Category: LEED

Project Slide

Students in their second professional semester (diversity block) will have the opportunity to collaborate with 5th grade students and STEM teachers from Golfview Elementary School in CUSD 300, Carpentersville, Illinois, for two days. This collaboration will provide science literacy hands-on experiences in a diverse environment related to the school curriculum and NIU course assignments.

Golfview Elementary School located at 124 Golfview Lane, Carpentersville, IL, 60110, houses PK through grade 5 students. There are approximately 750 students: 95.5% Hispanic, 1.6% White, 1.3% African-American, and 94.1% of the students receive free or discounted lunch.  All Golfview fifth grade classrooms (120 students) and NIU students (30) enrolled in Dianne Zalesky‘s ESL Methods and Materials course and Gary Swick’s Community as a Resource course will work in small groups throughout the project.

Students would be involved in two visits set for April 7 and April 21. On their first visit, the NIU students will teach lessons related to biodiversity at the Golfview Elementary School site.  On the second visit, students will meet at Schweitzer Environmental Center. The projects will be finalized and left on display for parents and community members to view.

CUSD 300 and Friends of the Fox River entered into a lease agreement with Kane County to operate an environmental center located in Schweitzer Woods Forest Preserve.  Some features of the center are:

  • easily accessible by students to return with their families
  • has the capacity for hosting meetings, classes, and projects
  • features all 3 main habitat types for study on 160 acre property
  • has Kane County Forest Preserve District as a supporter and partner
  • has a variety of educational resources on-site
  • has a strong educational foundation through affiliation with Friends of the Fox
  • is supported through Project Learning Tree activities, curriculum, and professional development

The Golfview Elementary School principal, Lindsay Sharp, is enthusiastic about the possibilities this initial partnership with NIU students can provide.  In addition, this collaboration between NIU students and Golfview Elementary students supports the COE mission as an added value experience by providing teacher candidates the opportunity to plan, teach, and facilitate researched-based lessons, engage in student-centered learning activities, and collaborate in a diverse community.



Getting their feet wet: NIU College of Education students test career waters in Houston

Ashley Grazutis realized in middle school that she wanted to become a teacher when she grew up.

So did Saul Amaya – and for the same reason.

Both now are students in the NIU College of Education, pursuing licensure in Middle-level Teaching and Learning.

“Middle school was when I learned how to become a person. I learned how to work hard, and I learned how to fight for what I want,” says Grazutis, a senior from Palos Park. “I want to assist and inspire students to become the most competent and engaged students they can be.”

“I want to teach middle school because that was a struggle for me,” adds Amaya, a junior from Carpentersville.

“Middle school is such a transition, and not just education-wise. It’s more of a personal and awkward time for students. It was for me,” he adds, “and I feel like knowing that, I can relate to the students. I can do different methods and really just connect with students in a different way.”

Ashley Grazutis

Ashley Grazutis

Grazutis and Amaya were among 22 students from the College of Education who traveled to Texas in January to spend a transformative week observing and working in the Houston Independent School District.

NIU’s Educate U.S. program provides select students with donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district.

This winter’s trip also included – for the first time – two students in the Athletic Training program of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

Beyond equipping NIU graduates with a great advantage in the job market, Educate U.S. reinforces several values and priorities of the student-centered College of Education. Those include diverse and innovative real-world learning opportunities through collaboration with schools, communities, agencies and businesses.

And Houston, which hires a significant number of new teachers every year, is an excellent partner.

More than 215,000 children are enrolled at Houston’s 284 campuses, home to innovative programs that include dual-language schools offering immersion in cultures and languages including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.

Participating pre-service teachers live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools.

Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the NIU College of Education, calls the week “above and beyond” a typical clinical experience.

She’s accustomed to hearing Educate U.S. students say “once-in-a-lifetime” – and she agrees with their assessment.

Saul Amaya

Saul Amaya

“The reason we’ve reached out to partners from other parts of the country is to allow our candidates the opportunity to broaden their perspective in the areas of classroom environment, of professional development, of teaching methods, of instructional methods and management methods, and of culture and language,” Johnson says.

“They’ll be able to really enrich what they already know … and see other places and ways of doing things,” she adds. “They’re not just learning and hearing about other ways to do things, but (getting) to experience them.”

