Tag: Department of Leadership Educational Psychology and Foundations

Marguerite Key Fellows names first class of school principals

key-fellows-2018

Top: Rachel Bednar and Jay Brickman
Middle: Patrick Hardy and Debra Klein
Bottom:Katie Matthews and Chris Tennyson

Six principals from NIU’s service region have been named as the inaugural Marguerite Key Fellows, a new initiative of the NIU College of Education.

The six principals will gather Thursday, June 21 on the DeKalb campus for an intensive leadership retreat to share creative and potentially transformational ideas to “unlock” higher education for underserved populations of students.

Organizers hope that these conversations will not only shepherd such students into college but also prepare them for success there.

The Marguerite Key Fellows Program was proposed by Alan Clemens, an instructor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, and Carolyn Pluim, chair of the department. The program was made possible by a gift Key made to the department with the goal of advancing the principalship across NIU’s service region.

“What we’re hoping to find is real evidence of innovation, energy and ingenuity that’s being brought to the table in service of this very poignant need, and to put additional focus on this innovation, to increase opportunities for students to successfully achieve their college dreams,” says Clemens, research associate and director of the Illinois Post-Secondary Report Card at NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement.

Carolyn Pluim and Alan Clemens

Carolyn Pluim and Alan Clemens

“There is research that shows – and I personally believe this – that those students across the country who, at this moment are facing the most significant obstacles to college access and college success, are the country’s largest source of growth potential,” he adds. “I can’t see any more noble purpose, or more potentially powerful purpose for the future of our country, than empowering these underserved voices.”

A five-member advisory committee will guide the ongoing framework and rationale of the program as well as the selection, and work, of the fellows.

Fellows need only serve one year, Clemens says, but are always welcome to stay involved.

“The Marguerite Key Fellows Program is a project in line with the vision and passion Marguerite has for supporting the preparation of future educational leaders,” Pluim says. “The program will recognize the great work Illinois principals are doing, and provide them with specialized professional development and growth opportunities.”

Marguerite Key

Marguerite Key

Key graduated in 1944 from Northern Illinois State Teachers College – now known as NIU – with a major in biology and a minor in music. When the Kellogg Foundation funded a program in Illinois to place a health educator on the staff of each state college, she came back to Northern.

She and her husband spent their professional lives in Washington, D.C., where she enjoyed a 40-year career in the Arlington County Schools as director of guidance in a middle school while he worked with the National Education Association.

Widowed in 1995, she returned to DeKalb and became involved in the successful campaign to purchase the Milan Township one-room schoolhouse and to move it to the NIU campus.

As she became more involved in activities and programs in the College of Education, she served on the college’s Development Committee for many years and helped to develop and promote fundraising and volunteer efforts. Her financial gifts enabled the development and implementation of innovative programs in the areas of principal and superintendent preparation.



Keeping all the balls in the air: Honors lauds Leslie A. Sassone with Great Professor Award

sassone-3

Leslie A. Sassone (left); her father, Nick Sassone; and NIU alumna Gail Gattis, a National Board Certified Teacher in River Forest, who uses Professor Sassone’s juggling curriculum.

Among the many decorations adorning
Leslie A. Sassone’s office in Graham Hall is a small photograph she snapped years ago at a Grateful Dead Furthur Festival concert.

The picture shows a woman reading a book, paying little or no attention to the music being performed in front of her by living legends of rock ’n’ roll.

Sassone laughs when she thinks about that moment. Maybe it amuses her simply because she loves music so much – she self-describes as “a peace-love-justice child of the ’60s” – or, maybe, it’s because music is how she got here.

Raised in New York, Sassone was in her early 20s and spinning the hits at a radio station on the East Coast when she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in media systems and management. Doubting that she possessed “the voice” for a larger market, she figured a college diploma would at least provide some security for her future in broadcasting.

But something unexpected happened at Westfield State University.

“I was introduced to philosophy,” says Sassone, a professor in the NIU College of Education since 1997.

Her new passion – her intense love of “the honest interactions and connections between text and the world” – eventually led her to Purdue University, where in 1988 she earned an M.S.Ed. in Communication and Speech Education and, in 1994, a Ph.D. in Educational Studies.

Nearly 25 years after that doctorate, the powers within philosophy continue to drive her.

Leslie Sassone

Leslie Sassone

“Philosophy keeps me honest. Philosophy invites me to think through the thoughts of other people on their own terms,” she says. “Philosophy of Education is why I love working with students. It’s a reminder to me that we might stop hurting each other if we could just understand that we come from different paradigms.”

Or maybe her motivation stems from a deeply personal mission to shape current and future generations: “I was a high school dropout from the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York City, and those teachers I had – not one of them ever saw me,” she says. “Teachers need to see past themselves.”

