Category: LEPF

Kiracofe among three co-editors of Education Law Into Practice

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe, professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, has been named co-editor of Education Law Into Practice (ELIP).

ELIP is a special section of West’s Education Law Reporter and sponsored by the Education Law Association.

It publishes short, practical pieces on topics in education law that are important to practitioners, scholars and attorneys. These pieces include practical and useful checklists, charts, sample forms, model policies, sample memoranda, sample documents, procedural guidelines and short articles that are thoroughly supported by citations to statutes and case law.

All manuscripts are subject to a peer-review process.

Kiracofe, an adjunct professor in the NIU College of Law, teaches Education Law, Education Finance and Legal Aspects of School Business Management. She has authored more than 30 articles, books and book chapters, and her work has been cited in law reviews, education finance literature and court documents.

She recently was elected to the Board of Directors of the Education Law Association.



All-college meeting motivates faculty, staff to set 2018 focus

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper plans to inspire – and expects to find inspiration – in 2018.

The dean of the NIU College of Education used the platform of the spring all-college meeting to reveal her “one word” focus for personal development and effort and to also encourage faculty and staff to choose their own “one word” missions.

“Mine is ‘inspire.’ One of my goals is to inspire others to do their best work, to set higher goals and to engage,” Elish-Piper told the audience. “I also want to make sure that I take the time to look at, learn about and be inspired by all the amazing work you’re doing.”

Evidence of that work proved in ample supply during the 90-minute meeting Jan. 9, which also included remarks from Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman.

Shining examples included expansion of Educate U.S., which this semester will send students to practice their teaching skills at a Native American reservation in North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Elish-Piper said, the “Engage” division of the donor- and partner-funded Educate and Engage Program soon will provide “fabulous opportunities” to non-licensure students.

Kinesiology majors can travel to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado while Sport Management students can visit several facilities in Indianapolis, including the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

College of Ed faculty and staff learned from David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, that enrollment in the College of Education is climbing, something unique among NIU’s seven colleges.

strategic-frameworkWalker (one word: “care”) partially attributed those gains – up 0.76 percent at the undergraduate level, and up 4.26 percent at the graduate level, for a grand total of 2.41 percent at the time of the all-college meeting – to the college’s emphasis on intentional growth, a pillar of the Strategic Action Planning Framework.

At the undergraduate level, the college is working on one new degree (the B.S. in Sport Management), four new minors (including the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education’s minor in Social Change Leadership), 19 new courses and three new certificates of study that will all be ready for Fall 2018 enrollment.

Graduate programs added a new certificate and a new specialization, both in the Department of Special and Early Education, and 17 new courses for Fall 2018.

Honors enrollment of College of Education students soared 24 percent in one year, Walker added.

Bill Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation, reported on progress in the framework’s Research Advancement objective despite small drops in the college’s research productivity.

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Ben Creed and Zach Wahl-Alexander

Pitney (one word: “grace”) saluted two professors – Ben Creed from the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations; and Zachary Wahl-Alexander, from the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education – who were named to the PI Academy External Mentoring Program.

Five faculty members were recognized as recipients of Dean’s Research Grants. All eventually will present the results of their work, as previous grantees did during the fall semester.

It all sounded wonderful to Freeman, who called herself “optimistic about NIU’s future.”

“The College of Education values and priorities align with NIU’s mission and core values, as well as the university’s commitments to excellence, knowledge creation, innovative practice and social justice,” Freeman said.

“Moreover, your strategic planning efforts are appropriately reflective of the opportunities identified through Program Prioritization,” she added, “as well as the historical importance of the College of Education as an anchor of the university and a leader in P-20 educational innovation across our region, state, nation and world.”

She applauded the college’s new ranking from U.S. News & World Report – “As impressive as the No. 5 ranking is that the college was ranked No. 3 for peer respect. People are talking about NIU,” she said – as well as the University of Tetovo exhibition in the Blackwell History of Education Museum.

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

Laurie Elish-Piper and Lisa Freeman

NIU’s chief executive encouraged the audience to “hope for the best and plan for the worst” when it comes to Springfield and budgets. The university is “prepared for the unthinkable,” she added.

Higher education must actively engage in the conversation in Illinois as some call for consolidation, she said. “We shouldn’t be staying away from tough conversations. We should be encouraging realistic conversation,” she said. “What we need to do is be unafraid to speak.”

Freeman then revealed her “one word” for 2018 – “relationships” – which reinforces the importance of collaboration.

Relationships provide resources for individuals and institutions. Relationships surround people with others who see the world differently. Relationships heal, reaffirm, encourage and, with a nod to Dean Elish-Piper, inspire.

