Collapsing silos between communities:

Werklund Research Professor highlights the potential in cultural and linguistic diversity

Dr. Rahat Zaidi

Dr. Rahat Zaidi

Following a competitive internal process, Dr. Rahat Zaidi, PhD, Professor at the Werklund School of Education, has been appointed a Werklund Research Professor.

Zaidi studies the intimate connection between language, culture and identity, and uses her scholarship to underscore the untapped power within diversity to advance social justice, equity and inclusion in immigrant and transcultural contexts. The acute need for Zaidi’s work is evidenced by Canada’s multilingual, multi-ethnic classroom demographic, which, in part, has been precipitated by global crises that continue to impact refugee communities.  Her research has created opportunities to better understand how literacy and language learning can be made more inclusive for minority students and their families.

The Sorbonne-educated chair of Language and Literacy specialization at the Werklund School has focused her research on influencing teacher practice and student perceptions of diversity, while demystifying language and literacy learning methodologies, better integrating collaborative and intergenerational involvement in schooling and reframing educators’ critical consciousness of “the other”. She points to her identity as a Muslim immigrant and female researcher as having helped shape her understanding of the many challenges facing newcomers and approaches this from a position of radical hope.

“I point to possibilities, what can happen when people mix and meet and mingle, suggest rectifying, unlearning many of the things we have learned, not just celebrating diversity, but cosmopolitanizing and transforming into a new vision of citizenship education,” Zaidi explained during a presentation to faculty.

“The [research] participants with whom I collaborate represent those who may feel racially, culturally, religiously and linguistically marginalized within the community. Essentially, I work towards collapsing silos among homes, communities and schools so that cultural practices and linguistic systems can become more porous and dialogic.”

Through engaging these communities in her research, Zaidi aims to support them in developing a stronger voice and active role in their education. 

“I advocate for unlocking empowerment strategies that enable and support children and adults to function well within their new environment, without losing their former identity, culture and language.”

Her efforts have led to recommendations for province-wide initiatives to support refugee and immigrant families navigating the education system.  Zaidi’s innovative work and her commitment to community have been recognized by the City of Calgary, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and by the American Education Researchers Association.  

Zaidi is excited to continue her work and connect with educational stakeholders in her new post as a Werklund Research Professor.  She says she plans to further engage teacher educators, practitioners, administrators and graduate students in ways that will empower teachers and scholars, but community members too, as they remain a significant part of her research.

Zaidi’s blueprint for collapsing silos between communities includes engaging in methodological innovation, empowering people with training for advocacy in a post-pandemic world and evolving understandings of the shifting linguistic landscapes of education systems

“I envision myself as a scholar-activist, asking the question: ‘How can we help?’”

This award provides Werklund Research Professors with the opportunity to amplify their current research direction and/or expand their program of research in new directions that are aligned with the Werklund School of Education’s Research Areas and the University of Calgary’s strategic research direction. Three Werklund Research Professorships are funded from the Werklund School of Education Endowment over a period of five years. 

The Werklund Research Professorship is made possible through the gift of David Werklund to the University of Calgary’s fundraising campaign Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High, the third-largest successfully completed post-secondary fundraising campaign in Canadian history. The campaign has helped the university invest in new student experiences, innovation in teaching and learning, and foster deeper connections with the university.