October 27, 2017—What are the stories you tell to yourself about your teacher-self?  What are the stories others tell about your teacher-self? What are the stories you tell about your teacher-self in public?  I’ve been thinking about these questions since reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance.  The book was selected by the University of Denver as the summer read for all first-year students and it was featured this fall in the curriculum of first-year seminars as well as several all-campus events.  I was asked to lead a book talk which started me thinking about stories and thus the questions that begin this essay.  “Hillbilly Elegy” is a deeply personal account of struggling family relationships, shifting personal identity, deteriorating community, and a deep love for Appalachian culture and strength that can arise from adversity. Vance is a story teller who vividly portrays the stories that he told himself about his life; the stories that the wider society tells about “his people”; and the stories he told in public about his upbringing and his home in Appalachia. Each story is fraught with truth and self-deception depending on the time and place of the telling. As I read deeper and deeper into Vance’s book I too was invited into self-reflection about the stories I tell about my teacher-self.

What are the stories you tell to yourself about your teacher-self?  This is going to be a hard question because these are often difficult stories to share in public.  I often tell a mixture of ego and calling stories.  When my ego is in charge of the story I talk to myself about my ability to teach with little preparation and still move students into deeper relationship with the text.  These are my “commando teaching” stories as I talk to myself about the thrill of dropping into the classroom instructionally ill-prepared but armed with texts and still able to carry the day.  But of course, like most stories told in private there is a high degree of misrepresentation associated with tale.  It really doesn’t take much for the ego bubble to burst and the inadequacy of my teaching, at least to myself, becomes transparent.  These ego-stories tell the tale of teaching without integrity and fidelity to my call to educate.  This leads naturally to the other stories I tell to my teacher-self; teaching is my vocation that I’m drawn back time and time again to this deep impulse to educate others. These are my “inner-truth” stories because they carry a high degree of faithfulness.  I turn to these stories, often right before class starts, when I’m unsure and feeling like an imposter who was never meant to teach. A few deep breathes, a quiet moment, and I’m leaning past ego to the wholeness of knowing I’m called to do the work of teaching.

What are the stories others tell about your teacher-self?  The narrative about teachers told by society is less than positive; it is widely believed that teachers are failing to adequately educate the students that society has entrusted to their care.  These “outsider” stories have the feel of an imposed identity of inadequacy which serves some wider purpose beyond the stated goal of improving the lives of students.  They are painful stories because they fail to adequately account for the many stories of teachers sacrificing emotionally, physically, and financially for their students.  For me, the more trustworthy stories are told by my students in their end of course evaluations.  I find these stories easier to accept, whether they are complementary or critical of my teaching.  I think this is perhaps because of the combination of intimacy and distance. I have shared the classroom space with my students and therefore I can see the truth of their comments, even when my ego-self desperately wants to tell a different story; a protective story of false invincibility. Because the end of course evaluations arrive in my email long after the course is finished the rawness of the classroom is tempered by time and thus I’m more open to hearing the truth behind student feedback. The harder stories for me to accept that others tell about my teaching come in the form of rewards, accolades, or praise by a colleague.  Perhaps this is because even though these stories of success are the result of teaching inspired by my call to teach I never like to draw attention to these gifts.  It is an odd paradox that the ability to teach well is something I enjoy and am willing to share with my students and colleagues and at the same time I would rather keep the outcome private and less evident.

What are the stories you tell about your teacher-self in public?  I think these are my best stories because they turn the private knowledge I hold about my teaching into a public presentation that can be critiqued and refined.  No teacher really exists in isolation. At a minimum, the teacher performs the act of teaching in the presence of students; no student—no teaching.  And at a minimum students provide feedback about the teacher’s effectiveness at the conclusion of the course.  In the best case, the teacher tells teaching stories in the presence of colleagues who know both the teacher, the context, and the craft knowledge of teaching.  These critical-friends can echo back the stories the teacher tells; a sort of truth-testing for the self.  And perhaps most importantly, given my reluctance to accept praise evident in the stories other tell about my teacher-self, it can be extremely helpful to have others name my teaching gifts.  For instance, recently I was wrestling with dark moments of doubt about my teaching.  In the midst of my angst a colleague named my ability to enter a room of strangers and guide them through a lesson as if we had been best friends since childhood.  With those few words I was back home again in my teacher-self.

