Sharing Faculty Expertise and Resources to Benefit Our Students: Our College of Education is On It!
By Dr. Wendy W. Murawski and Dr. Sally Spencer
Education Professor Dr. Wendy W. Murawski (left) and Assistant Professor Dr. Sally Spencer
Larry is a 6th grade teacher and excited about earning a master’s degree in education. His goals are to enhance his proficiency in teaching English-language learners and students with disabilities, supporting struggling families, supervising paraprofessionals, increasing his repertoire of strategies to teach math, and leading others within a school setting. However, when he met with a university advisor, it appeared that each of his needs could only be addressed if he took separate courses in different programs throughout the college. Larry walked away overwhelmed and frustrated, wondering if there was any way he could get what he wanted in one program.
By definition, a college of education is a group of academic departments that train college students in a variety of education-related professions. Each department in a college of education has its area of expertise. For example, faculty who teach elementary education specialize in working with young children; secondary education faculty specialize in working with older children; and faculty in special education prepare teachers to work with children who have special needs. We believe that expertise in a particular field is something to be proud of and something a university setting certainly endorses. However, as a result of our discrete areas of expertise, too often we see faculty working in isolation from one another, even though they may be teaching subjects with significant overlap.
The problem we discovered, however, is that K-12 schools don’t operate in isolation, even though colleges of education for the most part persist in teaching that way. Teachers, counselors, psychologists, and administrators need to work with all children, with and without disabilities. They need to know how to talk to families, make necessary adaptations to instruction, run programs, make meaning of assessments, and respect all cultures and communication preferences. At Cal State Northridge, our education faculty have years of experience as well as national recognition for various projects, publications, awards, and curriculum they’ve developed; however, historically, we tend to teach within our discrete areas of expertise without much interaction or collaboration. Hence, in an effort to maximize expertise across the Eisner College and in order to prepare our graduates to work collaboratively in schools, the Transdisciplinary Teacher Development Project (TTDP) was initiated.
The TTDP project was funded by a Federal Earmark grant from 2009-2011. It required participating groups to demonstrate multi-departmental collaboration and concrete outcomes by working together across areas of shared interest and common subject matter. In a nutshell, that meant faculty needed to collaborate, communicate, share responsibilities, and be able to demonstrate how their work was benefiting our students and their classrooms. Specifically, the word “transdisciplinary” involves crossing disciplinary boundaries to create a more holistic approach to education. Frequently, it means that individual faculty need to think we instead of me if the goals of the group project are to be met. This isn’t easy when faculty are often defined by what they uniquely bring to the table; to ask them to share their expertise with others in order to have others make that information their own is—to put it mildly—difficult!
For these reasons it was inspiring to see great interest among faculty when the TTDP was announced. Faculty were asked to work together to create educational projects that crossed disciplinary boundaries and improved the outcomes for our students throughout the College of Education. Fourteen faculty groups across the College applied to participate in the two-year project.
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