For Grazutis, that became true on Day One.

She was assigned to a seventh-grade class in Life Science – “I love science, just because science is all about asking why,” she says – but was surprised by an email she received from her cooperating teacher before the trip.

“I was looking at this, and I was like, ‘Am I really going to teach this on my first try at teaching?’ It was sexual reproduction – different types of birth, male vs. female reproduction, sexual vs. asexual,” Grazutis says. “I was just really proud that, after that first lesson, I was able to get through it in such a professional way with grace and poise.”

Amaya also appreciated the immersion into teaching math to sixth- and eighth-graders.

“By the end of the week, I was able to prepare myself for a full lesson. Prior to that, I had yet to teach a full lesson, and that was my first time. It was a great feeling,” he says. “Having all those students just look at you, and actually answer the questions you’re asking, and paying attention, all eyes on you – it’s a great experience. I know I passed on the knowledge that I have to them.”

* * *

educate-us-logoCal Moyer found confirmation in Houston.

A junior Special Education major from Elmhurst, Moyer hopes to teach Life Skills in high schools. His assignment in Houston offered preparation in just that and, he says, he’s stayed in touch in the hopes of returning for his student-teaching.

One of the students he taught there has autism – and is a member of the football team.

“He gets a jersey, and he goes to football practice every day. I got to go and coach football with him for a while,” Moyer says.

“It was amazing how all the football players completely embraced him as one of their own. We’re cheering for him when he was doing his drills, and just completely backing him up in everything he did,” he adds. “It’s just so amazing to see how they made him feel like he was one of the players rather than just someone tagging along like a little brother.”

Moyer understands why: Students with special needs bring joy to everyone around them.

“Their happiness just glows,” he says, “and they just project it so much that it’s impossible working with them not to feel their happiness and (to) go home feeling amazing. The amount of energy and excitement and happiness they bring every single day just makes you feel like there’s so much more out there than what you see every day.”

During his time in Houston, Moyer worked with students on employment skills such as shredding paper, sharpening pencils and mopping floors.

He also realized what else occupies a special education teacher’s day, including meetings on Individualized Education Programs and communication between teachers, students, administrators and parents.

educate-us-2Sarah Paver, a second-year graduate student pursuing licensure to teach physical education, spent her Houston adventure at Pin Oak Middle School.

Her days began at 6:30 a.m., when she and her home-stay teacher left the house to arrive at school by 7 a.m., and the long hours continued until 8 or 9 p.m. each evening after assisting extracurricular sports coaches and athletes.

“It wasn’t like a clinical class at NIU, where you go from 1 to 3 or however long the class period is. It was truly living the life of a teacher for one week,” says Paver, who grew up in Big Rock.

“I would be there during the lunch hour. I’d have time to prep assignments. After school, I would have to manage all the students in the locker room or in the hallways. It really opened my eyes to what teachers to, and how much work it is,” she adds.

“However, it was also very rewarding. By the end of the week, students were coming up to me and saying, ‘You taught my class yesterday.’ It was very rewarding to have the students remember you.”

Paver found in Houston a perfect place to implement her NIU preparation.

“The things I have been learning at NIU have been reinforced,” she says. “How to manage a classroom. Make sure you provide positive reinforcement. Keep students on task. Walk around to observe all students. Never turn your back. In Houston, I applied all of those skills.”

Like many, she remains in contact with her host family. “They still text me every week just to see how I’m doing,” she says. “That’s the kind of relationship you build down there.”

* * *

educate-us-1Zahidelys Tapia felt right at home in Houston, where she spent her week at Farias Early Childhood Center: Teaching preschool is in her DNA.

“My mom has been an early childhood educator for 20 years,” says Tapia, a junior Early Childhood Education major from Belvidere.

“After years of going with her, and when she finally allowed me to start story times, or just helping the kids out, you start growing a passion for it,” she adds. “And then seeing some of the differences you start making, and then seeing them happy … it’s amazing.”

In the Houston Independent School District, where the poverty rate is 76 percent, Tapia found children and teachers who buck the conventional wisdom.

“We hear that students who live in poverty are already 18 months behind if they’re 4 years old. If they’re a minority, they’re behind. You just have these kids that have so many statistics that are holding them back,” she says.

