The Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy in the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education was recently awarded the Central Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) along with four other partners, led by Marzano Research Laboratory. The award for $181,000 spans the next year with opportunities for additional funding over the next five years.

The REL program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and serves the United States through ten designated regions. Each REL supports state and local agencies in its region and provides technical assistance, research assistance, and resources to introduce best and proven practices into the nation’s schools. Specifically, REL Central supports these efforts in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Marsico’s focus for this year will be on early childhood education in rural areas. Although Marsico resides in an urban setting at the Morgridge College of Education, the Institute and College are committed to educational equality across the age span and across the region. This includes a focus on the children and families that reside in the region’s rural communities. Across all levels of the College, researchers are pioneering innovative solutions to ensure that rural school districts have access to the best practices and resources in the field. Additionally, faculty are collaborating with rural school districts to improve student outcomes in areas ranging from early learning, to physical activity, to college access.

Led by Dr. Douglas Clements and Dr. Julie Sarama, who are national experts in the field of early childhood education, Marsico identifies the best in early learning research, practice and policy and delivers this information to academics, practitioners, policymakers, and parents.

“We connect with the people who can create and implement changes to improve the lives of young children,” said Sarama.

Dr. Carrie Germeroth, assistant director of research at Marsico, has previously worked with several states involved with REL Central and said, “Being awarded the Central REL will allow us to further our reach with communities who may otherwise not have access to these resources. Everyone at Marsico is thrilled to work with Marzano Research Laboratory to enact change and bring education to everyone.”

Morgridge College of Education Dean Karen Riley, is delighted to see the Institute continue to grow and believes being awarded REL Central highlights the great work being done by the entire College regarding education expansion to rural areas.

“We have several programs within Morgridge that allow us to work with educators in rural districts,” said Riley. “From our top-ranked educational leadership program to teacher preparation and piloting new approaches to distance learning, we are committed to working with rural partners across the region. For the University, being awarded the Central REL shows our dedication to the community beyond its campus borders and allows us to live up to our pledge to be a great, private University dedicated to the public good.”

Substance abuse and addiction is an issue that affects nearly 12% of the US population directly, with over 21 million adults battling substance use disorders each year according to American Addiction Centers. That figure doesn’t account for family members and friends of addicts that are indirectly affected. Counseling Psychology Master’s student, and NAADAC fellow, Elizabeth Kidd, put it well: “When you are counseling someone with an addiction, you are also touching the lives of their friends, family members, and community. Addiction harms not only the person who is struggling, but also the people who surround them.”

Heroin use is at an all-time high, with rates of use tripling from 2002 to 2014. According to a CBS News report, current rates of overdose deaths are at 5 times what they were in 2000. The Surgeon General recently released its first ever report on alcohol, drugs, and health, titled “Facing Addiction in America.” Amongst the report’s key findings are figures representing the financial impact of addiction and substance abuse: It is estimated that the yearly economic impact of substance misuse is $249 billion for alcohol misuse and $193 billion for illicit drug use”.

These figures are scary, but with adequate funding and services, and appropriate training for medical and therapeutic professionals, it can get better. This year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $53 million in funding to 44 states to help address the opioid and heroin epidemic through prevention efforts, making treatment more readily available, and multiple other support services. There is also a growing amount of funding available to students wishing to learn about and work in the field of addictions counseling. Several of our Master’s students were awarded substantial fellowships through NAADAC this year, totaling over $90,000 in scholarships awarded to students in the addictions specialization. One of those students, Riley Cochran, said this about the field: “Especially in today’s world where substances are more readily available than help, it is imperative that those interested in the field of addiction counseling make significant efforts to reduce the stigmas of addiction and make treatment more readily available.”

The projected rate of growth in employment for Substance Abuse Counselors is 22%, making it one of the fastest growing career paths in the country. This means that over the next few years there will be more jobs in the field of addictions counseling than there are professionals to fill those jobs.

Here in the Counseling Psychology program, we offer Master’s students the opportunity to pursue a specialization in addictions counseling that covers timely and practical content that prepares students for jobs in the addictions counseling field. For students who wish to work in the state of Colorado, the specialization provides the coursework required for certification as a Colorado Addiction Counselor II (CAC II), making students especially qualified and hireable in a wide variety of mental health and school settings. Our program has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Office of Behavioral Health, making the application process for certification simple and straight-forward. According to Master’s student and NAADAC fellow, Demi Folds, “This program enables me to take what is discussed in class and apply it to my work with clients almost immediately.” If you feel passionate about helping people, especially those suffering from substance abuse disorders, a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a specialization in addictions counseling might be for you. Check out our website for more information on the program.

