Teaching Accomplishments for Mid-Tenure
I feel that I have accomplished integration of my teaching, research, and service. The Teacher Leader Academy that I mentioned above illustrates how my community-based teaching and service contributes to change locally. Through purposeful collaboration with the teachers and the principal to study the initiative, I am integrating research with my teaching and service. I make an effort in all of my courses to integrate my scholarship and my teaching so that I can not only contribute to the scholarly fields in which I situate myself but also so that I can continue to grow and learn as a scholar of teacher education, supervision, and school-university partnerships.
Second, the methods I use in my teaching are innovative for my field and aligned with current political reform narratives. Current reform efforts call for placing clinical practice at the core of teacher preparation (NCATE, 2010). Each of my courses include elements of clinical practice, and most courses (in particular all of the field experiences and the courses in the Teacher Leader Academy) place clinical practice as the center of the course; making the public school classroom and the issues and tensions that arise within it as the basis for the theoretical constructs we study. These innovative methods are explained in more detail below (pages 7d-f). I am pleased that I have been able to not only study and write about these practices, but also integrate them into my teaching. I strive to align my espoused platform (Badiali, 2006; Nolan & Hoover, 2014) with my platform-in-use; in essence, I am “practicing what I preach.”
Third, I have made growth in my student course evaluations. My evaluations were lowest during my first semester at USF. Over the course of these two and a half years, I have reflected on my teaching frequently in an effort to ensure that my students were not only receiving a high quality education but that my expectations were not overly ambitious. On course evaluations, students’ ratings were highest in “respect and concern for students” and “stimulation of interest.” Ratings were lower in “clarity” with regard to course objectives and assignments, and “communication of ideas”. With an articulated agenda of empowering others, I am pleased that my students perceive my respect and care. Within the classroom management course in UTRPP, I describe three different philosophical approaches – one whose approach is directive and authoritarian (Lee Canter), one who creates a community of respect and care but still authoritative (Linda Albert), and one who advocates for meeting students’ needs in order to create a community of learning and communal respect (Alfie Kohn). Whereas I envisioned myself in alignment with Linda Albert, my students likened me to Alfie Kohn, as I often prioritized meeting students’ needs in order for learning to occur. In practice, this was reflected in me changing the syllabi to meet students’ needs as opposed to enacting my original vision of the course with minimal regard for student input. Students’ comments in course evaluations indicated they felt such changes, although motivated by student concerns, to be disruptive; as juniors, they were used to syllabi remaining fixed and unchanged. During my tenure-earning years so far, I have grown in my ability to balance responsivity with stability. When adjustments to plans are necessary I am now better able to articulate the rationale and decision-making process behind the change. I have also grown in setting expectations that are high but reasonable with regard to students’ clinical practice in classrooms/schools.
In my first semester, I focused on building productive school-university partnerships with three new schools. I had high goals for students’ potential contributions to these schools, but then adjusted my expectations in line with students’ comments like, “set her expectations way to high.” The products I received from the students were high quality, but perhaps the effort behind such products was too hard for these juniors who were in their first semester in the UTRPP program. To assist with this ensuring my goals for student activities and learning remain high but reasonable, I regularly reflect on my teaching by writing reflective entries on my blog, just as I ask my students to do. I have long viewed blogging as an innovative method, and provide each of my students/residents with his or her own professional web space for the development of a digital professional identity. Initially, the residents were resistant to assignments involving blogging and the professional web space. Over time, however, they grew to see its value and importance, particularly after vicarious experiences such as learning that a resident in her senior year was offered a position upon graduation in her hometown because the principal read her blog. Examples of these artifacts can be found at: http://www.coedu.usf.edu/main/departments/ce/elementary_education/TRwebsite.php Some of the graduates continue to use their web spaces as a reflective platform now that they are teaching, indicating an appreciation of reflection as a critical component of their teaching practice and also that the digital platform of a web space is a meaningful tool for them.
My growth as an effective and well-received instructor is evident in the increased attachment and pride that my students have expressed during their sequential sequesters under my supervision. I have worked with the same cohort of residents for five semesters, and I attribute the change in course evaluations to growth in all of us learning. I made changes in my syllabi, I better articulated my rationale, and I made adjustments to expectations. Course evaluations from this same group of residents rose from satisfactory (during my first semester and their first semester in UTRPP, overall score of 2.91 in EDE 4301) to excellent in their final semester two years later (overall score of 4.52 in EDE 4940 their final semester). Similarly, qualitative comments in evaluations moved from containing some emotionally-charged negative sentiments to a preponderance of effusive comments like, “She is one of the most caring and flexible professors I have ever met. I learned a lot from the content she teaches, but I learned even more from the way in which she teaches it. I am inspired by her teaching philosophy and how she helped grow and shape my own teaching philosophy,” “Dr. Burns is a great professor and truly cares about her students,” and “Even with her growing family and her commitment to them, she still makes her students a priority. This is something that I admire and respect deeply about Becci.” As graduates, members of this first cohort of residents have sent electronic notes through social media like
“I just wanted to send you a message to let you know that all your hard work paid off! I received an E in reflection from my Swap Mentor (peer evaluator)…I couldn’t have done this without you or any of the PRTs. Thank you so much for always believing in us.”
Further evidence of effective instruction comes from consumer satisfaction, specifically from the leaders that have hired my graduates. Case in point, in FEBRUARY 2015, at a UTRPP Task Force Meeting of all principals, a principal who hired four of my program’s graduates commented that the most recent graduate class (the cohort of students I supervised) were far above any of his other hires and in many cases better than some of his experienced teachers. In fact, all twenty-three residents that graduated from my care in 2014 were hired prior to August 1st, and all but four were hired in HCPS. Taken together, the positive comments of the matured students and their employers and the successful graduation and employment rate supports my belief that high academic expectations coupled with support can produced beginning teachers that are well-prepared for their demanding positions.
At the graduate level, I have developed skills in differentiating my instructional approach to be particularly responsive to the subset of teachers in the Teacher Leader Academy who are instructional coaches. In contrast to the limited background knowledge of those students who were experiencing the content for the first time (the majority of students in the Teacher Leader Academy), the students with extensive background and experience in coaching need to be challenged in different ways. To accommodate these experienced students, I better utilized the PRTs who also work at the school and implemented alternative teaching (a co-teaching strategy where a large group is divided into smaller groups with each group having their own unique objectives to better meet their needs (Badiali & Titus, 2010). As a result of such instructional innovations, my most current evaluations corresponded to ratings of very good (e.g., mean overall score = 4.40 in EDE 6366 in Fall 2014). I look forward to further improving the evaluations of students with diverse background knowledge and course goals through continued modifications to course design and assignment options that are in line with feedback I solicit from prior and current students.
Finally, my agenda of teacher empowerment, school-university collaboration, and clinical practice mean that I make an effort to involve practitioners in my dissemination. At the 2013 annual meeting of the National Association for Professional Development Schools, I supported a presentation on an innovative practice we were using in UTRPP. My co-presenters included one graduate student, two teachers, one principal, and one resident. Following the conference, I supported the dissemination of this work, which was published in PDS Partners, a practitioner magazine for the National Association for Professional Development Schools. I thought that it was imperative that I supported our doctoral students in publications, so I positioned myself second in authorship yet I contributed greatly to the successful dissemination of this piece. Our principals and teachers have even less experience with dissemination, so having a successful publication was truly special.