But “when you look at a school district like HISD, you see that they’re breaking the boundaries. ‘They haven’t even started yet and they’re already behind?’ That’s not how we should view them as teachers. We have to help them continue and grow. I love that. That’s something I want to do as a teacher.”

She left empowered.

“From the first day, my teacher said, ‘What can you do? What do you want to do?’ She right away allowed me to be a part of her classroom. She said, ‘Play with the kids. Talk with the kids. When they’re doing their center times, do everything,’ ” Tapia says.

“She showed me, and she sat me down and told me, what she was doing and why she was doing it,” she adds. “It was an amazing experience. I learned how to be a teacher.”

houstonBilly Shea, who plans to teach middle school math, used his time in Houston to calm his nerves and polish his delivery.

After three days of watching his cooperating teacher in action, Shea took over.

“I was able to teach the lesson that my teacher taught. I was able to see what he did, kind of change it to how I wanted to teach it, and then do it in the classroom,” he says. “I’d never taught a lesson prior going to Houston, and being able to do that for two straight days – the full day – was amazing.”

First-time jitters caused him to talk too quickly, he says. “I wanted everybody to like me. I wanted everybody to learn everything they can.”

His second round showed great improvement, he adds, and by the third time, his cooperating teacher praised his work. Lessons learned? “Relax. Truly trust yourself as a teacher. If you don’t necessarily reach Point B, it’s OK as long as the kids are learning.”

“My biggest takeaway from Houston is that I know I can teach,” he says. “I know I can touch lives, and I know I can create educated people.”

Unlike some of his classmates in the Middle-Level Teaching and Learning major, Shea’s motivation to teach took root outside the classroom.

The junior from Schaumburg spends his summers as a camp counselor for children in fifth- through seventh-grades.

“They just make my day go by so fast. I love being with them. I thought it would be the perfect job for me,” he says. “I like that they’re still learning about who they are as an individual – but then they’re also at that point where they want to move on to abstract thinking and thinking for themselves.”

* * *

NIU Athletic Training students

NIU Athletic Training students

Not everyone who visited Houston in January is necessarily bound for the classroom: Ariel Russell is an Athletic Training major.

But with “Educate” in the program name, and the Houston Independent School District as the destination, classrooms served as the learning ground.

Russell was assigned to a high school, where she observed an athletic trainer who spends two class periods each day rehabilitating student-athletes.

“During the rest of the day, I helped teach in her sports medicine classes, so it was a little bit different for me,” Russell says. “Instead of attending practices and games, I was actually in the classroom, helping teach coursework which I had previously learned here at NIU.”

She is grateful for the opportunity to see a different part of the country and observe how another state’s rules and regulations impact how her profession is practiced. She also enjoyed making connections with other athletic trainers while gaining exposure to working in a high school.

“Having a clinical experience in a high school setting is really important,” says Russell, who plans to work in a clinical or a school, and is considering pursuit of a master’s degree. “I was able to work one-on-one with a student athlete with ACL rehab.”

* * *

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

Asking Jennifer Johnson what she observed in Houston yields many memories.

  • Children who become attached to their NIU students and don’t want them to leave.
  • Tears on the last day, not just from children but from college students and cooperating teachers.
  • Proof that NIU’s programs are sound.

“We are perceived, not just in Illinois but in other states, as a place where you want to recruit teachers from, a place that has graduates who are able to step into a classroom and make an impact – a positive impact – immediately, who come prepared to teach and learn,” Johnson says.

NIU College of Education students “are so, so authentically devoted to their profession, and passionate about what they want to do, that I know they’re going to be outstanding when they graduate,” she says.

“So many times during the (Educate U.S.) interview process, they would walk out of the room, and I would think, ‘Oh, I have goosebumps. That is who I would love to have teach my children.’ That’s the kind of bar I set,” Johnson says.

“They consider the students first – the children they’re going to be in the classrooms with,” she adds. “They were all very open to learning about new people, new places. They really had the idea that they would be going to learn how others learn, and that to me was huge. These students are doing this for a great reason.”



edTPA encore: COE students post great results for Fall 2016

graduation

Ninety-eight percent of NIU College of Education students who submitted materials for edTPA review in the Fall of 2016 passed the requirement for teacher licensure.

NIU College of Education students rocked the edTPA last semester – again.