“When you can never get enough time or money to do something,” Freeman said, “the value of relationships is one that should never be underestimated.”

Enjoy photos from the all-college meeting and the festive “Winter Wonderland” social event that followed immediately in the Learning Center.



U.S. News extols College of Ed online grad programs – again

laptop-keysAnother January, another celebration of a Top 5 ranking from U.S. News & World Report for the NIU College of Education’s online graduate programs.

NIU is tied for fifth with the University of Houston and Utah State University this year, bringing the Top 5 streak to six consecutive years. The College of Education also made the “honor roll” in 2012, the first year that U.S. News began collecting data on online graduate education programs.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper is proud, but not surprised, that NIU tops all other Illinois and Mid-American Conference colleagues.

“Being ranked in the Top 5 for the last six years really affirms the quality and consistency of our NIU College of Education online graduate programs,” Elish-Piper says.

diploma“One aspect of the ranking that I’m most proud of is the ranking for faculty qualifications,” the dean adds. “Our faculty and staff are on the cutting edge of online learning, and it’s exciting to see their great work being consistently honored.”

Indeed, NIU scored 94 out of 100 in the Faculty Credentials and Training category. The college also earned high marks for Student Engagement (89 out of 100) and in Student Services and Technology (79 out of 100).

Meanwhile, the college earned a Peer Assessment score of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5.

U.S. News creates and offers its list of Best Online Graduate Education Programs to inform those teachers who aspire to grow their careers.

The NIU College of Education offers three online master’s degrees within the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

Wei-Chen Hung

Wei-Chen Hung

ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung, who is quick to credit faculty members for their continued dedication to excellence in online education, reports that his department has achieved a desirable milestone.

“Some of our students say they feel no difference between face-to-face and online because they feel that the dynamics of the interaction is always there between students and faculty,” Hung says.

“Our students receive the best instruction and learning opportunities in online environments, and most students are not surprised by that. They say, ‘Of course!’ That’s the first reaction they have,” he adds. “I believe this is due to the faculty’s high qualifications to teach these courses online and their incorporation of innovative teaching methods.”

Faculty in ETRA strive to retain the U.S. News ranking by participating in professional development to stay up to date on their skills, he says.

Naturally, he adds, the professors and instructors also care deeply about fostering student success and doing what is needed to ensure that.

“Last year, we were very purposeful to initiate a quality measures training,” Hung says. “As a result, every faculty member who teaches online was also certified to teach and to design and develop online courses. Some even went on to become certified reviewers of online courses to support other faculty members who want to develop online courses.”

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Carolyn Pluim, chair of LEPF, calls the latest ranking “a clear reflection of the expertise that we have teaching in the program area.”

“We have a really nice blend of faculty members and instructors who’ve had years of experience in the field,” Pluim says, “and there is a strong commitment to making the online program very applicable to the needs of working students. Our flexible online program enables students who would otherwise not be able to take two years out their professional lives to participate.”

She credits the department’s close and strong relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) for recruiting top students and faculty to NIU.

Between 20 and 25 new students begin the program every other semester, she says, with at least three cohorts progressing through the curriculum simultaneously.

“I have yet to see an end of people who want this degree, to be honest,” Pluim says.

“We adhere to routine course updates to remain relevant and to reflect current best practices that are very applicable to that the students are going to be facing in the field,” she adds. “We’ve also got people in the program who are often grappling with the same kinds of questions that our courses are asking them to problem-solve around. The blend of theoretical knowledge and practical applications makes for a richer classroom dialogue.”

Other Illinois schools ranked include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (25), the University of St. Francis (36), Concordia (88), McKendree University (107) Roosevelt University (125) and the University of Illinois at Springfield (131).

Mid-American Conference schools in the rankings include Buffalo (15), Ohio (18), Ball State (36), Central Michigan (46), Bowling Green (88), Kent State (107), Toledo (107), Eastern Michigan (148) and Western Michigan (150).



EdLEAD names first cohort

Chad McEvoy

Chad McEvoy

NIU cultivates a dynamic and enriching environment for faculty looking to grow as professionals, but the College of Education believes there is always room for improvement.

“On our campus and so many other campuses, we are very intentional about professional development for teaching. We have resources on our campus in that regard,” says Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

“We’re also very intentional about research development as, again, are many other universities,” McEvoy adds. “We’re not always as intentional when it comes to developing future leaders.”

The challenge is clear, he says.

“For our college and our university to be successful in the future, we need strong leaders and we need to develop future strong leaders who are going to be our future deans, associate deans, department chairs, program directors and other administrators on campus,” he says.

“But how do we prepare our faculty and others to not only fill these positions but to excel in these positions in the future? That’s a thought I’ve had in my head for a long time.”

