Morgridge College of Education (MCE) alumni serve in every school district in the greater Denver area. MCE grads are in approximately 300 leadership positions in the Denver Public School District (DPS) alone. Those positions include 82 principals, 107 assistant principals, and 4 instructional superintendents from the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program (ELPS). That number doesn’t even include the hundreds of MCE alumni who have graduated from the Teacher Education Preparation program (TEP) and now serve in high-needs and high-achieving schools across the front range and beyond.

With such a long list of educators, it became something of a challenge to determine the best way to recognize them during the annual Teacher Appreciation Week. That’s when University of Denver’s (DU) Vice Chancellor for Advancement, Armin Afsahi, MCE’s Director of Alumni Engagement, Megan Stribling, and TEP Field Coordinator, Betsy Leonard, joined forces to create an extended two-week long Educator Appreciation Event in conjunction with DU’s Alumni Weekend activities.

According to Stribling, “At MCE, we love our teachers so much, we couldn’t show our appreciation in just one week – we had to do two! With Teacher Appreciation Week and DU’s Alumni Weekend back to back, combining them just made sense.”

The Appreciation Blitz kicked off during the traditional Teacher Appreciation Week and culminated with a visit by MCE Dean Karen Riley and Vice Chancellor Armin Afsahi to Carson Elementary School. At each school, recipients were presented with a basket of DU appreciation items, along with a Distinguished Partner certificate.

“Morgridge College is intentionally community-focused. We place upwards of 600 students in schools, mental health clinics and non-profits throughout the Denver area. We created the MCE Distinguished Partner designation this year, as a way to recognize those key organizations with whom we work. It’s a very symbiotic relationship,” said Dean Karen Riley.

Principal, Anne Larkin, seemed to agree with that description, “We love getting DU students and hiring them as teachers. They are so prepared when they come to us!”

Carson Elementary was selected as the final stop on the Appreciation Blitz due to the high number of MCE alumni that currently serve there, including Assistant Principal Valecia Von Weiss and School Lead for Teacher Mentoring Natalie Jacobsen.

Like many schools, Carson is not just home to MCE alumni, but also to current TEP student teachers. While touring the school, Riley and Afsahi made stops at each classroom where a mentor teacher was providing leadership to an MCE student educator. Mentor teachers, most of whom are MCE alumni, included Corey Broker, Natalie Jacobsen, Cynthia Smith, and Whitney Adams.

At one stop, Dean Riley was invited to participate in an impromptu sign language conversation with students in Ms. Diniro’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program (DHH) classroom.

This visit was the highlight of my day. It reminds us all of why we do what we do, and the profound impact our teachers make every single day,” said Riley.

 Armin Afsahi seemed to agree with that sentiment, as upon returning to the DU campus, he asked, “So, can we do that again tomorrow?!”

Although the senior leadership will probably not be making daily school visits, they will be hard at work raising awareness around the critical advances that DU alumni and all teachers are making to create more possibilities through access to quality education.

May 18, 2018—There is strong agreement among many scientists and poets that all things are connected; the human and natural world are not separate but rather constitute an integrated whole.  The naturalist John Muir observed that “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”  And the author and story teller Annie Dillard argues that the best way to attend to the fears and uncertainties of life is not to dismiss them but rather to walk with them deep into the mystery: But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, … the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.”  If Muir and Dillard are correct that all of life—physical and emotional—is interconnected and bound together in a unified whole, why is it that education, which teaches about life, is often informed by metaphors of disconnection?  What drives the fragmentation of self and knowing into content knowledge, outcomes, and facts rather than curricular integration, completeness, and unity?  And how might being schooled in a context that favors separation over fullness, parts over wholeness, and mind over emotions impact the instructional life of teachers and students?

Western ways of knowing, curriculum, and pedagogy have a history of breaking things into smaller and smaller parts which fuels the impulse in education toward disintegration; taking the whole of life and fracturing it into pieces.  For instance, curriculum writers—professionals who map out the day to day instructional activities of teachers and students—have at times “written” teachers out of the craft of teaching.  What has been dubbed “teacher-proof” curriculum is built on the promise that following a prescribed script will efficiently transfer abstracted forms of knowledge—subject matter—through the teacher, into the minds of learners.  The teacher, under such a model, becomes one more piece in a linear system of knowing to be moved around for the purpose of accomplishing strategic outcomes and performance goals.  In 21st century schools, many critics of testing, accountability, and standards chafe against the ways that assessments, if improperly applied, tend to reduce the wholeness of the learner into numeric indicators to be tracked and managed.

