Nancy Burstein Shares Secrets of Success
By Dr. Cynthia Desrochers, InnovatED Editor
Education Professor Dr. Nancy Burstein, Department of Special Education
Think of her as Nancy – Burstein with energy, totally engaged and doing the highest quality work. I certainly do and, therefore, sought to uncover some of the secrets as to why Nancy and her department have been so successful before she stepped down this year as department chair of special education. In sum, Nancy attributes their strength and cohesiveness to:
After over nine years as chairperson, Nancy leaves an impressive legacy, as she continues to co-direct an $8.4 million Teacher Quality Project grant with Dr. Sue Sears, who has succeeded Nancy as the new chairperson of the Department of Special Education.
To quote Nancy, “One of the most important assets to a department is collaboration among faculty, and our department encourages and supports collegial collaboration in everything we do.” To this end, the department begins by laying the foundation during their new faculty recruitment process, stressing the importance of collaboration to prospective hires. However, collaborating in no way pigeonholes a new professor; Nancy stresses that faculty are interested in a variety of different endeavors (e.g., teaching, research, grants, committee work), and as chair, she encourages each person to follow her or his own path.
Mentoring begins early in the Department of Special Education. Nancy pairs new faculty with a department mentor who shares common interests. Informal mentoring occurs as the pair meets to chat or have lunch, the senior colleague checking on how the newer colleague is doing and providing needed support. These relationships are win-win, as the younger faculty members just out of graduate school bring new ideas to the conversation and often assist with technological advances. Moreover, Nancy is quick to acknowledge the role of previous department chairs who established a rich mentoring and supportive department culture that she has tried to emulate – “the department chair serves the faculty.” She feels honored to have served as department chair for over nine years.
In addition, mentoring is taken very seriously during the personnel process in the department. The department personnel committee reviews Professional Information Files a few weeks prior to their due date to the Dean’s Office, providing suggestions to the faculty members as to how best present their efforts for College-level review.
Nancy shares, “We believe that it is okay to say no to some work opportunities to maintain a balance.” Early in a faculty member’s career, department members are encouraged to focus on their teaching and service to the department. This helps them develop a good foundation at the university and provides valuable service to the department. The chair has an important role in helping with this balancing act by not tapping the same person continually to assume new tasks.
“The chair’s role is to be there with the door open for faculty when they ask, What should I do?” This emphasis on just-in-time communication is the hallmark of any successful organization, and the Department of Special Education is a prime example of its power.
Continuing on ...
Asked her new focus as she moves out of the department office, Nancy indicates that she will complete the last three years of a five-year, $8.4 million Teacher Quality Project grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education. “Through this project we have resources each year to recruit a select group of 25 residents to a combined 2-year credential/master’s program called the Accelerated Collaborative Teacher Residency (ACT-R) Program. The residents serve in apprenticeships with teachers for a year and receive $35,000 of support over the two-year period.” During these two years, residents will earn their special education credential (in mild/moderate disabilities, moderate/severe disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing, or early childhood special education) and a special education master’s degree. A service obligation requires credential recipients to teach in a special education position at an LAUSD high-need school for three years. ACT-R has the following unique components, reflecting the principles of residency programs:
- Partnership with LAUSD and the College of Humanities.
- Cohort based, with ACT-R participants progressing through the 2-year program together.
- Apprenticeship, working along side a rigorously selected mentor teacher in a high-need school.
- Professional development with ongoing training for mentor teachers, administrators, and faculty.
- Tight alignment of university coursework (i.e., evidence-based practices) with clinical practice during the 1-year residency program.
- Emphasis on improving student achievement in English/Language Arts through the collection and monitoring of data in assigned mentor classrooms and schools.
- Supported 2-year induction program with a focus on student achievement.
Experience in this project has shown the value of professional development for cooperating teachers. As a result, the Department of Special Education has decided to commit departmental funds to provide professional development to ALL cooperating teachers in the department, including those working outside the grant.
The ACT-R program looks not only to develop high-quality teachers but also to provide continuity over time as summarized below:
- Year 1 – Special education credential and residency.
- Year 2 – Master’s degree and an option to participate in CSUN’s clear credential program. The resident is now a credentialed teacher with her/his own classroom in another school with a support provider. MA candidates will do an action research project in their own classrooms focusing on improving language and literacy.
At the conclusion of the Project, it is anticipated that 125 ACT-R graduates will be special education teachers in LAUSD high-need schools. To date, almost 50 ACT-R graduates are teaching in LAUSD, many in schools where their residency was completed.
Nancy concludes by pointing out that this grant informs the work of the Department of Special Education. A number of high-level LAUSD administrators and specialists are contributing to grant activities, participating in workgroups, teaching courses, demonstrating effective practices, and serving as guest speakers. CSUN and LAUSD faculty are working closely together to share district policies and initiatives and encourage evidence-based practices—a truly collaborative project that benefits both future special education teachers and students with special needs in LAUSD schools.
Yes, Nancy is truly Burstein with energy!