Joby Gardner, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor and Director of the Curriculum Studies Master’s and Doctoral programs in the Department of Leadership, Language and Curriculum. Dr. Gardner specializes in education of non-traditional students like high school returners and formerly incarcerated young people and also studies teacher leadership and teacher professional collaboration.
Having taught various grade levels in California and Louisiana, Gardner’s experiences working with non-traditional students in the justice system influenced his decision to start his current participatory action research project in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Educational Options. He also works with students at Peace & Education Coalition Alternative High School and Nancy B. Jefferson School at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
Before coming to DePaul, Dr. Gardner worked with high school returners and some formerly incarcerated youth as Education Director at the Howard Area Leadership Academy, an alternative school affiliated with the Howard Area Community Center and located on the far north side of Chicago that offered several youth development services. After overseeing various projects and initiatives there for seven years, Dr. Gardner decided to devote his time to teaching, research, and program leadership which led to a full-time position at DePaul.
The Peace & Education project aims to identify and examine the challenges of incarcerated youth who are considering or attempting to go back to school. Dr. Gardner hopes that sharing the personal stories of struggles often faced by these youth will contribute to movements to reform juvenile and criminal justice and education throughout Chicago to get low level and non-violent young people out of jails and back into school.
“Most of the research involved individual and focus group interviews of young people struggling to return to school or stay in school, with youth researchers serving as interviewers,” says Dr. Gardner. “We also interviewed police officers, teachers, probation officers, community leaders, and parents over the course of the year. Right now I’m working on analyzing the data we have to develop new pathways and supports for these students and their families as they seek to complete high school.”
Dr. Gardner says that his experience working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth through the Peace & Education project has been very rewarding. He says the young people have taught him a lot about determination and resilience and he hopes that working as researchers on the project has provided them some additional motivation to keep pursuing an education despite many obstacles they face.
“It is not easy because the young people are often entirely on their own and trying to go juggle so many parts of their life,” says Dr. Gardner. “As an educator, I have always believed in the power of education to change lives, and as a country, we believe in opportunities for all. For many of these young people, opportunity and education are not easily exercised realities.”
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Gardner also coordinates workshops and meetings with the Teachers’ Inquiry Project (TIP). Started with colleagues at Francis Parker School, the goal of TIP is to improve the sustainability of teaching as a career by creating a support system with teachers at various stages in their career.
“We lose half of our teachers in the first five years in the profession, and that’s a terrible waste of talent when those teachers leave,” says Dr. Gardner. “We wanted to provide a space where teachers could grow professionally as well as emotionally and even spiritually. TIP is a teacher-driven form of professional development—by teachers and for teachers.”
At TIP workshops, teachers meet in small groups to look at samples of student work, share accounts of their classroom practice, and discuss short pieces of research, literature, and poetry about teaching and the democratic mission of schools. By sharing each other’s experiences, TIP serves as a way for teachers to recharge after facing the day-to-day pressures of school life.
A major aspect of Dr. Gardner’s teaching at DePaul includes helping his students reflect and act on the civic and democratic roles of schools. He incorporates his experiences working with juveniles and other teaching professionals into his coursework. Dr. Gardner ultimately wants students in his classes to connect with class material on a personal level.
“As educators, we’re charged with a moral responsibility to help our students understand their own agency or power to be involved in shaping their communities,” says Dr. Gardner. “When I look at research or writing with groups of students, I really want to make sure they consider the direct implications of the work for their own lives.”
When he is away from the classroom and not busy with research projects, Dr. Gardner enjoys spending time with his wife and three children. He also spends time at the gym to energize, with swimming and biking being his favorite activities.