A reception to honor Wright and all of the 2018 faculty award winners takes place from 3 to 5 p.m. today – Thursday, April 19 – in the Altgeld Auditorium. The reception begins at 3 p.m.; the recognition ceremony will start around 3:30 p.m.
“Global Problems and Community Praxis” is the second annual conference – but the first in the United States – organized on that topic by the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a collaboration between NIU and the University of Tetovo.
“We’re really excited. These are particularly timely issues these days,” said Patrick Roberts, a professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.
“Our key goal is to facilitate scholarly exchanges, to foster public awareness of global conflicts and to examine, ‘How can I make a difference in my local community? How does local action have global impacts?’ We want to broaden awareness of what the issues are.”
The conference, which will include four professors from Tetovo among the presenters, begins at 9 a.m. in the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.
Keynote speaker James W. Pardew, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria from 2002 to 2005 and the author of the 2017 book “Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans,” will talk at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Barsema Hall, 740 Garden Road. A reception begins at 5 p.m.
Both events are free and open to the public. Call (815) 753-9359 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Roberts believes that people who attend, whether as participants or observers, will walk away with a clearer understanding of modern conflict and ways to resolve it from a “think globally and act locally” perspective.
Among the daytime presentation topics: “Does Torture Work: An Empirical Test Using Archival Data,” “The Balkans – A Matching Point of Two Controversy Theories,” “Migration as a Social Phenomenon and Refugees as a Contemporary Reality” and “The Politics of Food Diplomacy.”
Presenters also will discuss “Fleeing from Danger: Refugees’ Stories in Elementary School Classrooms,” “Religious Violence and Peacemaking: Rethinking Contemporary Conflicts,” “Between Mao and Gandhi: Social Structure and the Choice of Violent and Nonviolent Resistance,” “How Do We See Our Neighbors? Youth Inclusion, Participation, and Collaboration in Moldova” and “Sport for Development and Peace.”
Laura Ruth Johnson, a professor in the college’s Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, believes the interdisciplinary nature of the presenters and topics will illuminate connections “between these different struggles, both globally and locally.”
“Many times, when we have these types of conferences, they just focus on one distinct area,” she said. “This conference represents areas from all over the university. The topic is very broad – it covers a lot of ground – and allows us to explore common and divergent interests.”
Johnson’s own work in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood provides a good example.
Her research studies civic engagement, community involvement and advocacy among Latino and African American youth, with a focus on young mothers, and sees a bridge to the University of Tetovo’s battle for justice in higher education.
Use of social media and other media, she added, is making the planet a smaller place.
“What happens in one place often resonates in other locales in terms of climate change, economic and food insecurity or fights for human rights and gender equity,” Johnson said. “The Me Too movement has resonated internationally.”
Emily McKee, a professor in the Department of Anthropology of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who holds a joint appointment with the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy, studies resource conflicts and environmental peacebuilding.
Her students, who are learning about access to clean water, climate change, fracking, mining and more, will participate with students of Department of Sociology Professor Laura Heideman in a roundtable discussion on conflict and peacebuilding.
McKee’s students learn about “conflicts that involve access to resources around the world. Resource conflicts and environmental peacebuilding are buzzwords that get thrown around, such as wars between two countries,” she said. “We explore some of these tropes that are not so easily pigeonholed as resource conflicts but built into other conflicts, such as social, religious and economic.”
The roundtable “is looking at our pedagogy and how we teach these courses,” she added.
During the roundtable, students will speak about their semester-long research projects on cases of resource conflict around the world and reflect on the impact that this engaged learning has had on them. “That’s relevant to them as they go on in their lives as citizens and in their careers,” McKee said. “I’m particularly excited about that.”
For his part, Roberts is excited by the potential for motivation, whether in DeKalb, Chicago or Macedonia.
“We don’t want be a conference where people just get up and read papers,” he said. “I’m hoping to learn how understanding becomes action and the strategies people employ. None of that can succeed if there aren’t people – communities – willing to put these principles and polices into action.”
The Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication was dedicated in 2015, when Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo. The center aims to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.
A current exhibition in the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum tells the story of Tetovo through nearly 70 reproductions of photographs that depict the university’s tumultuous existence.
Paul Wright has no problem stirring a lively conversation.
Not only is NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education a deft moderator, but the students in his KNPE 399: Sport and Diplomacy course are Honors Program students.