FEBRUARY 8, 2017

Amidst all of the turmoil related to the President’s pick for Secretary of Education there are still many who are unclear as to what the role of the Secretary of Education is. To help provide clarity Denver’s 9 News asked Karen Riley, Ph.D. and Dean of the Morgridge College of Education, to explain a little about the Secretary’s position.

“Was it race that drove the results of the 2016 presidential election?” In his recent article for the American Psychological Association (APA) Patton O. Garriott, Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology, addressed this important question. Dr. Garriott, an active member of both the APA and the Society for Vocational Psychology, weighed in on some of the psychology behind the election results specifically focusing on the way individual class and race effected voting trends.

Dr. Garriott ends the article by calling his peers to focus more on intersectional social class research. He states that, “extending intersectionality-focused scholarship devoted to social class will be critical to expanding our understanding of the complexities of individuals and systems to benefit future psychological science and practice.”

To read the full article visit the APA website.

The CASE Winter Leadership Conference, taking place Feb. 2-3, 2017, has a significant presence from students, faculty, and alumni from the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) department. Additionally, the Morgridge College of Education is a Bronze-level sponsor of the conference.

Congratulations to all ELPS faculty, students, and alumni presenting!

Faculty

Ellen Miller-Brown, Assistant Professor
Title:
Lessons from the Field: Fresh Research from Doctoral Candidates

Alumni

Dr. Tricia Johnson, Ed.D. Graduate, Vice President, Academic Affairs, Community College of Aurora
Title: Leading for Change: Developing Equitable College and Career Guidance Systems

Dr. Danny Medved, Ed.D. Graduate, Principal and Lead School Designer, Denver School of Innovation and Design, Denver Public Schools
Title: Enacting Vision and Navigating Change Case Study: A Technical Report to New School Designers and Stakeholders

Dr. Matthew Weyer, Ph.D. Graduate, Senior Policy Specialist, National Conference of State Legislatures
Title: The Every Student Succeeds Act and Redesignation: Implications for School Leaders

Students

Rana Razzaque, Ed.D. Student, Learning Partner, Social and Emotional Learning, Denver Public Schools
Title: The Enlightened Educator: Exploring the Influence of Mindful Self-Awareness on the Culturally Responsive Practices of Teachers

Lorna Beckett, Graduate Assistant and Ph.D. Candidate, University of Denver
Title: Predictors of Colorado Urban Principal Turnover

Co-Presentations

Rana Razzaque, Ed.D. Student, Learning Partner, Social and Emotional Learning, Denver Public Schools
Dr. Ellen Miller-Brown, Assistant Professor
Title: Leadership Matters: Leading for Civility, Cultural Responsiveness and Community Engagement


Dr. Doris Candelarie
, Clinical Assistant Professor
CJ Cain, M.A. Student
Theresa Gilbreath, M.A. Student
Title: Design Thinking for School Leaders

Higher Education Ph.D. candidate Varaxy Yi Borromeo has been recognized as the Asian Pacific American Network’s Outstanding Graduate Student of 2017. The award is presented by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Coalition for Multicultural Affairs (CMA). The CMA works to promote diversity within ACPA and addresses the changing cultural dynamics within higher education.

Yi joined the the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) community in 2013 and has had an “overwhelmingly positive experience.” She attributes her academic success to strong faculty support, opportunities to contribute to impactful projects, and a close-knit doctoral cohort. Yi is passionate about inclusive excellence, equity, inclusion, diversity, culturally engaging campus environments, and critical race theory, all of which are topics she has infused into coursework, research, and impact projects. Her research connects her to programs, organizations, and individuals whose experiences help to inform transformations in campus environments. One such organization is the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) Project, where she currently serves as a Research Associate.

In addition to her studies, Yi participated in and led a number of research projects that contributed to a greater impact in her community. Most notably, as a Graduate Fellow for the University of Denver’s (DU) Interdisciplinary Research Incubator for the Study of (In)Equality (IRISE), Yi developed the Roger Salters Writing Institute in partnership with Anthea Johnson Rooen, Director of Graduate Student Success at the Center for Multicultural Excellence, and with support from the Writing Center and English department faculty to create a writing program for doctoral students from historically underrepresented communities. According to Yi, the Institute creates a cohort-based learning community in a collaborative, supportive environment to not only provide tips and strategies for productive writing but to address the vulnerabilities inherent in the writing process and to combat feelings of isolation in students’ programs. She considers the project to be one of her most significant accomplishments at DU.