One hundred percent of graduate students and 98 percent of undergraduates passed the mandatory assessment required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states, continuing the college’s success story of posting numbers well ahead of state and national results.

It confirms the college’s mission “to prepare students to be leaders in their chosen professions” as well as the value placed on a student-centered education built on providing resources and support.

Behind this achievement are excellent students, nurturing guidance from faculty, an on-campus office committed to helping students through the process and collaboration with school districts.

“We have a lot of institutional pride in our student success and in our faculty and coordinator contributions,” says Jenny Parker, associate vice provost for the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation at NIU. “Our programs have committed to integrating – early and often – the skills needed for teaching with both internal and external support.”

Judy Boisen, associate director for edTPA at NIU, is fully devoted to helping teacher-candidates succeed on three-part assessment.

Boisen, who previously taught high school science for 35 years, conducts edTPA workshops for students, university supervisors and NIU faculty. Supervisors and faculty also are provided edTPA data to determine what is going right, where improvement is needed and how to incorporate those realizations into their curricula.

She also offers a PowerPoint series for cooperating teachers in the K-12 schools that stresses the importance of the edTPA and their role in that process; her website provides tips for success to teacher-candidates.

edtpa-words

edTPA: “The skills and knowledge that all teachers need from Day 1 in the classroom”

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education, believes in the additional preparation NIU makes available to students.

“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” Johnson says. “Our College of Education students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them. The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”

College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation, adds Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Faculty, meanwhile, clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”

Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”

Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education alumna Laura Tuma agrees.

“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” says Tuma, now a physical education teacher in suburban Yorkville. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”

She sees its value at work. During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.

“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”



COE department celebrates new name, faculty members

helloAn NIU College of Education department is beginning the new semester with a new name.

Meet the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Formerly known as Literacy and Elementary Education, the department changed its moniker to better reflect the diverse teaching, learning and faculty that make it up.

“With the Program Prioritization process, we had two new faculty members join us from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. It seemed really important then to think about who we are and the programming that we offer,” Chair Anne Gregory said.

“What we found is that there were very few people who thought that our name actually represented us and our expertise. We’ve also had questions from potential students saying, ‘I can’t find you,’ ” Gregory added. “With that said, we considered other alternatives.”



Melanie Koss enjoys opportunity to honor Congressman Lewis

NIU’s Melanie Koss and Congressman John Lewis

NIU’s Melanie Koss and Congressman John Lewis

Melanie Koss knows a great book – or a great graphic novel – when she reads one.

And, Koss says, Congressman John Lewis“March: Book Three” is a triumph.

Its sweep of the American Library Association awards for 2017 includes the prestigious Michael L. Printz Award, which recognizes excellence in young adult literature.

Written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, “March: Book Three” also won the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the National Book Award for young people’s literature and the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature (Young Adult category).

But for Koss, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction with expertise in children’s literature, young adult literature and multicultural children’s literature, it’s the Printz that means the most. She chairs the nine-member Printz committee this year.

“The book starts with the bombing in Birmingham and ends with the march on Selma, with intermittent jumps to Past-President Obama’s inauguration and Lewis’ interactions with Obama as a congressman in present day,” Koss says.

“Not only is this graphic novel telling the story of a very important time in American history, it’s the way it’s telling it. It’s from Congressman Lewis’ point of view, and the artwork perfectly enhances the text,” she adds.

“It’s all black and white, and it’s almost cinematic, like a movie. There are close-ups, and you can almost feel what it’s like to be John Lewis, to have his head cracked open, to be wounded by the police. It’s just a powerful story.”

march-book-threeFollowing a weekend of closed-door deliberations in Atlanta from Friday, Jan. 20, through Sunday, Jan. 22, Koss and her Printz committee colleagues enjoyed the opportunity to inform Lewis about the award and to congratulate him in person.

Her phone call to Leigh Walton, the congressman’s publicist, made it happen.

While en route to a conference book signing, and a day after leading Saturday’s Women’s March in Atlanta, Lewis stopped at the hotel where the various ALA awards committees were encamped.

“We were all standing there and, as chair, I was able to tell him that he had won, and just how thrilled and honored we were that he had written such a powerful book,” Koss says.

