Ndindi Kitonga, PhD is a Kenyan American educator, long-time organizer, and homeless rights, advocate. Ndindi is also the co-founder of Angeles Workshop School, a small democratic secondary school in Los Angeles. In addition to her work in K-12 education, Ndindi is also a faculty member at Longy School of Music of Bard College where she teaches courses in critical studies and research methods.
Ndindi is a published scholar in the areas of revolutionary critical pedagogy and democratic education and has written articles and book chapters such as Race, Class, Gender, and Revolution in Theory and in Practice (2020), Anticolonialism, Africa and Humanism (2019), Radical Student Voice (2019), “At the River, I Stand” and the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike: Race, Class, and the Struggle for Dignity (2019), Race, Capitalism, and Resistance (2018), How Are Religious Schools Dealing with LGBT Issues? (2017), The Critical Graduate Experience: An Ethics of Higher Education Responsibilities (2014), Culturally Responsive and Socially Responsible Research Methodology (2013), and Black vs. Black: Solidarity among the Black Diaspora (2010).
Einstein imagined that education could be what he called an awakening joy, that is a joy that comes from being immersed in creative expression and knowledge seeking. To his assertion, I need to add that education has the capacity to emancipate and allow us to collectively create the world we want to see.
In the following sections I will discuss my teaching philosophy in two areas: 1) Teaching and learning in the university classroom, 2) Teaching and learning through praxis in the community.
Commitment to academic excellence and culturally sustaining pedagogical teaching
- Educators have the responsibility to present research-based content and create a space where discussion, reasoning and even dissent can occur. I draw from SooHoo (2010) who appeals to us to “exhibit a willingness to listen, to be humble, to be cautious, to avoid flaunting knowledge, and to avoid trampling over”. While undergraduate and graduate students look to instructors for expert and informed opinions, it is important for the professor to remember that knowledge is being co-created, co-understood and that meaning-making occurs in community with our students.As such, most of my classes take the form of discussions, brief lectures, group work, simulations, projects and service-learning activities.
- Exploration of theory in the classroom is very important. I am informed by a myriad of critical and learning theories and take note of their critiques. In particular, my teaching I look to theorists in the areas of critical pedagogy, culturally sustaining pedagogies, sociocultural/constructivist perspectives among others.What that means to me is that the classroom has to be a place where students are engaging deeply with theory but are also constantly questioning. With that in mind, I do not present prevailing theory about teaching, research or social justice as a dogma but as a body of principles that can lead us to better practices. To tap into this potential, I always assign theoretical readings regardless of the coursework I am teaching and ask that students summarize, synthesize and often critique these works either as individuals or in small groups.
- Teacher education is a field where it is important to move the theoretical to the practical as often and as clearly as possible for students. These practical applications can not be made without understanding the different cultural contexts of our students. These differences might be socio-linguistic, socio-economic, LGBTQ-based, gender-based, racial or even ability-based.What that means is that as an educator, I must meet students where they are with regards to skills and interests, designing rich and challenging curricula. The concerns of the students from various backgrounds are of primal importance and cannot be relegated to back-burner status.What this also means is that I must model examples of curriculum, pedagogy and communication that demonstrates culturally sustaining pedagogies as outlined by Alim and Django (2012). These are practices might include: offering historicized content and instruction in the assigned readings, acknowledging and taping into the literacies students come into the classroom with by providing multiple ways for students to meet assignment criteria.
- The role of ongoing reflective practice is of great value in developing teacher identity. As and while I complete projects with students, I always urge the us to consider questions such as: “Why are we doing this and what makes it good practice?”, “What are our underlying assumptions?”, “What can we do the same or differently next time?”.In the past I have engaged students in reflection practices through group discussions, online group chats among each other and through asking for non-traditional assignments such as using art, poetry, hands-on projects and the like to encourage for self-expression.In the past I have encouraged my students to articulate their teaching philosophy through forms other than written narrative. I took on this challenge below several years when I composed a poem discussing my views on teaching.
Learning, Classrooms and Instructors
Learning occurs when
Knowledge is co-constructed and
Students are engaged in the phenomena being studied in a
Meaningful way prompting
Instructors and students to reflect together
Is not confined to four walls but
Is an extension of the community with a
A unique blend of diverse persons whose rich identities must be acknowledged
And affirmed by creating a
Safe space where discovery, problem-solving and meaning- making can occur.
As an instructor I
Ask the bigger questions in a gentle way and
Accept areas of conflict that arise in my classroom in order to be
An instrument of peace
And a responsible, accessible, ethical facilitator who is
Also authentic, personal and socially just.