Data and the patterns that can be discerned over time are an important tool for educators hoping to make the most efficacious instructional choices for their students.  Numbers can answer the question, “what does this student need right now to enhance their learning?” Yet when employed too regularly, or without taking time to reconnect with the wholeness of life and the learning task, it becomes easy to lose track on the unified whole of the world, which puts the teacher and student in opposition to each other.  According to the quantum physicist Richard Feynman the danger of focusing on the narrow and particular story, one goal of data, is to lose the essence of the larger story: “The internal machinery of life, the chemistry of the parts, is something beautiful. And it turns out that all life is interconnected with all other life.”  The fullness of learning occurs when teacher, student, and text are in dialogue with each other, each with a distinct voice to contribute to the conversation and living into the process of being connected, of being fully human.

What would teaching and learning spaces look like if measures of wholeness, integration, and interconnectedness were the indicators of success in schools?  Imagine if pay for performance was anchored around the degree to which a teacher puts the world back together for students, re-connecting learners with the immensity and interconnected nature of reality.  What if teaching was an act of integration rather than disaggregation?

Dr. Peter Organisciak and Dr. Krystyna Matusiak, faculty in MCE’s Library and Information Science program, have been awarded a $277,000 grant from the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS). The two-year grant will support a content-based study of text duplication and similarity in massive digital library collections.

Dr. Peter Organisciak and Dr. Krystyna Matusiak

The emergence of massive digital collections presents an opportunity to pose novel, collection-wide questions of published history, offering new ways to access and use library materials.

As Organisciak explains, access in libraries is usually driven by information describing materials, such as time, location, and subject matter. Digital libraries allow a new form of access: by peering inside the books. At large scales, such information can yield fascinating insights such as what types of books were being published in different parts of the country, how were issues of the day being addressed, and even what were the most popular terms being used at key points in time.

The problem with searching and analyzing these huge libraries is that, at present, these digital archives contain an unknown number of duplicate copies of publications. In a physical library, that’s a good thing. Multiple users can check out and read multiple copies of the same book. When you’re looking for trends across culture or history, however, duplicated or repeating text can lead to a misleading understanding of reality.

Organisciak explains, “Massive digitalization projects are perhaps best exemplified by the HathiTrust Digital Library, which contains roughly 16 million books collected from a broad consortium of university collaborations. There is much potential to learn from so much of the published record, and the purpose of this project deduplication efforts is to make those insights easier to observe. Eventually, we hope to extend our methods to better make content recommendations.”

Such a similarity algorithm could be used by libraries to make book recommendations to readers based on their themes, complementing existing approaches such as reader advisories. If a reader is interested in books like The Da Vinci Code, the algorithm could suggest books that share contextual similarities.

“Think of it like Spotify for books,” says Organisciak.

Could this new study mean the end of the aimlessness readers often experience upon finishing the last book by their favorite author?

In time, perhaps. But, for now, it means that Organisciak, Matusiak, and Benjamin Schmidt, their research partner from Northeastern University, will be hard at work, digitally combing through more than 16 million books, to help researchers analyze publications with increased accuracy, and help readers find the next book they’re most likely to fall in love with.

Children in rural America face a unique set of health and education disparities.  In comparison to urban students, rural youth demonstrate higher levels of mortality; suicide; obesity; tobacco, alcohol, and illegal substance use; drinking and driving; teen births; and carrying weapons. They also have lower rates of school readiness, proficiency on standardized tests, and math performance.

Tailored solutions are needed to address these challenges particularly since more than half of US school districts are located in rural settings. These and other challenges fueled MCE’s decision to launch the Center for Rural School Health & Education to be led by rural expert, Elaine Belansky, PhD.

Belansky is a community-based participatory researcher who has been working in rural, low-income schools for 19 years.  She studies how universities and communities can work together to make schools healthy places. Her team developed a strategic planning process called “Assess. Identify. Make it Happen.” (AIM) which helps schools implement school-based environment and policy changes that support physical activity, healthy eating, mental health, and school engagement and decrease bullying, high risk sexual behavior, and drug use. Currently, her team is partnering with rural schools in Colorado to create comprehensive health and wellness plans that ensure students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.

Belansky has received over $13 million in grants from the CDC, NIH, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The Colorado Health Foundation. She will begin her duties at Morgridge College May 1. Her six-person team will join her June 1. The research team includes:

  • Shannon Allen – Research Faculty
  • Ben Ingman – Research Faculty
  • Shirley Berg – Business Manager and AIM Facilitator
  • Jerry Jones – AIM Facilitator and Community Coordinator
  • Carla Loecke – Director of Curriculum and Training
  • Susan Portner – AIM Facilitator

The team of rural experts will engage rural school and community partners in Colorado and beyond to identify and address the most pressing issues facing rural education. The goal of the Center for Rural School Health & Education is to be the catalyst for achieving health and academic equity in rural communities across the nation.

