college of education | fall 200
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Terrific Teachers


It would be easy if in recognizing and honoring excellence in the classroom we could boil down teaching to the age-old standby of the lecture. As such, all we would have to do is listen to the lecture and determine whether it was well organized, coherent, and accurate. We might even look to evaluate whether the educator presented the information in an engaging or illuminating fashion, and to what degree the material reflected the latest knowledge on the subject.
Then, it would be just a simple matter of metrics, of scoring and tabulating. The highest scorers or those over a certain benchmark would be deemed excellent teachers and that would be that.
If it were only that easy.

The trouble, of course, is that lecturing is not a synonym for teaching. In some cases, lecturing may not even be the desired or most effective approach. So given the complexity of teaching and the seemingly endless variables involved, can we truly identify outstanding teachers in any kind of systematic way?

For Dean Carole Ames, the answer to that question is a resounding yes, and she set the College of Education on a path to do that by establishing the Excellence in Teaching Awards in the fall to recognize superb educators on the faculty and among the college’s graduate teaching assistants.

In one sense, it was for her a statement about the importance that teaching plays in the tripartite mission of the college. Along with research and service to the field, teaching matters at the college and excellence in the postsecondary classroom is worthy of recognition. Yet it was also a desire to engage the college in a thoughtful process of understanding and identifying outstanding achievement in the teaching ranks and making that excellence transparent to an organization, especially one charged with preparing k–12 teachers.

“When we talk about excellence in teaching, it’s often been defined in higher education as student evaluations of instruction at the end of a course,” Ames said. “That isn’t sufficient in any sense of the word. It doesn’t capture the entire picture.

“The Excellence in Teaching Awards are a beginning in terms of how we might make teaching more public and define it within the rubric of scholarly teaching and learning. It’s an effort to define what we mean by high-quality teaching, and make that excellence visible.”
In the spring, a committee composed of professors and graduate students selected four faculty members—Kristen Renn, Cheryl Rosaen, Christina Schwarz, and Jack Smith—and three doctoral students—John Lockhart, Craig Paiement, and Jane Pizzolato—as the first recipients of the College of Education Teaching Excellence Awards.

A Tough Task

The selection process was not easy. Professor Suzanne Wilson, who headed the selection committee, said that committee members sometimes felt like historians or social scientists in that they had to analyze artifacts collated in a nominee’s portfolio and weave the pieces of information into an image of a teacher’s practice.

That was difficult enough. But teaching—and excellent teaching, to be sure—has many dimensions. There is all of the planning that goes on before any teaching even takes place. And how does one consider or evaluate the interaction with students online or in person? Should changes a professor or teaching assistant makes to course content be part of the evaluation? What about external forces such as changes in the academic program or the culture of a specific department? All of these issues can have profound effects on the actual teaching that goes on, but they can be hard to ascertain and factor in the process of assessing excellence, Wilson said.

For that reason, it was a harder and more elusive task than it might have seemed initially. Evaluating a teacher’s practice is tricky business. On the one hand, a great syllabus doesn’t mean that the teacher who wrote it is a great educator. On the other hand, if a teacher is articulate, eloquent, and dynamic in the classroom, it doesn’t necessarily follow that students learned anything. “It was very hard to try to figure out how to take these artifacts and use them to construct a case that persuaded all of us that someone was a good teacher,” Wilson said.

The committee was able to draw on a number of artifacts. The portfolios included such things as videotapes of the faculty members and doctoral student teaching, pictures, syllabi, narratives written by the educators, and examples of student work. In addition, the committee interviewed the candidates and that opportunity was for Professor Bob Floden, who served on the committee, invaluable.

Floden said that in evaluating teaching at any level, context can and often is everything. It is hard to evaluate a snippet of teaching without knowing what has come before and where the teacher is going. The ability to question a candidate was helpful in understanding what a faculty member or doctoral student was thinking and what they were trying to accomplish, he said.

For example, one graduate student submitted posters that students had done based on what they had learned in class. It was difficult, Floden said, to discern whether they reflected effective teaching or learning. However, when the committee met with the nominee, the student was able to explain the connections his students had made and why the posters demonstrated important learning. “Without his interpretation,” Floden said, “it doesn’t show us very much.”

Even after the committee met with all the teachers and analyzed the materials in the portfolios, the process was challenging. The committee ultimately chose to factor such things as the nature of the various academic programs and departments in which professors and graduate students taught, as well as the varying levels of experience. The Department of Educational Administration includes only graduate programs, for example, while the Department of Teacher Education enrolls a large number of undergraduates. The committee decided that the contexts for teaching in each department are different, requiring different emphases from professors and teaching assistant.

