Tag: Zach Wahl-Alexander

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.



Physical Ed majors provide ‘structured recess’ programming for Brooks Elementary children

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Zach Wahl-Alexander

Recess is fun and games at most elementary school students, but it’s not always without problems.

For one, it’s often lightly supervised. And, says Zach Wahl-Alexander, professor of Physical Education, it’s likely parent-volunteers and not teachers who are in charge.

Meanwhile, Wahl-Alexander adds, small misunderstandings between children can quickly escalate into physical conflict.

But at schools such as DeKalb’s Brooks Elementary, that time on the playground is constructive thanks to the concept of “structured recess.” And it’s NIU Physical Education majors who are making that happen.

“Our students get there around 1 o’clock with some stuff planned to implement a physical activity,” Wahl-Alexander says. “They teach different games and activities the kids can do, they also try to promote some positive, affective behaviors.”

Part of the engaged curriculum for KNPE 344: Elementary School Physical Education/ Methods and Field Experience, the hands-on leadership of structured recess “gives our students the opportunity to be around kids, to build their skills and to build rapport.”

Students in that course also are getting a first taste of teaching physical education lessons to first- and third-grade students at DeKalb’s Jefferson Elementary School.

But at Brooks, the half-dozen Huskies who visit for recess are getting the opportunity to create organized activities outside the academic environment – and it’s thanks to their professor’s willingness and ability to modify the course curriculum.

“The teachers and administrators at Brooks reported an increasing number of students needing support in the area of social-emotional learning,” says Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

brooks-sign“In response to this need, Zach redesigned his field experience model to provide Physical Education teacher candidates opportunities to engage with Brooks Elementary students during their recess time,” Johnson adds. “This model allows elementary students and NIU candidates to focus on relationships, cooperation, motivation, goals and outcomes in an authentic and developmentally appropriate space. “

And it’s flourishing.

“Teachers have reported seeing the transfer of these skills from the playground to the classroom,” Johnson says. “This dynamic field experience model is an example of innovative practice, designed to meet the identified needs of our partner district while providing our candidates an enriched hands-on teaching experience.”

Members of the District 428 site council, which supports the partnership between NIU and the local schools, are in agreement: They recently cited the model of this field experience course as exemplary in responding to the needs of elementary students.

Even though the children are not required to participate, NIU students will encourage them to join in the fun – especially if the children are lingering off to the side or alone.

Games include baseball, three-on-three basketball (or just shooting baskets), capture the flag, tag, soccer, relay races, hopscotch, foursquare and even obstacle courses on the jungle gym.

“The feedback from our preservice teachers is that it’s highly enjoyable for them. They’re learning how to be around kids,” Wahl-Alexander says. “In our Physical Education program, we constantly reinforce concepts of behavior management, feedback, effective demonstrations, pedagogy – with this we’re saying, ‘Just go out there, play with the kids and have some fun.’ I’m not looking over their shoulders.”

Children at Brooks, meanwhile, are receiving multiple benefits.

hopscotch“From a physical activity standpoint, the more structure that’s there to recess, and the more activities they have access to, the more active they’re going to be,” the professor says.

“From an interpersonal standpoint, their teachers are trying to get them to deal with conflict in other ways than yelling or hitting or just storming off,” he adds.

“What we’re trying to do – because conflict is going to come up – is to say, ‘OK, there’s a little dispute. Let’s figure it out, and let’s get back to the game.’ If they don’t learn that from school or from their parents, they’re not magically going to learn those strategies. Play, and especially structured play, offers an opportunity to learn those skills, and might help them with their relationships down the road.”



The postcards are in the mail

mailboxEven though technology has changed the game in college admissions, that doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned the time-honored method of communicating with future undergraduate students through the U.S. Postal Service.

The College of Education’s Student Services embarked on a marketing project this spring that featured postcards with photos and personal messages from students and faculty about the excellent programs at NIU.

Kristin Rinehart, coordinator of recruitment in Student Services, says the postcards help to “convince students that the NIU College of Education is definitely the place to be.”

“Our postcard project is a great way to create excitement about the College of Education among newly admitted students who are considering us as a possible college choice,” Rinehart says.

“Research shows that new students want to feel excited about the colleges that they are considering,” she adds. “In addition, research shows that they value the opinion of other students in the college selection process, want to feel connected to their program of study and desire personalized attention from faculty and staff.”

Each of the seven undergraduate programs was featured in both rounds.

Taylor Aasen

Taylor Aasen

January’s first batch of postcards focused on peer-to-peer communications: notes from current students who are recipients of various scholarships to freshman and transfer admits for this summer and fall.

Participants were Taylor Aasen (Elementary Education), Alfredo Cervantes (Athletic Training), Courtney Christin (Physical Education), Abbey Gorham (Special Education), Tabbi Grosch (Early Childhood Studies), Tyler Hayes (Kinesiology) and Hannah Schlecht (Middle Level Teaching and Learning).

June’s second round of mailings connected faculty – all of whom were nominated by their department chairs – with those freshman and transfer admits.