“We judged the book on its literary quality; however, it just happens to be completely relevant, especially in light of what is happening in our country today,” she adds. “At the end, there’s a simple photo of a cell phone ringing, which we interpret as a call to action for our country moving forward.”

Lewis was “surprised, honored and gracious,” Koss says.

“He told us how much he appreciates the support his book is getting from the library and education communities, and how important – especially now – learning from history, and moving forward, is for your nation’s youth,” she says.

“It was overwhelming to be in the presence of this man who is larger than life, and to see how passionate he still is,” she adds. “Yet he’s also very humble. It’s almost like he doesn’t realize how important he is, but he’s appreciative of the attention the ‘March’ series is getting to bring his story to a younger generation.”

Lewis will visit Chicago this summer for the annual ALA conference, where the awards are officially presented.

Until that time, Koss expects that momentum will continue to grow for all three installments in the “March” trilogy.

Melanie Koss

Melanie Koss

“Graphic novels are often not considered literary enough for the classroom, but graphic novels – as a medium – are something young adults really like. We live in a visual society, and text with images resonate with our nation’s youth,” Koss says.

“Another reason this book is so powerful is the topic. It’s so authentic and honest. It doesn’t sugarcoat,” she adds.

“We often hear about civil rights from the white perspective. We hear it from a distance. We learn about Rosa Parks. But ‘March’ is in the middle of the action, from the African-American lens. John Lewis is a civil rights icon. He was there, marching with Martin Luther King. He was on the front lines. This is his story.”

Four Printz Honor Books also were named: “Asking for It,” by Louise O’Neill; “The Passion of Dolssa,” by Julie Berry; “Scythe,” by Neal Shusterman; and “The Sun Is Also a Star,” by Nicola Yoon.



Elementary Education enhances curriculum with new emphases

Anne Gregory

Anne Gregory

Elementary Education majors at NIU will enter the teaching field a step ahead of their peers.

Three new emphases – Bilingual/ESL, Reading Teacher and Special Education – will provide automatic endorsements in areas that previously required additional coursework.

For example, the Reading Teacher endorsement, designed for teachers who teach reading in a setting other than a self-contained classroom, currently entails 24 semester hours of credit in stand-alone courses.

Now, says Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, faculty will “purposefully incorporate” those lessons into existing courses.

With the innovation, students can complete their degrees and endorsements within four years, saving time and money while becoming more marketable: They’ll graduate with a “broad view” of what teachers can provide to young learners.

“It will make them look very different than anyone else in the state,” Gregory says. “There aren’t any other programs in Illinois that look like this. There are five-year programs elsewhere, but none that include this many options for candidates. And, no one else has done a four-year program. We will be a leader.”

Students also can pursue multiple endorsements, although that would extend their time in school.

Approved Dec. 15 by the NIU Board of Trustees, and slated to begin in the fall of 2017, the new emphases meet the demands of preservice teacher-candidates as well as Illinois public school districts.

“Our school districts are telling us, ‘These are the kinds of teachers we need,’ and we’re trying to respond to that need,” Gregory says. “And, when I talk to potential students and their parents, they say, ‘You can do that?’ They’re very excited.”

shelvesState of Illinois codes also are evolving, Gregory says, which further prompted faculty to reconsider how they structure and deliver courses.

Elementary Education majors who currently are juniors can take advantage of the new emphases beginning this semester.

Freshmen and sophomores currently working on general education credits will enter the program as Elementary Education majors (a change from the previous “pre-Elementary Education” designation).

They also will experience greater and earlier engagement with opportunities to enroll in a Themed Learning Community, live in the T.E.A.C.H. House, attend workshops and interview for participation in the department’s professional series.

Gregory and her colleagues also will welcome freshmen each fall at a special reception. “We want to provide students with these additional supports they need to become successful,” she says.

Changing the emphasis configuration requires no new resources, she adds. The courses and the “responsive and reflexive” faculty needed to implement the program are in place.

“These courses were on the books already. The Reading Teacher courses hadn’t been offered forever, but we had the impetus, and the ground was laid. Curriculum is supposed to be a living, breathing thing,” she says.

“We started re-examining what was happening in our courses, and asking ourselves, ‘Do we really need to do it this way?’ And, with my being new, it was easy for me to say, ‘Why?’ – and to start asking questions.”