So I invite you think through the following questions. What are the stories you tell to yourself about your teacher-self?  What are the stories others tell about your teacher-self? What are the stories you tell about your teacher-self in public?

For Child, Family, and School Psychology alumna Dr. DoriAnn Adragna, work is family business. Adragna and her husband, Joe, a family medicine physician, formed Peak Professionals in their hometown of Montrose, Colorado. Through their joint practice, they can help not only the whole child but the whole family navigate injuries and behavioral struggles together. They noticed one injury in particular affected both of their practices and was also possibly preventable – traumatic brain injuries. Then while at a skate park in Montrose, they noticed many of the children were not wearing helmets.

Dr. Dori’s specialty is in pediatric traumatic brain injuries. While at Morgridge College of Education, she specialized in traumatic brain injury and autism spectrum disorders.  She and her husband decided to take action to prevent traumatic brain injuries in their own community. In 2016, they were awarded two grants totaling $30,000 from the Colorado Brain Injury Program. One of the grants was specifically used to prevent these injuries and helped produce the HeadSTRONG program, a helmet awareness campaign designed to increase helmet usage amongst individuals on Colorado’s Western Slope.

The campaign targeted youths and encouraged them to be STRONG, to stand up to peer pressure, and to wear a helmet. Individuals who signed up and pledged to be HeadSTRONG were entered in a contest to win a helmet and everyone who made the pledge could receive a discount at local vendors to purchase a helmet.

“In my practice, I work with families who have been affected by traumatic brain injuries and I help them mourn the loss of the child they once thought they were going to have,” said Dr. Dori. “It’s a grieving and acceptance process, and it changes goals parents have for their children, it changes their perception of their child’s future.”

Through the HeadSTRONG program, a total of 73 individuals pledged to wear a helmet, over 40 helmets were given to adults and children, and information on the importance of wearing a helmet was distributed and embraced by the community through events, local organizations, and press releases. The campaign was so successful that the City of Montrose is trying to get funding to keep the campaign going into the next year.

“The initial grant period is over,” Dr. Dori explained. “But we want to continue this and we are working with our local government to make that happen. Eventually we would love to expand to include all traumatic brain injuries, not only pediatric.”

Morgridge College of Education Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Department and Denver Public Schools have been invited to participate in the first Leadership and Education Development (iLEAD) initiative at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Erin Anderson, ELPS Assistant Professor; Sandy Lochhead-Price, the Director of School Leader Performance and Development at Denver Public Schools and ELPS EdD student; Amy Keltner, Deputy Chief of Schools at Denver Public Schools; Anne Whalen, Deputy Chief of Academic Strategy at Denver Public Schools and Susan Korach, Associate Professor and ELPS Department Chair attended the initial meeting in late October at the Carnegie Foundation in Stanford, CA.

The Carnegie Foundation launched the iLEAD initiative to enhance and extend the efforts of schools of education to incorporate Improvement Science methods and Networked Improvement Communities into their education doctorate programs. According to its website, iLEAD is designed to further the capacities of institutions of higher education (IHEs) and their local education agency (LEA) partners to enact systematic improvement efforts within their organizations and in partnership with one another.