Yi is expected to complete her studies in the Fall of 2017. She is honored to receive the award, and credits her success to her research team and community at MCE, saying that “similar to many other doctoral students of color, I face daily feelings of inadequacy and anxiety about the relevance and quality of my work…this recognition tells me that I am seen, my contributions are important, and I must continue my work to ensure that academia is a more equitable and inclusive space.”

Students from the Ricks Center for Gifted Children—a University of Denver model demonstration school which is a part of the Morgridge College of Education—are enrolled in the inaugural year of the Lamont Piano Preparatory Program, run by the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. Established by M.M. Piano Pedagogy program chair Chee-Hwa Tan, the preparatory program is designed to provide graduate students enrolled in Lamont’s M.M. Piano Pedagogy degree program with opportunities to gain practical teaching experience in both group and individual formats.

The preparatory program’s approach is experiential and immerses the Ricks students in an all-encompassing musical education through listening activities, interactive games, and reading exercises. Additionally, Ricks students are given an introduction to music history surrounding the pieces they learn. They participate in performances as part of the curriculum, and gave an inaugural public recital in January 2017. The preparatory program is designed to be a three-year experience for Ricks students; in the 2017-2018 academic year, the current first-year cohort will begin their second year, and a new cohort of students will enroll. Mary Beth Shaffer, coordinator for the preparatory program, says of the Ricks students that they are “a model group to work with.”

About the Ricks Center

The Ricks Center for Gifted Children was founded in 1984 by Norma Hafenstein, Ph.D., Morgridge College of Education (MCE) Clinical Professor & Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair in Gifted Education. Furthermore, Dr. Hafenstein leads the Gifted Education Ed.D. Specialization in MCE’s Curriculum & Instruction program. Ricks current director Anne Sweet is thrilled with the Lamont partnership, saying that the preparatory program is a “wonderful opportunity” for the students to engage in higher-level creative learning.  The partnership exemplifies the One DU philosophy of the Chancellor’s strategic plan Impact 2025, benefitting the Ricks students and their families while providing a unique experiential opportunity for the students of the Lamont School.

Alumna Chloe Campbell (MLIS ’13) is finishing up work with the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan to share skill-building and resources on librarianship and information sciences. During a two-year residency in the country, Campbell has served as a Teaching English as a Second Language (TEFL) volunteer at a local state school, where she works with a Kyrgyz national English teacher to help build English language learning resources for the students and build professional skills for the teachers.

Campbell teaches classes with her Kyrgyz counterpart and works to integrate herself into the community. Additionally, she has undertaken a number of secondary projects in the region, including writing a grant to fund a girls’ leadership summer camp, teaching photography at a local youth organization, and creating a four-month library training program with American Corners—special libraries focusing on English language and American culture—in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city, Bishkek.

Chloe Campbell always wanted to be a librarian. She attended DU as an undergraduate, double-majoring in English Language and Literature and Italian Language with the long term goal of enrolling in the Morgridge College of Education’s Library and Information Science program as a graduate student. Furthermore, she specialized in archives and special libraries, and worked with a number of high-profile organizations including the National Archives and Glacier National Park.

After completing her MLIS degree, Campbell joined the Peace Corps because the values of the Corps align strongly with her personal values regarding serving communities, and she feels the experience will help advance her career in librarianship and information science after her tenure is complete in approximately four months. Her goals were to learn a new language, facilitate cultural exchange, and help the community fulfill their skill and resource needs. The benefits of her residency are mutual; the cultural exchange exposes American culture to her Kyrgyz community and teaches fellow Americans about a “kind, hospitable people.” Campbell says that “Both my personal goals and the goals set by Peace Corps go hand in hand making for an interesting, life-changing, and eye-opening two years of service.”

January 22nd, 2017 – Let me start with a premise; the classroom can be a sacred space. This premise is not equally held by all educators nor is the classroom always sacred. But I do know it strikes a resonating cord with many teachers and students conceptually and in practice. When a classroom is sacred space I mean to suggest that at its best the practice of education, which means “to draw out”, signals that something beyond the ordinary is transpiring. The educator and the student are no longer engaged in activities and experiences associated with the more typical ways of being together in the act of transferring knowledge from teacher and text to student. A different kind of exchange occurs that is akin to the notion of flow when everything just clicks and the teacher recognizes both the fire of understanding in the learner’s eyes as well as the passion for content in the deepness of his/her teaching heart.

