Practices of Freedom Project

Two women hugging as they celebrate freedom and liberation in education

Project Overview

Practices of Freedom: A Model for Transformative Teaching and Teacher Education aims to construct and refine a teacher training model that centers Black community educational knowledge traditions in order to increase Black teachers & teachers of color and transform curricula and pedagogy in Western Pennsylvania.

Our ambitious and multi-pronged approach brings together intergenerational micro-collectives of people to participate in study groups, signature coursework, and participatory action research projects that are grounded in Black pedagogies and knowledge traditions.

Multi-generational Impact

Using a micro-collective model, we invite high school students, college students, in-service teachers, and community educators to engage in deep learning and reflection together using a freedom-based curriculum. Program participants will take part in the following activities:

  • Critical study groups
  • Equity conversations
  • Journal reflections
  • Center for Urban Education Lunch & Learns
  • Freedom Seminars (1 credit course)
  • Black Educational Thought (3 credit course)

Funding Support

Practices of Freedom: A Model for Transformative Teaching and Teacher Education is funded by a four-year grant from the McElhattan Foundation.

Join the Micro-Collectives

Each year, we invite interested participants to apply to join our micro-collectives, which are groups of four individuals from each generation below. Over the course of each year, micro-collective members will enroll in Freedom Seminars at the University of Pittsburgh and the course Black Educational Thought taught by Dr. Elon Dancy II, and will attend various lectures, workshops, and discussions on Black educational histories and knowledge traditions. Members will also participate in a dialogic model of study to develop small group research presentations based upon shared work and interests.

We welcome Black high school students, college students, and community educators to apply. We also invite in-service teachers of all racial backgrounds to join our collectives, particularly those who work with Black youth and families. If you represent one of the four generations below and would like to participate in our program, please submit an application.

You can preview the application questions here.

  • Generation 1 participants are 11th and 12th graders from schools in our region.
  • Generation 2 participants are undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Generation 3 participants are in-service K-12 classroom teachers from schools in our region, who can be from any racial background.
  • Generation 4 participants are experienced community educators who build capacity and cultivate self-determination in their communities outside of the classroom, such as through art, sports, mutual aid, organizing, advocacy, faith-based organizations, etc.

Application Process

We review applications once every year for four years from 2022-2026. Each year, the program will begin during the fall semester, lasting eight months (September-April). You are welcome to submit an application at any time, and we encourage you to connect with our Program Director prior to applying.

Join Our Team

Collaborate with us to transform schooling & education in our region by supporting our research, recruitment, and/or educator development.

Fall 2023-Spring 2024 Graduate Student Assistantships

The Practices of Freedom program is offering two Graduate Student Assistantships for the upcoming academic year (two semesters, fall 2023 and spring 2024). Pitt doctoral students from any aligned discipline (e.g., education, history, Africana studies, sociology, etc.) are invited to apply.

  • Graduate Research Student (GSR 1) - Historian: We are seeking a doctoral student who is dedicated to researching Black and/or Indigenous education histories in Western Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh to study the Practices of Freedom Project, drawing upon historical research methods which may include archival research, document analysis, interviews, and related data analysis. The selected candidate will also have the opportunity to conduct self-directed research in alignment with project aims and in conversation with project primary investigators and program director. Graduate Research Assistantship supports 20 hours/week.
  • Graduate Research Student (GSR 2): We are seeking a doctoral student who will help to study the Practices of Freedom program as it unfolds using a range of methods. The selected candidate will also have the opportunity to conduct self-directed research in alignment with project aims and in conversation with project primary investigators and program director. This person will also work with Dr. Dancy and Dr. Vaught to adapt and teach Dr. Dancy’s current course as a year-long seminar in Black Educational Thought, as well as other relevant courses, and to support the development and adaptation of the Freedom Seminars. They may also facilitate study and dialogue with members of the program. Graduate Research Assistantship supports 20 hours/week.