It was for Wilson and the other members of the committee a remarkable process that yielded fascinating and thoughtful discussion—and, at times, debate—about the nature of great teaching. For more than a few on the committee, those discussions were among the best they had ever had on teaching. In the end, there emerged a consensus around the four professors and the three graduate students.

Exceptional Educators

The honorees are a diverse group. They span the four departments, teach different student populations, and have varying levels of experience. Jane Pizzolato, for example, was the most experienced of the doctoral students, having taught undergraduates in the teacher education program since 2001. (She is now an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburg.) Craig Paiement, in contrast, was a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Kinesiology, teaching mostly athletic coaches or those who planned careers related to athletics. (He is now an assistant professor at Castleton State University in Vermont.)

Likewise, among the professors, Rosaen has the longest tenure having been a member of the faculty in the Department of Teacher Education since 1987. In contrast, Renn joined the Department of Educational Administration in 2001, after having served in administrative roles in higher education. Schwarz, too, joined the college in 2001 as an assistant professor of teacher education. Smith, meanwhile, has been a member of the faculty in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education for 14 years.

What unifies all of them is demonstrable excellence as teachers. Members of the committee pointed out that all of the seven honorees were able to provide evidence that their students were learning in their classrooms. In addition, the honorees were excellent archivists of their teaching, often documenting their work in creative ways. Pizzolato, for example, submitted an annotated syllabus in which she explained the decisions she made in structuring her course. [See sidebar articles on the following pages for a detailed description of each of the award recipients.]

And, finally, all of them had a firm theoretical foundation for their teaching. “In writing or in conversation about their teaching, all seven had some way of theorizing about their practice and explaining the design of their courses and their behaviors as teachers based on theory about how students learn. Their teaching was conceptually grounded and coherent,” Wilson said.

Culture Change

As part of the award, the professors received $2,000 for use in their teaching, and each doctoral student was awarded $1,000. Early in 2006, the honorees will hold a forum in which they will detail the nature of their teaching. Already, the process has begun to solicit nominations for the 2006 honorees.

For Dean Ames, the awards will pay dividends for the college in various ways. Already, the honoring of the first group of faculty and graduate students has brought attention to the teaching that goes on in the college. That, she said, can only be a good thing. By being thoughtful and reflective of one’s teaching and to do so in a public way, faculty members in the college will be able to model those very skills more effectively to the next generation of teachers and scholars.

Members of the selection committee agree that the awards will have positive effect. It will always likely be a challenge to make excellence in teaching visible, especially in higher education. It is in the nature of the field to publish one’s work and rely on that approach to making teaching visible. “But there are other things that people can do to make visible the quality of their teaching,” Floden said. “This awards program is a way of trying to give examples of that as well as rewarding people who do excellent work.”


Kristin Renn
Department of Educational Administration

Dr. Kristen Renn is an assistant professor in the Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education (hale) program. Kristen exemplifies all the criteria underlying the Excellence in Teaching Award. She is as strongly committed to teaching and learning as she is to her students, both in and out of the classroom. Her courses and mentoring push students to think more deeply about issues and to question the given and the taken-for-granted in how we think in and about education. Students attest to her willingness to take risks, her contagious passion and enthusiasm, and the care that she extends to each and every student. Kristen has a devotion to issues of difference in her teaching and the ways in which that commitment to embracing differences is woven throughout her work in substantive and generative ways.

Especially impressive to the committee was Kristin’s commitment to a holistic conception of graduate education, one that extends beyond the boundaries of articles and books read or papers written. Kristin thinks, too, about the professional habits, commitments, and knowledge that her students will need—whether they are becoming resident advisors, university administrators, teachers, or researchers. She creates a community that transcends the boundaries of her classrooms, one that encourages her students to learn with and from one another. Her use of technology in teaching has played an important role in this community building. Kristin uses technology in innovative and thoughtful ways, allowing students new spaces in which to deliberate and reflect as a community of learners and teachers. Throughout her work, Kristen has shown a consistent commitment to learning from her own practice.