Parker Palmer refers to this process as deep speaking to deep; the deep understanding of the teacher meets the deep longing for knowledge of the student. There is an intense state of vulnerability, at least as I experience it, that invites me and my students into a relationship with something greater than my role as professor or their role as learner. We are invited into a state of humility, awe, and appreciation for the mystery of knowing that we have come together to explore and be changed by. Like the creation of any sacred space there are rituals, practices, and traditions in the classroom that foster the sense of the sacred; an invitation to shift from normal time and normal ways of being to something beyond the ordinary. And this sense of the classroom as sacred is transient, rarely lasting the full time, nor are all encounters between teacher and student of the deep kind.

But when the classroom is at its sacred-best the risks are high for both the teacher and the learner; neither leaves at the end of the class period quite the same as when they walked in at the start of class. Let me provide a concrete example. Recently, after a particular class that approached, at times, the level of the sacred I was wandering around the classroom gathering up stray pieces of paper, markers, and other trappings of teaching. I was doing this as the next class, which I wasn’t teaching, began to enter the classroom space. A student, who I know from previous classes, asked how I was doing. I realized as he asked me that question that I was engaging in a ritual I associate with classroom as sacred space. A tradition that I often practice unconsciously when my teaching is at its best. I was doing more than cleaning up the detritus of teaching; I was gathering up pieces of my teacher-self. I knew from previous classroom interactions with this student that given his philosophical orientation he would find an honest response to his question more engaging than the more typical social response. I stopped in front of him and stated: “I’m gathering up pieces of myself that I’ve left behind during teaching.” I told him that I once heard a Lakota elder share the advice that when leaving a place of deep experience it was always a good idea to speak your name out loud three-times so as to call back the pieces of yourself that want to remain connected to that place and experience. With no hesitation on his part, my student stated: “well of course that makes sense if you treat the classroom as a sacred space.” I also know that this student has a playful side when it comes to interactions with authority so I asked, “Do you believe this or are you just saying that because you know that is what I believe?” He paused and in a more reflective tone he answered: “No I think that is true.” Teaching, I believe, can leave an educator fractured when teaching goes sideways as well as when teaching reaches transcendence. The only real questions are why, how, and what will the teacher do about re-gathering the scattered notions of self?

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) alumnus and Denver Public Schools (DPS) graduate Allen Smith has led a highly successful career in education administration that has taken him across the country and earned him national  recognition. Smith, who earned his MA at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) and completed the ELPS Ritchie Program for School Leaders Certificate program, credits his education at the University of Denver as a major influence in his success.

A Colorado native, Smith has served as principal at multiple DPS schools, as well as filled superintendent roles in North Carolina and California. He was honored by President Barack Obama for his work as the executive director of Denver Summit Schools where he implemented innovative community engagement efforts. Smith currently serves as the associate chief of the DPS Culture Equity & Leadership Team.

Smith says that the opportunities in the ELPS program helped to establish a larger career trajectory and enable him to more effectively create a lasting impact. To this day, he translates the tools and lessons acquired in the program into his work.

Career Achievements

Smith founded the Skyland Community High School which serves at-risk students in Denver and graduated its first senior class with 100% graduation and 100% college acceptance rates. He also worked at Barrett Elementary School, where he reduced discipline rates and increased student achievement and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College (MLK), which, under his leadership and a turnaround initiative, improved from one of the nation’s lowest-ranked schools to one of the top schools in DPS. The MLK Early College was also recognized with two Distinguished School Awards from the Colorado Department of Education. Smith acknowledges the support of fellow ELPS graduates, who served as assistant principals at the school, with helping to make a lasting impact on the environment.

January 8th, 2017 – What do you find most annoying as a teacher? What student behavior makes you the most frustrated? If you could change one thing about student/teacher interactions what would it be?

In my early years teaching in higher education classrooms I was often bothered by one thing; food in the classroom. I took offense when a student brought a sandwich, for instance, to class and started eating during a break. This seemed so rude and inappropriate (even though I recognized that students get hungry and need to eat). To address my displeasure of food in the classroom I began articulating, during the first class session, my feelings on eating in class. This tactic stopped or at least slowed the consumption of food in my classroom, but something still felt incomplete. And when an instructional move feels inadequate to me I take this as an invitation to keep exploring the deeper why behind my discomfort. Over the next several years I tested my gut-sense against a number of tweaks to my no food policy. I considered the power differential between my students and me. I tried talking to individual students before or after class about my annoyance with eating in class. I experimented with varying degrees of permissiveness and acceptance. I wondered if my discomfort was equally distributed across all types of food and drink.

