Friday, July 10, 2015

Helping Educators Teach for a Sustainable Future

Sustainability Institute for Educators “Empowering Young Citizens for Sustainable Communities” is the theme for the 2015 Sustainability Institute for P12 Educators

ST. LOUIS, June 16, 2015 – The 5th annual Sustainability Institute for Educators, “Empowering Young Citizens for Sustainable Communities,” will take place June 23-25 at Mary Institute and Country Day School of St Louis (MICDS). Speakers and hands-on workshops for educators will focus on increasing awareness of sustainability issues, identifying the potential for young students to take responsibility for solutions, and helping educators generate and plan for student participation for sustainable communities.

“Many schools and businesses introduce initiatives like recycling bins or low flow facilities, but then continue other unsustainable practices like disposable pod coffeemakers, excessive photocopying, or even driving kids a half mile to school,” said Lori Diefenbacher, co-coordinator and founder of the event, and adjunct faculty member in the School of Education. “This is because people aren’t really thinking about the reasons behind the initiatives, nor were they involved in the decision-making. Our Institute will not only present hot topics for education for sustainability, but will suggest ways that educators can help transform young thinkers to be part of community decision-making and improvement projects.”

The three-day workshop will cover topics such as: 
  • Tuesday, June 23 - Defining Sustainability Citizenship: What does it mean to be a citizen in today’s world? Participants will explore this question on multiple scales, ranging from local to global, through the lens of sustainability. Through speakers and hands-on workshops, registrants will be introduced to Citizen Science, which is rooted in place-based learning. 
  • Wednesday, June 24 - Connecting to the Community: How can teachers facilitate a connection between students and the community that result in real action on a local issue? Registrants will join forces to collectively develop new strategies and activities for designing real-world participation in community issues. Attendees will then learn about organizations within the community during the afternoon Resource Fair. 
  • Thursday, June 25 - Learning from Others: Participants will choose one area of focus to study in depth with others on the third day of the Institute. Trainings by Project Learning Tree and Frog Watch will be offered (some with Certification); each attendee will select one. 
The event is hosted by Webster University, School of Education; EarthWays Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden; Green Schools Council of Madison County, Illinois; US Green Building Council–Missouri Gateway Chapter; Saint Louis Zoo, Education Division and Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School.

“In 2010 when I first had the idea of the Institute, I knew that I needed to involve community partners,” said Diefenbacher. “This has been the key to our success. We now represent six different institutions and each agency brings a different perspective and expertise to the table, and our diversity assures that the event itself will be sustainable, because its success does not depend on any one person or institution.”

The Sustainability Institute for P12 Educators costs $150 and includes sustainable breakfasts and lunches. Scholarships are available for those meeting the criteria. Graduate credit is also available. For more information or to register online, visit the event website.

This article originally appeared on:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Inspired By The Honeybee
by Azra Hadzic

This is the third of our three-part series celebrating the School of Education's outstanding alumnus and student speakers who were going to participate in the recognition ceremony on Saturday May 9th, which was rained out. 

Azra Hadzic graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts in education. This is the speech she had prepared to deliver. 

Don't Stop Believin'
by Jane Lucas

This is the second of our three-part series celebrating the School of Education's outstanding alumnus and student speakers who were going to participate in the recognition ceremony on Saturday May 9th, which was rained out. 

Jane Lucas graduated from Webster University in 2013 with a master's degree in applied educational psychology, and again this May with an education specialist degree in applied educational psychology: school psychology. 

