Denise Davis-Cotton, Ed.D., Director, Florida Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
Ruthmae Sears, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of South Florida
Ashley Reese, Ph.D., Learning and Development Coordinator, University of South Florida
Ackeem Salmon, Art Teacher, Western International High School
As education professionals (for S.T.E.M. education, humanities, and the arts) who have taught in diverse K-20 settings and have facilitated faculty and staff development programs, we noticed a need for a systemic approach to promote inclusion, attend to equity, reflect on the implications of bias and systems of oppression, and to collectively move forward to advance our institutional strategic goals (Henderson, Beach, Finklestein, 2012; Sears & Kudaisi, 2021). Hence, we recognized the Teach, Reach, Unite, Transform, and Heal (T.R.U.T.H.) Framework (Davis-Cotton, 2021) as an appropriate tool that can help faculty develop and reflect on their ability to facilitate inclusive and equitable practices and engage in intentional actions to promote systemic changes to enhance learning opportunities for all students. The T.R.U.T.H. Framework provides a lens for individuals to reflect on their understanding and awareness of self and others and consider appropriate means to take intentional action to implement classroom and institutional changes. It is designed to stimulate moments of reflection, improve communications, and strengthen socio-cultural cohesion between faculty and students.
Each level of the T.R.U.T.H. Framework provides insights into steps that need to be taken to cultivate a welcoming culture and climate within learning environments. The T.R.U.T.H. Framework is sequential, and advancement across the levels depends on an individual’s ability to demonstrate proficiency in each level’s goals (Davis-Cotton, 2021). The T.R.U.T.H. Framework represents an intentional growth progression from a primary starting point (Teach – self-inquiry) to the highest point (Heal – collaborative interactions to promote a just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive learning environment). Hence, individuals’ progression can vary based on their experiences and depth of knowledge on the content addressed at each level. As individuals progress across the levels, they usually apply knowledge gained from previous levels.
We used the T.R.U.T.H. Framework in the pilot of the University of South Florida (USF) Inclusive and Equitable Pedagogy (IEP) Program, a collaborative initiative that teaches faculty about impactful pedagogical practices through an online course, workshop series, and learning communities. Feedback from 30 faculty members who piloted the T.R.U.T.H. Framework during the IEP program was overwhelmingly positive. The faculty members indicated that applications of the T.R.U.T.H. Framework helped them reflect on the implication of stereotypical bias in their instructional practices and the dangers of deficit ideologies. Faculty also recognized a dire need for institutions to be proactive and implement structural changes to eliminate perpetual inequities. By engaging in courageous conversations and taking steps to progress across the levels, faculty acknowledged that the tool fostered a sense of belonging, promoted students’ agency, and focused their attention on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within their instructional practices.
Below we describe the levels of the T.R.U.T. H. Framework and consider the implications for it being utilized in diverse learning environments.
The Five Levels of the T. R.U.T.H. Framework
In closing, the T.R.U.T.H. Framework can serve as a reflection tool to support systemic change initiatives within learning environments to promote inclusion and attend to equity, such that everyone thrives. The future of an inclusive educational landscape in higher education requires an investment in time. To implement T.R.U.T.H. in STEM means establishing a clear sense of how and where the tool is applied to include diverse perspectives (Davis-Cotton, 2021). Using the T.R.U.T. H. Framework can help cultivate an awareness of appropriate resources, support capacity building by influencing operational norms and practices, and promote engaging in actions that can contribute to structural changes that are just, equitable, and inclusive.