Enter EdLEAD, the College of Education Leadership Education and Development Program.

edlead-logoDesigned to invest in the intentional development of leadership skills for faculty who aspire to take on such positions, EdLEAD will present a series of professional development workshops through the spring and summer semesters of 2018.

Faculty in the program then will spend the 2018-19 academic year in hands-on leadership projects that provide practical experience.

Members of the first cohort:

  • Mary Beth Henning, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
  • Steve Howell, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Jim Ressler, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
  • Kelly Summers, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Stephen Tonks, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations
  • Paul Wright, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

All will find “robust preparation to grow, learn, take on new opportunities and expand their careers in different ways,” says Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the College of Education.

ed-lead-profs

Top row: Mary Beth Henning and Steve Howell Middle row: Jim Ressler and Kelly Summers Bottom row: Stephen Tonks and Paul Wright

“Higher ed is facing a lot of challenges, and having highly qualified leaders who are ready to step in is critical to the health and wellbeing of any academic institution,” Elish-Piper says.

“We want to make sure we are investing in our faculty who aspire to take on leadership roles,” she adds. “We truly believe that professional development of leadership skills will not only enhance the contributions these people will make but also their experiences at NIU.”

McEvoy initiated early conversations with Elish-Piper and associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker, discovering that they shared similar visions and approaches.

“Early in the fall semester, Dean Elish-Piper asked if I would be involved,” McEvoy says. “I’m excited to help build our emerging leaders in the college. I don’t know that any of us would claim to be expert leaders, per se, but we are people who are trying hard to lead the units that we oversee.”

Making the transition to leadership can occur naturally but not easily, he says, further justifying the EdLEAD model.

“We often look at our strong faculty members as strong in teaching, strong in scholarship and strong in the service area, and then we thrust those strong faculty into leadership roles,” McEvoy says.

“The skills and hard work that allowed them to become effective faculty members generally do translate to helping them excel in some of these leadership activities,” he says, “but we need to equip them with leadership training and development that will enable them to excel further.”

Pitney and Walker are confident that EdLEAD will accomplish just that.

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

Bill Pitney, Laurie Elish-Piper and David Walker

“EdLEAD is a way to support and extend faculty leadership development, and I’m excited because it is an investment in our future,” says Pitney, associate dean of Research, Resources and Innovation.

“The program will raise awareness of critical and noteworthy issues facing higher education and its leaders locally and nationally,” he adds. “It will also explore ways to effectively lead during challenging times in higher education at multiple levels: department, college and university.”

Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, is eager to see college-faculty collaboration “to assist in developing future leaders in our own setting and also throughout NIU.”

“I really see this program as a unique set of opportunities to explore and develop, with the support of numerous leaders across campus, in areas such as budget, data use for decision-making, consensus building, communication or working with external constituents,” he says.

“We have a great group of six faculty participants,” he adds, “and we will all benefit from interacting and learning from each other.”



LEPF professor elected to board of Education Law Association

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe

Christine Rienstra Kiracofe, professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Education Law Association.

Kiracofe teaches Education Law, Education Finance and Legal Aspects of School Business Management. She has authored more than 30 articles, books, and book chapters and her work has been cited in law reviews, education finance literature and court documents.

The Education Law Association (ELA) is the premier forum for all professionals in education who are interested in practical knowledge, scholarship and interdisciplinary dialogue about legal and policy issues affecting education.

A national, nonprofit member association, the ELA offers unbiased information to its professional members about current legal issues affecting education and the rights of those involved in education in both public and private K-12 schools, universities and colleges.

For education professionals and legal advocates on behalf of educational institutions and individual clients, the ELA remains an indispensable resource.



Camera’s eye: Blackwell photo exhibition to tell tale of Tetova

Fadil Sulejmani

Fadil Sulejmani

As Fadil Sulejmani greeted students and faculty of the new University of Tetova, he uttered words likely never spoken before – or since – to mark the inauguration of a school.

“We want pens and notebooks,” Sulejmani told the crowd, “not violence.”

Despite his pleas and his hopes, terrible unrest awaited the trailblazers of ethnic Albanian higher education in Macedonia, even on that day in 1995.

Local police decked out in riot gear tried to force their way into the classrooms. They did not succeed. Members of the local community courageously turned out en masse to form a human blockade.

Yet the government would continue to harass and intimidate Tetova for several years.

Sulejmani himself, a professor of Albanian at the University of Prishtina for 23 years before he helped to found Tetova with other Albanian intellectuals, eventually was arrested and sentenced to 30 months in prison, although he was released after one year.

His only crime? Daring to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians.