Jane Lucas
Twenty one years ago this month, I graduated from another local university with a Bachelor’s degree in both English and Secondary Education.  Three months later, I was teaching middle school language arts with a fifth grade homeroom.  I was drawn to teaching at that time by an urge to positively impact children’s lives and to share my love of literature and writing.  I loved (and still love) my kiddos; connecting with them is a daily joy that, frankly, I may be addicted to.  Another big draw for me in 1994 was the autonomy of the classroom; back then, educators had domain over their space, with freedom to be creative and to teach independent of legislative mandates.  We worked together as teams, we were allowed to hug our students without fear of litigation, and we integrated art and music and movement into our lessons without concern for how it connected to the all-mighty standardized test.  We were considered experts on our subject matter and child development.  Parents and students respected us, and politicians trusted us.  Now, buzz words like “Common Core,” “AYP,” “data-based” everything, and “evidence-based teaching” infiltrate the teaching lingo, while the news paints quite a bleak picture of the state of education—both for students and teachers.   Today, everything that can be measured is measured, and those measurements are used to make life-changing decisions for educators, parents, and students.   Teaching recruiting is down, while teaching attrition is up.  High stakes testing means mandates to prioritize test content over big picture concepts.  Recess time is being cut, as are fine arts budgets.  Technology advancements have enhanced instructional capabilities but produced students who rely on electronic stimulation just to focus.  Soft skills are fading across the board.   In short, educating is a demanding job that drains a person physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  It’s akin to parenting—you don’t know how hard it really is until you do it.
          So why do it?  Despite what I’ve just described, there are many, many reasons to become an educator.  There is no greater joy than watching a lightbulb go off when a child finally understands a concept.  There is no greater satisfaction than realizing how much a student has grown and changed from August to May and knowing that you helped make that happen.  Tremendous feelings of fulfillment come when a lesson you worked on for hours not only teaches the concept you intended, but instills a real love of learning to kids.  Nothing warms you more than watching a pupil who once had no friends finally play at recess or sit at a lunch table with one or two others, smiling the entire time.  Listening to your students, reading their papers, meeting their parents, gaining insight into each of them and their own stories, helping them grow academically, socially, and emotionally, and watching that happen in real time—these are privileges that only educators get.  They are not to be squandered or forgotten.  They are to be celebrated.  
          How can we do this without losing our minds or selling our souls to the Common Core gods?  It’s not easy.  Here are some things I’ve learned over the last 21 years:
·       Make content relevant to your students.  Teach math concepts by using sports or music or video games.  Chose literature that contains themes that affect your students but that contain specific literary conventions.  Assign written work that connects to your students’ interests but includes goals for grammar or mechanics or types of sentences.  In short, work within the Common Core; evidence-based teaching can—and should—be created within your own classrooms. 
·       Talk to each other!  Group therapy is not just for a counselor’s office.  You are not the only one who will struggle with a student or a parent or an incredible workload.   It’s okay to share these thoughts and admit when you’re down—just remember not to turn it into a blame game that no one can win.
·       Trust your instincts.  If you think a lesson is failing, it probably is.  Redo it.  If your suspect your students are bored, give them a brain break or a movement break.   Follow their lead and trust that you will meet their needs by doing so.
·       Find your own rhythm.  I am a firm believer that teaching is more art than science.  Be your own artist.  Produce the lessons that speak to you and your students.   Be creative in the way you integrate mandated test content into your daily work. 
·       Remember that each child has his own story, and you only know part of it.  As tempting as it is to judge bad behavior, try to understand the motives behind it.  And never take it personally.  Be comforting when you can and supportive at all times.
·       Lean on those who are there to help you.  As a school psychologist, I am happy to assist teachers with anything that I can!  Please use the human resources around you as much as possible.
·       Carve out time for yourself at school and away.  Even five minutes alone in a faculty bathroom stall can recenter us.  I used to close my door during free periods just for ten minutes of silence, doing nothing but breathing (and occasionally crying or laughing).   Don’t neglect your own families or friends, and come back to school every Monday with a reinvigorated sense of what matters.  Give that gift to yourself as often as you can.  Without my own children, I would not be the educator that I am.
·       Enjoy the newness that every day brings in a school.  Every day is different, and full of surprises.  Expect that.  Learn to enjoy the adventure.   It’s truly a wild ride, scarier and yet more thrilling than any roller coaster at Six Flags.

Finally, as my son implored me to say with the title of this speech, which was inspired by our favorite show, Modern Family, and my favorite band as a child:  DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’.  Believe in yourself, your students, and your ability to make the difference that you want no matter the obstacles.  Don’t stop believin’ that you matter, that your work matters, and that the impact which you make on this world matters.  Don’t stop believin’ that you are appreciated, respected, and trusted.  You do make a difference for families, for our community, and for the world.  EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  You make little kids feel special and protected and smart.  You give big kids wise advice, encouragement to follow their dreams, and more than just a few high fives on their way to adulthood.  Don’t stop believin’ that EVERY THING YOU DO FOR A CHILD MATTERS.  It does.  And it is my privilege to be counted among you.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Meet The School of Education's 2015 Outstanding Alumnus: Dr. Chris McGee
by Dean Brenda Fyfe

Saturday, May 9th was Webster's 96th Commencement Ceremony for our 2014-2015 graduates. It was a day of celebration, it was a day of tradition, it was a day of rain. The School of Education's ceremony was cut short so we were not able to honor our outstanding alumnus or hear the speeches prepared by our student speakers. For the next three days we will share these speeches on our blog.  

This is the speech Dean Fyfe had prepared to introduce the School of Education's 2015 Outstanding Alumnus, Dr. Chris McGee. 

This year I am pleased to introduce Dr. Chris McGee as the 2015 Outstanding Alum from the School of Education. Chris epitomizes what we hope each of our graduates will become – a lifelong learner, a leader, and an advocate who, as Pablo Casals once said, “We all must work to make this world worthy of its children.”  Throughout his career and his personal life Chris has demonstrated a fierce commitment to the welfare of children.

