practice a revolutionary love that is so lacking in our modern-day society. Where people can disagree with one another in a safe environment because asking hard questions is welcome. Where individuals can bring their whole selves because they know that they will be seen by a group that is ready to celebrate their small and big wins. Where they will be supported through difficulties. In their conference group, graduate students learn about different pedagogical philosophies, classroom environments, and approaches to working with children and colleagues. At the same time, they also learn how to build a community of care. This is a skill that has become especially critical when teaching in a pandemic.

As is the case in any field that involves working with people, teaching is a profession that often requires navigating difficult interactions with others. Sometimes these interactions are with children and other times they are with adults. The conference group often serves as a setting in which graduate students can process these difficult interactions and brainstorm productive approaches to addressing them. What I love most about these conversations is that they not only push me to reflect on who I want to be as an educator, but also who I want to be as a human being. Some of the most challenging circumstances that come up are related to identity: racial microaggressions, gender discrimination, ableism, lack of compassion towards parents, to name a few. When you are in a genuine community with someone who is pained in a way that you have never experienced, there is a depth of understanding that you can never get just from reading about it and discussing it in a class.

One year, I had the privilege of witnessing my conference group create a circle of love and protection around a graduate student who was experiencing tremendous racism in the predominantly White institution where she was working. The group listened to the student with amazing compassion, became enraged alongside her, and reminded her of her value to help ensure the situation did not kill her spirit. The student—being the incredible person she is—also taught the group what it looks like to love others even in the face of hate. I have been teaching and writing about anti-racism for years, but no experience has been as impactful in transforming minds and hearts as that particular conference group was for me—and for the whole group. 

In another group, a student was struggling with a lack of mentorship at her placement. She felt that she was taking on a tremendous amount of work without having sufficient experience or supervision, and she often questioned her own decisions in the classroom. Without support, she began to wonder if the teaching profession was even right for her. I could see that her energy and enthusiasm for her work were beginning to wane. During the conference group, graduate students often share videos of their teaching practice with one another. When this particular student shared her video, her attitude toward her work transformed. She listened as her peers noticed a wide range of pedagogical moves that she made and celebrated her tremendous skill as a teacher. The group gave her the validation she needed to recognize her own gifts.

For me, these conference groups embody the change that I hope to see in schools and classrooms—change that is rooted in communities of care rather than in competitive individualism. If education is ever to be a socially just, humane field that supports people to be their full selves, then we need a revolutionary sense of community that strengthens itself through genuine care. This is what our conference groups are all about. It is no surprise to me that lifelong friendships and connections come out of our conference groups. If all of our social systems were modeled after the radical care present in each conference group, I think our world would be in a much better place.