Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2012

David Leb (MS12)
Photo by Andrew Campbell

David Leb (MS12) says, “Northwestern’s MSEd program provides an optimal balance of theory and application in an educational environment that values collaboration among passionate educators.” Leb teaches at Legal Prep Charter School in Chicago.

Professor Miriam Sherin
Photo by Ray Whitehouse

Professor Miriam Sherin leads an innovative “video club” for student teachers to discuss scenarios recorded in classrooms. Teacher candidates learn to understand students’ thinking and communicate better with students.


By Julianne Beck and Marilyn Sherman

Master of Science in Education (MSEd) graduate Zackary Ruelas (MS10) won a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching this year, selected from thousands of teachers. NU-TEACH alternative certification graduate Ronald Hale won the prestigious award last year. The SESP undergraduate teaching program was rated highest in the state by the National Council of Teacher Quality. It’s no accident that such awards find their way to SESP graduates and programs. All three SESP paths for teacher preparation - MSEd, NU-TEACH and the undergraduate program — excel at preparing effective teachers through a focus on innovation, research, collaboration and strategic use of technology.

Improving Education

In schools around the country, graduates take innovations from these programs to enhance the educational experience of their peers and students. SESP’s use of innovative technologies and diversity of interpersonal experiences assist graduates as they expand horizons and build for their individual and collective future. To improve education in the 21st century, the preparation of teachers and the subsequent implementation of best practices are increasingly critical.

“Our school is about trying to improve what is going on in education in a variety of ways,” says Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, director of the MSEd program. The program fosters improvement and innovation in education by emphasizing ethical teaching, commitment to diversity, and above all the importance of reflection.

NU-TEACH aims to reform urban schooling by educating career changers with strong academic content backgrounds to become effective teachers. “We help them develop the skills and understanding that are critical for teaching effectively in urban environments,” says Sylvia Smith-DeMuth, director of NU-TEACH. Tenured faculty, ongoing mentoring and application of data-driven research make the program stand out.

Unlike most of the other top 10 graduate schools of education, SESP also offers an undergraduate program in teacher preparation. Undergraduates benefit from the same faculty, philosophy and commitment to education reform.

Innovation with Impact

Hale and Ruelas illustrate how SESP graduates bring innovation into schools. Hale, who teaches fifth grade at Hayt Elementary School in Chicago, spans disciplines and domains in a “classroom without barriers.” He emphasizes hands-on science and technology projects, such as the development of apps. The relaxed atmosphere in his classroom encourages problem solving, discussion and questioning.

Ruelas, too, is known for his innovative techniques, including his use of technology and daily one-on-one conferences with his third graders at St. Malachy School in Chicago. A graduate of both NU-TEACH and MSEd programs, he creates unique interactive presentations that include audio and video as a way to accommodate students’ different learning styles, and he taps into technology with inquiry-oriented “WebQuests.”

Even after winning the Golden Apple award, Hale sought to take his practice to a higher level by enrolling in the MSEd program. As a master’s student Hale has been most impressed with the program’s emphasis on research in teaching. “Thinking about teaching from the angle of being research-based and teachers being involved in research puts the MSEd program ahead of many programs,” he says. He finds the intellectual approach “requires teachers to have a magnified understanding” and makes him more engrossed in teaching.

Top marks from schools

“I think Northwestern University is doing a really nice job of recruiting and preparing teachers for the classroom,” says mathematics teacher Ted Linnenbringer of Lincoln Park High School in Chicago, who has welcomed student teachers from SESP into his classroom for five years. Like other teacher mentors, Linnenbringer is impressed with the level of preparation the student teachers bring to his classroom, their interest in collaboration and their enthusiasm.

“Northwestern students are sought after and are often preferred as student teachers for several reasons,” says Jennifer Fisher, history and social studies department chair at Evanston Township High School. “As they are required to be in the classroom for almost the entire year, this gives them ‘a leg up’ with our students and with the school. … We have hired numerous former student teachers who can confidently start ahead of other candidates.”

