S2 Ep9: The Art & Expertise of Education - Research, TeacherEd & Politics with Tabitha Dell’Angelo



Dr. Tabitha Dell’Angelo is a professor, storyteller, playwright, mother, and potential school board member. She holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently a professor at The College of New Jersey, in addition to being an improvisational acting teacher at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA.


Tabitha shares her arts-based research approach as a way of communicating findings through plays and comics. She launched the Urban Education Program at The College of New Jersey, which is focused on recognizing and responding to conditions that contribute to inequalities in schools. Much of her work is centered around ways to create positive change for underserved communities. In her research on teacher identity, she primarily utilizes Art-Out research methodologies. Her goal is to make research more accessible to those who need it—i.e. the teachers and educators and members of the community the research is attempting to serve in the field, not just other academics (the biggest consumers of traditional research papers). Most recently, Dr. Dell'Angelo published a research ‘comic,’ Down the Rabbit Hole: A Fantastical First Year of Teaching, that communicates the excitement, fears, and competing demands of a new teacher. Via the medium of Comics, Tabitha talks about how she was able to depict what real first-year teachers shared and felt in their first year of teaching through visuals that are easily understood and shared.


As a frustrated artist, Tabitha shares her journey towards this arts-based approach to educational research. There are a few applications of this, like Art-In, where you take an artistic representation and analyze this and write a more traditional paper. Art-Out, which is what Tabitha does, where she does very traditional research (i.e. interviews, surveys, observations, traditional analysis like thematic coding, etc.), but then she produces an art product (play, comic, etc.) as the medium to share and communicate the research findings to a broader audience. We also discuss Dr. Dell'Angelo’s work with the Urban Education Program, and the complexities presented by the social and political context of education.


When it comes to preparing future teachers to teach in urban environments, we explore:

  • What can we do to better recruit people who want to teach in high-needs areas with kids who have often been marginalized and school districts that are often underperforming?

  • How do we train and support these teachers going into high-needs areas in a way that makes them want to stay in the profession, particularly teachers in high-needs areas where turnover is higher?

  • How do we get academic research to be accessible to more than just other academics, but instead the practitioners who really could benefit?

  • How do you get academic journals to publish these more artistic research products?

  • What are the successes and challenges of teacher education programs, particularly those preparing educators for urban teaching environments?

  • What do new teachers do when hit with the inevitable challenges they face in their teaching environments?

  • Who really knows what they want to do when they are 18 or 19?

  • What does equity mean in terms of education?

  • How do you apply equitable approaches and thinking into practice?

Tabitha provides examples of some successes and challenges in teacher education programs. The pushback from colleagues, districts, etc. in helping new teachers in The Urban Education Program realize the realities of what they will face when they get out into the field. That it won’t be magical. It will be tough. That programs focused on early and often ‘in the field’ experiences are critical to the success of new teachers.


In terms of equity, from what it means, to thinking about inclusivity across all identities, Tabitha provides examples and clarification on how achieving it plays out within the context of teachers’ identities. She talks about the challenge for new teachers with the ability to be uncomfortable, to be wrong, to listen, and to challenge your own biases.


We take a slight turn in the episode to talk about how Tabitha, as a result of her work in education and experiences with public schooling as a parent, has taken the big step into politics by running for the local school board. She talks about her journey towards running for school board, and what really stood out to her that seemed at odds with the purpose and role of the school board. Will you be as surprised as we were by the politics around school boards Tabitha shares with us? From fundraising and yard signs to Facebook posts, the way the ballot are run, and the lack of educators on the school board, you’re sure to learn something new in this episode.


Other themes/topics in the episode:

  • Different types of research

  • Staging a play

  • Baby steps for publishing art-based research

  • Member checking research methods

  • Citations for research work (traditional scholarly stuff)

  • Discussions about what is happening in schools and challenges teachers face, particularly in high-needs areas.

  • Discussion on equity, challenging bias.

  • Deficit model thinking

  • Curriculum

  • Teacher professionalism and expertise

  • Questioning the education structures

  • Thoughts on what practices in education need to be abolished

  • Social studies and creativity due to lack of a standardized assessment

  • School Boards and their purpose and goals

  • Why do people even run for School Board?

  • The process of electing a School Board (like cross-filing)

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

  1. Tabitha Dell’ Angelo

  2. Dr. Tab 4 CBSD (School Director)

  3. Down the Rabbit Hole: A Fantastical First Year of Teaching (downloadable)

  4. Bucks County Playhouse, New Hope, VA

  5. The Journal of Comic Scholarship

  6. Qualitative Inquiry

  7. Loewen - Lies My Teacher Told Me


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