PhD in Exceptionalities Graduate

Christina Keaulana

"Hopefully, my research can help inform how we prepare future educators to impart a growth mindset for all children."


Waipahu, Hawai'i


Special Education

Related Degrees

  • PhD, Education: Exceptionalities

Current Position
I am currently an instructor of teacher education at Leeward Community College (LCC). I am also a University Supervisor at Chaminade University and Liberty University where I conduct field supervision for student teachers.

How did you become interested in the special education field?
My first teaching job was with incarcerated youth at a residential correctional facility where the majority of the student residents were identified with some kid of learning disability and were also from minority populations. Working closely with these young men, I really saw the social injustice and detriment of the school-to-prison pipeline firsthand.

Since then, I have been committed to working with underserved populations—orphanages in Thailand, inner city public schools with English language learners, and rural schools in impoverished communities. I’m a staunch believer that teachers’ deficit thinking can lead to failure syndrome in our youth. Chronic academic failure, in turn, leads to negative social outcomes, such as delinquency, poor health, lower incomes, and even early death.

Describe the course for which you won an Innovative Online Teaching Award.
My course, Partnerships with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families, was recognized by LCC for its nonlinear framework. I encourage student-to-student as well as student-to-instructor collaboration, and I try to maintain an engaging open classroom community. Students are able to bring their own interests and discoveries into the course through active learning strategies.

As a first generation immigrant and long-time educator in communities serving culturally and linguistically diverse populations, I really wanted to create a course in which students shared stories, struggles, and inquiries about this unique topic. The structure of the course allowed me to really get to know the students and offer feedback on a personal level. As colleges continue to offer more and more online course options, I hope to share my methods of teaching to encourage instructors to step outside of the typically detached distance learning experience.”

How have you incorporated your own education journey and teaching experiences into your dissertation?
I want to be honest and say that I am hardly a perfect educator. In the past, I believe I lowered my expectations for students when I should have raised the bar. I refused to confront my own privilege, and my biases negatively impacted some of the instructional choices I made. I attributed the failure of students to deficits I believed were outside of my control as an educator.  Although it is a hard pill to swallow, I believe my good intentions as a teacher were sometimes misfired and did not lead to successful outcomes. Today, I have my students reflect deeply on their auto-ethnographic stories and how their subconscious attitudes towards people, behaviors, poverty, cultural differences, parenting differences, etc. may impact their learning and teaching practices.

My dissertation addresses how teacher attributions influence the way we respond to student failure and student misbehavior. Teacher responses have a powerful influence on how students perceive of themselves. If we attribute failure to inherent deficiencies in the child, the student begins to believe they have limited potential. If we attribute their failure to a lack of effort or poor instruction, then we might be more inclined to change our teaching strategies to improve future outcomes for the student. Through my work as a special educator for over a decade, I have learned that teachers of all races and all socio-economic backgrounds harbor biased attitudes, internalized racism, and rescuer identities that profoundly impact the way they teach. Hopefully, my research can help inform how we prepare future educators to impart a growth mindset for all children.

What are your future plans?
I am helping to coordinate a new alternative pathway to licensure in SPED at Leeward CC.  I plant to continue working to improve educational opportunities and long-term outcomes for historically underserved populations.

I'm interested in learning more about a degree or certificate in Special Education.

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