Cheryl Rosean
Department of Teacher Education

Cheryl Rosaen has for years grappled with the central pedagogical challenge of teacher preparation—creating experiences that help teacher candidates make sense of classroom life and the underlying principles that guide teachers’ and students’ actions versus attending to the mechanics of teaching and the pull of the immediate. Throughout her teaching, and particularly in TE 401, Teaching of Subject Matter to Diverse Learners, Cheryl has carefully designed learning experiences that enable novices to develop their abilities to use concepts and theories as tools to perceive and assess classroom situations, make judgments, formulate goals, choose a course of action and reflect on consequences. Cheryl developed IVAN (Interactive Video Access Neighborhood), a multimedia editor that enables teacher candidates to view, analyze, organize and comment on artifacts from classrooms, including video, photographs, audio, and text to investigate the practice of teaching. Cheryl is currently studying how her students interact with IVAN to assess the nature and value of the learning opportunities it provides them. Thus, Cheryl has begun to document what she refers to as a “modest, complementary role” that the video case material has played in her classroom.

Cheryl’s creation of the IVAN teaching cases, and her systematic inquiry into their potential to promote novices’ knowledge of classroom life, evidence her enduring commitment to her students’ learning, to the use of innovative technologies, and to the use of student input to inform her own teaching. Cheryl enacts the theorized practice, inquiring stance, and flexible thinking that she aims to instill in her students. She has remained open to a range of questions in her teaching and she has developed a scholarship on her teaching around a number of issues, including the use of technology in teacher education, the integration of math and literacy in elementary teacher preparation, and the preparation of teachers for racially and ethnically diverse classrooms. Her inquiry into these issues has not only enriched her own teaching, but has also advanced the field of teacher education more generally.


Christina Schwarz
Department of Teacher Education

Dr. Christina Schwarz works with both prospective teachers and doctoral students. In the brief time Christina has been at MSU, she has created and revised undergraduate classes that are at once intellectually rigorous and practical. Many elementary school teachers enter the profession put off by science—alternating between fear and ennui—and teacher educators must find ways to help those future teachers embrace science with more enthusiasm and confidence. Christina both engages her students as science learners and helps them understand several models of teaching (didactic, discovery, conceptual change, guided inquiry). She encourages them to think about and try the models that are the most effective for helping students learn science. They leave her classes more confident in their own understanding of science and, as important, more equipped to excite science learning in their elementary school students. At the same time, Christina has created a collaborative community of teacher educators who are working on similar problems. In TE 994, Practicum in Field-Based Teacher Education, she has constructed a seminar that might serve as a model for the induction of new teacher educators. The group involved in that course is quite diverse, including three graduate students with different orientations and experiences, a postdoctoral fellow, and other faculty. Christina uses that group as a forum for critically reflecting on her own teaching, for eliciting doctoral students’ ideas about what they have observed and what she might do, and for providing a professional space for students to vet their ideas as scholars, researchers, curriculum developers, and teachers.
Finally, Christina’s own enthusiasm for teaching well and reflecting on that teaching has had an infectious effect on her colleagues. As Professor Andy Anderson wrote in his nominating letter, “Christina talks [about her teaching] with others . . . both formally and informally. What’s happening in the elementary methods courses is a common topic of conversation around the lunch table in the science bay, partly because Christina makes it so interesting. She is refreshingly honest and analytical about what goes wrong as well as being enthusiastic about what goes right, and genuinely interested in others’ ideas and practice.” And, importantly, Christina has taken the next step in making her teaching public: She has documented her students’ responses to her use of modeling in her methods classes, analyzed those responses, and submitted in an article about that work to the Journal of Science Teacher Education.

Jack Smith
Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education

Jack Smith was nominated by a group of graduate students for his commitment to the professional development of doctoral students as teachers and scholars, writers, and researchers. Jack is the driving force behind the Mathematics Learning Research Group (MLRG), a group of students and faculty members interested in mathematics education. Frequently, the group’s meetings are a forum for students to get help as they learn to carry out and present their own educational research. Because participating graduate students have varying years of experience and come from different programs, MLRG
facilitates an apprenticeship of observation for newer students. The group intentionally embraces a broad array of research methodologies and questions, allowing students access to myriad compelling questions and research methods. Jack has multiple roles in MLRG: he helped to create it, schedules meetings, and acts as its conservator, working hard to maintain its student orientation. As students graduate, Jack supports the next generation in assuming leadership roles in MLRG. In MLRG meetings, students develop and practice skills of collaborating on research and critiquing others’ research. Although student voices are a priority, Jack is also an important contributing member. He offers valuable insights and perspectives that help students to craft and evaluate their work, all the while modeling high-quality professional critical analysis. MLRG exists because of Jack’s vision of what graduate students need and his dedication and commitment in realizing that vision.