For more information, call (815) 753-8556 or email ltcy@niu.edu.



Educate U.S. program gears up for another January in Houston

Nicole Morales

Nicole Morales

If Nicole Morales ever dreamed of a job other than teaching, she doesn’t remember it.

“The materials have always come really easily to me. I’ve always done well in school,” says Morales, a senior Early Childhood Education major from Rockford.

“Even when I was growing up, there were classmates of mine who came to me for help – and I always found that I was able to show them the material in a way that the teacher wasn’t able to do,” she adds. “I could shine a light in a way that wasn’t there before.”

So when the opportunity arose to get her toes wet through Educate U.S. in the Houston Independent School District last January, Morales happily took the plunge.

“When I read about Educate U.S., I knew that I would get to see what it’s like being in a first-, second- or third-grade setting and the opportunity to get a feel of a primary classroom before I had to start my clinical observation,” she says. “Getting that experience before I had to do it for school was really good.”

NIU College of Education candidates in teacher licensure and athletic training have submitted applications for the trip in January, when more than 20 will get to take their turns in Houston.

All are eager for the donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experience to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district that hires a significant number of new teachers every year.

educate-usMore than 215,000 children are enrolled at Houston’s 284 campuses, which are home to innovative programs that include dual language schools offering immersion in cultures and languages including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.

Participating pre-service teachers live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools.

Jeff L. McCanna, the school district’s human capital officer who visited NIU in October to recruit for the program, places a great value on NIU’s pre-service teachers.

“The opportunities students are given through the NIU College of Education really prepare them to go to large, urban school districts and to be change agents and difference makers,” he says. “Many students here at NIU are the first generation in their families to go to college – and are committed as teachers to give other kids those same opportunities.”

Although Educate U.S. is only one week – the 2017 edition takes place from Sunday, Jan. 8, through Saturday, Jan. 14 – McCanna believes that pre-service teachers who participate always grow considerably in their professional skills.

Nicole Morales and Jeff L. McCanna

Nicole Morales and Jeff L. McCanna

“Educate U.S. gives them an experience that’s really entrenched at a campus for a week in a co-teaching environment. They’re really learning theory, and they start taking that theory and putting the art into the science,” McCanna says.

“They’re differentiating their instruction when they’re working with the kids. They really get to know their kids. They’re designing lessons to meet the kids where they’re at and getting them to where they need to be,” he adds. “That week will wear you out. You’re mom, dad, coach, cheerleader and counselor.”

By Friday, he says, there are plenty of hugs, tears, goodbyes and unexpected takeaways.

“Many find a true passion for working with underserved populations. We’re an urban environment, and if they like Houston, they can get jobs here and develop the skill sets to be successful,” he says. “But they’re going to be able to go anywhere and be good with what they learn here.”

Morales, who stayed with McCanna’s family last January, would agree.

Once she put her nerves aside to teach language arts to third-graders, she picked up ideas for different instructional strategies and a “vast repertoire of multiple activities you can use to teach a skill because not every students is going to get it one way.”

“I learned not to be afraid,” Morales says. “My cooperating teacher had me watch the first day, but from the second day forward, she threw me right into the curriculum. I did a lot of the read-alouds in front of the kids. I definitely got more of a sense for what a third-grader is able to do in terms of reading and writing, and I’m feeling more capable.”

As she confidently prepares for a spring semester of student-teaching in her hometown Rockford Public Schools, she heartily endorses the Educate U.S. experience.

hisd-logo“It is a chance to maybe work with a group of students at an age level or setting that you might not get to do back home, and I still stay in touch with my cooperating teacher. If I ever have questions, I feel that she’s one of the people I can go to,” Morales says.

Working in the children in Houston was a “privilege,” she adds, telling of sweet farewell cards they presented her on her final day there.

“You feel like you really got to know the kids well in that week, and you want to know them more,” she says.

“It definitely makes you feel like you did well,” she adds. “If a student can recall an experience you shared with them, a new skill you helped them to understand or a read-aloud you gave, you really feel like you made a difference – and you know what you’re doing is working.”



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.”

The two NIU College of Education freshmen and seven of their first-year classmates, all of whom are pursuing licensure as teachers, are among the inaugural group of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients.