Either way, her love of subject and love of teaching clearly resonates with students.

Chosen to receive the University Honors Program’s Great Professor Award for 2018, Sassone is being recognized for “contributing significantly to honors education at NIU” and “manifesting leadership, dedication and service” to the program and its students.

Despite those glowing terms, and her gratitude for the recognition, she takes it all in stride. She’s here to empower students “to know what they believe and how to communicate that.”

“What could be more valuable than helping people become literate?” she asks. “Teaching keeps me young. It keeps me up with the times. It lets me extend and visit my beliefs regularly. I’m someone who makes her job fun for herself.”

A professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, Sassone teaches courses in the area of foundations, which offers neither a major nor a minor. None of her classes are “prerequisites to anything,” she adds. “It frees me.”

She also loves to teach EPFE 201: Education as an Agent of Change, a General Education course. “I love Gen Eds,” she says. “I believe that every NIU student is a College of Education student.”

Honors classes are especially dear to her, and she is grateful for the college’s generosity in allowing her to teach those.

sassone-4Like her subject matter, her classrooms are unique.

Classes begin with a contemplative focus activity. “If it’s good enough for the K-12 public schools in Illinois to have a moment of peace to gather themselves,” Sassone says, “then it’s good enough for us.”

By the end of each class, however, the professor has exhausted herself as not a teacher but an active participant – a “co-facilitator.” She’s intertwined in the discussion, throwing herself in as fully as Parker Palmer advocated in “The Courage to Teach,” pushing students to share their viewpoints freely.

And although she does dutifully craft syllabi and tries to order books in advance, those tasks pain her. She’d rather get to know her students first, and for them to know each other, before she locks in a semester’s worth of “really difficult” readings and tests.

Then there’s the juggling.

Juggling is a hallmark of Sassone’s work over the last seven years. She uses juggling ostensibly to build classroom community through a fun activity, and to model for future teachers something inexpensive they can do in their own classrooms, but its benefits run far deeper.

Mastering the skill requires patience, practice, perseverance and persistence – all necessary skills for literacy and success in life. Juggling also addresses the K-12 Social Emotional Learning Standards, something she first realized after watching NIU students working to keep all the balls in the air.

Educators who adopt juggling to their classrooms are also engaging in the tenets of John Dewey’s “Experience and Education,” she adds, including contemplative practice, freedom of intelligence and understanding purpose. “Juggling brings all that to the forefront,” she says.

sassone-2

Sassone introduces Thomas E. Wartenberg, speaker at the 2013 James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award Lecture in the Holmes Student Center.

She visits a fourth-grade classroom in River Forest several times a year to work with the children in juggling, something she’s previously done in other suburban school districts, including Elgin’s U-46.

But it’s the figurative balls she juggles – the nagging questions and quotes about existence, such as “To know the good is to do the good” and “Can we learn to understand?” – that truly keep her engaged in teaching. And it’s why she believes her students value her.

“I see people – and that seems to both scare and endear the students to me,” she says. “I hope students know they’ll learn something from my experiences, and that they will appreciate and recognize that philosophy of education matters.”

Sassone (left) and her students present March 6 at the Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship Conference: Celebrating High Impact Learning at NIU.

Sassone (left) and her students present March 6 at the Engaged Learning, Teaching and Scholarship Conference: Celebrating High Impact Learning at NIU.



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.



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.

dugas-6

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.”



CoE remembers Joe Saban

Joseph M. Saban

Joseph M. Saban

Joseph M. Saban, who taught educational leadership courses in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, died Sept. 29 in Lakewood, Ill. He was 70.

Saban came to the NIU College of Education from Community High School District 155 in suburban McHenry County.

Beginning his career there in 1973 as a science teacher, he later became the district’s director of Business and Finance and eventually was named assistant superintendent for Finance and Staff Development.

His nine years as superintendent, from 1993 through his 2002 retirement, included the construction of Prairie Ridge High School.

The four-time NIU alum then taught at his alma mater from 2002 to 2013. His degrees included an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology.

“Joe was a gifted educator who eagerly shared his knowledge and professional expertise with graduate students in our college,” said Carolyn Pluim, chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. “Many in the Illinois educational community were touched by Joe’s kind and generous spirit.”

In 2007, while Saban continued to teach and advise working superintendents in pursuit of doctoral degrees and other educators who were seeking superintendent’s certificates, he and another retired superintendent shared the interim leadership of the North Boone School District.

His brief return to public schools felt comfortable: “I’ve never really left,” he said at the time. “I stay current with that stuff. It’s part of my duties.”

A memorial service was held Oct. 5 in Crystal Lake. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie; five children; and six grandchildren.