After engaging in a structured overhaul of a favorite course, this professor shares her steps, snags, and strategies that can be applied to any redesign.
Deidre L. Wheaton, PhD
Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and of Cultural Studies, Jackson State University
PhD in American Culture (focus: 20th-Century African American Culture), MA in American Culture and in English, BA in English, minor in African World Studies
The College of Education at Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, MS, experienced a watershed moment at the start of the Fall 2016 academic year. Our academic dean announced with great enthusiasm that JSU had become a partner in an eight-member coalition of teacher preparation programs committed to transforming education by challenging the status quo and disrupting traditional models of teaching and learning. JSU had been selected to be the next test site for the Texas Tech University model of teacher preparation.
The call to transform and renew
Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Texas Tech University (TTU) model, known as the University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation (US PREP) represented a new direction for teacher education at JSU. The excitement of having an infusion of external grant dollars flowing into the college was palpable; however, it was somewhat tempered as the reality of this new partnership set in.
Disrupting traditional models would mean a major overhaul of our curricula, significant revision of some core education courses, extensive training in a new model for evaluating effective student teaching, not to mention transitioning students from a one-semester to a full-year teacher residency—all to be completed over the next 12–18 months.
However, motivations for such monumental and rapid changes were numerous and existed at both the public school and college levels.
The context for change
The education scene in 2016 was grim: One of the largest school districts in Mississippi (and the district that many of JSU’s teacher candidates enter into) was failing. In 2017, in fact, the Mississippi Department of Education recommended that the Governor take over the district—a recommendation he declined to accept, opting instead to leave the fate of the school system and its students in the hands of local city leaders and an external funder. Each year Mississippi school districts—particularly those in high-need rural and majority-minority urban areas—began the school year with major teacher shortages, which meant that it was not unheard of for students to endure an entire school year with a string of substitute teachers or teachers working with temporary licenses.
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The outlook for the educational landscape was also bleak at the college level. Over the past several years, the number of JSU students expressing interest in education as a major had been declining; once the university’s largest college, Education had been surpassed by the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology in terms of enrollment. The Fall 2018 Freshman Convocation Ceremony was illustrative of the dire circumstances. Of the event’s attendees, there were over 500 new students who intended to major in a STEM discipline or related area, versus only 19 incoming and transfer students who desired to major in education (and of those 19, only one was a young man).
Not only did interest in the profession seem to be declining but, for those students who did have a passion for education, the likelihood of moving seamlessly through the program was not great. Unfortunately, students often struggled to pass required licensure examinations; this often meant that, in a college of more than 2,000 education majors (graduate and undergraduate), it was common for only a handful of undergraduate teacher candidates (10–20 students per semester) to meet the qualifications to complete the teacher residency. Even among those who were successful, Mississippi mirrored the rest of the nation in teacher turnover, with many new teachers either leaving the profession after the first few years because of stress, burnout, and frustration, or leaving the state for positions offering better salaries.
The challenges were numerous, complex, overlapping, very political, and obviously informed by both economic disparities and racial inequities. All of the educators and administrators in the JSU College of Education were in agreement that “something” needed to change if we were to remain a relevant, trusted, and significant voice in the educational future of our state.
The US PREP process of transformation
In the face of these issues, the decision was made to focus on one small area in which we could have some direct impact: the approaches that we use to prepare future educators. We would engage in this transformation by adopting and following the US PREP model of teacher preparation. This model is a rather comprehensive one with many moving parts, but, in a nutshell, the US PREP process emphasizes partnerships among universities, local school districts, communities, and businesses/donors to revise the narrative of educational underachievement. These partnerships are grounded in a vision that includes transforming higher education teacher preparation programs so that they will “produce the best educators,” “conduct relevant research,” and focus on being “client-driven” in order to have measurable impact on students in K–12 settings. (See TTU College of Education Dean Scott Ridley’s article “How a Texas College of Education Is Building Meaningful Partnerships with Schools” for a detailed explanation of what is included in the US PREP model.)
