Preparing 21st Century Teachers

This story is featured in the Spring 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU’s Stout School of Education is preparing students to become 21st century educators. 


Rachel Lawrence remembers when the heads of 30 children turned toward her as she stepped into a real classroom for the first time.

The looks on their faces begged an overwhelming question – “Are you my teacher?”

But Lawrence wasn’t a teacher then. She was a freshman in her first semester at High Point University following a path her professors crafted intentionally for education majors.

“I remember asking myself, ‘Can I actually manage a classroom?’” says Lawrence, a 2012 graduate from Ohio. “But over time I became comfortable with that challenge. Getting in the classroom early validated that this was something I wanted to do.”

HPU’s Stout School of Education has a mission to prepare 21st century educational leaders. That means exposing future teachers to the demands of public education early in their academic careers.

It starts with a freshman practicum – two years earlier than most universities put education majors inside of real classrooms. The experiential element continues in their sophomore year, followed by student teaching in their junior and senior years.

Dr. Mariann Tillery, dean of the School of Education, knows the “early and often” approach to putting her students in real classrooms is key to the success of her graduates.

“The fieldwork our students complete in their freshman year is vital not only to their future,” Tillery says, “but also the future of thousands of children.”


Tools that Teach You How to Think

When faculty mentors combine the experiential components they’ve designed with a network of tools and resources they’ve also established for students, it pays off after graduation. They’ve seen it happen in alumni like Lawrence.

“What I say to everyone about HPU is that they prepare teachers with phenomenal resources in technology, pedagogy – you name it,” says Lawrence. “You’re provided with high expectations as an HPU student, but then you step into your first classroom and you realize you’ve already been given the workload of being a real educator.”

Faculty begin by infusing their years or experience as administrators, principals and teachers into challenging curriculum, then share that inside of the LEED-certified School of Education. The facility opened in 2012 and features SMART Boards, a children’s book library, math and science touch screen games, and a methods lab designed to look and feel like a real elementary school classroom.

Melissa Martins is a sophomore, but she was still a high senior when she saw the School of Education for the first time. She knew then that HPU was the place for her.

“I had never seen a school so up to date with technology,” Martins, a Chicago native, says. “I really thought, ‘I can excel here and become the teacher I need to be.’”

This year, Martins tackled the sophomore level practicum. Every Monday, she assisted a teacher at Union Hill Elementary by leading math study groups, crafting lesson plans or managing the daily needs of the classroom while learning how to interact with school staff.

Meanwhile, on campus, she’s learned from faculty like Dr. Jane Bowser, chair of the Department of Specialized Curriculum and Instructional Technology, who shows students not only how to use technology in the classroom, but how to do so effectively. Bowser even trained teachers at Montlieu Academy of Technology, a local magnet school, how to use iPads for engaged learning in their classroom. Coupled with a major gift from HPU to purchase the iPads, the school is now an official Apple School.

Then there’s Dr. Shirley Disseler, who’s established a one-of-a-kind Lego Institute on campus that welcomes thousands of area children to compete in robotic building exercises led by HPU students.

“With Legos, we teach children how to think, not what to think,” Disseler says. “Now we’re seeing school districts seek out our graduates because of their knowledge in STEM practices.”

Like Lawrence, Martins will be prepared to put theory into practice when she graduates. She’ll already have four years of experience doing just that.

“In my classes, I’ve reaffirmed my dream to teach,” she says. “I know I’ll be ready.”


A Path to Leadership

In addition to leading classrooms, education majors also want to achieve higher leadership opportunities in the field someday.

Tillery has seen that happen. Just last fall, one of her doctoral graduates, Myra Cox, became the superintendent of Elkin City Schools in North Carolina.

Educational leadership was HPU’s first-ever doctoral program, and it reflects the different degree options crafted for students. Whether an administrator, a principal or a superintendent, HPU offers a path. That includes the opportunity to obtain an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in just five years.

And a nearly $2 million grant the School of Education secured last fall paved the way for a principal training program that began in January. Forty-one of the state’s top teachers were selected by HPU for studies and fieldwork that will prepare them to lead as a principal someday.

“This program ensures that our local districts have a pipeline of leaders ready to lead our schools,” Tillery says.

That focus is central to the school’s mission – preparing teachers to shape the future of children.

“Twenty-first century teachers are challenged to teach all kinds of students in all kinds of ways,” Tillery says. “Being located in the third largest school district in North Carolina gives our students an incredible opportunity to get critical experience, and there’s no limit to the amount of preparation we’re willing to give our students to make that impact a positive one.”


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