Netflix has officially announced a release date for its highly controversial “13 Reasons Why” – May 18 the show will hit Netflix queues and be available to watch. We want to take this opportunity to share resources if you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide. These resources are recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as well as our own Counseling Psychology Department and Child, Family, and School Psychology Department.

Additionally, NASP has crafted a statement and guidance for the upcoming season. Its general recommendations include:

  • Provide the guidance developed by NASP for 13 Reasons Why, Season 1 to parents and educators.
  • Encourage parents to watch the series with their child; children and youth who view this series may need supportive adults to help process it. Help students articulate their perceptions when viewing controversial content. The difficult issues portrayed do occur in schools and communities, and it is important for adults to listen, take adolescents’ concerns seriously, and be willing to offer to help.
  • Caution against binge watching, as doing so with intense content, particularly in isolation, can be associated with increased mental health concerns.
  • Reinforce that school-employed mental health professionals such as school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers are available to help.
  • Make sure parents, teachers, and students are aware of suicide risk warning signsAlways take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism for students.
  • Reinforcing resiliency and protective factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth.

If you are an educator and want more information about our alumna-designed suicide risk assessment app, click here.

May 2nd, 2018—When you struggle as a teacher, and all teachers struggle at some point in their career, who do you turn to for wisdom and guidance?  Do you rely on your instructional teammate?  A relative who has taught for over 30 years and knows the ropes?  Maybe a university professor who was always there with just the right advice or question that broke open a deeper understanding of the problem?  Or perhaps a beloved K-12 teacher, because of all the people you know they had the gift of seeing you fully for who you are, even when you didn’t trust yourself?  For the past 20 years I’ve turned to Parker Palmer’s landmark book on the inner life of teachers; Courage to Teach for guidance when I’m troubled as an educator.

On the University of Denver campus we recently hosted a two day celebration of the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking text with sessions designed to invite faculty, staff, and students into deeper contact with the call to serve and care for others.  The highlight of the event was a live video chat with Parker Palmer.  Each of the six panelists was invited to engage Parker around the following questions, 1) when did you first encounter Courage to Teach, 2) in what ways has the book changed your practice, and 3) what aspect of living the Courage to Teach still engages you.

One of the panelist spoke of the challenges and internal conflicts she faces initiating and sustaining change in her educational setting.  She described the constant struggle as “swimming upstream” against the strong current of institutional norms and resistance to innovation. For her the effort was exhausting and dispiriting and she wondered if Parker had any guidance or insights on how to remain true to her passion. In the way of a wise educator he paused in response to this heart-felt question, for a moment of reflection and empathy, before engaging the question.  He began his answer with a description of floating the Colorado River in a raft and ended with the observation that every good boatperson knows that if you overshoot your destination you can move to the side of the river and use the back-eddies to navigate against the current to your intended destination.

I find in Parker’s analogy a series of helpful steps for anyone working for change in a system they care deeply about, especially educational contexts with their strong tendency to preserve existing norms and protocols.  The first step is to literally get out of the current and stop battling the forces of tradition that seek to sweep you toward the intended goal and outcomes as quickly as possible.  Sometimes it is best to consciously search out the margins of the river where the current flows with a different sense of purpose. The second step is to realize that every rock, log, and obstruction in the river creates a back-eddy that can be used by the observant boater to move sideways to the current or even impossibly upstream.  In this way a change agent can artfully work the institutional barriers and roadblocks to quietly move past the obstructions toward a healthier more life-giving place to teach and learn.  The third step is to recognize that it takes practice to find the right eddies with the right physics of change capable of accomplishing your goal.  And a willingness to make mistakes; to end up where you didn’t intend or back where you started, swimming against the current.  The final step is to bring along an experienced guide who “knows the river” in all of its moods and rates of flow.  A person who can point out the sweet spots in the current.  A wise guide, when exhaustion threatens to overcome the boater, who points out the best eddies for resting, regrouping, and refocusing on the task of accomplishing change that is sustaining.  Someone who knows from experience when even the best boater risks disaster, given the strength of the current, and advises staying out of the river until the spring thaw diminishes and the river returns to more manageable flows.

With the analogy of institutional river of back-eddies in mind: who are your fellow paddlers?  Do you have a more experienced guide with you?  Have you studied the current, marked the obstacles, and tracked the location of the best eddies?  If you feel exhausted from the struggle where will you eddy out and rest?  If so, you are ready to push off into the current and work the margins toward meaningful and sustaining change.  Oh, and if you make a mistake and get “flushed out”, no worries; be patient, and work the eddy lines back against the current.


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