Dr. Tonya Walls, Assistant Professor in Touro University Nevada’s School of Education, will present two of her research papers to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in April.
“The AERA is the Mercedes-Benz of Education Research Conferences,” Walls said. “Having a paper selected by AERA is an honor. It’s peer reviewed and very robust. It’s a national organization, but it gets international attendance.”
The first research paper Walls submitted to the AERA focused on teachers and community-based professional development. With areas of interest in both race and education, it was a study that spoke to her passion.
“I work with a grassroots community-based organization that advocates for social justice in education, and we do a lot of critical professional development,” Walls said. “We work alongside educators to determine how to improve instruction in order to better serve students, especially historically marginalized and minority students.”
Walls conducted the research alongside Malayka Cornejo, an adjunct professor in Touro’s School of Education, and Julie Wilde, a former Master’s student in Touro’s School of Education. Nine teachers, many of whom are from the Clark County School District (CCSD) volunteered to work with them for the research, which consisted of a six-week meetup for the group to brainstorm ideas and strategies to implement in the classroom.
“The main question before the study began was: ‘How do I improve my teaching so that I’m meeting the needs of all my students?” Walls said. “What we found was that the teachers were very much interested in addressing these issues. They were willing to share their resources, time, and ideas with fellow teachers so they could implement new knowledge, skills, and instructional strategies into their own curriculum.”
Cornejo, a former public school teacher, said the group discussions were deeply personal and allowed her to reflect on her own previous experiences in the classroom.
“The whole experience was a beautiful reminder of my power and agency to be a part of changing procedures and institutional policies that are unjust and no longer serve our greater good,” she said.
After the six-week trial period ended, Walls was happy to learn that the group expressed a desire to continue meeting on its own. Being able to openly discuss taboo topics like race, discipline, and policies led to productive conversation that will hopefully benefit more students, she added.
“Teaching is about relationships; listening for understanding; seeking to understand each other; and celebrating growth,” Cornejo said. “It was powerful to be a part of a critical think-storming experience collectively forging solutions as we navigated intent versus impact and various social constructs.”
Walls’s second submitted paper focused on reshaping Touro’s School of Education Master’s in School Administration around the university’s core mission to prepare educators to teach, lead, and serve.
The new curriculum consists of a 300-hour field-based internship with an added orientation of critical professional development and social justice. During the internship, Touro’s Master’s students attended monthly seminars to discuss leadership and additional challenges that CCSD teachers face in their schools.
As part of the curriculum, students shadowed their administrators during the hiring process to find out if their practices were beneficial for all students.
Walls will present her papers during a roundtable discussion and receive critical feedback as she spends the following year strengthening her research before it is published.
“Presenting to AERA will help me improve our programs to better serve teachers in Nevada, as well as share our work with teachers on a national platform. Our teachers work hard and Touro University Nevada works hard to support them,” she said. “Sharing at AERA will help put this work on the map nationally, especially in terms of education research. I’m very excited for this conference.”