To Patrick Roberts, associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, the story of Tetova is too compelling – and too important – to ignore.

tetovo-poster“Ethnic Albanians are a minority, more or less marginalized with limited access to higher education,” says Roberts, who also serves as faculty director of the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum. “Their story is a very powerful lesson of how higher education should never be taken for granted.”

Fortunately, cameras caught it all.

Nearly 70 reproductions of photographs that depict the university’s tumultuous existence are coming to the Blackwell for a five-month exhibition

Vullnet Ameti, rector of the University of Tetova, will attend the grand opening from 3 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14. Brief remarks from NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman and College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper are planned for 3:15 p.m. Ameti is visiting DeKalb to receive an honorary NIU doctorate during the Dec. 16 Graduate School commencement ceremony.

All faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the opening of “The University of Tetova and the Struggle for Educational Equity in the Republic of Macedonia” if their schedules allow.

Museum visitors also can read first-person narratives written by four people who were involved in the founding or the early years of Tetova.

Roberts began thinking last December about bringing the images to DeKalb as he and others from NIU visited Tetova for an international conference at the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture between the two universities.

“The NIU folks who were there were taken to the University of Tetova’s museum, in the small building where the first classes were held,” he says. “In this small museum were many, many photographs taken over the years that told the story of the university’s founding and its status, in many respects, as an illegal university. It was not recognized by the government.”

Steve Builta, director of Technology Innovation and Learning Services for the College of Education, quickly bought into Roberts’ vision. Builta compares Tetova’s battle for educational rights to the U.S. struggles to desegregate its K-12 schools decades ago.

“It’s very compelling. It’s a fantastic story to tell about a place in the world that not many of our students know much about, and people will be fascinated,” Builta says. “It will be interesting for people to think about the fact that we don’t have to fight for our university education in the way they did.”

Vullnet Ameti

Vullnet Ameti

Rachelle Wilson-Loring, graduate assistant for the Blackwell, the Department of Anthropology and the Pick Museum of Anthropology, has helped to curate and install the Tetova exhibition.

Before beginning the curation process, she knew nothing about the University of Tetova and only a little about Macedonia.

“I remember the war, and the refugees, but I was too young to understand the nuances,” Wilson-Loring says. “This exhibition has really made me examine what was going on, and it’s a familiar story: the fight for education. I believe that education is a human right, and being able to tell this story for them – and to show their fight – is really empowering to me.”

An “anthropologist by nature,” she hopes that visitors to the exhibition adopt an international view of education, considering that what happens globally impact the United States, and then question themselves and others about finding the best paths to progress.

“Education shouldn’t be a stagnant thing, and we have been keeping it that way for too long,” she says. “I hope people understand why the ethnic Albanians were fighting for this – a university, teaching in the Albanian language, teaching Albanian history – and fighting for the survival of their culture.”

Students should take personal inspiration from the photographs, Roberts adds.

Patrick Roberts

Patrick Roberts

“This is a really relatable story, with lessons of how a group of committed students, with the help of their community and their professors, can really fight for this right to a quality life and education,” Roberts says.

“We hope to energize our own students to think of themselves as activists,” he adds, “and the roles they can play to be advocates or leaders in any social movement they feel impassioned about.”

Guided tours for faculty and students are planned for the spring semester, Wilson-Loring says. The exhibition closes May 11.

The Blackwell is located in the Learning Center on the lower level of Gabel Hall. For more information, call (815) 753-1236 or email blackwell@niu.edu.



NIU to give honorary doctorate to Tetovo’s ‘rector of the people’

Vullnet Ameti

Vullnet Ameti

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to Vullnet Ameti, a man who demonstrated his belief in education as a human right by helping to establish the only Albanian university in Macedonia.

The rector of the University of Tetovo will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, in the NIU Convocation Center.

Anthony Preston, director of Global Programs in the NIU College of Business, nominated Ameti on behalf of the university’s Division of International Affairs.

“Dr. Vullnet Ameti is one of the most charitable and courageous men I have ever met,” Preston said. “He is truly a man that cares about the people of his nation.”

He has proven his commitment many time over, Preston added.

“In the early ’90s, the government did not recognize Albanians living in Macedonia as equal citizens,” he said. “They were not allowed to vote, or use the same facilities, and were not granted the right to education.”

Change began in 1994.

“Rector Ameti, along with other Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia, led the protests in front of the rifle barrels of the Macedonian gendarmerie,” Preston said. “Until then, Albanians only dreamt about the possibility of earning a secondary degree in their home country.”

For Ameti, those dreams took him from his homeland to Yugoslavia, where he earned his bachelor’s (1985) and master’s (1989) degrees at the University of Pristina, and later to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tuzla in 2008.

