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Faculty Spotlight: Lisa Romero
Romero’s research on student trust is one reason her colleagues nominated her to receive the 2017-18 Outstanding Scholarly and Creative Activities Award for the College of Education at Sac State.
The award recognizes the importance of faculty research and creative activities as necessary and integral parts of a university professor’s scholarly endeavors. Romero and the other 2017-18 Outstanding Faculty Award recipients will be honored at a ceremony on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
Outstanding Scholarly & Creative Activities Award
Policy makers searching for the secret to improving student achievement have long focused on factors that are easy to measure: expenditures per pupil, minutes in the classroom, or a “highly qualified” teacher, as defined by the degrees or credentials the educator holds.
“Student trust in the classroom matters,” Romero says. “A teacher first has to be perceived as benevolent. It makes sense, right? If a high school student doesn’t see you as benevolent, they’re not going to care if you’re competent or have integrity. Why does that matter? It matters because if I trust you and I don’t understand something, I’m more likely to raise my hand and say that I have a question.”
But Professor Lisa Romero has found that factors rarely measured – such as the quality of students’ relationships and the school climate – make a real difference in how well students do academically.
While plenty of research has been done on trust in schools, most has focused on adults—trust between teachers and principals, teachers and other teachers, teachers and parents, parents and schools. Romero saw a need to study student trust. Her articles on the subject have appeared in top-tier education journals including, Educational Administration Quarterly and Teacher’s College Record.
Romero says she expected to find that student trust depends on socioeconomic factors. Instead, she found that all students, regardless of their social or economic status, experience trust in similar ways. However, she did find a difference in student trust based on race and ethnicity.
“For example, all students get a little boost in terms of their academic outcomes if they’re in an environment that they find to be trustworthy. But African American students, and especially Black males, get less of a boost,” she explains. “[I found that] students who are equally trusting of their schools and teachers, and have the same levels of prior achievement, and the same levels of disciplinary actions, the Black kids get less of a bounce than the White kids.”
The reason for the difference? Romero suspects implicit bias.
“One of the outcomes I look at is GPA. Even though students had the same prior achievement and the same behavior, I controlled for those, their grades, course placement, and high school outcomes aren’t the same.”
Romero’s research offers valuable insights to teacher education programs, as it reveals the importance of teacher disposition, not just subject matter expertise.
“Most teachers I’ve seen that teach, for example, algebra, they know their content area,” says Romero, a former principal. “The ones that struggle with students are the ones who can’t form warm, caring relationships.”
Romero’s future research will examine school climate: support for learning, sense of belonging, respect for diversity, quality relationships, social-emotional and physical security, all of which affect student motivation, persistence, resilience and engagement.
“It’s about what good teachers do, really. I’m totally interested in what we do to improve schools and learning,” she says. “There’s just no replacement for a teacher who not only knows their material and knows good instructional strategies, but also demonstrates to their students that they care. They’re warm and they care about their students.”
Romero is Associate Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Sac State, and has taught most of the courses in that program. But she started with a career in data analysis and technology, as a systems analyst and doing computer networking.
While Romero was studying public administration in graduate school, a chance meeting set her on a new course. With all flights delayed by a snowstorm, Romero asked to share a woman’s table in the packed airport bar. “It turned out that she was an epidemiologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, which was a premier cancer research center in Houston, and she was looking to hire a statistician.” Well, it so happened that her graduate program had given Romero just the sort of experience in data analysis the cancer center needed, and she was hired on the spot. A successful career in “number-crunching” ensued.
“To make a long story short,” she says, “eventually I kept moving up and I got to the point where it was all technology all the time. I basically realized I don’t want to just look at a computer screen all day; I want to work with people. And I like teaching. So that was how it happened.”
She became a K-12 teacher, then an assistant principal, principal, and eventually a district director of secondary education. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from University of California, Riverside in 2010.
Romero says she values every step of her varied experience: “All those pieces of jobs that I did, I have pieces of them that make me good at what I do now.”