The US PREP vision of producing great teachers takes shape through a multifaceted program that includes:
1. Authentic university-school partnerships
University leaders and faculty engage in regular dialogs and “data sharing days” with public school district leaders, school principals, and teachers. Opportunities are provided for university faculty to receive feedback regarding the strengths and weaknesses of new JSU-trained teachers entering local school settings.
2. Data-driven decision-making and assessment
University administrators, faculty, and future educators are expected to clarify how they collect, share, and use data to make informed decisions regarding how they facilitate ongoing improvements in student learning. Structured research design is used to help measure impact at the college, department, course, and assignment levels.
3. Content area teaching methods
Teacher preparation program leaders and faculty are expected to revise core methods courses to emphasize effective teaching strategies in the content area. This is done to promote the belief that high-quality teaching (effective teaching) in the content area should be based on methods that have been proven to facilitate student learning. These methods would then be implemented in an extended (yearlong) teacher residency in which students co-teach with a mentor teacher and receive ongoing feedback from a site supervisor.
For the College of Education at JSU, this model of “renewing” meant a long and arduous process of professional development and training, meeting with partners, re-establishing relationships—and yes, engaging in full-scale curriculum review and, ultimately, major course revisions—to integrate the various measures for teacher effectiveness into the curriculum.
The US PREP promise of renewal
The language used to describe the process and the promise of our coalition is likely very familiar. In essence, a version of the often-controversial school reform movement had reached our campus, our teacher preparation program, our department, and ultimately the courses and students that we teach at JSU. (See Dale Russakoff’s The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools for an analysis of school reform and educational transformation.)
Ready or not, we were poised for a significant shift. We were now part of a national education renewal engine.
“These changes, it was argued, would prepare teachers to begin teaching positions in some of America’s most underserved school districts—in often overcrowded classrooms with students labeled as “at risk”—and move the needle on their learning outcomes and academic achievements. That was the promise!”— Deidre L. Wheaton, PhD
The US PREP process came with a promise: If we renew with fidelity to the model and adjust our approach to preparing education majors at the college level, then these future educators would enter into their first teaching positions ready on day one. For this type of transformation to happen, faculty would need to lead the charge in revising core courses in order to equip students with the knowledge, skills (teaching methods), and dispositions needed to carry out a full-year teacher residency program in which their effectiveness is measured by assessing how well their students learn. These changes, it was argued, would prepare teachers to begin teaching positions in some of America’s most underserved school districts—in often overcrowded classrooms with students labeled as “at risk”—and move the needle on their learning outcomes and academic achievements. That was the promise!
The questions that remained yet unanswered were:
- What would this process of renewal look like on the ground?
- Would it really result in improved student learning?
- Would the model of transformation work for our unique institutional context and student population?
- Would the laser-like focus on teaching methods, teacher quality, and assessments of student learning leave adequate room in the curriculum (and in the redesign conversation) for other meaningful interrogations—specifically, would we be able to address the myriad other factors (poverty, systemic racism, community underdevelopment, etc.) that impact teacher effectiveness, educational equity, academic achievement, and student learning?
Why I chose to redesign a course
These questions were at the forefront of my mind when I decided to get involved in the US PREP course-redesign process. Of course, the month of summer salary that was available to those who successfully carried out the redesign process was an added benefit, as was the tendency toward self-preservation. In a moment of transformation and change, it is always a possibility that once-important courses and programs might be deemed not so relevant for the new direction.