They’re opinionated, they’re smart and they want to talk.
Beyond that, the topic of the day Feb. 12 is a hot one: South Korea, North Korea and the Olympics.
During that class meeting just a few days after the torch roared to life to start the winter games, the discussion of possible reunification crackles with different opinions.
Alexandra Zdunek deems the Olympic-borne olive branches between the Koreas nothing but a publicity stunt perpetrated by the North. As the TV cameras gradually disappear, she says, so will the sudden show of cordiality that stunned the world.
“I don’t think reunification would be possible under this regime,” says the senior Political Science major from Crystal Lake, who plans to become a lawyer. “As soon as North Korea gets what it wants, they will pull out.”
Others in the NIU Honors course, having just watched the Korean athletes march together under a unified flag in the opening ceremonies, aren’t so sure.
Fundamental pride of nation, one classmate says, will begin “to win out” thanks to athletes from both Koreas competing together as teammates. Inspired by that solidarity, the student says, they will “drop the small stuff and go for it.”
Gestures of unity “really match the ideals of the Olympics,” another offers, talking of countries building bridges of cultural exchange in celebration of human potential and human performance.
Maybe the recreational aspects of sports and the “safe space of competition” would give Korean athletes from both sides of the demilitarized zone a good excuse not to talk policy or politics, another suggests.
Standing aside to let the conversation flow, Wright loves it all.
“What I really like about working with this group of students is that because they are confident about putting their thoughts out there, we are getting a range of opinions,” he says. “The rightness or wrongness of their answers is inconsequential. We’re having a good, rich discussion.”
January’s out-of-nowhere goodwill between the Koreas came as “a welcome surprise,” he says. He had developed the curriculum months earlier.
“That was serendipitous. We had no idea what was about to start brewing,” Wright says, “but this course is a natural extension of what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. It’s sort of a progression in my scholarship. I have a solid grounding in, and a long history of, using sport for positive youth development.”
Students in Wright’s class come from several majors – none in the College of Education – that include Accountancy, Electrical Engineering, History, Marketing and Political Science.
Their textbook, the newly published “Case Studies in Sport Diplomacy,” includes a chapter Wright wrote on his three-year (2013-16) project in Belize. It also examines similar work in Brazil, Central America, China, Haiti, Iran, New Zealand, Russia, South Sudan and, appropriately, Korea.
Class sessions are filled with history lessons.
Laying the groundwork to make sense of the current Korean situation began with a look 5,000 years in the past, tracing through the “Three Kingdoms” period of Korean history and centuries of interference or rule from China and Japan. The time of Japanese Colonial Rule, from 1910 to 1945, ended with World War II.
Wright then outlines the events that precipitated the Korean War and the various stages of its aftermath, including the three-decade struggle over communism and democracy and the decade of “co-existence” following the 1987 end of the Cold War.
Engagement began to improve in 1998, stopping in 2008 as North Korea found its footing and started to grow in power as it no longer found itself desperate for cooperation or help.
A decade later, the North is driven to acquire, keep and assert power – military, economic and political – while the South adheres to democracy and positive relations with other countries.
The Olympics have made ripples in the past, Wright says, but none like 2018, which “seems on track to be a vastly different story.”
Unification was planned for the 1960 games in Rome, for example, but the North abandoned those talks when the International Olympic Committee recognized both countries. When Seoul hosted the games in 1988, North Korea boycotted.
Despite those misses, he adds, a certain set of statistics reveals an interesting picture.
Eighty-five percent of the 55 socio-cultural exchanges between the Koreas between 1971 and 2017 involved sports. This includes unified teams for the 1990 Beijing Asian Games and the 1991 FIFA World Cup in Portugal.
“I am a lover of history, and I feel comfortable talking about those issues and my own curiosities and interests,” Wright says. “In much of the work I do with education, curriculum and schooling – that is my field – there are many things you can’t understand without first understanding the historical context: What shaped our school system? What was going on at the time?”
Building on the Olympics, he asked provocative questions during the games.
Do you think North Korean athletes will try to defect? If so, how do you think North Korea will go after them? What kind of “welcome home” will North Korean athletes receive if they fail to medal? How does the presence U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s sister play into all of this?
He’s also assigned students to watch sport-related movies, report to the class on what they saw and give the films a rating of “gold thumb, silver thumb or bronze thumb.”