Applications were submitted in early September and out of the eleven participants, nine are member institutions of the Carnegie project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) and seven are member institutions of University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA):

  • Fordham University and Mamaroneck Union Free School District
  • University of Virginia and Chesterfield County Public Schools
  • University of Maryland and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS)
  • High Tech High GSE and High Tech High
  • Indiana University and Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC)
  • George Washington University and Fairfax Country Public Schools
  • Portland State University and Newberg Public Schools
  • University of Denver and Denver Public Schools
  • University of Pittsburgh and University Preparatory School at Margaret Milliones
  • University of South Carolina and Florence School District One
  • University of Mississippi and Oxford School District

“We are honored to be a part of this learning community of IHE’s and districts,” said Korach. “We look forward to further our understanding and commitment to improvement science and networked improvement communities. This work will help us expand our capacity to support systems-level leadership development, prepare leaders to manage complex change, and sustain partnerships and networks with students, graduates and districts.”

Over the next year iLEAD participants will engage in four face-to-face meetings and online collaboration to:

  • Build leadership, technical, and social capacities for using improvement science in masters and EdD programs;
  • Integrate and enhance coursework related to improvement science and NICs in education;
  • Collaborate with other leading IHEs and the Carnegie Foundation on problems of
  • practice and embed that work into educational leadership preparation;
  • Strengthen relations with local LEAs by focusing on relevant and pressing needs; and
  • Contribute to and draw from a “Teaching Commons” resource-bank of exemplar courses and instructional resources for IHE faculty, programs, and participants.

Morgridge College of Education Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning Sciences and Teacher Education Program, Dr. Maria Salazar, sat down with Wallethub.com for its assessment of the Best and Worst states for teachers and expert panel on issues teachers are facing today and how to tackle those challenges.

There has been a substantial increase in the discussion of rural education in America. This conversation is particularly critical in states, like Colorado, where 80% of the state’s school districts are classified as rural. Add to that the diverse gifted student population, including those eligible for free and reduced lunches in these in these remote areas, and it’s easy to see why a major federal grant was awarded to identify and serve this underrepresented group.

R4R Researchers

University of Denver MCE researchers and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) are moving into the third year of a $1.4 million Jacob K. Javits federally funded research project. Dr. Norma Hafenstein, Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair for Gifted Education, is a co-principal investigator along with Jacquelin Medina, Gifted Director of the Colorado Department of Education. Dr. Kristina Hesbol, assistant professor of Education Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS), serves as Leadership Director. Year three research support of $80,000 is examining influences in identification of underserved gifted populations.

The project is called Right 4 Rural (R4R) and has been examining the diversity of rural contexts that encompass the vast disparities of economy between thriving ranches and desolate range, or rich productive farms and barren lands. Rural areas in the state of Colorado, in particular, have a significant percentage of students who are English language learners, Hispanic, Native American, and/or live in a climate of poverty situations.

The data collection process has included in-person and online surveys, face-to-face workshops and online webinar sessions with key participants from rural school districts across the state. Although the data collection and analysis is still ongoing, persistent problems of practice are emerging. They include the 1) Ability to identify GT students accurately and consistently, 2) Ability to increase school-wide awareness and knowledge of GT programs/process, and 3) Ability to provide consistent supports, follow-up services, and communication.

Researchers anticipate that results of the R4R project will yield increased rigor in the classroom, increase student achievement as it relates to higher level thinking, and increased identification of gifted potential in these underrepresented populations.

MCE doctoral students participating in this research project include Justine Lopez, Curriculum and Instruction, Rachel Taylor, Research Methods and Statistics, and Fayaz Amiri, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

The Right4Rural project reflects the University of Denver’s and Morgridge College of Education’s (MCE) long history of commitment to gifted education through service to gifted children, training of teachers to serve children’s needs, and support of doctoral research around giftedness.

The Right4Rural research team will be presenting at the Wallace Symposium of the Belin and Blank Center at Johns Hopkins in April 2018.