“I chose to invest in the yearlong process of redesigning, ultimately, because I believe that teaching is (can be) an exercise in social justice if teachers are aware of the issues of race, class, culture, politics, diversity, equity, and inclusion that inform their profession and their students.”— Deidre L. Wheaton, PhD
I chose to invest in the yearlong process of redesigning, ultimately, because I believe that teaching is (can be) an exercise in social justice if teachers are aware of the issues of race, class, culture, politics, diversity, equity, and inclusion that inform their profession and their students. I believe there is value added by teaching future educators about the racial, economic, and social underpinnings of educational policies. Doing so challenges educators to move beyond the deficit model when thinking about their students. Doing so empowers them to make pedagogical/methodological choices with intentionality and with insight to the impact that learning should have on their students. Impact that certainly includes (but ideally extends far beyond) improved test scores and school rankings. Impact that positions these future teachers to enter the classroom on day one ready to instill content knowledge and disciplinary skills, while also cultivating dispositions within their students that encourage them to see learning and education as a tool—one through which they are able to make the world a better, more equitable, safer, more civil place to be.
It was with these ideas in mind that I set about the work of applying the US PREP model to a junior-level course: Social Science 301: Law in Social Studies (SS 301).
The course redesign strategy: Design-based research
The design-based research (DBR) approach to course revision is a direct reflection of the US PREP focus on data-driven decision-making and improving teacher quality by exposing future educators to evidence-based teaching practices. In this model, the actual course revision work does not begin until after a rather intensive curriculum review process. The SS 301 course, for instance, was chosen for revision only after the faculty in the department had completed the following pre-redesign steps:
Professional development on new indicators of teacher effectiveness
It was during this stage that faculty in the College of Education gained insights on how our approach to teacher preparation would be different, given the introduction of a new set of indicators of effectiveness called the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) Instructional Rubric.
College-level conversations to identify areas for improvement
During these meetings, department chairs and faculty who taught the upper-level teacher preparation courses shared their observations regarding areas of weakness and gaps in knowledge, as well as courses in the curriculum that no longer seemed relevant or effective, given the new US PREP model.
Department-level deliberations to prepare for renewal
Using feedback from the professional development and college-level discussions, faculty engaged in a process of curriculum mapping and alignment in which we identified the specific courses into which the indicators of teacher effectiveness would be introduced, explicitly taught, practiced, and assessed—particularly as it related to the junior and senior block courses.
Faculty-level foray into the DBR process
Individual faculty members were given the opportunity to volunteer to redesign and pilot a course using the DBR process with the understanding that, after being piloted, the redesigned course would be taught across all sections.
These pre-redesign steps were very critical in determining how the course needed to be revised in order to address several requirements: the content knowledge gaps identified by the teacher preparation faculty, the pedagogical skills emphasized by the US PREP coalition, and the professional educator dispositions that were a primary concern at the department level. It was into this field of competing demands that I set about the work of redesigning SS 301: Law in Social Studies.
The implementation of DBR in SS 301
The US PREP DBR redesign model is intricate yet very well organized into a series of interactive online learning modules. These were supplemented by biweekly DBR coaching sessions. Over the course of a 16-week semester, I worked with my DBR coach and other colleagues to complete the following five essential redesign phases:
Phase 1: Reflect on the rationale for the redesign
Thinking through and articulating my professional rationale for redesigning the course was a surprisingly challenging task. The pre-redesign conversations with colleagues in other departments and representatives from US PREP yielded numerous reasons for changing the Law in Social Studies course. Some colleagues in other departments did not think that a course focused on laws impacting teachers and students was significant enough to keep in the curriculum, given the current Praxis scores in the social studies content areas. Many of them felt that SS 301 should be a social studies content knowledge refresher to help students prepare to synthesize and apply disciplinary tools and concepts in a teaching environment.
US PREP representatives recommended that the redesign process begin with a focus on methods courses. The idea was that whatever revisions were made should lend themselves to the production of preservice teachers who have a deep knowledge of research-based best practices in social studies instruction. These recommendations were very legitimate rationales to address real areas of need. Unfortunately, neither of those reasons were consistent with our departmental or my own intellectual interest in preserving the course.