But it was in Macedonia where Ameti would build his legacy.

ameti-vullnetWorking with his fellow ethnic Albanians, Ameti began to recruit teachers to open and staff a university. Students and teachers held classes in churches, mosques, restaurants and even private homes.

“On June 4, 1994, Rector Ameti and his family donated a small piece of farmland for the purpose of starting a university. This was the first, and as of today the only, Albanian university in Macedonia,” Preston said.

Ten years later, the national government finally recognized the University of Tetovo as a state university of higher education.

More than 27,000 students now are enrolled in pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including the Ph.D. level.

“He has taught thousands of students and continues to be a rector of the people,” Preston said. “He is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I have witnessed him on many occasions lay bricks for new buildings on campus, cut bushes and trees and feed the homeless.”

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo in 2015 to dedicate the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture with NIU meant to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.

The center hosted its first international conference last December. Around 225 people, including a contingent of five from NIU, attended “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region.”

Freeman returned to Macedonia in May of this year to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tetovo.

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

“Rector Ameti always has impressed me with his bravery in the face of resistance and his determination to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia. What he has done – what he continues to do – is remarkable, inspirational and humbling,” Freeman said. “I always look forward to our visits, as well as our conversations about access to education, and it will be my great privilege to present him with this honorary degree.”

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, shares in the enthusiasm for Ameti’s NIU recognition.

Roberts helped to plan and lead last December’s international conference on democracy, and is spearheading a mostly photographic exhibition depicting the history of the University of Tetovo.

The exhibit, hosted in the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall, will open in December to coincide with Ameti’s visit to DeKalb.

Logo of the University of Tetovo“Under Professor Dr. Ameti’s leadership, UT has become a world-class institution that continues to be committed to educational access and equity, its founding vision. The story of UT is really a story of community and courage, and we’re excited to tell that story here at the College of Education’s Blackwell Museum,” Roberts said.

“Dr. Ameti has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to pull the exhibition together, and that’s just one example of the many things he’s done to nurture the partnership between NIU and UT,” he added. “What’s so admirable is that he has established a forward-looking vision for UT’s future that remains firmly committed to the social justice issues that have animated its past. That’s inspiring.”



DACA-ready: NIU College of Ed prepares teachers empowered to advocate for all students

Cynthia Taines

Cynthia Taines

When President Trump acted this fall to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, Cynthia Taines immediately looked beyond the inflamed political discourse.

Taines, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, thought instead of the youngest of children, of adolescents and, naturally, their teachers.

“Undocumented students disclose their status to people they trust,” Taines says, “and it seems to me that it’s a a pretty common experience that undocumented students are talking to their teachers.”

She has seen it firsthand from teachers and students in Chicago and the north suburbs, thanks to her work with the Metropolitan Community Project. She has seen it in DeKalb as well, thanks to guest appearances in her classes from DREAM Action NIU and the CHANCE Program.

And, Taines says, she has seen that some of the future teachers in her courses aren’t personally familiar with the changing political landscapes that challenge undocumented children in U.S. schools.

“Many of them don’t think that they know anyone who’s undocumented,” Taines says.

For that reason, she makes sure that all of her students understand the gravity of the situation and its impact on the role they soon will play as professional educators.

“I bring real-life voices – their fellow Huskies, their fellow students – who look and sound like any college student. Not all disclose that they’re undocumented, or say that they have family member who are, but some do. They’re really brave,” she says.

“They talk through their struggles, their strengths and where they found support, and it’s often from friendly approachable people in schools, like teachers and educators,” she adds. “I’m trying to encourage empathy and some sort of moral response that doesn’t necessarily come out of a less reflective place or from parroting things you might hear on the news. I’m making this more human and more real.”

James Cohen

James Cohen

Her approach reflects and reinforces a deep-seated philosophy of the NIU College of Education, which proudly stands for educational equity and access for all. The college strongly believes that education is a human right, and that all students can succeed.

James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, enthusiastically shares those principles.

“Over 70 percent of the American population believes that DACA should be continued because they see that you can’t punish kids for the choices their parents made,” says Cohen, who teaches courses in multicultural and bilingual education and was an organizer of NIU’s Social Justice Summer Camp this past summer for K-12 educators.

Students in his classes learn about the injustices that exist in society, including institutionalized and systemic racism. They also are taught to view students from a “strength model,” where children feel welcome, respected and motivated to work, rather than from a “deficit model.”

“If you look at how our society is structured, it’s structured for people who are in power. It’s not structured for people who have brown or black skin, who don’t speak English as a native language and especially not for people who don’t have legal documentation to be here,” he says.