I can no longer remember when the breakthrough happened but I eventually sorted through my annoyance to get the core of my concern and once there I was able to formulate a response that felt right. At the heart of my issue with food in the classroom was a deep and abiding sense of the classroom as sacred space. I had never fully articulated this point before in my teaching; just acted on it without making my belief plain to my students or even myself. And because it remained “hidden” I constantly felt bothered when students brought food to class. As soon as I named my belief in classrooms as sacred space I began to see a way to bring together, in meaningful ways, my need for respecting the integrity of the classroom with the need of students to eat. I realized the obvious, that food is a central element of many spiritual practices and community gatherings. Once in possession of this truth I wondered how I might make food an essential part of honoring the sacred nature of higher education classrooms.

Out of this exploration I initiated a ritual that I enact now during the first class session of every course I teach. In fact, this ritual is so ingrained in my teaching that if I wait too long into the first class session to introduce it a student will often raise and hand and ask: “Are we doing snacks in this class?” There it is, my secret sauce; snack time. I begin the ritual by telling the story of my initial annoyance with students bringing food to class. Then transition to my epiphany that my dislike was rooted in a deep commitment to classrooms as sacred space. Which lead me to the realization that food is compatible with an educational community engaged in a shared exploration of something greater than self, a core quality of any educational setting or community with sacred rituals and practices. At this point I state that we will be taking a 15 minute break during class for a time to gather together, share stories, talk about the text, and enjoy a snack together. The final step is passing around a signup sheet for students to bring a “little-something” to class to share with classmates.

My experience is that “snack time” becomes a central moment of community and learning. A student who brought a culturally unique dish will share the story of how it is made and why it is important. Students gather around the chips and salsa and continue the conversation we had as a class right before break. Other students check in with each other around courses to take next quarter or how their final paper is going. Food is fostering a sacred space by serving to feed both physical and relational hunger. I’m deeply appreciative of the patience of my students as I worked out the core of my frustration with food in the classroom. Without that gift I would likely not have re-conceptualized my instruction to see food as essential to the creation of classrooms as sacred space.

December 20th, 2016 – I frequently start my higher education classes with a poem, typically a poem that has little direct connection to teaching, my primary area of expertise and interest. Why and toward what end? What if anything does poetry contribute to an understanding of history, philosophy, or social context of schooling?

The poet Emily Dickinson in her poem Tell all the truth but tell it slant opens with the line “Tell all the truth but tell it slant” and she ends with the explanation “The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind”. T.S. Eliot, when asked about the value of poetry replied, “The chief use of the “meaning” of a poem, in the ordinary sense, may be to satisfy one habit of the reader, to keep his mind diverted and quiet, while the poem does its work upon him: much as the imaginary burglar is always provided with a bit of nice meat for the house-dog”. I find that poetry is an effective way to introduce core ideas and concepts about teaching and schooling but in a way that is less direct, thus increasing the chance that students will incorporate or at least strongly consider the main points of the class. Poetry allows for the introduction of controversial or strong ideas but at a “slant” or like the burglar who brings a “bit of nice meat for the house-dog”. The poem opens up the learning heart of my students while temporarily distracting their academic mind. By starting class this way I find that my students are more likely to express their understanding of the text through fresh critical eyes instead of the voice of well-trained students trying to impress the professor.

How do I introduce poetry to my students? I initially tell them that poems are like a Rorschach test where the psychiatrist asks a patient to interpret an ink blot on a piece of folded paper. In my case, the poem invites their inner teacher to see or hear what they most need to understand about the poem as it connects with the text for the day. I make it clear that like a Rorschach test each student will likely hear or see something different in the poem. In a subtle but direct way this conveys the message that intellectual diversity is valued in our community of scholars. I pass out the poem and read it out loud (there is something about hearing a poem read by someone else that goes deeper into the space of meaning than reading a poem in silence). I hold a few minutes of silence for the deep meaning of the poem to sink into the deep learning spaces of my students. I break the silence with an invitation to share a word, image, or phrase that speaks to them about the link between the poem and the essence of the texts we read for the class.