Chosen on the basis of stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

From left: Sevyn Schuemann, Jacinda Starr, Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban. Not pictured: Paetyn Borhart, Lee Bell and Megan Hayes.

From left: Sevyn Schuemann, Jacinda Starr, Lauren Leifheit, Rachel Bicksler, Anna Mangini and Jamie Hoban. Not pictured: Paetyn Borhart, Lee Bell and Megan Hayes.

 

Joining Leifheit and Hoban are pre-elementary education majors Rachel Bicksler, Megan Hayes, Anna Mangini and Jacinda Starr; pre-early childhood studies majors Paetyn Borhart and Sevyn Schuemann; and physical education major Lee Bell.

Student Services was looking for ways to increase recruitment efforts for COE undergraduate licensure programs. We were thrilled to be able to offer an incentive for high-achieving high school seniors to select us as their school of choice,” says Margee Myles, director of the college’s Student Services office.

“Our first group of scholarship winners represents an academically elite group,” Myles adds, “who we hope will connect to the college and who be ambassadors for our amazing programs.”

Hoban’s path to NIU also comes courtesy of her cousin, an alumna of the Department of Special and Early Education’s renowned Visual Disabilities Program.

“She loved it here, so I toured and it just felt right. It just seemed like the place for me,” Hoban says. “There are no schools in Wisconsin that offer this program, and in Wisconsin, there’s a really big need for teachers of students with vision impairments. School districts are legally required to have someone there, and there’s an extreme shortage.”

Margee Myles

Margee Myles

Receiving a Dean’s Achievement Scholarship is an exciting honor, she says.

“When I went to the meet-and-greet, it was really nice to meet some of the major people in the College of Education and get on a more personal level with them. It’s kind of a good group to get into,” she says. “I also liked meeting some of the other students who received the scholarship. You can tell they care about their grades, so it’s nice to be around people like that.”

For Leifheit, the choice of NIU was simple. It’s close to Sycamore, obviously, so she continues to live at home and commute.

But the College of Education also boasts a “great” reputation, she says.

“Once I start taking more of the education classes, I want to learn about how to diversify my lesson plans in a fun and interesting way,” says Leifheit, who also has taught at a summer camp and spent her senior year at Sycamore High School as a TA.

“I want to be someone who is able to change how the classroom works and not have it just be routine – ‘sit down and learn.’ I’m just really hoping that I can inspire kids to be the best they can be,” she adds. “I’ve had a lot of teachers in my family – my aunt works at an elementary school; my great aunt was a teacher – so I think it was passed down. Even my mom said that if she could go back to school that she’d love to be a teacher.”



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?

courtyard-1Schwartz-Bechet and Hull happily signed on, and the creativity began to flow from Malta. “Essentially, we were their clients,” Hull says. “His students really had some phenomenal plans.”

Ewert’s Kishwaukee students “talk more about non-residential design” in the spring.

“This was a nice commercial project where we had an actual client, and we tried to make it as real as possible,” Ewert says.

“It was good for the students to be able to ask questions of someone and get that real-world experience. They had a budget. They had things to work through. They learned client communication skills. This was the first project where they could see that mattered on a larger scale. It took them a bit out of their comfort zone.”

Around that same time, however, the College of Education saw several administrative departures – Schwartz-Bechet among them – and the dream was shelved.

Understandably disappointed, Ewert still saw the potential for learning in the courtyard. He called Hull in January, wanting to know if his new students could undertake the project again, this time as no more than an assignment for his course. The courtyard’s confined space provided interesting challenges and opportunities, he explained.

The “before” picture

The “before” picture

New Dean Laurie Elish-Piper wanted more, however.

Elish-Piper liked the concept of garden transformation and was ready to turn that into reality, says Hull, who assembled a working group that included Greg Conderman, Dina Fowler, Dianne Fraedrich, Toni Tollerud and Pat Wielert.

“We told Matt, ‘Here’s the budget we have. If you can wow us again, we’ll put something into motion,’ ” she says. “His students gave us a very professional presentation. They did a nice job.”

Not wanting to choose one plan over another, the working group identified favorable elements from all of the student-designed landscapes. “We told Matt, ‘OK, now make us a plan that incorporates all of those,’ ” Hull says.

Ewert, who owns Plano-based Escapes Landscape Design Inc., did just that. NIU alum Ben Entas, owner of DeKalb-based Blue Hills Inc., was hired for the installation.