“I try to mix things up a bit, have some fun,” Wright says. “We’re lucky to have several more weeks in this class to follow up on the Olympics: After all he bluster and all the drama is done regarding North and South Korea, what do we see sticking? Does the momentum fade and die? Does it take on new life?”
Students are gaining ideas of how the notion of diplomacy through sports can empower their future careers.
Maria Fracassi, a senior with a major in Marketing, calls Wright’s course “interesting.”
Although she considers herself a “mediocre sports fan – I watch when it’s exciting,” she knows that capitalizing on the universal affinity for sports can help to build the business relationships that she will depend on as a marketer.
“I never thought much about how sports can unify people,” Fracassi says. “I enjoy the conversations.”
Zakyrah Harris, a junior studying Political Science and Philosophy, enrolled in Wright’s class because of her interest in the Colin Kaepernick-led NFL protests.
Before Kaepernick and his followers began kneeling during the national anthem, Harris says, she believed that sports always brought fans together. Now she’s surprised to learn that sports can cause military conflict, such as the “Hundred Hour War” between Honduras and El Salvador “over something as small as a soccer game.”
“Dr. Wright is an amazing professor. He makes each class interesting,” she says. “He shows you how sports can bridge gaps and how different countries are able to come together politically or completely destroy each other.”
“He is really good at getting us engaged, especially when we’re all different majors,” she says. “He is very knowledgeable, and he wants to understand how we can use sport to better each other’s lives. That is such a big care for him.”
Wright is enjoying the class as much as his students.
“They’re really bringing in their different disciplines, and it’s fun to see what they’re being trained in. They’re talking about social issues around race, such as Brown v. Board of Education. They’re seeing connections to other courses they’re in that aren’t normally in our conversation about sport,” he says.
“I’m really pushing them to see behind every one of these stories and case studies we look at, to understand the motivation of the people we’re talking about, to connect the dots, to see what’s driving them,” he adds. “If you understand those things in the background, you can practice critical thinking and look behind the obvious. I’m sure they can apply that in every one of their different disciplines going forward.”
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.
Designed 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.
“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.
“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.”
Ask an athlete to talk about a coach, Paul Wright says, and the stories will flow naturally.
Expect the anecdotes to overflow with loving examples of the positive and lasting effects of an additional, caring adult in a young person’s life. Their appreciation is genuine – and touching.
Consequently, athletes make good mentors.
“If they’ve been playing sports for a long time, they’ve developed a love for it and they have a passion for it,” says Wright, NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education.
“That also means they’ve had coaches or parents who’ve focused on them, developed them as individuals, supported them, picked them up when they were down,” Wright adds. “Relationships like that are at the heart of mentoring. It’s really an easy connection to make – or a slam dunk, to use a sports analogy.”
NIU’s world-class student-athletes are no exception, of course.
Several volunteer each year to mentor students at DeKalb’s Clinton Rosette Middle School through The Huskie Experience program of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Student-Athlete Academic Support Services.
“Our mission is to develop our student-athletes personally and professionally while engaging in the community and the campus community,” says Rachel Steward, an academic coordinator with SAASS. “I see a lot of tangible skills that our athletes are building. Time management is huge. Patience is a big one. Ultimately, though, I think they like the satisfaction of knowing that they’re making an impact on that next generation that really aspires to be like them.”
Robin Enders, a counselor at Clinton Rosette and the liaison between the school at NIU, says that her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders receive wisdom and assistance on homework, arriving on time to class, locker organization, how to approach teachers with questions, the value of higher education and more.
Mentees are chosen through recommendations from parents or teacher, Enders says; sometimes the students ask on their own if they’ve had mentors before or see friends with mentors. If she sees that the Huskie athletes are early in their education, she pairs them with younger children to extend the length of the relationship.
“It’s become a part of the fabric of our school,” Enders says.
“Parents appreciate the opportunity to have another caring adult in their children’s lives,” she adds. “For the NIU student-athletes – and I’ve served as references for them – it’s also been very beneficial. They see that what you put into something is what you get out of it.”
Wright saw another opportunity.
He enjoys a long relationship with Clinton Rosette, where he ran an after-school program focused on youth development and social change through sport. He also frequently connects with staff at Huskie Athletics, who appreciate his 20-year scholarly focus on youth development and social change through sport.