As I reflected on the current climate in American culture, my desire was to redesign the course and make it a space in which future educators can grapple with the historical and contemporary educational policy issues that inform their profession and impact access to high-quality educational experiences for all students. Creating a course such as this would allow students to enter their first teaching position armed with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to blend a love of learning, an appreciation for diversity, and a commitment to civic engagement and civil discourse into their social studies lessons.
To remain true to myself, meet the demands of the US PREP program, and attempt to address my colleagues’ requests, I applied my Interdisciplinary American Cultural Studies background to set the basis for the redesign. I wove together a course that used examinations of educational legislation and the history and politics that often surround educational policies as a foundation for modeling various social studies teaching strategies. Additionally, I integrated reading about the experiences and motivations of other educators who had successfully answered the call to provide culturally responsive and high-quality education to students of color.
My rationale for redesigning was clear. The newly revised course would be a space in which my students (future teachers) would learn about best practices by observing me model different instructional strategies as I guided them through a 16-week exploration of some of the critical pieces of American educational legislation that have informed educational access and equity. Why? Because successful (significant and transformative) teachers need to be not only adept in their instructional practices but also conscious of the complex realities of American education and equipped (committed) to use their expertise to function as advocates.
Phase 2: Specify and justify the learning outcomes
After settling on a rationale for the revision, I assumed the development of learning outcomes would be rather straightforward. It was not. Unlike in times past when I had developed a course, this time around there were multiple steps to be taken before specifying the learning outcomes. The most significant difference was that, rather than thinking about learning outcomes for the entire course, the DBR process required that I think about learning outcomes for one particular module or unit within the course. The DBR process also required meticulous documentation of justifications for the learning outcomes within that particular module. As part of the course redesign, I had to answer some very important questions posed by US PREP:
- Did the outcomes align with recognized categories of knowledge expected of teacher candidates, such as those outlined in the work of Etta R. Hollins (see Teacher Preparation for Quality Teaching)?
- Which specific categories of knowledge did the outcomes address (knowledge, skills, or dispositions)?
- How well were the outcomes aligned with what is expected for teacher licensure in my state?
- Were the learning outcomes consistent with the K–12 curriculum in my state?
- What specific theoretical or research basis was the learning outcome grounded within?
Answering these questions seemed a bit tedious; however, the process did challenge me to rethink my rationale and reprioritize some of my choices regarding which content needed to remain in the course and what would be omitted.
This phase—with its careful attention to alignment with standards—exposed a real fear that I had regarding the redesign process. Would there be space in this standards-and-data-driven process to integrate (or maintain) an emphasis on deep learning of content that was not necessarily reflected in the “standards”? Having to connect each learning outcome to a specific licensure expectation or curriculum standard seemed like the responsible thing to do. Our objective was to improve the student-teachers’ readiness for the classroom, so what better way to achieve that task than to meticulously eliminate all extraneous material from the course that might not be explicitly aligned to a content knowledge standard or licensure examination content area?
It was at this point that I really began to doubt whether or not I would be able to make this redesign work. The emphasis on methods and content knowledge—and the push to prepare new teachers who could immediately and effectively move the needle on students’ standardized test scores—did not seem to leave space in the course (perhaps not in the curriculum at all) for instructors to engage students in learning about the social and cultural forces that give shape to their profession. It also might mean that there would not be time or space to integrate opportunities for future educators to thoughtfully consider policies—specifically, how they might impact the policies at the school, district, state, or federal level that persistently create environments that make teaching and learning unnecessarily difficult for certain groups of teachers and students. Would this cohort of teachers master the methods necessary for the classroom yet miss the mission of the profession: to take informed action to help shape the future of American education?
After struggling for a few weeks to complete Phase 2, I mustered the courage to approach our US PREP campus coordinator with my concerns. I shared with her my vision of what the course revision should be and solicited her feedback: How could I balance maintaining fidelity to the process while still addressing my sense that the course needed to challenge students to see differently? Her response gave me the confidence I needed to forge ahead. With a smile, she said, “We so need this. Do it!”