“Blue Hills did it just two days,” Ewert says. “It looks amazing. It’s a whirlwind of a difference.”

courtyard-flowersMoving forward, Ewert and his future horticulture and landscape design students will help the College of Education maintain the courtyard landscaping; they will come each fall to assist with clean-up and appropriate seasonal preparation.

Low-maintenance perennial plants were chosen to ease the upkeep, Hull says.

“They’ll get some pruning experience,” Ewert says. “They’ll also get to see how a landscape can grow up over different seasons, and the rate at which different plants mature.”

Courtyard hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. An Emergency Assistance Call Box is available in the courtyard if necessary to reach the NIU Police.

courtyard-615



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.”

Most students are “nervous at first” about the edTPA, confirms Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education.

“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” she says. “Attorneys, doctors and accountants have mandated licensure exams, and the addition of the edTPA adds that level of professional accountability to our field.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

For NIU, of course, the production of highly qualified teachers is a tradition.

“Our students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them,” she says. “The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”

Johnson is confident NIU’s success will endure even while the score required for passage continues to rise over the next few years. “The students in our program will receive edTPA preparation all the way through.”

Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, says College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation.

Meanwhile, Gregory adds, COE faculty clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”

Students are encouraged to set realistic goals in their preparation, to “break the tasks into manageable chunks” and to attend workshops coordinated through NIU’s Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation.

Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”

Feeling edTPA stress is normal – “With any kind of licensure demand, or anything high-stakes, there’s a lot of pressure,” she says – but that anxiety soon evaporates.

“Just by getting their feet into a classroom space on ‘the other side,’ then there’s no longer that fear of the unknown,” Gregory says. “It becomes, ‘Oh, I can do this!’ ”

edtpa-words

Tuma, the newly minted alumna who now teaches physical education in suburban Yorkville at an elementary school and an intermediate school, is witnessing the value of the edTPA in her daily work.

During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.

“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”

For teachers, she says, it means looking beyond the levels of comprehension or mastery shown through testing.

She cites as an example her own edTPA submission from her student-teaching time in nearby Rochelle, where she filmed a unit on basketball skills.

Her submission included her instruction on how to make a layup, video of the students attempting layups, peer observation and paperwork where students reported their numbers of successful layups.

That exercise – something simply required for licensure – now lives and breathes every day inside her gym in Yorkville.

If a student completes five of 10 layups in a basketball unit, what does that tell the P.E. teacher? Is five good enough? If not, why aren’t they making more shots? If no one is making more than five, what does that say about the instruction?

“I always flash back to the edTPA,” Tuma says. “It’s easy to give students a worksheet, or to tell them to do something, but it’s important what teachers take away from that assessment they gave. A teacher needs to reflect on that.”

Her alma mater Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education began piloting some of the edTPA templates in spring 2015 in advance of the fall 2015 implementation, says Jim Ressler, associate professor of physical education teacher education.

“As a program, we made the decision modify our lesson plan template to reflect language used by the edTPA, and we’ve found ways to integrate its components into our methods classes and most of our practicums,” he says.

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Physical education teachers historically have organized their content around themes – skills, for example – and then plan related instructional units that might span several weeks.

Regardless of the specific daily tasks is “the domain” – psychomotor, cognitive and affective – into which physical education teachers buoy each lesson.

“All three domains are commonly in play,” Ressler says. “Our students have been trained to do this quite well planning for, and assessing, all three simultaneously.”

But “the edTPA is concerned with your ability to put together three to five lessons in succession that are coherent and that align toward a single, central focus. That central focus is the aim from the first or second minute of the first lesson to the final five minutes of the last lesson,” he says. “That’s been quite a shift for our students.”

However, he and his colleagues in KNPE see benefits to the edTPA’s philosophy and have made it “just one part of the overall process of becoming highly effective teachers after leaving our program.”

“The minds of teacher-candidates are always on the big idea, the real role of planning and how important it is to have adequate preparation to deliver lessons,” he says. “They also need ways to back up their actions of putting lesson plans together in advance, trying to teach them well and having clear systems in place to make sure the lessons went as well as they thought they did. If the lesson didn’t go well, can you reflect on why – and suggest changes?”