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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.

Students from the Child, Family, and School Psychology (CFSP) program—under the mentorship of faculty member Gloria Miller, Ph.D.—have been working with the Colorado African Organization (CAO) to connect with refugee families who have settled in Colorado.

The students and CAO Community Navigators assist refugee families in adapting to and succeeding in the American education system. School-based issues that the families have encountered include religious dietary restrictions conflicting with school lunch menus, expectations about parental involvement, trauma and mental health, language barriers, and education gaps due to prior unstable living situations.

The partnership enables students to obtain experience working with diverse communities and helps them become more well-rounded practitioners while providing newcomer families with tools and resources to thrive. Due to a rising population of refugees and asylum-seekers in the United States and Colorado, services such as those that CAO provide and the involvement of students who are training to serve these populations are becoming increasingly important.

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

Counseling Psychology alumna, Khara Croswaite, M.A,, LPC, has been busy since graduating in 2012. She is a business owner and a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in the Lowry neighborhood of Denver, Colorado.  In addition to supporting students, adults and Medicaid clients with anxiety, depression, trauma and life transitions, she also offers clinical supervision as an Approved Clinical Supervisor (ACS) to Masters-level clinicians seeking licensure in Colorado as an LPC.  She even teaches as an Adjunct Faculty at Red Rocks Community College in the Psychology Department!

We had a chance to catch up with Khara to talk a little bit about her work, and how she feels the Counseling Psychology Master’s program here at Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver, prepared her to enter the counseling field. “DU was vital in contributing to my success in the Denver professional community today. It was thanks to DU that I received a competitive, valued degree that allowed me to find the right jobs based on hands-on experience in the program.  DU contributed to my ability to build a solid network of professionals and resources in the metro area to be successful in private practice. I am a proud alum and hope to give back to the University in the future as an educator!”

In addition to her professional work, Khara is currently presenting workshops on self-harm, suicide and safety planning, including the Mental Health Professionals conference at DU, hosted by the Colorado Counseling Association, scheduled for next April. If you would like to see Khara, and other counseling professionals, present at the conference, make sure to register here.

So what are Khara’s future plans? The next item on her to-do list is to get into a Ph.D. program in Counseling Education and Supervision in order to continue teaching, which she loves. She also hopes to write a collaborative book next year with colleagues to support clinicians working in Community-based programs.

As we enter into 2017, it is a good time for a reminder of the values of the Counseling Psychology Department at the Morgridge College of Education. Said concisely, our faculty, staff, and students work to promote social justice and stand against hateful, discriminatory, and divisive language and actions. Although this statement may appear to be an affirmation of common sense, in 2016 we witnessed an alarming increase in hate speech and discriminatory rhetoric, including encouraging for violence towards women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and generally other underrepresented populations in our country. Sitting down, remaining silient, and accepting this behavior as the new normal is not an option, at least not for us. For instance, our faculty and students continue to be active in promoting our values (Click here for an example of Dr. Garriott’s examination of power and privilege dynamics in society).

Our department’s recognition of the primacy of social justice translated this year into five students awarded fellowships from the SAMSA and NAADAC’s Minority Fellowship Program. The Fellowship Program’s stated goal is to reduce health disparities and improve behavioral health care outcomes for racially diverse populations including minority and LGBT populations, and transition age youth. Additionally, another student was awarded APA’s Minority Fellowship.

During these times we must try to remind ourselves that ultimately the convictions and dedication of the community to justice and respect for all people, has, and will continue to prevail. Our students, faculty and staff have committed themselves to justice and equity through tangible actions. We have participated in on-campus rallies in support of Native Americans at Standing Rock, advocating for a sanctuary campus, and additional political protests around the city. Our on-going forum, called Campus Conversations, provided a great space to organize our efforts and voice our opinions and feelings about happenings on-campus and around the world, especially as they relate to discrimination and equal rights. Evolving from this group, the Counseling Psychology Department created a CP specific Social Justice Committee. We also started a social justice listserv to provide community members a platform to share events and stories, and to organize grassroots efforts to continue the fight against hate. Our faculty are also engaged with several initiatives focused on promoting social justice locally in our Denver-metro area as well as around the nation (check out their profiles to learn more). Perhaps our most important effort is the one we give to each other every day in seeking to learn and understand concepts and people that are unfamiliar to us, and to honor each other’s unique identities.

We will continue the to combat against hate, and to promote a more loving world, and we hope that you will too. We leave you with the powerful words of Margaret Mead that ring true, now more than ever: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

November 25th, 2016 – This picture of a blackbird perched on a branch singing over a marsh of cattail reeds in the early morning hours of a new day is one my favorite images of teaching.  I invite you to take some time and look closely.  What are the signs of good teaching evident in this image?  What are the conditions of the environment that allow for the presence of good teaching to present itself for examination?  How would you begin to compare this male blackbird and his song to all the other males singing that day?  How might we use this image of a singing bird to talk about the ineffable or hidden qualities of good teaching?

