Month: October 2016

Presidential Teaching Professor Toni Van Laarhoven imparts lessons from her life, heart

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven

Toni Van Laarhoven became a teacher before she became a student.

Van Laarhoven and her twin sister, Traci, often accompanied their mother and their sister, Steffanie, to the parent-run school their sibling attended. Toni and Traci – only preschoolers then – often were asked to teach their sister’s classmates and to lead small-group activities.

Years later, Van Laarhoven would realize the roles were switched.

“My older sister, who has severe intellectual disabilities, is nonverbal and engages in some challenging behavior, is one of the coolest people you could ever meet – and is also one of my most influential teachers,” says NIU’s Presidential Teaching Professor for 2016.

“She has taught me that teaching-and-learning is a reciprocal process,” she adds, “and that it is critical to listen and learn from all people, regardless of their mode of communication.”

Her mother also inspired her work but in a different way.

Elaine Leslie Baker joined other parents in lobbying for educational opportunities for individuals with disabilities; their efforts resulted in the 1975 legislation known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act that guarantees a free, appropriate education for that population.



CAHE launches graduate certificate in trauma counseling

Working counselors can complete NIU’s online coursework in one year.

Working counselors can complete NIU’s online coursework in one year.

Not everyone who enters the counseling profession has been prepared to deal with clients who have experienced trauma.

Yet every counselor – including those who work in schools, helping students to facilitate positive change and advancement in their personal development and interactions – will encounter exactly that.

“Trauma is this concept of things that impact one’s life, usually from an external force, such as a murder or suicide, a terminal diagnosis for a child, domestic violence or a natural disaster,” says Adam Carter, assistant professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.

“It can leave an individual feeling ungrounded. Counselors see people who completely shut down, who turn inward and do not want to talk about it,” Carter adds. “We see people who are constantly processing it, or who can’t sleep at night, which makes daily functioning very difficult.”

Graduates of counseling programs who want that critical knowledge, along with an additional credential, can find it through NIU’s new Graduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Counseling.



NIU delegation to speak, present at Asian educational research conference

Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

A delegation of scholars from the NIU College of Education will travel in November to Taiwan for APERA-TERA 2016, a biannual conference of the Asia-Pacific and Taiwan educational research associations.

NIU and the Mid-Western Educational Research Association (MWERA) are co-sponsors of the conference, which draws thousands of scholars eager for academic discussions and opportunities for collaboration.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and Associate Dean David Walker, who will deliver keynote addresses Friday, Nov. 11, lead the NIU contingent that also includes Wei-Chen Hung, chair of the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, and ETRA professors Laura Ruth Johnson, Isti Sanga and Tom Smith.

Scheduled from Wednesday, Nov. 9, through Saturday, Nov. 12, the conference takes place at National Sun Yat-sen University in Koahsiung.

Walker, a former president of MWERA, called for that organization to expand its international partnerships during his 2014 speech to the annual conference. In attendance that year were academic colleagues from China and Taiwan.

“Our relationship grew,” said Walker, who also is a professor of educational research.

Meanwhile, Hung enjoys a long camaraderie with National Sun Yat-sen University.



ETRA’s Jason Rhode honored among nation’s ‘technologists, transformers, trailblazers’

Jason Rhode

Jason Rhode

Jason Rhode, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, has been named among the nation’s “Top 30 Technologists, Transformers & Trailblazers” by the Center for Digital Education.

The distinction honors “education and technology leaders across America who are transforming the education landscape through the use of digital tools.”

Selections were based on efforts “to improve education through effective implementation of technology-rich solutions; their impact on student outcomes; and their overall initiative, creativity and leadership skills.”

“Helping faculty to be successful with their students is one of my greatest joys,” Rhode told the Center for Digital Education. “Often it involves using digital technology, but the technology is never the end game; it’s a tool to enhance the learning experience.”

top30Rhode, who is also director of the NIU Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, began teaching courses in ETRA in the fall of 2013.