“In my classroom, I have students doing a lot of reading. They read about what it means to be an undocumented immigrant and what it means to live a live without documentation,” he adds. “We discuss it, and we build empathy. We don’t build sympathy. Sympathy is, ‘Oh, I feel bad for you.’ Empathy is, ‘I need to do something about this.’ ”

Cohen makes sure that his future teachers understand, and are ready to fulfill, their role as “advocates who actually act and don’t sit back and do nothing.”

“There’s a concept called social mirroring. If you belong to an ethnic group – which we all do – and society views your certain group as X, Y or Z, it’s very difficult to not believe that you are X, Y or Z,” he says.

“As teacher-advocates, our students need to advocate for their students so that they do not believe in all of these negative stereotypes that float around in our society,” he adds. “If you start believing that you’re lazy, or you start believing that you’re a troublemaker, those can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. You might drop out of school, get into trouble, join a gang or believe that school is not meaningful.”

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez

Sandy Lopez, assistant to the director at NIU’s Center for Latino and Latin American Studies, is counting on NIU College of Education graduates to make a positive difference for current and future generations.

Around 4.5 million K-12 students currently in the United States are U.S.-born with undocumented parents, Lopez says. Another 1 million are undocumented with undocumented parents; of those, 65,000 graduate each year from high school.

Between 7,000 and 13,000 will matriculate into higher education, which is only 20 percent at best.

“It’s important for teachers to work with these students to let them know that there are opportunities to continue and to go to college,” she says. “Otherwise, these students will disengage.”

Immigrants bring many strengths to their classrooms – “They’re balancing two worlds. They’re bilingual. They’re bicultural,” Lopez says – and are resilient students, many of whom have learned to advocate for themselves, their families and their communities.

Yet they worry about their families being separated. They worry about being deported. They worry that their schools will report them, something that can cause anxiety rather than concentration in the classroom as well as mistrust of principals and other administrators.

Many children also serve as translators on behalf of their families, juggling critical interactions with everyone from landlords to doctors along with their nightly homework.

Teachers must strive for sensitivity, Lopez says, creating a safe space where children can find support while they share their fears and their successes.

“It’s so critical that these kids know that they’re not alone, and that their school is not going to turn them in,” she says. “They have no reason to divulge that information to anyone.”

Colleges are not immune, she adds.

DREAM Action NIUFollowing President Trump’s announcement, Lopez says, “I had a student who came into the center, shaking. She was having a hard time breathing. I said, ‘I didn’t realize you were undocumented.’ She said, ‘I’m not. My parents are.’ ”

Stories like that motivate Taines and, she believes, her students.

“Educational equity drives me,” Taines says. “That’s the reason I got into education. It’s a large piece of how we can achieve social equality, because education is one of the main drivers of opportunity. Just because there’s a language issue doesn’t mean that a student is not going to achieve or achieve highly.”

Taines accentuates her objective by sending students to research the language-learning programs of the high schools from which they graduated.

“Every time, I get some initial pushback: ‘My school doesn’t have that program. We didn’t have any kids in my school who were language-learners.’ I say, ‘I just want you to look. It’s possible that’s changed.’ The students come back and say, ‘I didn’t know we had this,’ ” she says.

“They realize they had only a slice of understanding about the institution as a whole,” she adds. “Their communities are changing quickly. The suburbs are become more diverse. Thinking through these issues, having them think through the issues and connecting to them on a human basis, will help them serve their future students.”

Cohen makes his point through a role-playing exercise where he is “the angry man on the plane” who’s in favor of mass deportation. The students must persuade him otherwise.

“It’s amazing. You can see their wheels turning,” he says. “You can see how they’re trying to convince me that what I’m saying is based on ideology and not on facts. They put me in the shoes of an immigrant student. They make it more relevant to me. They try to convince me that bilingual education and equal treatment of undocumented immigrants are the right, ethical and moral choices.”

DREAM Action NIU

DREAM Action NIU is a student-led organization that works in collaboration with the Latino Resource Center to raise awareness of the situations undocumented students face in the U.S. and, in particular, on campus.

Students gain the solid foundation for their arguments during every class period of the semester, he adds.

“My bottom line is that teachers have to be thinking about their students and less about themselves. We can’t blame our students for the context or the predicament they’re in. I want my students to learn the facts so that they can teach the facts,” Cohen says.

And it’s working, he says.

“We are turning out teachers who understand the systems and hierarchies of injustice that exist. We are producing teachers who know how to advocate for kids. We are producing teachers who are good pedagogists. I’m very proud of being a faculty member in the NIU College of Education and of all the good work we are doing here.”



Ed Psych professor encourages future teachers to ‘stop thinking of your students as students’

dugas-1

Special Education major Ashley Manor (left) questions a classmate
about her 16-year-old self before permitting her entrance
to the educational space known as Dugas Island.