“The Huskie Experience is a great concept; it serves the mission of Athletics to develop their athletes and their social responsibility, and there’s an obvious benefit to the Clinton Rosette kids,” Wright says.
“But Athletics didn’t have a structured approach on the philosophy of mentoring or the best practices to share with their athletes. This is where I was able to offer my support,” he adds. “I talked with Melissa Dawson, the director of SAASS, and she was open to it. She said, ‘We would love to get your insights and recommendations. We built this thing, but how do we improve it?’ ”
Wright created an orientation program to prepare the athletes in “what mentoring is; the do’s and don’ts; the youth development; how to build relationships with kids.” His third annual presentation took place Sept. 11 at Anderson Hall, home of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
Meanwhile, the professor hopes to evaluate the program through data collection and analysis. He encourages graduate students in his KNPE 596: Sport-based Youth Development course to assess the Clinton Rosette program for their class projects, independent studies or theses.
His students attended and observed the Sept. 11 orientation for a close-up look at how mentoring promotes the development of middle-schoolers and college students alike as well as for how to grow and improve such programs.
“It’s an all-around win,” Wright says. “Collaboration creates opportunities.”
Steward and Enders agree.
“NIU is obviously a main focus in the DeKalb community, and I believe that the more we can engage with the community is a benefit for both sides,” Steward says.
“Our student-athletes continually work with youth through camps, clinics and those type of experiences, and they yearn to get more of that on a consistent basis during the school year,” she adds. “For others, it’s leaving their mark on the DeKalb community. When they spend four or five years here, DeKalb is giving a lot to them, and they want to give back.”
Middle school students offer a perfect avenue: When the Huskies encounter adolescents who “might be hard to get to know,” Steward says, the athletes “keep pulling back the layers” until they uncover something that yields the reward of a breakthrough moment.
“For us, it might be the smallest thing, but for that kid to open up in that way is huge,” she says. “Just to see the relationships evolve over the years is pretty remarkable. Middle-schoolers might not necessarily say that they really enjoy the time they have with their mentors, but secretly on the inside, they do – and the more our student-athletes see that, the better.”
Staff at Clinton Rosette, meanwhile, love to see the smiles on children blessed with mentors.
“It’s just another positive person, like an older brother or sister, someone who reinforces the message of how important school is,” Enders says.
“Whenever I talk to them, they’re usually very excited,” she adds. “They’ll say if they did an art project with their mentor, or if they played a game of basketball. They’ll say, ‘Look what we did!’ and ‘We had so much fun – when’s my mentor coming again?’ It’s really a fun thing to see the kids get so excited.”
Yara Santillan traded her sneakers for high heels, her gym for a cubicle and her whistle for a smartphone.
“I look at my own personal experience,” says Santillan, a two-time alumna of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “I’ve always noticed that, in the times when I’ve really needed something, sport has always been there. It’s always been there for me. Sport kept me out of trouble.”
Growing up in suburban Aurora during the 1990s – she was born in Mexico but moved with her family to Kane County at the age of 18 months – Santillan glimpsed the danger lurking on the streets but wisely chose kickball and basketball over “the wrong crowd.”
Her decision to stay on the straight path, along with her K-12 academic success, resulted in a scholarship to attend NIU. Without a clear career path in mind, however, Santillan couldn’t find her footing in DeKalb and soon left for home.
One year later, she returned as a commuter student, earning straight A’s. Her unease lingered, however, and she became “a two-time college dropout.”
“I knew that college was important, and I was trying to get myself through school,” she says, “but I hadn’t found something I was truly passionate about. I was out of school for the next seven years.”
During that time, she worked at a restaurant. In 2009, she donned the Huskie red-and-black again – and the third time was, of course, the charm.
Santillan crossed the NIU Graduate School commencement stage on a Friday evening in May of 2014. Less than 72 hours later, on a Monday, she sat for an interview with the Chicago Public Schools. Hired on the spot, she began work immediately to complete the school year for a P.E. teacher who’d taken a leave of absence.
By the end of her temporary gig in June, a full-time position with CPS was hers.
“What I love the most is getting kids to set goals. When we work on a skill, a lot of kids think immediately that they can’t do it, or they try not to do it, but then they get very excited when they see they can do something,” Santillan says. “And when they do that in P.E., they’re going to be able to transfer that and do it another part of their life.”
