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 'An administrator who thinks with her heart and her head:' Tara Goldstein begins three-year appointment as vice principal of New College  

July 20, 2020

By Marianne Lau

Tara Goldstein, pictured front row centre with her students, has spent her career pursuing and enacting equity and change within educational institutions, in both research and administrative capacities (photo by Adam Lee).

Tikkun olam. It's an old Hebrew phrase translates to repairing the world” – and it's a concept that Tara Goldstein holds dear.

In carrying out her own mission to repair the world, Professor Goldstein has spent most of her life fighting for equity in education. From working with English-language learners to training pre-service teachers or spearheading anti-oppression initiatives in school systems, tikkun olam has been at the centre of her work. It will continue to drive her as she enters the next phase of her career.

Goldstein has been appointed vice principal of New College at the University of Toronto for a three-year term. The role began officially on July 1, but Goldstein has working with the college to support the shift in programming since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March.

She will be responsible for ensuring the wellbeing and the growth of the college's seven academic programs. This means ensuring that all students and faculty have the resources and supports they need to succeed – and health is a top priority.

"I want to do everything I can to support faculty and students who will be returning to school under challenging circumstances," she said. "A large part of that is creating a culture of care that considers the stresses involved with continuing school during a pandemic, especially for students."

Goldstein is no stranger to New College. She became acquainted with the community while teaching the undergraduate course "Equity, Activism and Education" for the past eight years. She's always been struck by the College's commitment to equity, but when she attended her first program directors' meeting in March, she knew it was a place she wanted to call home.

"When I heard Bonnie McElhinny, the Principal of New College, speak about the school's principles of equity, solidarity, collaboration, justice and collective safety, I knew that I was in a place that celebrated the kinds of values that I have," Goldstein said.

For McElhinny, the feeling is mutual.

"Tara brings a long-standing relationship with the College through teaching a course on Equity, Activism and Education, a wealth of pedagogical experience as an award-winning teacher, and an outstanding set of contributions as a researcher and playwright," McElhinny said.

"She is an administrator who thinks deeply, with her head and her heart." 

Administering for change: Giving teacher education an anti-racist framework

Goldstein steps into her role with years of experience pursuing and enacting equity and change within educational institutions, in both research and administrative capacities.

Arriving as OISE faculty in 1993, Goldstein describes the early days of her career as one where she experimented in developing a foundation for creating equitable institutional change. Ten years into her career at OISE, she took up her first administrative post as associate chair in the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning (CTL) where she led far-reaching changes to OISE's teacher education program.

In the mid-2000s, Goldstein attended a forum on racism in schooling organized by her colleague, renowned anti-racist educator George Dei. Close to 100 parents, community activists, teachers and students attended the event to discuss racism – particularly anti-Black racism – in Toronto's schools.

Goldstein was struck by hearing OISE teacher education students speaking out about the racism they had experienced in their classes. "I realized we had a lot of anti-racist equity work to do within our own program if we wanted our students of colour to thrive," she said.

This experience motivated Goldstein to launch the Equity Advocacy and Action Group in Initial Teacher Education – to shift OISE's teacher training program towards an anti-racist framework.

In its time, the group recruited a new cohort of instructors – practicing teachers – who were committed to equity, understood issues of racism, and wanted to help OISE make changes to its initial teacher education program. Together, over the course of five years, they were able to implement these frameworks within OISE teacher education courses to help students of colour succeed and train pre-service, future teachers on anti-racist education frameworks and pedagogies.

It was her first foray into doing equity work on such a large institutional scale. To this day, Goldstein is still amazed by the reach of this experience.

"When you think about the people who were hired during that era of doing deep anti-racist equity work, the initiatives we all did together both inside and outside of our courses, and the number of students that we reached during that time – that's a lot of people impacted." 

Tara Goldstein (left) with her wife Margot (right). Photo courtesy of Tara Goldstein. 

Tikkun olam: Educating for equity

The principle of making change is deeply engrained in Goldstein. She grew up in a family where community activism was highly valued, and her great aunt, Lea Roback, was a prominent labor and women and children's rights activist in Quebec. Roback is known for leading the strikes in the woman's garment industry for a living wage.

Her family raised her on stories about tikkun olam and how one's purpose in life was to do what they could to repair the world. For herself, Goldstein found that purpose through education.

She had a vocation for education and spent her early career teaching English as a second language students, where she found that issues of language, race, and racism were inherently linked. Listening to her students speak about their lived experiences deeply impacted how she saw her role as an educator.

"You realize that you have the responsibility of somebody who is in a position of privilege and influence to do something."

Over the years, she put in the work that she sees as necessary to "build your influence in an institution" and use it to wield change for students and educators alike. She's drawn to opportunities for developing "new spheres of influence around equity work."

Goldstein became the CTL chair following her stint as associate chair from 2008 to 2010, then served as academic director for OISE's Centre for Urban Schooling from 2014 to 2016.

When her chair-ship ended in 2010, Goldstein saw a dearth of academic research on education, gender, and sexuality issues. In this, she saw a "new sphere of influence that was still in its infancy" and wanted to contribute.

She dived right into establishing a new research and teaching program around these issues. In 2014, Goldstein launched the LGBTQ Families Speak Out research project, where she and her graduate students conducted video interviews of LGBTQ families in publicly-funded schools across Ontario. The project documented the issues they faced and showcased how they worked with teachers to create safer and more welcoming learning environments for their children.

When funding for this project came to an end in March 2020, she was serendipitously tapped on the shoulder by New College. "I realized that they needed somebody who could bring exactly what I had in my history to bring – the ability to administer from an equity perspective. I saw it as a way to share my experience, and to me, it was a great next step."

Excitement for the future, appreciating the past

It won't be easy for Goldstein to take a step back from OISE. She has called the Institute home since arriving here as a doctoral student in 1985.

Reflecting on Goldstein's 30-plus years at the Institute, Dean Glen Jones says that Goldstein has been an outstanding and exemplary OISE citizen.

"Tara is a prolific, impactful scholar who has contributed so much to contemporary discussions of equity, and one of those individuals who has played important leadership roles throughout the Institute, including as a former department chair," he said.

"I am extremely pleased that she will be sharing her tremendous skills, expertise, and administrative abilities with New College."

Although Goldstein will continue to retain her home appointment at OISE, she will miss being rooted here.

"I will miss the opportunity to socialize with people who I've been working with for three decades, and with whom I've built programming at OISE. I'll also miss working with the new generation of scholars who are building a new OISE in the ways that they think are important."

That said, Goldstein is looking forward to graduating her group of 18 graduate students at OISE and reuniting with her colleagues at the annual CTL holiday dinner — her favourite seasonal tradition. 

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