Ashley Manor stands just outside the door of Graham Hall 336, facing a line of her classmates.

Each must answer her question before walking into the classroom. “If you could go back and talk to your 16-year-old self,” Manor asks again and again, “what would you say?”

For most of her respondents, that journey through time is not a long one. They’re college undergraduates, after all, barely removed from their teenage years. For Professor Daryl Dugas, who also must offer a reply to gain admission to his own classroom, the well of wisdom from which to draw is at least a couple decades deeper.

Dugas begins each semester on the other side of this brief inquisition, posing questions to his students as they queue up in the hallway, backpacks still slung over their shoulders.

He considers the greeting process integral to the “holistic learning” process, regarding his question-and-answer ritual as an invitation to enter an educational space known as Dugas Island.

“My philosophy of teaching is that it’s not just about delivering content. I’m creating an environment,” says Dugas, who teaches in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

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Daryl Dugas, right, works to make sure students feel a sense
of ownership in his Educational Psychology classes.

“To really learn, you have to expose yourself, and that’s a really vulnerable activity. My students and I are building relationships together to support them through challenges. It’s very enriching,” he adds. “The underlying model of what I’m doing is a process based on principles of group dynamics. We’re not just a group of individuals. We are a group together. We are in a process together. We are growing together.”

When students arrive for the first day of the semester, they find the classroom door closed and locked. Dugas eventually appears with the “key” – a question they must answer in order to enter.

“I might say, ‘What’s something, other than education, that you’re passionate about?’ The questions evolve over the next few days,” he says. “I’ve had students tell me, ‘I thought you were crazy on the first day,’ or ‘I didn’t know what to make of you on the first day.’ ”

But through their answers, he says, he can get to know them better. He can watch momentary anxiety at the door unlock positive learning experiences on Dugas Island, to which they have “a temporary resident agreement.”

Students such as Manor, a junior Special Education major from Mokena, volunteer to serve as the greeters as the semester progresses.

That’s by design, Dugas says. “Within the ritual, something was getting lost when I always did it. There needs to be the ritual, but it needs to change as well,” he says.

“The most important thing is your relationship with students, not your content.”

“The most important thing is your relationship
with students, not your content.”

An in-class brainstorming exercise years earlier – something integral to Dugas Island – provided a strategy. “A student asked me, ‘Why don’t we ask you a question?’ I said, ‘That’s a phenomenal idea. This is your class, too, not just mine.’ Students really feel a sense of ownership.”

Dugas, an assistant professor in the Educational Psychology program, teaches classes in child and adolescent development as well as classroom management.

His goal is to instill in students that effective teaching-and-learning relationships must go beyond lecture, PowerPoint, note-taking and tests. He strives to elevate his curriculum in ways that prompt students to draw connections between the classroom and their lives.

“The point of my class is to stop thinking of your future students as merely students but as developing human beings,” he says. “A major problem with our educational system is that it deals mostly with curriculum content and forgets about the young people we are supposed to be nurturing toward adulthood.”

His path to this realization began in his previous career as a high school chemistry and physics teacher; he taught for six years in suburban Downers Grove and four years in a Chicago charter school.

Plagued by misgivings of his own efficacy with the teens, and whether he was teaching them things they actually would need to know as adults, his life changed when he discovered a mentor: a social worker steeped in the philosophy of group dynamics.

Through work with his mentor, he began asking himself questions about his own personal development: Am I an adult? Am I a man? He also jumped at the chance to help his mentor lead an after-school program for teens.

dugas-3

When he began incorporating those experiences into his chemistry classes – for example, he would spend the first two weeks of class not teaching content but instead establishing the learning environment – he earned a scolding from the principal.

Content, he was told, took precedence. That was his job.

“I feel like now I’m trying to deliver a counter-message to that: The most important thing is your relationship with students, not your content,” he says. “We shouldn’t pretend that all of our content is useful and that you’ll need it; rather, we should focus more on building connections with our students, and through that share them with them our own excitement about our content.”

As a teacher-educator, Dugas believes it’s vital to foster in his classrooms the kind of environment he encourages future teachers to cultivate in their own classes.

He shows his NIU students that content delivery is enhanced by prompting a sharing of personal stories, from both students and teacher, that relate to the lessons.

Such conversations lead to “feeling connected, a very valuable experience to have with one another.”

dugas-5“Everyone who wants to be a teacher wants to make a difference in students’ lives, and very few people talk explicitly about how to do that,” Dugas says. “I’m trying to demonstrate to my students that it is possible to create a unique, connective experience in their classes, but that it requires hard work.”

