Setting the Course for a Leading School of Education: Meeting the Challenge of Training Teachers

A college dean rarely has the opportunity to set a new course at an existing school of education. However, this writer has had this experience at both a public institution (The City College of the City of New York) and a not-for-profit private institution (Mercy College, based in Dobbs Ferry, NY). Positive goals were achieved in both situations: City College achieved a 99 percent pass rate on teacher certification tests, a dramatic change from previously low performance on these tests. Mercy College is developing an unprecedented reputation for success, including being awarded a prestigious “Race to the Top” grant.

Where to Begin
The first task for the leader of the school of education is to establish positive morale among the faculty. Without that, no genuine step forward is possible. One effective way is to establish a dean’s advisory council comprised of leading educators and other noteworthy citizens. For the above two cases, superintendents, teacher leaders, corporate executives, and other illustrious individuals such as Nobel laureates were invited to join this council. This important group was evidence of our respect for the institution and commitment to its growth, and had an immediate and highly favorable effect on faculty.

A crucial task for any dean is to actively engage faculty members in defining the school’s mission and direction and insure that they have genuine ownership of the school’s purpose, goals, and objectives. Of paramount importance for any school of education running at maximum effectiveness is to develop the complete buy-in of faculty to the curriculum, organization, and profile of the school. This must be carefully stewarded so that the peer-established goals (which should be relatively congruent to those of the dean’s goals) are embraced and supported by the faculty as their own. The dean is the facilitator in this progression, which leads to an evolving product that clearly emanates from the faculty and is relevant at all times.

Don’t Overlook Facilities and Technology
Supporting an appropriate physical environment for faculty also leads to increased professional satisfaction. One of the first tasks for a new dean is to review school facilities and insure proper workspace (office, computer, telephone) and support staff for the faculty. In addition, faculty in the same or related disciplines should have offices in close proximity to one another. This provides for easier exchange of professional development, research, and collaboration, and supports amicable departmental relationships. In addition, having such established departmental quarters provides better access for students seeking advice and mentoring.

Support for faculty is also manifested in the maintenance of up-to-date technology. Every effort must be extended to upgrade computers regularly, provide appropriate software according to discipline, and make readily available technological devices appropriate for instruction. The technology provided should also take into account software and platforms that can enhance instruction. This should be a high priority for every college class, but is even more so for a school of education where faculty should be demonstrating or modeling the most effective techniques of instruction, including up-to-date and appropriate use of technology. In today’s evolving educational climate, opportunities should also be provided for faculty to examine online courses to verify that the quality of courses provided online is equal to onsite instruction and to participate in technology training to assure that faculty members are comfortable and successful in this growing area.

Provide Clinical Experiences
A significant development in the field of teacher preparation is the increasing importance of clinically rich programs. This means that a school of education must provide clinical experiences for their students from the students’ earliest entrance into professional programs and affirm that courses and assignments foster this professional development.

In order to provide field and clinical experiences for students the school of education also must work closely with local schools at all levels, developing close cooperation among the local administrators, teachers, and college faculty. This community of leaders needs to be encouraged through on-site, personal, and electronic connections to work in tandem to produce a meaningful, clinically rich program based on mutual trust and respect. This nexus should help to identify problems with prospective teachers that can be addressed in a timely fashion and resolved expeditiously through mentoring and other appropriate support mechanisms. In addition, faculty needs to monitor student growth through a careful ladder of courses and experiences to help them to develop a personal portfolio that demonstrates their content and pedagogical knowledge for potential employers.

It is easy for college faculty to glide into a comfort level posture where “change” becomes a bad word. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon the dean to continuously challenge faculty to become actively involved in reviewing and revising existing programs, and proposing and establishing new directions, products, and programs that keeps the school of education at the forefront of the profession. Such programs that might be considered include establishing a professional journal, hosting annual professional conferences, and the like. Above all, an undaunting commitment to professionalism in education should guide the structuring of a school of education and its programs.

Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier is the dean of the Mercy College’s School of Education. Based in Dobbs Ferry, NY, Mercy College is a private, nonprofit college offering more than 90 undergraduate and graduate programs (www.mercy.edu; 877-MERCY-GO). Dr. Posamentier is also the author of more than 50 books on education and mathematics, most recently Secrets of Triangles: A Mathematical Journey (coauthored with Ingmar Lehman and published by Prometheus during July 2012).

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