Part of that philosophy – life lessons through P.E. – is a gospel evangelized by Paul Wright, NIU’s EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education.
“When I supervised Yara’s secondary clinical placements for the P.E. licensure program, I found out she decided to teach because she had a deep belief in the potential of physical education and sport to have a positive influence on children,” Wright says. “In particular, she said she had a passion for reaching children and youth who might be struggling due to circumstances in their lives and their communities.”
Following the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model on which Wright focuses his scholarship, Santillan worked alongside her professor for several semesters in an after-school program for “at-risk” youth in a DeKalb middle school.
Her hands-on learning included promoting responsibility and tailoring programs to youth with more social and emotional challenges
“This approach really fit her existing values and commitments, but gave her some new strategies, structures and concepts to integrate into her teaching. She went on to apply these ideas, while making them her own, in her very successful career in CPS,” Wright says. “She is proof that the best theories and ideas are ones that can be put into practice.”
In her new role with CPS – leaving the gym “was one of my most difficult decisions but worth it,” she says – Santillan works with all of the district’s P.E. teachers to boost their productivity and, by extension, enhance student outcomes.
Serving as a “cultural mentor,” she ensures that the teachers are following standards, writing and implementing lesson plans, practicing concepts of Social and Emotional Learning and conducting assessment.
Meanwhile, she stresses to her teachers that P.E. is “not just inside the four walls of school” but also something that can empower students, parents and siblings through newsletters, after-school programs and family nights.
“Overall, I’ve had really positive response from the teachers,” Santillan says. “I tell them, ‘I know what you’re doing is important and meaningful, and I’m with you.’ They know I genuinely care about what they’re doing – that I care about their success, the kids’ success and that P.E. is one of the most important content areas in school.”
For her own role in extending P.E. beyond the school grounds, Santillan has volunteered with Beyond the Ball, “an organization that uses the power of sport to change lives, give hope, reclaim space and develop a culture of opportunities for youth and families in Chicago.”
She plans a 2020 run for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly. She also is contemplating a return to college for a doctorate and perhaps a career teaching in higher education.
At this point, however, her future is in the Windy City.
“I’m increasing teacher effectiveness in the City of Chicago, and I see myself doing that for quite some time,” she says. “I still have the same passion, but instead of teaching 600 students in my school, I have the opportunity to reach 381,000 students in CPS.”
Wright applauds her commitment, calling its beneficiaries fortunate. That group soon will include current students in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education after Santillan returns Monday, Oct. 9, as a guest speaker.
“The students she has worked with in the schools, our current students at NIU and P.E. teachers throughout Chicago are lucky to have Yara as a champion and a role model for doing what you believe is important and right, for yourself – and for others,” he says. “It’s been my pleasure to work with her and follow her success.”
When Paul Wright first acquired the title of EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor in Kinesiology and Physical Education, he knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Publish research. Secure grants. Forge international partnerships. Serve as an ambassador for the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Promote the concept of Physical Education’s unique role in social and emotional learning.
Three years later, with all of those goals accomplished and his endowed professorship recently renewed for another term, Wright finds himself at another threshold.
“Reflecting on what I’ve been able to accomplish with this additional support in the past few years is prompting me to think, ‘OK, what am I going to do now?’ ” says Wright, who joined NIU in 2011.
“I’m very pleased with what I’ve done. I’ve got wind under my wings,” he adds. “As I think what I can aspire to, it’s next-level things. I can reach for something I couldn’t reach for otherwise, and this additional support is going to make the difference. It’s really exciting. What an opportunity!”
Building on the foundation established during the first term of his professorship, Wright seeks to make his mark – and his department’s – in the field.
He hopes to publish research that impacts and influences peers who are reading the top journals.
Data collected in his recent study in Scotland, combined with parallel data collected by his team in the United States and colleagues in New Zealand, will provide a good start. “This project will be the largest one of its type exploring social and emotional learning in physical education,” Wright says. “It will pack a wallop.”
Meanwhile, he wants to continue his steady stream of external funding by going after even larger prizes.
For example, the U.S. Department of State supplied $225,000 for Wright’s Belizean Youth Sport Coalition project in 2014. He’s now in pursuit of a $600,000 grant from the State Department, and believes he’s in good standing to obtain highly competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Next year already will see the launch of an externally funded project in Sri Lanka, similar to the one in Belize, that promotes positive youth development and social change through sport.