The benefits, he says, go beyond just having a pleasant time. “Through our work as a group, future teachers can begin to examine their own blind spots,” he says. “You can’t guide someone through a developmental process you haven’t been through yourself.”

His students also gain experience in pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones in how they participate and share in class. “Doing this in my class helps them build empathy for their own future students,” he says, “and how difficult this can be.”

Young people will respond, he says.

“Research on resilience shows that adolescents need adults other than their parents to look up to, an adult who’s in their corner – one caring, competent adult who took an interest in their life,” he says. “When I began working with my mentor, I realized that I needed to have something to share with my students other than chemistry. I needed a caring ear and words of wisdom. Once I began sharing that, it meant the world to them.”

His classroom at NIU illustrates his spirit and his philosophy. Stuffed animals, including an owl, a gorilla, a “Where the Wild Things Are” creature, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, as well as various tchotchkes, are stationed on desks throughout.

Meanwhile, he hopes to embody the teacher that he wants his students to become rather than lecturing them on how to do what he does.

dugas-8In setting up an Oct. 3 lesson on the development of romantic relationships in adolescence, he asked the students to set the morning’s framework.

For his part, he prompted them to set individual goals of how many times they would speak up during the next hour and how many times they would actively encourage others to share ideas. “Remind me to stop two minutes early so we can check in on that,” he told them.

Students broke into five groups to articulate their understanding of the idea of emotions as biological programs, cultural scripts and cognitive assessments; later, each group shared its thinking and opened the floor to comments.

As students shared their own personal stories and examples, Dugas also joined in to spin anecdotes about his young daughter that fit the discussion perfectly. It provided a good model: “The emotional responses you show will teach your students,” he told the class.

The students later played a game – one facilitated and modeled by a fellow classmate – that offered another example of how to connect students and teacher beyond academic content.

When the class ended, Dugas did not call out reminders of upcoming assignments or tests as might seem customary when students are packing up and heading for the exits.

“Thank you, as always,” he said, instead, “for a great conversation.”



LEPF doctoral student leads multilingual efforts in Uruguay

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

Languages are deeply valued in Uruguay, where multiple tongues beyond the native Spanish are the norm.

“Uruguay is a country of immigrants,” Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says of his homeland.

“We have more than 120,000 Italian citizens living in Uruguay. We have British people. We have Spanish people,” Rodriguez adds. “We have German, Swiss and Portuguese cities settled by immigrants from those countries.”

People living near the country’s border with Brazil are generally also fluent in Portuguese, which is considered a regional language.

And everyone is expected to know English, which the country regards an international language. Students begin learning English in fourth-grade.

The man in charge of advancing the government’s language ambitions is none other than Aldo Rodriguez, the recently appointed national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“By 2030, we want a multilingual country,” he says. “For more than 40 years, our secondary school students have learned French, Italian and English. Authorities believe in the neurological benefits of learning multiple languages.”

Schools in this country should share that ambition, he adds.

uruguay-flag“I think U.S. schools will benefit by adopting these types of policies, first and foremost for the multicultural heritage the country has,” Rodriguez says. “It’s outstanding how diverse and culturally rich the United States is. Learning multiple languages will make people understand more about other cultures and people. When you learn a language, you learn its culture.”

Rodriguez, who is living and working in Uruguay while he completes his NIU dissertation, is responsible for crafting policy for all levels of education from first-grade through college.

His professional background fuels his passion for the job. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, a career he began in 1998. He’s also mentored dozens of teachers, designed educational materials, delivered workshops and seminars and served as the director of an institute for second languages.

Teaching also drives his Educational Psychology dissertation, which focuses on persistence in adult secondary school contexts.

“I started working at the adult schools. The population of this school is very unique since 100 percent of the students went through a negative experience with education, and they had to drop out of traditional education,” he says.

“Dropping out is something really common in this context. Sometimes you start with a class of 50 students, and only six or seven finish the school year,” he adds. “My questions were, ‘Who is successful? Who finished school? Why?’ ”

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Coming to NIU in 2010 on a Fulbright grant to pursue his master’s in Adult and Higher Education opened many doors.

“When I read the profiles of the professors I was going to have, and the expertise they had on adult education, I just loved it,” Rodriguez says.  “I had Dr. Jorge Jeria as my first mentor, and I think I couldn’t have made it to the end of the master’s course without his support.”

Staying at NIU for his Ph.D. brought the mentorship of Stephen Tonks, for whom Rodriguez became a three-year research assistant. Before returning home in 2015, he also worked as a TA and participated in a search committee.

“My experience at the LEPF department was one of the best in my life,” he says. “All the people who work there are just great, and they made me feel at home.”