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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Pre-Service Teaching: Should It Be More Innovative?

By Peter DeWitt — June 07, 2015 3 min read
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The field has changed faster than the university systems. Ray McNulty

In education we seem to talk a lot about the institutions that get it wrong, and rarely seem to focus on the ones who get it right. I am guilty of this as well. I have written about the negative side of reform and higher education institutions that do not seem to prepare pre-service teachers for the real world of teaching.

It makes me think of Michael Fullan who says, “Just because you have to take on their policies doesn’t mean you have to take on their mindset.” It’s definitely difficult to get caught up in what John Hattie calls the Policies of Distraction, where we focus on adult issues and do not spend enough time talking about learning. After all, there are some crazy policies and mandates out there...but I digress.

One guy who has been a source of inspiration for me over the years in Ray McNulty. McNulty has been a teacher, school leader, Commissioner of Education in Vermont, a senior fellow at the Gates Foundation, and is now the Dean of Education at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). He is the epitome of innovative leadership. When I met Ray he was a senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).

I presented at a few conferences for ICLE and I was always inspired by Ray’s keynotes. Not because of his engaging videos or use of technology, which was very new for me at the time, but because of the depth of what he spoke about. It was never about him, but about all of us, so it’s no surprise that he is doing great things at SNHU.

McNulty, much like Hattie, believe in the power of dialogue and a focus on learning. After visiting SNHU (Ray and I sit on the Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center Board together) I was inspired by the way they approach classroom and on-line learning (4,000 students on campus, 70,000 on-line) I asked McNulty what is one thing he is proudest of when it comes to the pre-service teaching program. He responded,

So when I am asked for one thing I generally respond with my puzzle analogy. The last piece that you put in a 100 piece jigsaw puzzle is not the crowning victory, each piece has played a part in shaping the final placement or image. There's not one thing...it is a combination of things driven around that final image. So it's about jobs for our graduates because we have a responsibility to our students who have spent time and money with us..."

We Have a Responsibility

McNulty, like many other educators in the field, feel a sense of responsibility for helping students find jobs in their profession, which means that they do as much as they can to think outside the box. After all, we have a responsibility to prepare students for today and tomorrow...not yesterday. McNulty says, “The field has changed faster than the university systems, so placement in the field from freshman year on is essential. Students need to feel the rhythm and beat of a school each and everyday.”

The field has changed faster than the university system. Many universities, like schools, prepare students for a time that has already passed, and not for a time that is present or in the future. McNulty, and the rest of his team at SNHU, believe that we all must be innovative in the way we prepare pre-service teachers and students. One of the ways they do it at SNHU is by matching them up with gaming students. McNulty says, “Having our education students working with our gaming majors to understand the role that digital gaming can play is important.” He goes on to say,

“A key however is being driven by a set of beliefs that drive how we interact with our students. We have five core beliefs for School of Education faculty, which are:

  1. Be a student Achievement Champion
  2. Provide Service to our Students Infused with Understanding Empathy and Respect
  3. Be Responsible and Act with Integrity
  4. Collaborate to Create Better Outcomes
  5. Surprise and Delight our Students”

In the End

Although having pre-service teachers create relationships with gaming students is a great way to educate them about STEM, it is also much more than that. It shows that the university faculty is taking the responsibility to inspire students to think differently, and not expecting them to find all of this on their own. Where the core beliefs are concerned, McNulty says,

We are responsible for our students believing that they can achieve .... I love the concept of Surprise and delight the students.. Do things they never expect you to do for them.... If we do this right they will carry this into the classrooms and to the students they will be teaching..."

Image courtesy of the amazing Sylvia Duckworth.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.