From there, we sat down together, and she proceeded to call one of her colleagues. For the next hour or so, we talked about creative ways to model teaching strategies while simultaneously exposing teacher candidates to disciplinary sources related to the people and politics surrounding major pieces of education legislation.
This redesign process, it seemed, did have room for adaptations. Transformation (I was coming to realize) did not mean rigid replication but rather nuanced and measured movements that are tailored to meet the needs of our unique programs, courses, and students.
This revelation empowered me to move through the rest of the redesign process with renewed energy and determination to see if this approach might really translate into an improved learning experience for my students—and a better teaching experience for me.
Phase 3: Measure the learning outcomes (pre- and post-tests)
The DBR approach to Measuring the Learning Outcomes was least familiar to me when thinking of course redesign. I knew that courses needed to have some method for evaluating and assessing student learning over the course of the semester. In a course such as SS 301, that assessment typically came in the form of an examination on relevant legislation, an essay, or a teaching demonstration or presentation of some sort.
However, in the DBR model, additional attention was given to making data-driven decisions at the level of individual course modules. This required something more robust in terms of assessment.
The emphasis in Phase 3, I discovered, was less on the major midterm or final assignments and more focused on the day-to-day ways in which learning happens. Pre- and post-tests were therefore used in each module to help identify specific areas where my instruction may (or may not) have resulted in improved student learning. This phase of the redesign process allowed me unique opportunities to model for students (future educators) how to use assessments not to rank or compare students but rather to promote instruction that is deemed successful when it produces student learning—a key element of the US PREP approach to educational renewal.
There were some rather obvious limitations to using pre-tests and post-tests to measure student learning or instructional effectiveness:
- Students may or may not put forth their best effort if these tests are not graded or if they are low-stakes activities.
- Instructors may tend toward teaching specifically to those items that are on the pre- and post-tests.
- Designing pre- and post-test questions that are reliable and that actually measure similar content knowledge levels is challenging for someone who may not be trained in research design or project evaluation.
I knew that, if the tools for measuring the outcomes were not strong, then the data generated from the instruments would not be useful. However, I also recognized that—with the very limited time frame for redesign and piloting—a completed set of pre-tests and post-tests would be preferable to no tests at all.
Given the emphasis placed on data-driven decisions and measuring learning, this phase of the process seemed most pivotal to determining the success of the redesign process from a programmatic perspective. However, support for ensuring the reliability of the tests was limited.
While many other course redesigners were able to address this issue by using questions from test banks in course textbooks, much of the content in the SS 301 course did not lend itself to that type of multiple-choice test approach. Where possible, I made use of predesigned questions; however, many of the questions were self-designed and based on teaching and learning scenarios and case studies, both of which allow for greater exploration of students’ ability to apply the knowledge and concepts from the course.
With my admittedly sketchy pre- and post-tests of student learning in hand, I proceeded to the next phase of redesign, intent on finding additional ways of collecting evidence of student learning through different types of performance tasks and interventions (the DBR term for assignments).
Phase 4: Develop and measure interventions
How would I help students master the learning outcomes identified in Phase 2 (lectures, group assignments, tests, papers, teaching demonstrations, etc.)? How would I know for sure that the activities and learning interventions that I had selected would be effective?
If you are at all like me, you’ll understand that I tend to choose assignments based on the content, context, and size of the course I am teaching. Over the years I had developed or borrowed assignments from colleagues that seemed to be appropriate for the learning task at hand.
The DBR process, however, challenged me to justify why I chose to use particular instructional strategies or assign particular learning interventions (assignments). This justification had to be connected to a research-based best practice or theory-based explanation for why the selected intervention is effective in promoting student learning.
The DBR process also required that I give a written plan for how I would gather student feedback—not only at the end of the course but also at the end of each module, and framed in such a way as to allow students to indicate how effective the various instructional strategies and interventions were in helping them engage with the content of the module.
