Dr. Farha Shariff is a teacher educator and advisor to the Office of the Dean on equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) and racial justice in the Faculty of Education. She’s also a mom, boxing coach and proponent of pineapple on pizza. Spend a few minutes getting to know Dr. Shariff.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My favourite division to teach is junior high! I left the classroom to teach at the U of A and I have been a teacher educator for more than 15 years. I completed my BEd in Elementary Education at the U of A. I completed my MEd at York University and my PhD at the U of A. Some of my favourite things include: crunchy peanut butter; pineapple and jalapeños on pizza; a good pair of trainers; my ‘90s hip hop/ R&B playlist and a strong cappuccino with one shot of vanilla.
What brought you to the U of A Faculty of Education?
I come from a long line of U of A alumni as the daughter of Muslim immigrants who came to the University of Alberta in the early 1960s. My mom completed her BEd and MEd and my dad completed his PhD at the U of A. I am also a U of A alum, completing my BEd and PhD here. My eldest daughter is in her second year at the U of A.
How did you become involved in working in Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity? What does that term mean to you in the context of education?
Both my master's and doctoral work were grounded in equity and anti-oppression. As a racialized woman, my experiences as a young student, then as a young teacher and now as a (still young!) teacher educator have afforded me lived experiences with gendered racism. I feel it is my responsibility to combine my academic expertise with my lived experience to highlight that it is no longer enough to just be antiracist. Diverse schools don't always equate to equitable schools. As educators, we need to make sure that while we build cultural capacity, to always be sure we are not othering in the process. The road to antiracism has to happen on many levels: individual, community, and institutional. We must be called to act even when we are uncertain, not fully informed and mostly when we are uncomfortable.
What is your goal or vision as special advisor, EDI and racial justice in the Faculty of Education?
We are at a very crucial moment in our University's history; through this restructuring process, we have the capacity to make some very progressive changes to our current structures of education, leadership and governance. I would like to see all our decisions made through the lens of our Equity mandate: to understand that many or all of our decisions will impact equity-deserving groups the most. It's time to start considering how we build capacity and for whom. Part of shifting culture is understanding and acknowledging how, institutionally, we are also complicit in the harm. Many institutions have created some excellent anti-oppressive paper work but this paper work is not grounded in action and accountability. I would like to see our Faculty grounded in IDDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Decolonization, Equity and Accountability/Action.
What does a typical work day consist of?
7 a.m.: Wake up, train or run, get my kids off to school, head to work, teach. 3 p.m.: pick up my kids, walk my dogs, dinner with the family, another walk (if it's warm!), marking, emails, class prep. 9 p.m.: The National, Netflix, reset.
What is your favourite part of the work you do? What do you find most challenging?
Working with preservice teachers and then seeing them in practice years later. I will always ground my teaching in relationships built on trust, mutual respect and reciprocity. What I find most challenging (while at the same time, rewarding) is finding ways to constantly check my teaching practice; what does it mean to decolonize my teaching? Our current systems of education are grounded in some very colonial practices. How do we dismantle and rebuild equitable teaching practices?
What advice do you have for preservice teachers?
One of my favourite quotes that sums up my advice to preservice educators comes from the legendary Toni Morrison: "When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else." Acknowledge your privilege and be an edu-activist. Teaching is one of the most vulnerable professions and what a privilege it is to teach the young people who will be our next world leaders, prime ministers, and future change agents.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
What's spare time?? Ha ha, when I do have some, I have discovered how powerful daily walks can be for my mental, spiritual and physical health, or you can catch me coaching boxing, also great for my health!