Jack extends this work into his more formal classes. He artfully sequences content so that students are supported in learning critical reading and writing skills, as well as acquiring the tools they need for analyzing others’—and their own—work. Jack has a strong vision of the multiple skills and experiences necessary for students to develop as teachers and scholars, and he is committed to students’ holistic growth. He has worked to create a range of practices and structures that support that development, and he uses theory to inform his thinking about when and what doctoral students can and do learn from this range of experiences.


Jane Pizzolato
Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education

As a doctoral student, Jane Pizzolato taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in the teacher education program. Jane received her Ph.D. in 2005 and is now an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburg. Jane’s teaching and her research are interwoven: in her dissertation, she studied identity development in undergraduate students and she consistently uses that work to inform her teaching, helping students grow into their roles as purposeful, reflective professionals. Jane’s commitment to her students and her passion about student development was apparent in how she interacted with students, in how they described her as a teacher, and in how she planned and taught her classes. She models what she teaches, reflecting on her own work and using each class as an opportunity to learn with—and from—her students. She is known for being energetic, enthusiastic, and intellectually engaged.

Especially impressive in Jane’s work is her commitment to helping students learn to write in scholarly, professional, and effective ways. Her goal is to help them move from being students who experience education to become teachers who observe and investigate education. She works to help her students use evidence effectively to advance their theoretical and practical work, meeting with them individually and in groups, providing extensive written feedback, and carefully structuring assignments to support their development as writers. She crafted these assignments over time, by critically evaluating her own failures and successes as a teacher, by eliciting information from her students about what was working and what was not, and by revising assignments while a course was unfolding. Jane has demonstrated to her colleagues and the committee her commitment to being an innovative and enthusiastic teacher, with high standards for her students and a deep respect for them as learners.


John Lockhart
Department of Teacher Education

John Lockhart teaches TE 801/ 803, Professional Roles and Responsibilities, a central class in the internship year for students in the teacher education program. In teaching this course, John is charged with helping his students deal with myriad practical concerns that first-year teachers face, while also challenging them to push themselves harder, question their own assumptions, use theoretical perspectives to interrogate their practice, and critically evaluate the effects of teaching and schooling on all students. Central to John’s practice are the twin beliefs that new teachers learn to teach through dialogue and in contexts in which their personal experiences and practical needs are respected and addressed. John uses a wide array of pedagogical strategies to create an educative context for the interns. He facilitates discussions in which teachers consider broad questions about responsibility, authority, and power in k–12 school systems, challenging one another’s analyses of teaching and schooling. He carefully chooses readings that will provoke their thinking. He shares stories from his own teaching experiences, and visits their schools to learn about their placements.

In addition, John created an online forum in which new teachers could share stories, swap helpful hints, and find just-in-time help. Throughout this careful teaching work, John has also collected data on his students’ learning and experience, and has initiated a line of his own scholarship concerning learning to teach and the role of teacher education in launching new teachers who are committed to and prepared for the hard work of creating intellectually challenging, personally respectful classrooms in which all children learn. Early in his career as a teacher educator, John has made huge strides in creating curricula and a community that supports new teachers in the early stages of their development while also challenging them to keep growing.


Craig Paiement
Department of Kinesiology

Craig Paiement has been an active teacher in courses like Athletic Facility Design and the Psychology of Sport. In his teaching, he has exercised independence and autonomy, proactively redesigning his courses in the light of both student feedback and his own critical reflections of what has worked and not worked. Particularly impressive to the reviewers was Craig’s design and redesign of kin 454, Athletic Facility Planning, Design, and Management. Having taught the class for four years, Craig has taken initiative in a thorough redesign of that class, making it simultaneously more challenging and more relevant to his students. Based on his beliefs that learning requires the active engagement of students’ minds and bodies, Craig designed an elaborate series of assignments to support the evolution of students’ understanding of design. Students walk through facilities, and Craig prompts them to learn to see buildings and spaces in new ways. Students act as contractors and bidders in simulations, learning from the inside out how complicated it is to design good facilities.

Drawing on a wide array of pedagogical tools, Craig has students work in the field and then step back and look critically at what they learned. He has students interview potential clients; he presents relevant mini-lectures; he uses problem-based learning to present them with meaningful, provocative problems of practice. Throughout, Craig balances the need to make students feel that the work they are doing is personally relevant and meaningful, while also challenging them to think harder and write better about what they know. Through his work on this class, Craig has demonstrated his commitment to pushing students to new levels, to constantly searching out new ideas to enhance his teaching, and to create classes that are practically relevant and idea-rich.


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