President of Webster University’s Alumni Board of Directors, Dr. McGee is an acclaimed educator who has held teaching and leadership positions in the public school districts of Kirkwood, Mehlville, and Webster Groves, where he currently works as curriculum coordinator.  In every setting he has been a leader in technological advancement in education. He is an Edtech Innovationist, co-founder of EdcampSTL, and founder and CEO of ConnectED Learning.  His e-publication Redefining Professional Development Through Edcamps documents this innovative approach to professional development.  

His honors and awards include:
  • Apple Distinguished Educator, 2013
  • Excellence in Education Award – St. Louis Magazine, 2014
  • Phi Delta Kappa Emerging Leader, 2013
  • Peabody Energy Leader in Education, 2014
  • Top 100 Experts in #eLearning and #edtech –, 2013
  • Featured in Daily Edventures by Microsoft Corp, 2013
  • Midwest Spotlight Educator – Cooperating School District, 2014
  • Nomination:  National Life Changer of the Year – National Life Group, 2014 

It is easy to see why Chris has earned the award of Outstanding Alum. He exemplifies the kind of graduate we aim to produce at Webster University, someone who has achieved individual excellence and demonstrates global citizenship.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Educational Technology Student Reflects on Her Development as an Educator

By Mary Meadows, MA'93, MAT'08

 Mary Meadow's 3rd grade students assemble a robot.
As Curriculum Coordinator for Junior Kindergarten through Grade 6 at Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School, I often reflect on my experiences that led me to this rewarding position. The evolution of technology and its role in education has piqued my interest from the early stages when the first floppy disk appeared. Recalling the fearful look of my colleagues gathered around staring in wonder at this small and unusual item with such powerful but unknown presence, I knew at that moment that technology would influence the course of education. I also knew at that moment that I did not want to distance myself from its influence because I was quite sure that it was here to stay and likely to have a profound impact on education.

As my career evolved with experiences encompassing elementary education and business, I continually found innovative ways to engage my students and colleagues in learning. Passionate about the use and integration of technology, I continued to strive to improve my understanding of its purpose in the educational realm. It was clear to me that the intentional and appropriate use of technology would serve to engage students in developing their own passion for learning. Striving to make sense of the quickly evolving technology and its relation to learning, I set out to engage in advancing my own education.

Students in Mary Meadow's robotic class program their robot.
Recalling my first meeting with Dr. Ralph Olliges as vividly as the first look at the floppy disk, I remember my reluctance to commit to years of study alongside an abundant career and family life. However, with careful encouragement and questioning Dr. Olliges convinced me that what I had set out to do was quite achievable given the passion and commitment that already sparked my enthusiasm surrounding educational technology. The program would allow me to channel my creative thinking and energies into projects related directly to the needs of my students in the classroom. Through formal and informal collaboration, online and onsite, I created, designed, developed, and implemented learner-centered and content-centered projects for use in the classroom while achieving a Master of Arts in Educational Technology.

Mary Meadow's 3rd grade students test their robot.
As Oak Hill’s Curriculum Coordinator, I work with the faculty, staff, and students to align technology resources with curricular goals, develop web pages, and coordinate opportunities for learning through global collaboration. I am currently in the process of developing and implementing a robotics program for the students at Oak Hill. Through various grant opportunities, students in Kindergarten through Grade 6 are introduced to robotics with age appropriate activities integrated with curriculum. Third grade students recently showcased their work related to their animal adaptations studies at the Midwest Education Technology Conference (METC) Student Innovation Station. Second grade students are busy developing adventure stories with robotic characters. These students are engaged in creative and collaborative work with each robotics unit closing with sharing of their work.

In an effort to reach beyond my school community, I serve as a member of the LEGO Education Advisory Panel (LEAP) and as a Discovery Education Network STAR Educator. I am grateful for the influence that Webster University faculty has had on my career, not only influencing my knowledge and use of technology, but also the emphasis on creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

More information about the School of Education's programs, including the Master's of Educational Technology, EdS in Educational Technology Leadership, Mobile Technology in Education Certificate, and Online Teaching and Learning Certificate can be found on our website

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Applied Educational Psychology Students, Faculty Receive ‘Shining Light’ Award for Ferguson Research