Peter J. Chomentowski III (Exercise Physiology), Myoung Jung (Early Childhood), Jessica Martinez (Athletic Training), James Cohen (Curriculum and Instruction), Toni Van Laarhoven (Special Education), Zachary Wahl-Alexander (Physical Education) and Donna Werderich (Literacy Education) represented their programs.

Kristin Rinehart

Kristin Rinehart

Students wrote about why they made the right choice in coming to NIU while faculty wrote of why they love teaching here. All included messages of what students learn in their courses and the hands-on learning opportunities available.

“I’m learning to have patience with children,” Christin wrote, “and about the power of ‘yet’ — just because one child doesn’t understand at first doesn’t mean they never will. It only means they do not understand yet.”

“Teaching middle school is an adventure, not a job,” Werderich wrote. “It requires teachers who understand and appreciate the diversity and unique complexity of young adolescents who are constantly changing mentally, physically, socially and emotionally.”

Dropping postcards in the mail reaches another important audience, Rinehart says.

“Being paper mail with eye-catching visibility, they also bring these messages to parents and other important adults in the students’ households,” she says. “We are thrilled with how the postcards turned out, and we will continue to build on them in a variety of ways for future recruitment ventures.”

postcards-james



Collaborating on Outdoor Education

Professors at meeting

Did you know NIU is home to one of the premier outdoor education facilities in the country, the Lorado Taft Field Campus? In addition to this amazing resource, NIU’s College of Education has faculty expertise and an extensive network of partners working in the areas of outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Recently NIU’s Physical Activity and Life Skills (PALS) Group, led by the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, hosted a meeting on outdoor education and adventure-based learning. The meeting provided an opportunity to get several area expert collaborators together, including international experts and a local community partner. The PALS Group, represented by KNPE faculty (Drs. Steve Howell, Jenn Jacobs, Jim Ressler, Zach Wahl-Alexander and Paul Wright), is committed to promoting healthy development and teaching life skills to youth through physical activity. Our faculty were joined by three honored guests to discuss current projects and potential collaborations related to outdoor education and adventure-based learning.

Dr. Xia Wen, Director of Theory, Teaching, and Research for the Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China. Dr. Xia Wen is a visiting scholar from China spending a year at NIU collaborating with Dr. Jim Ressler of the Kinesiology and Physical Education Department. During his time here, Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen will be developing course material for an Outward Bound class, which is one of the most popular courses for students to take at Yunnan University. Dr. Xia Wen’s expertise is in water safety education and he is currently working on a manuscript for an English journal about training classroom teachers to lead water safety programs.

Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, an organization that seeks to assist youth in overcoming challenges and becoming healthy adults through adventure-based counseling. Adventure Works serves youth ages 6-18 years old, providing individual, family, and group counseling services. The organization is the first non-profit community-based outdoor adventure education center in the US. Adventure Works programs are led by licensed therapists and include prevention programs for disengaged and impoverished youth in the DeKalb area, as well as mental health intervention programs for students struggling with mental health issues. The PALS Group has organized fundraisers in recent years to support Adventure Works and Dr. Ressler is a member of their advisory board.

Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor in the Health, Outdoor, Physical Education (HOPE) program at University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. Thirty years ago, Dr. Forsberg obtained his masters in NIU’s outdoor education program and served as a graduate assistant for the Lorado Taft field campus program. He now teaches several outdoor education classes for physical education (PE) majors at the University of Regina. The classes involve several intense outdoor experiences such as the course “Utilization of the Winter Environment” which includes spending five days in Canada’s Moose Mountains during the cold winter season. Dr. Forsberg described, “This is where the magic happens,” referring to students coming together and understanding the impact that outdoor education can have on learning. He also teaches a course in which students design their own outdoor adventure curriculum and he tells students, “Now that you’ve gone through these experiences, you have a responsibility for future generations. Your purpose is to give back through this special outdoor experience.”

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

(L to R) Dr. Jim Ressler, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Zach Wahl-Alexander, Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Xia Wen, Professor, Institute of Physical Education, at Yunnan University in China
Lynette Spencer, Director of Adventure Works, DeKalb County
Dr. Nick Forsberg, Professor, Health, Outdoor, Physical Education Program, University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Dr. Paul Wright, Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU
Dr. Jenn Jacobs, Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept of KNPE, NIU

According to Dr. Wright, Director of the PALS Group, “Outdoor education and adventure-based learning are not new topics for the PALS Group. In fact, the Physical Education Teacher Education program in KNPE is one of the only academic programs at NIU that has outdoor education experiences at the Laredo Taft Field Campus built into their curriculum. The same can be said for our Adventure-based learning course. Our faculty have expertise in these areas and a long history of introducing them to NIU students. Now the PALS Group is interested in strengthening our work in these areas by connecting them with our service and research agendas.” In addition to the ongoing curriculum development project underway between Drs. Ressler and Xia Wen, potential action items that came out of this meeting include: supporting an oral history/archival project on the history of outdoor education at the Lorado Taft Field Campus, studying the socialization experiences of teacher education candidates in their outdoor education course, and providing professional development experiences for Adventure Works’ staff in the outdoor environment.

The PALS Group was pleased to host this group of experts and further its mission of promoting healthy development and teaching life skills through physical activity.