In recognition of Northwest’s School of Education’s complete overhaul of its curriculum, Northwest received the 2018 Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
The curricular redesign, which began in 2014, increased students’ access to diverse clinical practice in urban, rural and suburban settings, now totalling more than 600 hours of clinical practice before graduation.
The University also received the award in 2006, making it one of three institutions to receive the award twice since its creation in 2002.
Associate professor and Dean of the School of Education, Tim Wall said the major goals of the curriculum redesign were to offer more diverse clinical experiences and bring together content and techniques to offer students the best tools and skills.
“Our University is one of the few schools that will have people with Ph.D.s in content areas coming together with those who have doctorates in education and working together to design and teach students with deep content and great strategies,” Wall said.
The idea to completely change the curriculum was inspired by two things: Missouri’s changes to teacher certification and feedback from leadership in partner schools.
“When Missouri changed its certification rules, those changes were vast,” Wall said. “So teacher ed programs had to cut hours while still including what mattered, so it led to an opportunity to be agile and nimble and try to reformulate what we knew to be important.”
School of Education faculty sought feedback on their curriculum at a professional advisory board meeting, and that feedback inspired many of the changes.
“It was really launched by our previous dean and my mentor, Dr. Joyce Piveral, who asked the question: if you could redesign the education program from the ground up and start over, what would it look like,” Wall said. “The redesign was really influenced by faculty: their research, the passion that they have for expert instruction and assessment.”
Under the new curriculum, students begin clinical practice in the second block of their freshman year. Wall said the benefits to this are twofold: practicality and preparedness.
“What if you wait until your fifth year when you get your masters degree and first learn to teach, then don’t love it,” Wall said. “I think that’s a concern. We want to support students’ ability to be successful by exposing them to what the work is and making sure we support them to understand how they can best grow their skills and add to their toolbox.”
Sophomore Meredith Riley, an elementary education major, said many people she knows, including herself, switched subjects or age groups once they began observing in classrooms.
“I really thought I wanted to teach high school and then spent five minutes in a classroom and said, ‘this isn’t for me,’” Riley said. “I really think it helps education majors figure out whether they want to be educators or not and find their place.”
Wall said there is no reason for students to wait to begin applying their learning.
“If you know what you want to do in your freshman year, you should get the chance to practice that instead of waiting until you’re filled up with some level of content knowledge,” Wall said. “We think many students can benefit from exposure to great teachers in their content areas and the new strategies and new ways of thinking.”
Riley said one of the most valuable experiences is observing a classroom and seeing it from a neutral perspective, rather than being in a teacher or student role.
“To see these practices that you learn about in the classroom, that as a student you might not notice are taking place,” Riley said. “Like behavior management, you don’t think about how teachers are handling that, but then you learn about it and get to see it in the classroom.”
Students not only observe classrooms early in their degree program, they observe several different kinds of classrooms in a short span of time. Riley said she has observed a first grade classroom, a sixth grade classroom, an art classroom and a high school classroom.
Through these experiences, she said she learned how accepting the education community is of different teaching styles, and she said she gained more respect for her classmates who are learning to teach different subjects or different age groups.
One hundred percent of students graduating from the School of Education complete a profession-based internship or teaching practicum as part of their degree, and 96 percent are employed or enrolled in graduate school within sixth months of completing their undergraduate degrees, according to a University news release.
Wall said that while this is partially due to a nationwide teacher shortage, Northwest students are appealing to employers, and many are hired while they’re still student teaching.
“Northwest students are often very desirable to employers, because they’ve had great preparation and hundreds of hours of clinical practice,” Wall said. “In many ways, our candidates are already fit to be employed. We have a hard time keeping them on the shelves.”
Wall said the award is validating, but the definition of success is ever-changing and there is always room to improve.
“Continuous improvement is what we do,” Wall said. “In fact, we’d like to be at the center of improving improvement. We think we owe it to our students to keep going. We owe it to our partners who hire our students and also house them, support them when they come out to do their practicum experiences and student teaching.”
Northwest will formally receive the McAuliffe Award Oct. 28 at the opening session of AASCU’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.