MACTE - Michigan
Monday, December 10, 2018

Donna Fiebelkorn's 2014 EDTalk

Donna Fiebelkorn, Assistant Dean of the school of education at Lake Superior State University (LSSU), used her EDTalk to regale attendants with the saga of rehabilitating and reforming the teacher education at LSSU, from state-mandated corrective action entailing suspended programs to ranking 5th out of 33 on the same state assessment.

According to Fiebelkorn, whose experience ranges from teaching in a secondary social studies classroom to acting as the deputy director of the Peace Corps in Ukraine, LSSU’s ranking on state evaluations began a steady decline in the 2008/09 school year, going from “satisfactory” to “at risk” to “low performing.”

Fiebelkorn, who didn’t begin her work at LSSU until years later, attributed the falling scores to poor communication within the university. She identified academic departments designing core classes that were out of sync with MTTC tests as a significant factor. Despite a number of changes in office and internal organization, communication between the school of education and the university continued to break down, she said.

At one point, the Sault St. Marie community exhibited troubling confusion about the very existence of a school of education at LSSU. Being so close to Ontario, many students cross the border to attend LSSU. Fiebelkorn spoke of a time when prospective teachers would tell border patrol that they were going to LSSU to study education, and the border patrol officers, benevolent as they, would reply, “I don’t think there’s a teacher program at LSSU anymore.”

By the time Fiebelkorn was hired, she said, a new university provost was on board, and both championed an attitude of “blow it up and start it over again” in regards to the school of education.

And that’s pretty much what happened, but Fiebelkorn said she saw not a punishment in the work, but an opportunity to reestablish focus on what she saw as the fundamental tenants of any effective teacher preparation model: an intentional, clinical practice paradigm for field experience, a partnership for student teaching that creates a team environment in which the student teacher is as active a member as the cooperating teacher and the university supervising professor, and building relationships with our local K-12 schools.

The last point proved especially necessary in LSSU’s case, Fiebelkorn said, because the school was at a point where student teachers were scattered across Michigan and Ontario for student teaching, and the school possessed little information about what or how the candidates were doing beyond the paperwork they submitted.

To enact these changes, the school revamped its curriculum. This started with building relationships across academic fields to better integrated learning and communication in regards to preparation for MTTC tests.

The university also moved the college of education, rejuvenating its physical presence on the campus, said Fiebelkorn. They put much effort into creating a 21st century learning environment, consisting of couches, whiteboards on wheels, and tables for collaboration and use of technology. And in the continued effort to create a collaborative community with the rest of the university, the space is also open to other academic departments to host classes in, though the school of education gets first dibs, Fiebelkorn said.

Now, LSSU’s school of education is thriving, according to Fiebelkorn. Off corrective action all together, they just got approval this year to reinstate their secondary English program, and they are now looking at applying to submit an application for their secondary and elementary social studies programs, all of which the state suspended due to low scores.

Additionally, the school is establishing its niche in the field. At a time when the state

was wanting to close TEPs in the belief that there were simply too many teachers being prepared for the market, Fiebelkorn said, they appealed to the students, asking them why they chose LSSU to study education.

“Time and again they said, ‘It’s a small, public institution,’” Fiebelkorn said. “Most are kids from small communities going back to teach in small communities, and they see value in what we can offer, especially now, and recommendations from local schools and principals support that”

Fiebelkorn concluded by imploring TEPs to apply a student mentality to corrective action from the state. She admitted that without corrective action from the state, the university would have remained stagnant.

“Take the opportunity of feedback and challenge not as criticism but as an opportunity for improvement,” Fiebelkorn said. “The report card we got may not have been very meaningful, but it did give us info about who we are, and it was an impetus for change.”