On Courage and Companionship | Teachers College Press

By: Kerri Ullucci

Kerri Ullucci was born and raised in Rhode Island. She is a first generation college student. She received her Ph.D from UCLA in Urban Schooling and her MAT from the University of Pittsburgh in Elementary Education. She is a former elementary teacher and has been licensed to teach in RI, MA and CA.

dr Ullucci is currently an Associate Professor of Diversity and Equity in Education at Roger Williams University. Her research interests include race and poverty issues in schooling and the development of culturally relevant teaching practices. She spent her 2018 sabbatical working with refugee youth in 9-12 classrooms. dr Ullucci has been published in many journals, including urbaneducation, Race, Ethnicity and Education other Teacher Education Quarterly. Together with Joi Spencer, she is the co-author of Anti-Blackness at School: Creating Affirming Educational Spaces for African American Students (Teachers College Press, Nov. 2022).

Find part one here

When we left you in May, joy was on our minds. As educators shifted into a much-needed summer, a focus on joy let us “fill back up” after the school year. As promised, we’re thinking about what we need most as we get back to teaching this fall. As faculty in diversity, equity and inclusion fields, we find that courage and companionship are on our wish lists. Joi and I teach about race and write about anti-Blackness. Courage and companionship help us navigate the hard parts of this work. By courage, we ascribe to Nelson Mandela’s belief that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but a triumph over it. As for companionship, we are thinking about how we can limit feelings of isolation, to see that there are others who care about these issues, too. So, as with our first TCP blog entry, we return to Office Hours with Allen, Noguera, Howard and Harper as an easy-to-access, engaging source of information and inspiration to keep at DEI work. In case you didn’t catch our first post, Office Hours is a podcast hosted by Jaleel Howard featuring professors Walter Allen, Pedro Noguera, Tyrone Howard, and Shaun Harper. Quick and concise, the podcasts offer insights into how these senior scholars make sense of the educational (and often social) landscape. This time, we look at hard topics: mental health, school violence, and the outcry against critical race theory. We focus on these three because courage and companionship are needed for these topics; they are difficult, and necessary, and best done with support.


Mental Health and Education, March 2022


We are all going through some degree of mental health trauma on the heels of COVID, Trump’s presidency, and the cyclone of racism. These are collective experiences that touch us all. However, mental health in schools is often under-addressed and minimized. In this podcast, the team models how folks can talk about their own mental health and calls out how communities have silenced conversations about mental health. It’s an important episode simply because we hear men talk about their own mental health. This is the companionship; we are all going through something, and these scholars dare to put it out there. Listen for their anchors as to how they steady themselves.


We can model courage for our students in the face of mental health challenges by simply talking about it, by lifting any shame from the conversation, and by normalizing mental health care. I begin many of the university classes I teacher with a modified form of “Joys and Sorrows,” letting students share with one another their highs and lows during the week. In doing this, I hope students can see and support each other in their pain, but also celebrate their wins. They quickly figure out that every anxiety, fear or stressor that they have, someone else has them, too. I also turn frequently to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley for helpful resources on mental health and well-being that teachers can easily incorporate into their classrooms.


Why all the Fuss about CRT? November, 2021


My, my, my. The heat and noise surrounding critical race theory are stunning. This podcast is the perfect primer to what CRT is, what it helps us understand and how it has been distorted. If you are new to this area, this podcast will get you up to speed quickly. If you are a more experienced with CRT, Dr. Howard’s ability to see through the disinformation surrounding CRT will remind you that friends exist who do this work, and see the controversy (non-controversy?) in the same way you do. As Drs. Howard and Harper argue, no one in K-12 schools is teaching CRT. This is a political project that has little base in reality, which Dr. Allen explores. This episode will give you the courage to push back on uninitiated folks who have weaponized this framework.


Read, read, read our elders in this field, what they theorized, and how they wanted this work used. When we invoke CRT, we have to make sure we know what we are talking about, and what the limitations are. Talking about anything that has to do with race is NOT critical race theory. Knowledge supports courage. by Dr. Howard’s advice on foundational texts, try:

  • Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color by Kimberlé Crenshaw
  • Faces at the bottom of the well by Derrick Bell
  • Whiteness as property by Cheryl Harris


Collective Action on School Shootings, June 2022


“How are you doing?”

Jaleel opens with the most basic of questions which spurs much of the conversation regarding the recent shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo. The participants talk about their anger, sadness, and feelings of powerless. dr Harper talks about grappling with hopelessness. Listen for this alone: ​​the anger and outrage. There is something powerful in witnessing it, because you can hear—literally—the anger turn to activism. It’s totally unscripted, but the nature of collective grief. As each person vents and emotions rise and anger is evident, so too is the need to help one another through action. As they mention: organizing is a form of healing. The team’s analogies to recycling and smoking (not kidding!) are helpful. You can see the benefit of being angry together.


We believe that we teach whole students, who come to us with academic, social and psychological needs. We are at our best when we can respond to these needs. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Bottom of Form and the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative can help teachers get their feet under them as to how to support youth in crisis. Both sites contain concrete suggestions for schools, with videos, publications and handouts to use for faculty development. NCTSN has resources in Spanish as well.

As you begin your school year, knowing we are thinking of you, sending you courage, and reminding you that you are not alone. We need more of them, but likeminded folks are all around.

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