This really required some soul-searching. I had some reading assignments and performance tasks that I really liked and that I had used for quite some time. But in this process of redesign—as I explored and researched current literature on what works in teaching and learning, student engagement, and student-centeredness—some of what I preferred was not necessarily the most effective or efficient approach to achieving my desired student learning outcomes.
Additionally, as I considered that I would be modeling certain teaching strategies for future educators (and asking them to observe and evaluate my practices), I realized that there were certain teaching practices that I needed to model—and that I had not done previously. Specifically, I found that social studies education research suggests that students of color, in particular, do not have sufficient (or equal) exposure to or opportunities to engage in debates, deep discussions, and disciplinary texts/sources in school or in their home environments.
With this knowledge in mind, I chose to nix my typical midterm essay and instead organize the second unit of the course around a scaffolded, large-group fishbowl discussion in which students were responsible for:
- Determining ground rules for discussion
- Engaging with historical documents related to the educational experiences of Native Americans and African Americans
- Developing a collaborative timeline of American history and education policy (emphasizing the Brown decision)
- Actively participating in a class discussion on whether or not the objectives of the school desegregation ruling had been achieved
- Producing a written assignment in which they identified and evaluated the various instructional practices that they observed during the unit
This represented just one of the major shifts in course assignments. It was rigorous in terms of what students were expected to do outside of class. It was collaborative—something that students sometimes have difficulty balancing, given that many of JSU’s full-time students work full-time jobs. It was discussion intensive—something that students tend to be reluctant to do in class. It was also the students’ favorite assignment of the semester. Go figure!
Phase 5: Pilot the redesigned course
The final stage of the process involved preparing to pilot the redesigned course: This included sequencing the modules and related interventions (assignments), finalizing the course syllabus and submitting it for review to the other faculty in the department, and preparing the data collection process.
The redesigned course was piloted in Spring 2018 in a class of 45 juniors and seniors. Although the preliminary pre- and post-test data was (as expected) not as strong as it needed to be to support a claim for statistically significant gains in student learning, the results did help to identify those areas in each module that would need to be adjusted for increased instructional effectiveness.
The student feedback surveys were the most useful in terms of verifying what I observed in class as it related to student engagement. The class sessions that students enjoyed the most (in which they were most engaged) were incidentally the ones in which they showed the most gains in learning.
The process of “redesigning with attention to gathering data on student learning” also forced me to acknowledge what was not working. In particular, the long-standing summative assignment for the course had been a micro-teaching lesson and end-of-the-semester group presentation; however, assessments revealed that it was simply neither effective nor appropriate for this revised course.
Looking ahead, I plan to replace this micro-teaching activity with in-depth analysis of social studies case studies that address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom.
Looking within: Lessons learned from the DBR course redesign
Though it was time-consuming and tedious, engaging in a deep dive into the details of individual courses and how they fit within the curriculum can be rewarding. It provided me with a structured space for targeted reflection on my personal and professional purposes for being in higher education. It also allowed space for me to dialog with my colleagues regarding how this particular course needed to function in order to meet our program-level student learning outcomes.
I came out of the DBR experiment with some new insights on my own approach to teaching and learning—and some recommendations that may be useful to those responsible for driving change in higher education sectors.
Reframe meetings to focus on student learning
The DBR model showed me that the opportunity to have faculty together at a table could be much more useful if the meetings were organized around having meaningful conversations about why we do what we do the way that we do it and how we know that we are being effective. Amid the ever-increasing list of tasks that faculty have to be responsible for, it is easy to get lost in the flow of the semester and get isolated in our offices with “our courses,” which we teach every semester; we almost never take the time to consider whether what we are doing is in sync with our colleague across the hall or in another department. Just having time during our faculty meetings to discuss the ideas for the course redesign was extremely valuable and something that could quite easily be done in any academic unit seeking to maximize its impact on student learning.
