Monday, March 23, 2015

Putting Theory into Practice One Word at a Time

Tutoring at Edgar Road ElementaryWebster University’s School of Education gives students the opportunity to enhance their learning experiences by giving real world opportunities.
ST. LOUIS - For three years, Webster University School of Education students have been teaching reading literacy to children at Edgar Road Elementary School as part of the Methods of Teaching Elementary Reading course. Tutoring elementary students is more than a class requirement - it is an opportunity to put theory into practice and grow as a future teacher.

“I remember being a student and realizing that you can only take so much through your ears,” said Paula Witkowski, professor in the School of Education. “After so much listening, reading and taking notes, it doesn’t make any sense until you're actually out there in the real world doing it - the only way you learn how to be a teacher is to do it.”

This program began in 2012 with Webster University students teaching at Pershing Elementary School in University City, but the program currently is at Edgar Road Elementary School in the Webster Groves School District.

When Webster University students visit the school, they first observe the teacher by simply watching and listening. AfterStudents tutoring at Edgar Roadmaking observations on the teacher’s style, methods and the material covered, the students then put their skills to the test, working with kindergarteners and first and second graders. They complete a variety of different exercises involving reading and comprehension over the course of the year with the younger students.

Erin Rasmussen, a junior in Webster University’s School of Education, said being inside a classroom and applying the theories learned in the classroom has been the most useful part of her education.

Last semester, Rasmussen worked with pre-Kindergarten students at Mason Elementary School for her early diversity observation hours. She also tutored students in a reading literacy program in the fall at Soulard School. She enjoys tutoring because she feels it is great preparation for her future teaching career.

“Knowing the content and being able to help students that are struggling is rewarding,” said Rasmussen. “You get to understand how to help the children and what methods and teaching practices work.”

Rasmussen’s favorite part about teaching children at Edgar Road Elementary School is seeing her students’ progress. Even something as simple as a student understanding just one new word, makes her feel she has a purpose in her career choice.

“This program gives Webster students more access to simulated teaching and interaction with elementary students in a supervised setting,” said Carol Zimmer, teacher at Edgar Road Elementary School. “They are able to get instant feedback, instruction and support in their teaching skills as they enter the field of education.”

Rasmussen believes the University does a tremendous job in helping students put theory into practice. Having more programs like this in place can give students the edge they need when applying for jobs after graduation.

“Learning the terminology and being able to be more marketable once I am looking for a job makes me feel confident,” said Rasmussen. “You get to make your own reflections and observations. I think it really helps to have a school that values both theory and practice and gives you the opportunities to know what you’re really getting yourself into.”

Witkowski sees a bright future for this program and hopes to add higher-grade levels and different subjects to give students in the School of Education more opportunities to grow and learn.

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Announcing our New Doctoral Program

The School of Education’s new Doctor of Education (EdD) inTransformative Learning in the Global Community will begin in June, 2015 at the home campus in St. Louis, MO. This doctorate is designed for individuals who are seasoned scholars, with two master’s degrees (or equivalent), or an education specialist degree, and who desire to continue to grow intellectually and make a change in themselves and in the global community.

The program’s curriculum consists of at least two years of advanced coursework. Students will engage in global service learning internships, interdisciplinary courses and dissertation research.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the program’s curriculum, admission requirements, and faculty are invited to attend an Information Session either on Monday March 9th in Webster Hall Room 222, or Monday March 16th in the Webster Groves Room, Webster Hall. Both sessions will begin at 5:00pm. Webster Hall is located at 470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO 63119.

Alternatively, inquiries can be directed to the program’s Director, Dr. Mary Bevel, at 314-246-7504 or Information about the School of Education’s programs can be found online at

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Ferguson Crisis in the Classroom

Webster’s University’s Applied Educational Psychology Program Reviews Responses to the Michael Brown Shooting in 54 St. Louis-area Schools.
(March 2, 2015) – Media outlets from around the world descended on Ferguson in 2014 covering the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and putting St. Louis in a global spotlight. News stories focused on the facts and rumors of the case, the effect on businesses, racial history of the area, civil rights and the response of law enforcement. Students and faculty members in Webster University’s School of Education saw one group that was not getting the media’s focus – children and youth in schools.

“After August 9 we started thinking about what could we do and how can we help the kids in schools because nobody was talking about how children and teens might be affected,” said Deborah Stiles, professor of Applied Educational Psychology and School Psychology at Webster University. “The overwhelming majority of students in the Applied Educational Psychology programs are working in area schools – they’re on the front lines. We knew we had to take our knowledge of psychology and bring that understanding to children and youth in schools.”