He has been invited to attend a special gathering of technology leaders, scheduled Dec. 5 and 6 in Salt Lake City, to receive his award.



Kudos! First group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients named, honored

College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper chats with Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban.

College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper chats with Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban.

Lauren Leifheit never heard a peep from the students in her first classroom.

“I’ve been interested in teaching for as long as I can remember,” says Leifheit, a pre-elementary education major from Sycamore. “Even when I was a little kid, my parents would buy me little teaching kits, and I’d teach my stuffed animals.”

Jamie Hoban, a vision major from a tiny town near Manitowoc, Wis., developed a passion for special education during her six years as a volunteer at an Association for the Developmentally Disabled summer camp.

Visual impairments, however, is an inspiration from a relative.

“My cousin is a teacher of students with vision impairments. She works for a school district, going from school to school working with the kids with visual impairments. I shadowed her and I just loved it,” Hoban says. “She gets really close with her students because she doesn’t work with all the students in a classroom. It’s great getting on that personal level with kids and really getting to see their progress.”



Merritt speaker to encourage valuing ‘everyday actions’

Angela B. Hurley

Angela B. Hurley

Good is all around us, Angela B. Hurley believes.

Unfortunately, says the professor of education at Transylvania University, the negative often distracts our attention and drowns whatever impact something positive might have made.

For example, almost everyone turns their eyes toward parents screaming at a misbehaving child, but few notice the examples and lessons of excellent parenting that are far more common while largely invisible.

Recognition afforded to people who “stand above the crowd” creates a similar disconnect.

“We live in a time when you have to be exceptional to be noticed, and we’re always telling our young people, ‘Be the best you can. Be exceptional. Go out and excel,’ ” Hurley says.

“But if everyone did that, we’d have to change the meaning of the word ‘exceptional,’ ” she adds. “And, in doing so, we devalue the importance of the normal, everyday actions that we do in our lives, that give us joy as human beings and give us meaning. Much of what is really important is what we’re not even noticing.”

Hurley, the 2016 recipient of NIU’s James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award for contributions to philosophy of education, will visit Thursday, Oct. 20.



Reimagined courtyard opens

courtyard-3Once home to a frightening thicket of withering trees and patchy grass, the courtyard outside the ramp between Gabel and Graham halls now offers a picturesque place of serenity.

Funded entirely by the generosity of friends of the College of Education, the work wrapped up just in time for the autumnal equinox.

Visitors can study, eat picnic lunches, wander the stepping stones or simply enjoy the sunshine and tranquility, says Betsy Hull, assistant to the dean in the College of Education. Faculty with small classes also are welcome to teach there for a change of scenery.

“It’s open to everyone,” Hull says, “and we hope that everyone uses it.”

The “Confluence Courtyard” began as an idea in February of 2015, when the former chair of the Department of Special and Early Education proposed turning the space into a “sensory garden.”

Barbara Schwartz-Bechet and Hull needed an expert in horticulture to guide them, however, and realized that resource was available at nearby Kishwaukee College.

What happened next came as a pleasant surprise.

Matt Ewert, an instructor at Kish who took their call, asked to see the space for himself. During his visit to NIU, Ewert mentioned that he taught a course in landscape design: Why not turn the courtyard planning into a class project?



A look behind the College of Education’s edTPA numbers

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma felt uneasy when she first heard about the edTPA, the new assessment she would need to pass before receiving teacher licensure in Illinois.

“It was very intimidating at first. It was very scary not knowing what to expect,” says the recent graduate of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It was new to our professors, too, so that almost made us more intimidated. If they didn’t know a whole lot about it, how were we going to be prepared?”

She needn’t have worried.

With nurturing guidance from her professors, Tuma passed her edTPA – as did 100 percent of undergraduates in the NIU College of Education who submitted their materials in the spring of 2016.

The College of Education’s most recent numbers are well ahead of the state and national results. The college’s teacher-candidates scored higher than the national average in all but one rubric, where they tied, and higher than or equal to the state average in all rubrics.

“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” Tuma says. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”