Innovation Initiative: Pursuing a Curriculum Buoyed in Big Ideas

A student teacher helps children in a local classroom

A student teacher helps children in a local classroom

Grounded in the pursuit of resiliency and reflection, the College of Education’s Innovation Initiative is the most comprehensive change in two decades for the teacher education curriculum. Faculty are collaborating to infuse the new curriculum with advances that answer the needs of our future teachers, the students they will educate and an evolving society. This fresh focus will begin in fall 2021.

Six hallmarks of the Innovation Initiative were approved in April 2020 by the Teacher Education Council (TEC) chaired by Nancy E. Marchand-Martella, the Suzi and Dale Gallagher Dean of Education. Created in 1963, the TEC is comprised of representatives from all colleges with teacher licensure programs at Purdue, as well as student representatives, and serves as the review and approval body for all new teacher education programs.


1. Pathways to Additional Licensure and/or Specialized Preparation
The curriculum will include specific preparation to meet the needs of all learners. Evidence indicates that candidates need more experience with a variety of students and with meeting the various learning needs of those students.

“Every candidate will have the opportunity for specialized preparation in a particular pathway that focuses on a unique learner population,” says Kathryn Obenchain, associate dean for learning, engagement and global initiatives and professor of social studies education who is leading the Innovation Initiative. “For example, you can get a license in elementary education, but also do some special preparation in teaching either students with disabilities, who have gifts and talents, or students who are English language learners.”

Pathways are being created for preparation in special education and students with disabilities. A dual licensure program offers licensure in both special education and elementary education, and an Applied Behavior Analysis Certificate is an additional undergraduate pathway option which will require one additional course.

2. Expanded Field Experiences
All candidates will be in a field placement every semester. This hallmark is particularly important to secondary education majors who have noted the need and as a response to the requisite by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

A weekly, one-hour seminar is paired with the field experience. Laura Bofferding, associate professor of mathematics education, is working on the overall plan of study in elementary education, with a focus on the year three group. “The seminar will give students the opportunity to reflect deeply on their field experiences with a group of their peers to look intensely at ways to plan and teach effectively,” says Bofferding. “It’s an amazing opportunity to show them how teachers put a lot of thought into what they do and how it can be a collaborative endeavor that enhances the process.”

3. Year-Long Student Teaching
The student teaching experience will increase from one semester to two semesters. With year-long student teaching, the College of Education is exploring collaborations with interested school districts to arrange for a partially funded student teaching practice, tentatively titled the “Three-Two-One Model.”

With this model, one mentor teacher is paired with three student teachers, and the team shares two classrooms. “Our students find it nearly impossible to hold down a job while student teaching,” explains Obenchain. “That puts a financial strain on our students. With this model, the mentor teacher would receive their salary, and then the teacher salary that would go to a second classroom is divided by four. The mentor teacher would receive a quarter of the additional salary because that person is taking on oversight of two classrooms and the mentoring. Each of the student teachers would receive a quarter of the salary.”

The Three-Two-One Model allows for peer mentoring, more opportunities for one-on-one work with students and a division of teaching responsibilities. “This model directly addresses teacher shortages,” says Obenchain. “We have schools who have already told us that when we’re ready to have conversations about implementing the model, they are ready to learn more.”

4. Community-Based Learning Experience
All candidates will have a community-based learning experience with the goal of better understanding their students as the “whole child.” “This recognizes how important family and the community are in what a child brings to school,” says Obenchain. “We want our students to better understand the diversity of communities and understand that children come to school with a vast array of knowledge and skills that teachers don’t often recognize as being knowledge. They will be connected with a community agency such as 4-H, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America or Lafayette Urban Ministry.”

5. Virtual Educator License
Through existing coursework and collaboration with learning design and technology faculty in the College of Education, all candidates will meet the requirements for Indiana licensure in virtual education. “Indiana has a virtual educator license designed for those who want to teach at an online school or if you’re suddenly teaching remotely as with the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Obenchain. “It covers how to deliver online education, and we are working to infuse those virtual educator experiences throughout our program, so there will not be additional courses.”  Potentially, students will also become Google and Apple Certified Educators.

Once application requirements are met, Purdue will be the first public university in Indiana to offer the virtual educator license.

6. Induction and Mentoring
Throughout the first two years after graduation, the new teacher will be buoyed through online monthly meetings and mentoring. Rachael Kenney, an associate professor of mathematics education on the curriculum reform team, explains, “Currently our First Year Pledge says, ‘Reach out for help, and we will guarantee the help.’ Now, with the two-year induction and mentoring program, graduates meet online and have mentoring conversations and small group interactions to keep the community feel that we’ve built over the four years. We want them to lean on each other for ideas and keep in touch with their colleagues.”

Working Toward Inventive Virtual Solutions

The Innovation Initiative addresses teacher shortages and new ways to teach. The Transition to Teaching (TTT) program has been offered by the College of Education for several years, but now includes an option that is completely online. The TTT program is designed for people who already hold a bachelor’s degree and want to become a teacher. With teacher shortages, many school systems hire people with a degree who do not have teacher preparation. Now, a person can participate in the TTT 18-credit online program and earn a teaching credential while employed in the field or in another career.

Virtual reality (VR) simulation is a technological pursuit that will make a marked difference in student learning. David Sears, clinical associate professor of educational psychology and research methodology, and a team of faculty received a grant to work with Purdue’s Vision Center to develop VR simulations called “safe failure spaces.”

Students often struggle with parent/teacher communication. Because of privacy laws, schools can’t provide the experience of a parent-teacher conference to a pre-service teacher. Then, after the student graduates and starts teaching, they must run a parent conference with little or no experience. The VR simulation provides practice with parent communication in a safe space where they can talk through student successes and challenges, explain test scores, and more. Another use for VR simulation may be to practice classroom management.

Attentive to Purdue’s land-grant mission, the Innovation Initiative team is ever-mindful of what the state needs for its teachers, focusing on tough challenges and smart solutions to help future teachers move the world forward by compassionately educating our children.

Written by Angie Klink