For both Marilyn Havlik, former science department chair at Walter Payton High School and Susan Levine-Kelley, English department chair at Glenbrook South High School, what sets SESP student teachers apart is their preparation. “They are pedagogically prepared and know so much about the subject matter,” Havlik says. “The caliber of student and prospective professional from Northwestern is heads above other schools,” adds Levine-Kelley.

Students applaud collaboration

Corey Winchester (BS10)

MSEd student Annie Heller exemplifies the caliber of student enrolled at SESP. A graduate of Yale University who worked at Teach For America for two years, she is a Kappa Kappa Gamma Fellow. This fellowship was started by a group of teacher education alumnae who are members of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and who want to attract the best and brightest to elementary teaching.

Heller was drawn to SESP because of the teaching experiences in both urban and suburban schools. Now as a student, she highly values her group experiences too. “I learned how critical it is to feel supported... and how much it makes you a better teacher.” In her future teaching position, Heller plans to find a professional support community of peers like the one she has experienced in the MSEd program.

Other students and graduates agree that a sense of community is a hallmark of SESP. “The most distinctive quality about the teacher preparation at SESP is easily the sense of community and collaboration you experience as a student,” says Corey Winchester (BS10), now a history teacher at Evanston Township High School. As an undergraduate secondary teaching major, he says he could always count on SESP for resources - from intellectual conversations to ideas for student teaching.

Winchester transfers that same sense of community to his classroom. “I am constantly reminded that the power in education lies within the community that you create in your classroom utilizing everyone’s assets, collaborating with students, colleagues, parents, administrators and community resources,” he says.

Research with a purpose

Research is a defining feature of SESP teacher preparation programs, which stress research-based teaching. In the master’s program, each student pursues an in-depth research project on a topic of interest.

Through a yearlong course, students meet with a research group for feedback and coaching as they research their topics. This year students tackled topics ranging from perceptions of nutrition to higher-order questioning, teacher feedback on writing, differentiation in math, project-based science, student-teacher relationships, educational group gaming and international service programs.

“The master’s project sequence gave me many valuable tools for my future career in education. With the methods and mindset gained in this class sequence, I was able to walk away with the ability to research my teaching practices and improve my classroom,” says Lauren Phillips (MS12). “There are such amazing people in the class with you, and each person sees things differently or sheds a new light on your project; it was tremendously helpful.”

Mary Gallery (MS12) agrees. “For me, the master’s project was an opportunity to try something new as a teacher and figure out how to make it most beneficial for my students. It helped me find a way to address something that I felt was missing from my teaching.”

High-tech teacher learning

The forward-thinking philosophy of SESP encompasses a commitment to technology. Students in the Teaching with Technology class gain in-depth experience with wikis, gaming and personal broadcasting as they ponder how such emerging technologies can support their teaching philosophy. Candidates have access to equipment such as video cameras and iPads to help them reflect and expand their perception.

Through a program led by Miriam Sherin, student teachers can watch classroom scenarios and discuss them in a video club. Teachers across the suburbs and city volunteer to clip a tiny video camera onto a hat and record interesting interactions in their classrooms for future discussion. The results not only help teachers consider how to communicate better with students but also inform Sherin’s research.

“I’m looking at how teachers pay attention to what is happening in their classrooms,” says Sherin, who notes that the amount of activity in a classroom at any moment is significant. She believes that by reviewing video, teachers can better determine where to direct their attention. “We’ve noticed that teachers pay more attention to kids’ thinking in their classroom after participating in video club,” she notes.

Teacher leadership

In a profession that needs strong leaders, “our new teacher leadership concentration is part of the answer,” says Haroutunian-Gordon. This new curriculum prepares certified, experienced educators for non-administrative leadership roles, such as department chair.

The program will be one of the first aligned with new Illinois legislation requiring a teacher leader endorsement for certain positions. “Graduates will go into schools and be able to work in ways that they haven’t even begun to envision,” remarks Haroutunian-Gordon.

A commitment to innovation persists at Northwestern. Through the ongoing application of key principles and relationship building, graduates are moving ahead with firm footing.