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Brian Barrett

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"What matters most to a child in school is who their teacher is. I want Cortland teachers to see what a powerful force they can be as change agents in students’ lives."


On the list of reasons why SUNY Cortland is a great college for those who want to become teachers, be sure not to overlook this one: all Cortland teachers-to-be take coursework in a department called Foundations and Social Advocacy. And what that name may not make immediately clear, Brian Barrett, an assistant professor in the department, will.

“We look at the social, philosophical and historical issues that the educational system was founded upon,” Professor Barrett says. “We focus on how that system can disadvantage some students and what teachers can do about it. It’s not about lesson plans. It’s not the top 10 tips for disciplining students. We want to challenge teachers’ perceptions of students, to shape the lens they see students through.”

Challenging perceptions might mean helping a Cortland student-teacher from a suburban neighborhood to think about the different experiences of underrepresented students in urban schools. Or it might mean rethinking assumptions about the capabilities of children with learning disabilities. “Teachers need to understand how their own experiences shape their view of ‘normal,’” Professor Barrett says. “And then they need to move away from that.”

The goal, he says, is for SUNY Cortland-educated teachers to be able to maintain high expectations for all students they teach, and then provide those students with the guidance they need to succeed.

“What matters most to a child in school is who their teacher is,” says Professor Barrett. “I want Cortland teachers to see what a powerful force they can be as change agents in students’ lives.”