October 16th, 2017—For many teachers the driving question of their professional identity is, how do I teach in a way that honors my calling, my gifts, and my vocation to educate while resisting the role of teacher?  In this question I hear the twin pulls of teaching as it is practiced today.  In one direction lies the reason why many teachers choose the profession of teaching; they can simply not imagine any other profession but teaching and the tremendous responsibility for changing lives.  To pursue any other career would represent a betrayal of core-identity.  So compelling is the call to teach that even a teacher pursuing a non-teaching profession often hears the still small voice of the inner-teacher whispering away until the teacher returns to the call to teach.  In the other direction are the external professional responsibilities of teaching, the necessary institutional and bureaucratic tasks that make up the role of teacher.  Most teachers recognize the importance of these tasks while also knowing that the external elements of instruction can never define the true essence of teaching.  There is an inherent tension between these two orientations (internal and external) both are necessary and neither can exist without the other. But in the highly structured and regulated climate of teaching today, the internal drivers, the calling to teach, are often silenced or quieted by the external imperatives to master the benchmarks, achieve proficiency, or measure up to the curriculum standards and district assessments. So as many teachers ask: how do I teach in a way that honors my calling, my gifts, and my vocation to educate while resisting the role of teacher?

The poet Judy Brown in her poem “Wooden Boats” points in the direction of an answer by asking a question of her own.  She employs the metaphor of ship making to capture the process of professional formation: “could we return to more of craft / within our lives, / and feel the way the grain of wood runs true…”  To my ear as an educator I hear her asking what would it take for teachers to return to a teaching posture that honors the call to teach in such a way that the internal drive to educate is visible and felt within the daily practice of educating students. In the language of an educational shipwright, in what ways can educators set their teaching keel deep in the water of curriculum and instruction so that the boat of practice runs true to its making?  Brown continues her analysis of true-teaching by asking yet another question: “could we recall what we have known / but have forgotten, / the gifts within ourselves, / each other too, / and thus transform a world / … (by) shaping steaming oak boards / upon the hulls of wooden boats?”  In the wonderful ways that poets use language to obscure surface interpretations while also revealing deeper truths, Judy Brown provides a prescription for teaching that “runs true to its making” so as resist the forces of deformation.  Her suggestions operate in much the same way that a boat built with integrity and fidelity finds its way through the home waters no matter the condition of the waves.  The first ingredient is to approach teaching as if it were a craft, mastering both the technical as well as ineffable elements; to learn how to feel the way the grain of teaching runs true, unique to the gifts of each teacher.  The second key is to linger and enjoy, developing the skill of listening to the voice of teaching in the heart of the educator; a voice present but often quieted by the noise of institutional necessity.  The next essential element is community. Brown argues, that the best way to recapture inner knowing is with the help of other educators who are also searching for the fullness of their teaching.  It is only after the deep inner wisdom of teaching emerges that the boards of standards and curriculum can be steamed and bent to the hull of pedagogy in such a way that the world of the student becomes transformed.  Now the boat of one’s calling can run true to its making while responding with intention to the external requirements of teaching.

New Morgridge College of Education Assistant Professor of Research Methods and Information Science, Denis Dumas, recently published research that could potentially change the way educational researchers understand student learning capacity, and the way students are tested in school.

The humble beginnings of a new testing model.

“Dynamic Measurement Modeling: Using Nonlinear Growth Models to Estimate Student Learning Capacity” (Denis G. Dumas and Daniel M. McNeish) focuses on the problematic aspects of single-time-point educational testing, and ways we can improve methods for predicting student learning trajectories. Dumas explains that standard practice typically tests a student only once, at a single point in time on a single day, and uses that test to predict the student’s future potential. The idea for his research was born on a bar napkin in Chicago; over drinks with his co-author, McNeish, the two were discussing ways to better predict a student’s capacity. Why not test a student multiple times and use a non-linear pattern to better predict their growth? Why do we currently use this single time-point measurement?

Dumas explains that, according to his perspective on the literature, we test this way because in 1917 the United States was under pressure to build its defense and sort enlisted men into their best positions in the military. Because there was not time to train the men on jobs they were not currently able to do, if a serviceman had experience in welding, they were assigned a welding job; if they had experience with engines, they were assigned a job as a mechanic; if they could cook, they could cook in the army, and so on. The military did not have time to train them on something new, but this did not mean that the men were not capable of learning something new. The practice was soon applied to sorting students.

