When Dr. Shari Saunders, the Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Teacher Education, enters the room, she brings her whole self with her. The Associate Dean’s energy is contagious and her inquisitive questions and engaging personality are matched by her gift of storytelling. Dr. Saunders has been with the University of Michigan since 1990, and along with being an associate dean, she is a clinical professor of education. She also offers instructional leadership to the SOE in her role as a Faculty Liaison for Inclusive Teaching to the Provost’s Office.
The Associate Dean’s energy is contagious and her inquisitive questions and engaging personality are matched by her gift of storytelling. Dr. Saunders has been with the University of Michigan since 1990, and along with being an associate dean, she is a clinical professor of education. She also offers instructional leadership to the SOE in her role as a Faculty Liaison for Inclusive Teaching to the Provost’s Office.
Before the “diversity, inclusion, justice, and equity” terminology existed at Michigan, Dr. Saunders applied these concepts in courses she taught as an assistant professor. After five years in that role, she then served as the Coordinator of Multicultural Teaching and Learning Services at U-M’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching for four years. Dr. Saunders then moved to the Office of Student Affairs in the Michigan Union where she was the Coordinator of the Transforming Communities Project. These early dimensions of what we now refer to as “dije work,” positioned Dr. Saunders to help bring multiple community groups together to address their social experiences and identities.
Now, as SOE’s Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Teacher Education, she is working with SOE program leaders to develop a shared understanding of dije and social justice for students in our educator preparation programs. In her current leadership position, Dr. Saunders leverages all of her past experiences to contribute to SOE’s advancement. She referred to the various parts of her life as a “journey...one that is shifting and morphing, where the work of dije is embedded in all of it.”
At SOE, Dr. Saunders also works to offer high quality dije professional development opportunities to students, staff, and faculty alike. She recently invited Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni to facilitate workshops at the SOE after seeing DiGiovanni perform on campus last year. Saunders initially asked DiGiovanni to present dije training to SOE’s Teacher Education students. She then asked her to offer workshops to all SOE community members. Dr. Saunders also led a workshop for graduate student instructors entitled “Circle Processes as a Starting Point for Engaging with Controversial Topics in the University Classroom.” That workshop was designed to help the instructors learn to use inclusive strategies and management techniques when facilitating challenging classroom discussions.
Dr. Saunders champions the idea of educators fostering a “brave space” in classrooms, which requires developing a classroom community where people can speak honestly and be open to being challenged and uncomfortable—goals she works to accomplish in her own teaching. She stated that she “very rarely lectures,” and instead focuses on which authors and activities that can be used in the classroom so students are participating in hands-on practice with dije. She frequently incorporates social emotional learning and daily assessments in her classrooms too, where students are able to speak about how course topics and their learning affect them personally and in academic settings. Additionally, Saunders invites student to assess how they are honoring the classroom norms of their co-created community agreement. During the summer, her teacher education students are often given opportunities to teach with the TeachLIVE lab too, which is an innovative, online, simulated teaching environment.
Outside of her professional roles, Dr. Saunders finds some time to continue expanding her own education and maintain work-life balance. She said one of her biggest and most important personal goals is to work with her mom to make sure she reaches a minimum of 90 years old. Dr. Saunders explained that she “calls her and engages her mind regularly.” Her commitment to her mother's own health and longevity is matched by her own passion for personal well-being and self-care. Dr. Saunders has completed her certification as a health coach, and is hoping to complete a Yamuna body rolling teacher certification in the future. When she is not too busy, you can also find her in “tons of cooking classes,” where she may be learning how to become a raw food chef and make delicious and healthy food. Dr. Saunders is also trained in aromatherapy, and occasionally engages in quilting, jewelry making, and balcony gardening. Enjoying spas and traveling to bed and breakfasts across the country is another one of Dr. Saunders’ loves. Overall, Dr. Shari Saunders’ life, and engagement with the School of Education, is passionate and deeply-rooted in dije and in affirming her own humanity as well as that of her students and future generations.
MORE FROM Expansions Vol 2
The School of Education is proud to be a leader in the campus-wide initiative promoting Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. Adding "Justice" to these values underscores the role of educators in the creation of just societies. Through research, public scholarship, community building, and the preparation of education practitioners and policymakers, we articulate and advance our dije agenda.