The time commitment and remuneration for this position are equivalent to those for a Teaching Assistantship. The GSA cannot be held concurrently with another fellowship.

Please submit the following to Program Director Rachel Hopkins at

  • 500-word essay that includes the following information:
    • Why are you interested in this project?
    • How do you think about the relationship between education and freedom?
    • What is something you have read that has shaped your thinking about the relationship?
  • Writing Sample
  • CV or Resume
  • A letter of recommendation from someone who can speak to your intellectual interests and past participation on research teams

Additional Support Roles

Community/School Engagement Coordinator: We are seeking a community/school engagement coordinator who will collaborate with partner school districts, schools, and community partners as an integral part of identifying and recruiting youth and experienced Black educators. This position will also identify and engage local experts for training and speaking engagements, and will collaborate with the Program Director to develop and implement a family outreach and caregiver engagement plan for high school students in the program. 

Interested applicants can send a CV/resume and cover letter to Program Director Rachel Hopkins at

Speaking Engagements: We are always seeking students, educators, and activists to engage our collectives in training, workshops, and dialogue in pursuit of educational equity, justice, and liberation. 

Workshop Session Proposal Application

Meet the Team

Valerie Kinloch
Dr. Valerie Kinloch began her tenure as the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education in July 2017.  Under her leadership, the School adopted a forward-thinking mission-vision that places equity, justice, and innovation at its core. This mission-vision encourages faculty, staff, and students to work together to always ignite learning, strive for well-being for all, and disrupt and transform inequitable educational structures.  Dean Kinloch is a nationally known educator and author whose scholarship focuses on the literacy, language, culture, and community engagements of youth and adults, both inside and outside of schools. Prior to joining the Pitt School of Education, Dean Kinloch was a faculty member and Associate Dean at The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology. Before Ohio State, Dean Kinloch taught at Columbia University’s Teachers College and the University of Houston-Downtown.

Sabina Vaught
Dr. Vaught’s research considers carcerality and liberatory knowledge movements broadly and the race-gender labor and conquest relationships among schools, prisons, and insurgent communities specifically. In her scholarly work, Dr. Vaught draws on a constellation of knowledge traditions that help make sense of insurgent and counterinsurgent movements: feminisms, the Black radical tradition, Indigenous studies, and legal studies/Critical Race Theory. Her most recent book, "Compulsory: Education and the Dispossession of Youth in a Prison School" (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), is an ethnographic study inside a state juvenile prison schooling system.

T. Elon Dancy II
Dr. Dancy is Helen S. Faison Endowed Chair, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Education, and former Associate Dean for Equity and Justice in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh where he also holds appointments in Africana Studies and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His six books and nearly 100 journal articles, book chapters, and essays broadly explore education settings as sites of African diasporic struggle and worldmaking, with a focus on Black American populations. More specifically, Dancy studies masculinity formations, power and identity negotiation, and Black methodologies and anti-Blackness in education and society. His research and scholarship have been funded by several foundations and agencies, including the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Heinz Foundation. Dancy currently serves as associate editor of Educational Researcher. Prior to joining Pitt, Dancy served as Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Inclusion and Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Rachel HopkinsRachel Hopkins
Rachel Hopkins is Program Director for the Practices of Freedom Project. Her commitment to liberatory education practices and university-community partnerships is evidenced by a background of coordinating anti-racist research projects for youth and educators, supporting nonprofits in designing and facilitating culturally responsive curriculum, and engaging with youth ages 6-21 during school and out of school time spaces. During her undergraduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Rachel engaged in three community-connected internships through the Homewood Community Engagement Center, Institute of Politics, and the School of Social Work Browne Leadership Fellows Program, inviting her to work alongside community leaders, educators, and changemakers.


A recording from the event "Practices of Freedom Symposium: A Model for Transformative Teaching and Teacher Education" held on September 11, 2021 to discuss the significance of the Practices of Freedom project.

Contact Us

For any questions about the Practices of Freedom initiative, please contact our Program Director Rachel Hopkins at