Vanessa Rodriguez

Personal Spotlight

We asked scholars to describe some of the following questions: What drew you to do work on Latino youth and families? Who was an important mentor to you in this work? What tips do you have for someone starting out?

I only recently admitted to myself that I had an interest in studying Latino teachers. I was raised to be proud of my Puerto Rican heritage privately but not focus on it publicly because it would only harm my chances of success. Ironically, it was an equal opportunity scholarship that afforded me the chance to go to college and started my first career as a NYC public school teacher.  This contradiction and the journey of self-awareness as a Latina, teacher and researcher are at the core of my work in teacher cognitive development.

In my personal life, this manifested in a career thriving in a white dominant educational research culture while always gravitating to people of color in my personal life.  These worlds increasingly collided when I was middle school teacher as I agitated against a system that seemed to resist the voice of a Latina teacher who refused to follow the scripted curricula targeted at teachers and students of color.  I began to conceptualize how I was growing as a teacher and that suppressing my Latina identity was holding back that growth.

I left the classroom intent on empowering teachers and their voice.  At Harvard, I had the great fortune of meeting my research mentor Dr. Kurt Fischer whose dynamic skill theory resonated with my experience and served as inspiration for my career dedicated to creating a developmental understanding of teacher cognition.  My framework for teacher development embraces self-awareness and stresses the importance of how understanding the identities of teachers and students is critical to fostering robust educational relationships.  For me, this has translated into a new phase of my career exploring how my teacher and Latina identities intersect. My tip to someone starting out in the field is to begin with understanding yourself before you engross yourself in how others see the world.

Research Spotlight

We invited scholars to describe a recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it. 

Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng’s 2016 paper that demonstrated how Latino teachers were the most positively perceived by students of all backgrounds was transformative.  His observation was evidence that keeping my Latina identity separated from my professional teacher identity was not only impossible but also detrimental to myself and my students.  These dynamics are also at play in the ongoing study I am part of, in partnership with the NYC Department of Education Pre-K for all initiative, which examines Head Start early care and education teachers’ social emotional competencies.  As part of ThriveNYC, a citywide mental health initiative focusing on SEL development in early childhood, it became ever more present how Latina educators are being tasked daily with supporting their students of color in a system that doesn’t support their own SEL development nor value their Latina identities despite the research suggesting its positive impact.

Any upcoming talks, presentations, or publications we should know about?

This past year at the as co-chair and sponsor of the 2019 Learning and the Brain conference in NYC I put together a panel of faculty of color to discuss how their racial identity shapes their research identity. With the success of that panel I’ve been asked to return to further delve into my research with teachers of color as part of their conference on The Science of Self.  The 2020 Learning and the Brain Conference is May 1-3 in NYC.

I was also awarded an NSF grant to organize a two-day conference in the Spring of 2020 entitled, “Mind, Brain and Education in STEM Learning: Research, Policy and Practice Collaboratory. This 2nd annual conference will focus on bridging the gap between research, policy and practice while considering how racial identify intersects with each of these in this emerging field.

Reflections on Latino Caucus Experiences

Finally, we asked about experiences with the SRCD Latino Caucus: Why is the caucus important and/or your views on the role of the Latino Caucus vis-à-vis SRCD, research on child development, policy/practice.

This past Spring was the first time I attended SRCD and my introduction to participating in anything that was publicly Latino. The Town Hall meeting was transformative for me. I was deeply moved by the pride and power shared in such vulnerability especially among the senior members. I left the meeting inspired to continue my journey towards integrating my Latina identity with my work. The Caucus gives me the courage to take this path and the confidence that there is a community of researchers who share my identity and value what it has to offer to research on cognitive development.


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