The School of Education quickly created a class called “The Impact of Community Violence and Racial Strife on Children and Youth in St. Louis Schools.” Students of that class along with additional students from an Applied Research class and other Applied Educational Psychology programs worked together for more than five months discussing, studying, and writing about schools’ responses to the Michael Brown shooting and the resulting crisis in St. Louis. The 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.

Deborah Stiles, along with Jameca Falconer, an adjunct instructor at Webster University, and students in the class presented the findings of the research at the 32nd Annual Winter Roundtable at Teachers College in Columbia University. The Winter Roundtable is the longest running continuing professional education program in the United States devoted solely to cultural issues in psychology and education.

“We found that most schools had a minimal response to the Ferguson crisis,” said Stiles. “Some schools had a moment of silence ‘for peace’; some told staff that they should change the subject if Ferguson were to come up in the classroom.”

The faculty and student researchers categorized schools according to grade level, distance from Ferguson, percentage of Ferguson presentation African-American students, extent of the school’s response and the psychological and educational benefits of the school’s response. Schools were rated from least to most extensive in their response and least to most beneficial in their response.

Sonja Brewer, an area educator and student in the Applied Educational Psychology: School Psychology program describes how the complexity of the Ferguson crisis created challenges for area school leaders.

“Broaching these subjects seemed to invite trouble if brought up in a school environment,” said Brewer. “Students were coming in with pre-conceived notions, rumors and fears regarding the Michael Brown shooting and there was also no guarantee that teachers would be totally objective and divested of their own emotions and opinions. Therefore, it became the easier route to have one minute of silence.”

Of the 54 area schools studied, only seven schools provided a response with positive and meaningful psychoeducational benefits for students. Secondary schools with a positive response encouraged discussion groups on race relations, created Teen Summits or used support materials provided by the Morningside Center in New York. Discussion questions in the lesson plans focused on getting the students to listen to each other, share their frustrations about the crisis in a healthy way and learn about history, civil rights and conflict resolution. In regards to the Michael Brown shooting, students were taught to critically analyze evidence and to draw their own conclusions.

Early childhood and elementary educators faced challenges in figuring out a healthy way to raise the subject that was appropriate for the age and emotional development of students.
“Our research showed it is possible to discuss these complicated topics within the early elementary grades,” said Stiles. “If the discussion is guided by adults who are aware of the cognitive and social-emotional needs of young children, they can be addressed without upsetting or frightening children.”

One successful program in this elementary age group encouraged students to send “Welcome Back” cards to Ferguson students once they returned to school and then discussed segregation and prejudice in social studies curriculum.

According to Stiles, “One area school district ‘got it right’ in their approach - the responses of that school district were developmentally appropriate. The Early Childhood Center participated in an area-wide effort known as Hearts for Ferguson wherein all 11,000 students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District were intended to receive a heart to symbolize community support. At the middle school level, select students took part in all-day experiential discussions on diversity and equality and the high school students met weekly to discuss topics related to race.”

In an interview, that district’s superintendent explained that they were not afraid to face this crisis and wanted to make sure their community had an understanding of what was going on. According to the superintendent, “This work about social justice and equity is what we value and the central part of what we do. So, we’re not afraid of this; we’re not afraid of laying into this crisis and helping everyone understand it.  We believe that the [Ferguson crisis] is a learning opportunity for our kids.”

Ferguson researchers at Columbia UniversityThe Ferguson crisis was also a learning opportunity for the Applied Educational Psychology and School Psychology students at Webster University. For student Sonja Brewer the crisis showed the importance school psychology as it is currently practiced.

“School psychologists are no longer defined as test-toting employees,” said Brewer. “Their role has evolved and expanded with a paradigm shift toward treating the ‘whole’ child. More than ever before, there is a great need for school psychologists in schools and clinical settings. Equipping graduate students in Applied Educational Psychology: School Psychology is to help, on a greater scale, those communities such as Ferguson, which have some traumatized and educationally disenfranchised students so they can be helped at earlier stages in life with evidence-based practices and interventions made on their behalf.”

Stiles hopes the research helps school districts recognize the importance of “courageous conversations” about race, developmentally appropriate education, and the value of school psychology and school psychologists. The symposium and roundtable discussion at Columbia University helped promote the findings of the research study to educators across the United States. The Applied Educational Psychology programs just submitted an article titled, “Practicing Psychology in Challenging Times: Schools and the Ferguson Crisis” for publication in an international journal in child psychology. Additionally, Missouri Families 4 Families has nominated the Applied Educational Psychology students, Stiles, and Falconer for a Shining Light Award for their research.

For more information on the Applied Educational Psychology program and the work that they are doing, please click here.