First let me make an argument for the ineffable, that which we know exists but frequently can’t see; courage, passion and grit for instance.  One way bird lovers make distinctions between birds are their songs, each species has a signature melody.  But a song, like many aspects of good teaching can be heard but not seen, except when the right conditions bring the ineffable forward for examination.  In this image we can actually see the song of the blackbird in the exhaled breath.  Each curl, curve and break makes the unseen elements of the song present for inspection.

An important lesson in this image for anyone interested in the unseen aspects of teaching is the importance of the right conditions for the ineffable to materialize.  Externally, there must be a rising sun that back lights the scene, the temperature must be cold enough for the breath to condense into visible droplets, and the wind must be perfectly still or the notes will be distorted.  Internally, the bird must exhibit a certain confidence in his song, head back and throat full of commitment.  Additionally, without a compelling urge to sing the marsh will be quiet and the song of the blackbird will remain invisible.

What are some of the essential learnings that might help with ways of making the unseen or ineffable elements of teaching more evident and available for examination?  The first learning is that the right conditions, externally and internally, must be present. Only a teacher who is encouraged or supported by colleagues or school leaders will take the risk of singing while perched on an exposed branch.  Only a teacher with strong internal sense of calling to teach will throw her head back and in a full-throated way announce with authenticity her particular teaching style.

What might be at stake if we stop paying attention to the ineffable qualities of teaching?  The  graphic novel “Watchman” by DC Comics (2014) warns of the dangers of becoming too analytic in our studies of nature or teaching.  The narrator, whose superhero persona is an owl, muses on the danger of narrowing the investigative eye to only technical qualities when describing what makes a bird a bird:

“Looking at a hawk, we see the minute differences in width of the shaft lines on the under-feathers where the Egyptians once saw Horus and the burning eye of holy vengeance incarnate. Until we transform our mere sightings into genuine visions; until our ear is mature enough to order a symphony from the shrill pandemonium of the aviary; until then we may have a hobby, but we shall not have a passion.  When I was a boy, my passion was for owls. Somewhere over the years; some-place along the line my passion got lost, unwittingly refined from the original gleaming ore down to a banal and lusterless filing system.”

When it comes to describing good teaching we must look past the external qualities of “best practices” as defined by standards and accountability rubrics.  We must learn to un-see the world of teaching as solely a technical process that has the potential of de-evolving into “a banal and lusterless filing system”.  We must regain the passion and vision to see the mystery and magic of teaching that is only visible, although always present, on certain cold mornings in the face of a rising sun.

November 16, 2016 – The profession of teaching and teacher education seems overly preoccupied with the external qualities and characteristics of effective teaching.  A quick search of an online book seller lists 500 books under the search term “teaching best practices” with several of the titles in 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions.  A similar search for “teacher inner life” yields just over 100 books with only a handful directly related to the daily craft of teaching, instead, themes like meditation, mindfulness, prayer and spiritual awakening dominate the list.  The emphasis on the external and technical domain of teaching makes sense given the increased attention teaching has experienced since A Nation at Risk (1983) arguably spurred the modern day accountability, teaching standards and pay for performance movement. I don’t want to suggest that the technical skills of teaching are unimportant.  They are actually essential to good teaching in the same way that any profession is defined by a discreet set of skills that require regular training, research and professional development to improve and enhance practice.  I wouldn’t go to a surgeon who never learned to handle to scrapple or trust my car to a mechanic who was unaware of the difference between a crescent wrench and a box-end wrench.

To paraphrase the author and educational reformer, Parker Palmer, “technical problems require technical solutions and non-technical problems require non-technical solutions.”  What I hear in Palmer’s analysis is a call to pay attention to the root cause or source of teaching dysfunction or deformation.  Sometimes teachers struggle with external best practices such as lesson planning, culturally responsive pedagogy, seating arrangements or assessing student performance.  But at times the root cause of ineffective performance lies in a different direction, which Palmer variously describes as heart, courage, identity, integrity or calling.  Although speaking from the technical and standards side of the educator effectiveness coin, the Council for the Accreditation of Education Programs (CAEP) also calls for a recognition of and accounting for the “non-academic” aspects of teaching (Standard 3).

What might these non-technical, non-academic, heart-centered elements of teaching look like in practice and how might we recognize them when we see them?  First, let me argue that since teaching as a profession has adopted the language of “best-practices” to define the technical that educators should begin using the term of “deep-practices” to refer to the inner qualities of teaching.  This will perhaps help with placing these attributes on a similar plain of importance while elevating the shared language of practice which differs from the outer to the inner elements of teaching. What might deep-practices look like in teaching?  Based on my reading and synthesis of the literature I would propose the following categories as a way to get the conversation rolling: calling, presence, authenticity, wholeheartedness, and imagination.


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