Wright’s global initiatives also caught the attention of UNESCO, the leaders of which have asked the NIU professor to serve as a consultant and voice at the table to guide the planning of international policy conferences.
Closer to home, he’s working to convince the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning to nationally recognize as a best practice the pedagogy model he researches.
“If I can get this endorsement of the work we specialize in, that will bring credibility and high-profile, external validation,” he says. “We’ll have very esteemed organizations giving us the nod, and promoting our work.”
Chad McEvoy, chair of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, believes Wright already is an “international leader in his field” who perfectly matches the description of the EC Lane and MN Zimmerman Endowed Professor framework.
“In creating this professorship, Drs. Lane and Zimmerman expressed a passion for enabling NIU students able to study under the very best faculty. That’s a powerful thing with an endowed professorship: the ability and the resources to go out and secure a truly elite and nationally recognized faculty member and scholar,” McEvoy says. “Certainly, Paul Wright fits that bill.”
The benefits extend beyond students, he adds.
“One of Paul’s real strengths is his ability to collaborate,” McEvoy says, “and what he’s been able to accomplish with the professorship is not just exceptional work on his part but in getting a number of his colleagues involved in that work.”
For Wright, that’s the point.
“An individual holds an endowed professorship, but the idea is to build the reputation of the whole department,” he says. “Personally, with these high-profile activities, if they’re good for me, then they’re good for the department. It’s wins across the board. We want KNPE on the radar.”
Katelyn Neidel wishes her daily P.E. class at DeKalb’s Clinton Rosette Middle School would last longer than 45 minutes.
That wish came true for Neidel and 265 of her classmates April 21 as they spent five hours at Anderson Hall banging drumsticks, shooting arrows at balloons, practicing martial arts, line-dancing, playing disability sports, testing fitness levels, trying their hand at yoga and parkour and even developing empathy skills.
“Just a second ago, we were in wheelchairs, which was kind of scary – but the basketball part made it cooler,” said eighth-grader Neidel, 14. “I think this is really fun. We’re getting to try a lot of cool activities.”
“We also ran agility courses to see how high we can jump, how fast we can run – and we’re competing against our friends,” added Ella Boyer, 13, also in eighth-grade. “It’s cool to see what you can do.”
So-Yeun Kim, associate professor Adapted Physical Activity in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, coordinated this year’s Clinton Rosette visit. The annual field trip began five or six years ago, Professor Paul Wright said.
About three dozen KNPE faculty members and students volunteered to run the 10 stations.
“NIU has a professional development school relationship with Clinton Rosette. Our students do secondary clinicals and teaching at the school,” said Kim, who likes watching the “action and excitement” between professors, college students and middle-schoolers.
Clinton Rosette students also enjoy an aspirational opportunity to visit the NIU campus, explore one of its buildings and interact with college students, she added, while they participate in some physical activities outside of the typical middle school curriculum.
For Jen Montavon, a P.E. teacher at Clinton Rosette, the annual trip allows her to dangle a carrot in front of her students. They must earn their places by being dressed and on time for class each day, following directions and participating in at least 80 percent of activities.
“It gets our kids out of the building, and it gives them some incentive. These are the kids who made it all year long,” said Montavon, who earned her NIU bachelor’s degree in Physical Education in 1996 and completed a master’s in Adapted Physical Education here in 2008.
Bringing “the best of the best” also allows those students to focus on physical activities and fun rather than waiting while the teachers discipline less-behaved students, she added. Some of the children who come to Anderson Hall are quiet by nature, she said, and maybe missing out.
“It’s good to see those kids come here and shine in a different light,” Montavon said “and this is a P.E. teacher’s dream. The kids are all here doing different activities and having fun. How many kids are going to sit in a wheelchair and play basketball? To have these opportunities is amazing, and I’m really grateful to the KNPE department.”
Montavon also is a bit envious of the current KNPE students.
“We didn’t do this when I went through the program, but I wish I could have,” she said. “It’s really kind of a good step for them. In teacher preparation, they’re usually teaching their peers. Now they’re working with middle-schoolers who are the best of the best. It’s a good stepping stone.”
Kelsey Flicek, a freshman Physical Education major from McHenry, agrees.