This means that if student A arrives to school with previously developed knowledge of colors, shapes, and letters and takes a text they will likely test higher than Student B who did not arrive with that basic knowledge. It does not mean that Student A is necessarily smarter than Student B, or that Student B lacks the capability to learn those things, simply that Student A already knew them. Currently, the standard of testing will project Student A on a higher path of success than Student B. As educators and parents know that is not the case. Teachers are well versed in spotting the “late bloomer” or working with students who learn at a different rate than others, but this idea, until now, has not been put into practice within educational measurement. According to Dumas, the current standard of testing does not just document an achievement gap, it creates it.

Dumas and McNeish argue that the way to correctly test and predict student potential is through dynamic assessment, a technique that features multiple testing occasions integrated with learning opportunities. Dynamic assessment is time and labor intensive, making it accurate but expensive. Dumas and McNeish began to write a computer program to apply dynamic assessment to already available testing data, thus creating a way to accurately predict student growth using a series of algorithms. Their method changes the focus of the assessment from how much the students currently know to how much they can grow.

To test their theory, Dumas and McNeish used federal testing data available through the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten (ECLS-K) 1999 cohort. According to their published paper, these data were collected at seven timepoints: fall and spring of kindergarten, fall and spring of Grade 1, spring of Grade 3, spring of Grade 5, and spring of Grade 8. This publicly available data set contains several thousand variables, including direct cognitive assessments, teacher reports, parent reports, and a host of questionnaires as well as demographic and background variables. Their first run through the data took the computer a month and a half to complete. What they found was, when the focus of measurement was shifted from ability or achievement scores to estimates of student capacity, the combined effect of race, gender, and SES drastically decreased in the ECLS-K 1999 data set. What does that mean? That differences among students on their developed ability levels do not imply differences in those students’ future capacity for learning.

Dumas is excited to continue to test his research and continue to apply the assessment method to other datasets. He is currently working with the Department of Defense and others to apply his theory on their existing data. His long-term goal? To change the way we think about measuring outcomes. He and McNeish have tweaked their computer program to run a full dataset in an hour and a half, making this method, he hopes, a viable, inexpensive, and widely used option to assess student data.

“If,” he says, “In fifty years we are using this method to assess students, I would be thrilled.” Until that time, he plans to keep testing and keep spreading the word. He wants to close the achievement gap, one dataset at a time.

The University of Denver Morgridge College of Education (MCE) and Denver Public Schools (DPS) today announced the creation of a pilot teacher education program aimed at placing highly trained educators in some of the most highly impacted schools in the Denver metro area.

The DPS Urban Teacher Fellowship (UTF) program will position selected teacher candidates in highly impacted schools and provide them with the support necessary to both learn and thrive. UTF students will receive their graduate training as part of the University of Denver (DU) Teacher Education Program, and will complete their one-year teacher residency in selected schools within DPS.

“At a time when fewer and fewer college students are choosing to pursue a career in education and more and more K-12 students need great teachers, we are excited to launch a new program that we hope will serve as the model for future programs,” Dr. Karen Riley, MCE Dean says.

As a pilot program, DU and DPS will partner to evaluate the success of the model, collaborative partnership, and the transferability to other areas and program providers across the district. The UTF program is consistent with national trends in teacher residency programs in which the coursework is provided by the higher education partner and the field placements are designed and supported by the district. The program will be co-developed by the two partners in keeping with best practices creating new opportunities for collaboration between the two organizations.

“Nationally, over the last 10 years, teacher residency programs have evolved and grown,” said Laney Shaler, DPS Director of Teacher Pathways & Development. “We are excited to take what we have learned through our previous partnership with DU and apply the framework to this new program that will both extend the partnership and serve as the foundation for expanded pre-service training experiences in DPS.”