For the next 10-15 minutes at least three things happen. One, I get a real time sense of how my students understood, in a truly personal and intellectual sense, the readings for the class session. Two, students get a chance, in a non-threatening way, to hear the different ways that their classmates connected to or made sense of the readings. Three, all of us (teacher and students) slow down and settle into the class period. In no way does poetry provide an escape from the rigor of engaging critical ideas but as Emily Dickinson argues: “The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind”.

Kaleen Barnett—Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Ed.D. student—has been selected to run the Colorado High School Charter (CHSC) satellite campus serving Denver’s Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.

CHSC is a charter school for students who need an alternative academic environment to succeed and to achieve post-secondary goals. The satellite campus, which opened in August 2016, supports a low-resource area with a high underserved population. Barnett’s goal with the new campus is to “create a tailored curriculum in an inclusive environment that values community partnerships” and to “empower students to succeed in their life and positively contribute to their families and community.”

The campus has partnered with the Colorado Construction Institute to provide vocational training, infusing the curriculum with individualized skill-building to help students reach future goals. Barnett says there is nothing like it in Denver for a school to run an outsourced model which utilizes existing, strong, established training already rooted in the community.

Barnett cites her education in the ELPS program as something that has prepared her for this opportunity, saying that “because of DU I’m better equipped to utilize a cultural leadership lens and continue to help create a community that values inclusivity.” The infusion of turnaround leadership into all ELPS coursework has prepared Barnett to step into a leadership role responsible for transforming a community.

This story is featured in our 2016 Dean’s Report, which you can read in its entirety here.

The Educational Leadership Policy Studies (ELPS) Program at the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) is a nationally-recognized leader in the field, and is ranked in this year’s Top 20 programs for Educational Administration and Supervision by U.S. News and World Report.

According to Susan Korach, Ed.D.—ELPS department chair—“Our systems of support and coursework embedded in school and district contexts prepares transformative leaders who positively impact the educational outcomes for all students. Institutions of higher education across the country have consulted with ELPS to redesign their programs and to build partnerships with schools and districts.” The infusion of turnaround leadership into coursework and the drive of students, faculty, and alumni to innovate propel program success.

One leading example of the program’s innovative impact lies in Denver Public Schools, which has approved the creation of an Innovation Zone called the Luminary Learning Network where educators have more autonomy to influence student success. Three of the schools in the Network—Denver Green School, Ashley Elementary School, and Cole Arts & Science Academy—have been founded by, or are currently run by, ELPS alumni. Denver Green School, founded by alumni Mimi Diaz (2008), Craig Harrer (2008, current Ed.D. candidate), and Andy Post (2008) and currently co-led by alumni Prudence Daniels (2007), is unique in this group for infusing project-based learning and environmental sustainability into its curriculum.

This story is featured in our 2016 Dean’s Report, which you can read in its entirety here.

December 14th, 2016 – Just about every time I’m in K-12 schools I witness broken-hearted teaching in one form or another from some the best teachers I know. They regularly engage in a form of teaching where their teacher’s heart is broken open at the interface between ideal conceptions of teaching and the real conditions of 21st century education. For instance, a teacher is valiantly trying to connect her passion for subject matter with curriculum that is flat and uninviting. Another teacher is dealing with the tragic death of a student while teaching as if everything is okay so as to reassure her students. A third teacher brings an extra breakfast every day for a student who is homeless and living out of a car. This is broken-hearted teaching as Parker Palmer, educator and social activists calls it, where the teacher teaches knowing that her heart is breaking in two. Teaching in the midst of needs that can never be fixed, only attend to with compassion and empathy that opens the teacher’s heart to imagination instead of closing it to despair or complacency.

In moments of personal or professional despair I’m often drawn to the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver for meaning making. I’m not looking for sure or quick answers but rather a place of purchase from which my broken-heartedness can become a place of understanding and growth.  In her poem she writes:

“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.”

I’m drawn to the transition between the two sentences, a mere tiny space between a period and capital letter. Yet at the same time a universe of potential that frames a productive space between the real and tangible moments of suffering I experience and the equally real sense that larger more life-giving energies are ever moving forward. And what might this space of imagination be pointing toward in the midst of broken-heartedness? Her poem continues:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

Even in the midst of despair teachers keep on teaching, it is in their DNA. Mary Oliver’s poem doesn’t attempt to diminish or wave away the heart breaking demands of teaching which would be inappropriate and unwarranted. Instead she invites all educators to remember the wild geese of their teaching (passions, students, colleagues, or content) are always heading home and calling all educators back to the heart of what they do best, teach.


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