California State University, Sacramento

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ERI Scholar of the Month

Dr. Eric Claravall

Dr. Claravall considers himself as a scholar-practitioner in the field of educational psychology and special education. His main research interest falls within the intersection of text-based literacy development, digital literacies, and disciplinary literacy. His overall research agenda is to understand the teaching and learning processes involved when students with special needs apply literacy as a cognitive tool to access knowledge in literature, social studies, science, and mathematics in both paper-based and digital environments. In 2016, he received the International Literacy Association’s Elva Knight Research Award for his work on historical thinking in special education. He is also the recipient of Sacramento State’s Research and Creative Activity (RCA) Faculty Award for two academic years. He was awarded a research grant in 2019 for his work on the development of disciplinary literacy in history among students with learning disabilities. This year, RCA selected his proposal to explore CSU teacher candidates’ implicit and explicit understanding of compassionate pedagogy in socially just and equitably inclusive K-12 classrooms.

What’s the topic of your research?

I view special education as a social justice and equity issue. My work explores teacher candidates’ implicit and explicit understanding of the role of compassion in the development of a pedagogical relationship. Nodding’s (2006) and Valenzuela’s (1999) theories on caring relationship inform my understanding of pedagogical relationships. I argue that to foster "authentic caring" in the classroom teachers need to show reciprocity of respect and look at their students as human beings with a real history of life struggle. Within this understanding of caring relationship is the idea of compassion - the commitment to other human beings as they are in whatever condition, not as some ideal being or fable. When a teacher shows compassion, he or she understands the child’s suffering; and this repositions teaching and learning within the struggle and experiences of marginalized students (i.e., students with special needs). I conceptualize compassionate pedagogy as a composite of empathy, authentic caring, and praxis. As teachers mirror students’ feelings or suffering (empathy), they proactively design curricula that have rigor, demand high expectations, and focus on students’ strengths (authentic caring). As teachers engage empathy and authentic caring in teaching, they engage students to transform their learning experience (praxis).

Why is your research important?

The study of compassion as it relates to socially just and equitably inclusive K-12 classrooms is limited. Compassion is a psychological construct that is related to empathy, the ability to feel other people's feelings. However, these two constructs are not mutually inclusive. Empathy requires feeling with the other; compassion requires feeling for the other. Empathy is an essential component of compassion, but that does not mean one shares the suffering of others (Lazarus, 1991). Empirical research on compassion as applied to education is scarce. Published articles are mostly theoretical or philosophical. In other cases, compassion is linked to mental health and well-being. My work seeks to dismantle deficit models of thinking in education and contribute to the growing literature on the role of social justice education to improve teaching and learning. I also seek to extend understandings of compassion within the field of humanizing pedagogy that correlates with educational literature on “caring.”

What are the implications for educators, professionals and/or other broader community?

The College of Education is committed to preparing teachers and educational leaders to become practitioners of social justice and equity in the classroom - thereby, dismantling structural and systemic oppression that marginalizes many students of color and struggling learners. Educators who are committed to this cause aspire to improve the academic achievement of all students by providing quality and rigorous curriculum and instruction. However, for teachers to enact social justice and equity framework in the classroom, they must lay the foundation for a pedagogical relationship that is based on compassion. My work foregrounds compassion within understandings of social justice and equity in inclusive classrooms and proposes compassionate pedagogy as a tool to dismantle deficit-thinking models in special education.

Eric Claravall