Faculty Research Spotlight: Dr. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner


By: Yu-shan Huang (Wheelock ’21)

Dr. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner is a Lecturer at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Her research focuses on education policy and politics, with an emphasis on policy and program implementation, continuous improvement research, school improvement, civics education, and global citizenship education. With a contract awarded by the Massachusetts’ Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Dr. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner led a team at BU and Tufts University to conduct research on and evaluation of the state of civic education in Massachusetts.

Can you share an overview of the aims and progress of the work you are undertaking now?

There are two grants that I’ve been working on since joining BU faculty. First with the grant awarded by the Kern Family Foundation, the work is around leadership and character education – how to develop, implement and scale across programs character education approaches. My work utilizes continuous improvement research and focuses on helping teams that come from different higher education and K-12 institutions to identify and address problems of practice around implementing character education. I am also facilitating the building of a broader community network and evaluating the efficacy of the continuous improvement education process for those who participate in it.

With the civics education grant from the Massachusetts’ Department of Education, we evaluated the state of civics education across the whole state. We surveyed over 600 interviews with K-12 educators and conducted follow-up interviews with almost 50. Our findings, which will be released in the coming weeks, sheds light on educators’ understanding, awareness, and implementation of the state’s 2018 History and Social Science (HSS) Framework and civics project legislation set forth in Chapter 296 of the Acts of 2018, drivers of civic teacher competency, and teachers’ reports of what they need to best support them in teaching civics.

As an author of two books – Becoming a Globally Competent Teacher and Becoming a Globally Competent School Leader – What would you say a globally competent and engaged school looks like? And is there a place for teaching global competence in STEM fields?

If we think about a school whose mission is to foster global citizens, we should see curriculum and teaching that make learning relevant to global issues that have local impact. It is this idea about a deep commitment to the local communities and how they are connected to the larger world that inspire students to take action and make a difference in the world.

I get asked a lot about teaching global competence in fields other than social studies and language arts, in which readings and perspective sharing from different cultures are natural in design. But yes, there certainly is a place for teaching global competence in math and science. What I have seen in my observations is the crafting of math problems that connect to real world contexts. It takes practice and learning, but it becomes easy to do once you get the hang of it.

What are some challenges or small victories you have encountered in your research efforts that other researchers could potentially learn from?

I strongly believe in research practice partnerships. In both my research on global competence and in civic education, partnering with government entities and district leaders in ways that are mutually beneficial to advance the work in civic education and global competence has helped me as a researcher map the landscape and understand the broader context of what is happening in different schools, districts, and in policy arenas. Reciprocally, my work serves the real needs of practitioners and policymakers to inform implementation and policy adaptation that will hopefully lead to educational improvements.

Where is your research headed?

What I have found across my projects are a lot of commonalities between global citizenship education and civic education. The work I have been doing looks at state policies and how they are implemented across the state and in select district contexts. What I look forward to next is partnering with districts to – using continuous improvement processes –  develop, implement, and ultimately scale best practices for civics that emphasize student voice and student action in making their communities more equitable and just.