Seek input from the field during the DBR process
As I went through the process of redesigning and piloting the SS 301 course, I became increasingly convinced that it is worthwhile for faculty to engage each other when developing and revising courses. Not only that, I see much more clearly the importance of partnering with in-service K–12 teachers of the subject area when developing college-level courses.
For example, a conversation with a middle-school social studies teacher shed some important light on my approach to SS 301. As I shared with her the scope of the course redesign, she said, in a most disheartening way, “Well, you know I wish we could spend more time doing social studies. It isn’t a tested area, so I spend most of my time on English language arts. Honestly, I have to just try to fit in the social studies material when I can.”
Her revelation brought to the forefront an issue that did not emerge during the pre-course redesign dialogs among our faculty—what teachers are actually doing in the classroom. Establishing connections with in-service teachers (especially if you have been out of the classroom for a while) is essential. This could also be useful for university professors working in other fields—particularly as the need to demonstrate that we are preparing students for life after college becomes emphasized more in institutional effectiveness and program assessment reporting.
Embed more opportunities for student feedback
Students really can help point the way toward more engaging assignments and courses if we allow them meaningful opportunities to give us feedback on course design and implementation. Most institutions have some form of end-of-the-semester student feedback survey, which comes too late in the semester for educators to make any adjustments along the way.
Providing embedded opportunities for students to give feedback on each unit/module or on a series of lessons can be quite instructive. It lets students know that you care about how they are experiencing the course. It allows them to see in practice how an instructor can adjust to meet the expressed needs of students. It engages them and gives them some ownership of the learning when they see their feedback/recommendations being acted upon.
Recognize the urgency of now
In most of what I have read about the school reform movement and conversations that I have had about it, people are pitted against one another: reformers versus traditionalists or charter/private school advocates versus public school supporters. Caught in the middle of these often uncivil debates are actual children, families, community schools, and future teachers.
I believe that a host of people involved in the discourse on the future of American education really do care about helping children learn, but their approaches are often radically different. At this moment, we really cannot afford to have progress stalled because we fail to apply some of the basic skills of social studies with respect to problem-solving, collaboration, respect for diversity (including diversity of opinions), and decision-making that reflects the common good.
Perhaps what is needed most right now is a crash course in civil discourse and active listening for the adults responsible for leading the way in creating the environment for improvements in American education.
Concluding thoughts and looking ahead
The answers to the problems inherent in American education will not be one size fits all. That statement certainly is not particularly groundbreaking, but it does reflect my thinking as I consider my role in the JSU foray into education reform and renewal. I entered the process skeptical, and I have retained a healthy sense of critique of the process. I believe that the US PREP approach does strengthen students’ skill level; students who have gone through the yearlong teacher residency program attest to that fact. Since JSU’s implementation of the model, two of the students have been recognized as New Teacher of the Year in their districts. In this way, the US PREP promise has at least partially been fulfilled. Our candidates do appear to be ready and effective on day one. Looking ahead, more work will need to be done to determine the degree to which the students who go through the redesigned courses and the subsequent yearlong teacher residency actually apply the things learned and how their application impacts their students’ learning.
JSU’s connection to the US PREP transformation coalition—and, by extension, my efforts at using the DBR approach to redesign SS 301—represent some very focused and incremental approaches to addressing the need for high-quality teachers in high-need areas. This work is absolutely important and should be at the forefront of colleges of education and teacher preparation programs.
However, our work as professional educators does not end with preparing high-quality teachers and school administrators. We have a higher calling. We are the guardians of the education profession. We are charged with the responsibility of conducting relevant research, publishing significant scholarship, and being thought leaders who help to distill and communicate facts and truth about what is happening in education in our respective districts and states and throughout the nation. We should be not only actively engaged in providing guidance to educational policy makers and influential donors regarding what really works in education but also be preparing future educators who are committed to doing the same. These quality teachers, who are simultaneously impactful advocates, can (and I believe will) inspire their students to see themselves as change agents—and to embrace their education as an avenue to making the world a more equitable and civil place to be.