“This is awesome,” Flicek said, taking a quick break from KNPE instructor Gail Koehling’s “drum fitness” activity. “I love how all of the kids get to be a part of our program, and it’s fun to interact with the kids. It helps you to get a lot of experience with students, to interact with them at different levels and realize that every student is different.”
Sean Carpen, a junior P.E. major, volunteered to earn extra credit. Within an hour, however, he no longer cared about boosting his grade.
“It’s a great experience for the kids, and it’s a great experience for us in learning how to teach the kids and assist them,” said Carpen, who spent his day at the archery activity. “This is hands-on experience. This allows you to connect. It gives you practice. I just love working with the kids.”
Carpen, who was motivated to pursue career thanks to an excellent P.E. teacher in high school, also found affirmation of his abilities. Before April 21, the native of Oak Lawn had never instructed anyone in the bow-and-arrow.
“This is great for me,” he said, “because now I know I can teach it.”
Just look at the numbers.
Three years. Twenty-seven organizations. One hundred and twenty-one coaches, teachers and youth workers trained – 13 of them traveling to the United States for that preparation, partly delivered by three NIU students. Fifteen hundred youth enrolled in summer programs. Three thousand youth in school programs.
“I have been amazed and so grateful to the people who have contributed to making this project a success,” says Wright, a professor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It’s been about collaboration and teamwork, and the talent, commitment and complementary skills of the U.S. team was matched by our Belizean partners.”
Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited program, the BYSC aimed to promote youth development and social change through sport.
For Paul Wright, the greater purpose of physical education is the social and emotional lessons it provides to children.
And, the professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education is happy to discover, he’s not the only one who thinks that way.
Wright is currently on a research sabbatical in Scotland, where he’s examining the approach to physical education there. He is working with several Scottish schools to observe how such learning objectives are interpreted, promoted by teachers and experienced by students.
His time in Scotland also has included presentations to physical education research and professional organizations.
“On this issue of promoting social and emotional learning through physical education, Scotland has a lot in common with the U.S. In their national curriculum, social and emotional learning outcomes are part of physical education,” Wright says.
“However, in practice, teachers have very different interpretations of what that means,” he adds. “Most of the teachers I see are very competent and doing many things right. However, their approach to teaching personal and social skills is less coordinated and less intentional than their approach to teaching psychomotor skills, fitness, etc.”
Based at the University of Edinburgh, where he is a visiting scholar in the Moray House School of Education, Wright also has met with collaborators in other European countries such as Finland, Greece and Spain.
NIU colleagues also are helping to expand the scope of the research project, including schools in New Zealand, as they conduct a cross-cultural analysis.
“Much of what I am in seeing in Scotland matches what I have seen in the U.S.,” Wright says. “By the end of this year, with a large international sample, I think we can share findings that will bring a lot of attention to this topic in the physical education research community.”
Part of that will deal with educational policy and curriculum at a broader level.
To that end, he and his collaborators are uncovering a wealth of best practices that already are proving successful and “developing a good sense of what support is needed for teachers to turn this corner.”
“We are seeing that ill-defined learning objectives are less likely to be implemented in practice, especially when they are not accompanied by professional development, accountability or follow-through,” he says. “This is an educational policy issue that many countries and states need to be aware of.”
Scotland shows potential to build on its great foundation for promoting social and emotional learning through physical education, he says, but that job will require a more coherent framework, consistent pedagogical strategies and a more intentional approach.
“Like in the United States, there are opportunities built into physical education to explicitly teach personal and social skills. These are teachable moments that many teachers aren’t capitalizing on,” he says. “Physical education is an ideal setting to teach transferable life skills like cooperation and teamwork, but I think it’s falling short of its full potential at present.”
Coming months will keep him involved; he’s already debriefing with teachers in Scotland to assess their interest in moving forward with real-world applications of what he and his collaborators are learning.
Primary cohort Shirley Gray, who is helping Wright to develop this community of practice and action research, will facilitate its activities. Wright does plan to stay in touch through virtual meetings and occasional return visits.
Eventually, he and his colleagues plan to share their findings with policy makers as well as educational researchers and teachers.
“By taking this grassroots approach in each of the nations in this study, we hope to have a positive impact that goes beyond the traditional academic presentations and publications,” Wright says. “Social and emotional competencies are life skills that can help students in the present and in their future.”