Education

A Brandman specialty: educating educators

July 08, 2015 by Cindy O'Dell
Students in the multi-subject credentialing program work on a bridge-building challenge.

Students in the multi-subject credentialing program work on a bridge-building challenge.

Program design, trust, collaboration, a willingness to work across program areas and the ability to adjust quickly to changes in both technology and standards have put Brandman University ahead of the curve in preparing educators for the California Standards.

That isn’t just the opinion of those closest to the program, including Dr. Christine Zeppos, dean of the School of Education. It’s the view spelled out in the report of state and national accreditation teams both in their verbal reports after the accreditation meetings in April and in the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) recommendations made and accepted in June. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is expected to provide a similar stamp of approval at its October meeting.

School of Education Dean Christine Zeppos talks about the Common Core/California Standards.

School of Education Dean Christine Zeppos talks about the Common Core/California Standards.

It’s also a view expressed by those hiring teachers.  “We have had great feedback from districts, telling us our candidates are really up on the state standards and effective teaching practices aligned with those standards,” said Dr. Kathy Theuer, the associate dean in charge of single- and multiple-subject credentialing.

“Brandman students are much more prepared than others in my district,” one administrator told the CTC/NCATE accreditation team. Others have told Theuer that they’ve depended on recent Brandman graduates to lead the way in training existing staff about the new California Standards (that is, the Common Core standards).

Common Core and Brandman

Although the concept of Common Core standards (language arts and math standards on a national level) was first introduced in 2007 and officially adopted after review in California in 2010, aspects of the curriculum implementation and assessment processes were still being developed through January 2013.

Brandman leaders were already studying the Common Core standards and by the spring of 2013 were ready to work on staff development and adjust existing classes to better address the standards.

Dr. Lynn Larsen

Dr. Lynn Larsen

“We attended state level meetings on Common Core implementation. Because we’re a distributed campus system (i.e., the same courses offered at multiple sites), we could attend multiple events and then compare notes,” said Theuer, who worked with Dr. Lynn Larsen, associate dean for special education, on incorporating the new standards into the credential courses. Those same meetings were attended by representatives from various school districts, so Brandman faculty members also had a good idea of how the standards would be implemented at the K-12 level.

In more traditional institutions, making changes to multiple programs can be a time-consuming, drawn-out process. But Brandman already had both a curriculum team and a course development process in place.  “That’s unique (to Brandman),” said Theuer. “We have a curriculum team for each program area so we can quickly distribute information and act on it. We do that on a regular basis anyway, but this involved major revisions that we could do all at the same time.”

Larsen and Theuer developed a template that asked each course developer to describe, week by week, what Common Core topics would be addressed and the activity that would relate to the topic.

“We made sure there was no repeated information. Developing appropriate course assignments and course content had to be a coordinated effort,” said Theuer.

In doing so, students in Brandman’s teacher credentialing programs were thinking about and working toward implementing the revised standards in every class. The process is ongoing, said Theuer.  They’ve recently incorporated new science and career technology standards into the credential programs, as well as the newly adopted special education teaching performance expectations.

Successful hiring

Dr. Kathy Theuer

Dr. Kathy Theuer

Another component to a strong program for educating educators is the quality of the full-time and adjunct faculty, said Theuer.  “We only hire experienced practitioners, people with expertise in their content areas.”

In addition to providing the coaching and expertise the students need, they provide the program with up-to-date feedback on how to improve courses and to adapt to what’s happening in K-12 classrooms.

When Theuer learned from her adjuncts that many schools had begun to use Google Docs as a way to share documents among students, the same tool was incorporated into Brandman classes, giving new teachers a chance to use it the same way their future students might.

Brandman takes a similar approach to teaching credential candidates about assessments. “That’s another component we’ve infused in the program. We’re not just teaching candidates about the standards and effective teaching practices, but also how K-12 students will be assessed on those standards,” said Theuer, adding that credentialing candidates look at and discuss sample tests and even take practice tests to gain more complete understanding.

Another key to helping new teachers help their students is having a good handle on technology, said Larsen. “We make our candidates aware that they may have to teach some basic technology skills.”  While the purpose of assessments is to measure knowledge content, “technology can get in the way of assessing that,” said Larsen.

Collaboration works

Dr. Raymond Hurst, an assistant professor in the School of Education, mentors fifth-grade students in MIssion Viejo.

Dr. Raymond Hurst, an assistant professor in the School of Education, mentors fifth-grade students in MIssion Viejo.

Larsen and Theuer both said that the collaboration among faculty across program areas lies at the root of Brandman’s success.

“There’s this understanding that as a group of faculty, we’re here to meet all of our students’ needs,” said Larsen. “It’s very rare to have a leadership team composed of the dean and associate deans from all disciplines – special education, administration, multi-subject, single subject. We made sure all of our programs are moving in the same direction and actively look for ways to collaborate.”

When Larsen raised concerns that school administrators weren’t as informed as they should be about special education, Associate Dean Pat White immediately asked how Brandman could address that. The answer was to add IEP (Individual Education Plan) and special education law content to the administration program.

“We don’t have silos and our candidates benefit tremendously,” said Larsen.

Dean Chrsitine Zeppos talks about credentialing programs.

Dean Chrsitine Zeppos talks about credentialing programs.

Or as the CTC report put it: “In place of a department structure, full-time faculty work on multiple curriculum development teams. These curriculum development teams, working with their associate dean and dean, coordinate the recruitment, hiring, onboarding, mentoring, and continuing development of adjunct faculty. This structure not only empowers full-time faculty but also empowers adjunct faculty to have a strong voice in course development and instructional materials.”

The result, said the report, is educator preparation programs that model best practices at an extremely high level.

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