Webster University faculty and students were among the recipients of 2015 Shining Light awards for their research on Ferguson.
Webster University applied educational psychology faculty and students were among the recipients of 2015 Shining Light awards for their research on response to Ferguson in 54 local schools.
Students and faculty in the Webster University School of Education were recently honored with a Shining Light Award from Missouri Families4Families.
The award was given to the students for the research they conducted on area schools’ reactions to the crisis in Ferguson, under the guidance of Deborah Stiles, professor of Applied Educational Psychology and School Psychology, and Jameca Falconer, adjunct faculty member.
Students spent more than five months discussing, studying and writing about schools’ responses to the Michael Brown shooting. Their investigation included analyzing data from 54 schools, reviewing Ferguson lesson plans and curricula, studying media coverage, and interviewing two inspirational school administrators in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting.
Shining Light Awards are given to individuals, groups, teams or organizations who have acted as an outstanding support for children who deal with social, emotional and behavioral health challenges and work to enhance the future of children and their families.
Rene Murph, a department associate in the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs is on the board nominated them for the award. Murph is also on the board for Missouri Families4Families and serves as the St. Louis area representative for the organization.
On all, 13 awards were given out at the 8th Annual Shining Light Awards April 11 in Jefferson City, Mo. Mark Stringer, director of the Division of Behavioral Health at the Missouri Department of Health, presented the awards.

More information about the School of Education, the MA in Applied Educational Psychology, the EdS in Applied Educational Psychology: School Psychology and other programs can be found on our website

This article originally appeared on:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Both sides of the classroom

For special education major Dawn Emmons, the most memorable aspect of being a student teacher was when students showed they understood what she taught, like when she taught math to a girl who was a grade-level behind.

“One day, she stopped me and showed me how to do the problems without me having to teach her again,” Emmons said. “Moments like those are what being a teacher, even as a student, is all about.”

Emmons, a senior at Webster University, said teaching was always something she wanted to do.

“I chose special education because I babysat two autistic boys,” Emmons said.

That’s different from fellow student Lauren Grover, who started as a journalism major. About a week or two before classes were set to begin, she decided to change her major to education.

She said teaching has always been in her blood. Her mother and grandmother were both teachers.

“I’ve always kind of grown up in a classroom,” Grover said.

Grover is currently a student teacher for sixth graders at Nipher Middle School in the Kirkwood School District. She taught seventh graders beforehand. Her major tailors toward middle school and her subject specialty is English.

“You want to develop positive relationships with students that age (12 and 13), but you also sometimes have to be stern,” Grover said. “You can’t always be their best friend.”

Jan Willcox, director of apprentice teaching and field experience at Webster, said all students must adopt a variety of skills to be successful student teachers.

“They have to have a good sense of humor, flexibility, good social skills and good time management,” Willcox said. “It’s fine to be friendly, but you have to think about the education of the whole class. You can be strict, but you need to be fair.”

Emmons and Grover agree balancing both the student and the teacher aspects can be difficult. They work on assignments simultaneously for Webster and the school they teach at. They also have to do work for the state in order to get certified. 

“I like to plan things ahead of time,” Grover said. “I found that with student teaching, you can’t do that all the time. Sometimes, things can change on the spot.”

Willcox works with many students as they get field experience.  Unfortunately, there are students who have told her that, now that they’ve had the experience, they are convinced education isn’t for them.

“Those are heartbreaking experiences,” Willcox said.

There were times when Grover questioned whether or not teaching was something she really wanted to do.  But she had massive support to help pull her back.

“I think having my mom be there for me and give me what I need to learn classroom management has always kept me coming back,” Grover said.

Willcox said being a teacher isn’t just an 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. job. There’s a lot of planning that goes into their classes the very next day and the meetings before or after hours. Emmons said the most important thing she learns from her students is patience.
“You have to understand your students, and that can take time,” Emmons said.
Emmons believes prospective educators must have drive and commitment. Coming in to work upset or moody will not fly, as it can affect the personalities of the students.

Grover did feel a little air of intimidation when she first began student teaching under the eye of a teacher with 15 years of experience.

“The students have had this teacher for most of the year,” Grover said. “As someone who came in halfway through the year, it was definitely a difficult adjustment.”

Willcox believes it can be hard for professional teachers to adopt an apprentice, as no one really knows what’s at stake for the students.

“It’s really hard for them (professional teachers) to give up that responsibility to those who are just learning to teach, no matter how good they are,” Willcox said.

Grover’s favorite moment came from a lesson she created that was a play on Pandora’s Box and tied to Greek mythology. The lesson involved her bringing in a box and having the class think of evils in the world, write those evils on pieces of paper, and put those pieces in the box.  Grover then closed the box.  Once that was done, the class then discussed symbols of hope so the evils could be set free.

“That’s something that seventh graders still ask me about even 4 months after it happened,” Grover said. “They ask me if I ever opened the box (to see what the students wrote down).”
The box remains closed to this day.

This article originally appeared in the Webster Journal.

For more information about the School of Education and our Missouri teacher preparation programs, visit our website at