The UTF program will replace the existing Denver Teacher Residency (DTR) program which was co-developed between DU and DPS nearly a decade ago to meet the critical challenge of filling vacancies in highly impacted schools and hiring candidates who reflect the students the district serves. Since then, 350 teachers have been trained through DTR in a model of joint operation between DPS and DU. Eight cohorts of residents have confirmed the value of residency as a productive way to prepare teachers.

“I see this new partnership as taking our existing partnership to the next level. It allows us to strengthen our collective efforts to train a diverse teacher corps and serve teacher candidates with relevant on-the-job training opportunities,” Dr. Karen Riley says.

The pilot UTF program represents the next phase in the longstanding DU/DPS partnership committed to finding innovative ways to ensure highly trained educators are available to all students in the DPS district. The first UTF student cohort will begin in fall 2018.

Three Morgridge College Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) alumnae were recently recognized for their efforts when their schools were honored by the Colorado Succeeds Prize.  Valdez Elementary School Principal Jessica Buckley and Assistant Principal Gwen Frank, both graduates of the DPS Ritchie ELPS program, received the Colorado Succeeds prize for Transformational Impact in an Elementary Award. Additionally, ELPS graduate and The Stem Launch School Assistant Principal Carrie Romero-Brugger saw her school recognized for outstanding achievement.

October 2nd, 2017 – One strategy for increasing educational effectiveness is to stop teaching.  I don’t mean leaving the profession, although that is warranted at times, but rather to take a break to renew and refresh before plunging back into the complexity of teaching.  It is shown in practice and in research that reflective teachers are more effective at achieving educational goals. They are more centered, more resilient, and show greater capacity to respond in productive ways to ambiguity. What might stopping with intention look like? And what larger purpose might it serve?

I heard the following story through a network of physicians that I work with on a monthly basis.  We gather together and explore the interface of their calling to heal, institutional demands, and physician burnout. This story, which is hard to prove, does offer, it seems, an intriguing example of stopping with intention.

The Maasai of Africa run great distances in their daily hunts. However, mid-run, they will stop in mass and stand quietly on the savanna. It is their belief that this gives their souls time to catch up with their bodies.

Physicians, like teachers, practice their calling to serve others in an environment that is frequently constrained by standards, accountability, and pay for performance.  The advice in this story seems applicable to both communities; stopping periodically in the midst of work will allow the ineffable qualities of professional identity to “catch-up” with the exterior-business oriented aspects of the role.  The Maasai story reminds me of the importance of stopping periodically in the savanna of my teaching to reconnect my inner calling to teach with my external drive to be effective; to honor the importance of teaching from both the head and the heart.

The Maasai story teaches four steps to wholeness: (1) work; (2a) stop in silence; (2b) gather together in community; (3) seek wholeness; and (4) return to work.  Steps 1 and 4 are easy as this is what we do as educators; our work-calling is teaching.  Step 2a is a little harder but still manageable.  For instance, effective teachers always build in instructional wait time to allow the lesson to deepen and the questions to emerge for learners.  Why not turn the gift around and use instructional wait time for a moment of inner reflection; a form of standing in the savanna?  Stopping with intention, even to focus on one deep breath, can begin the process of acquiring goal 3, seeking wholeness.  To fully achieve wholeness and integration of the instructional heart, hand, and head is a more extensive process.  Step 2b is perhaps harder to achieve since teaching is primarily a solo activity.  Yet by including students in the process the whole class can experience a moment of communal silence before returning to the work of teaching and learning.

The daily existence of teachers is often driven by the head/intellect and the hunt for answers, accountability, data, and testing.  If the Maasai story is accurate, and I think it is generally so, then an essential aspect of effective teaching is stopping and remembering the story of why you became an educator.  By stopping and remembering your call to teach you give your heart time to catch up with your mind and share its wisdom on effective teaching.  Enjoy what you do best, teach, but remember to periodically stop-teaching and enjoy the beauty of the classroom ecology you inhabit.


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