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Life Beyond Wheaton: Dr. Eckert's Role in Professional Development

Contributed by Jozua Van Bakel '19

Prof. John Eckert leading seminar

Professor Eckert is a passionate professor about educational policy, teaching quality, and leadership development. During this past semester, Dr. Eckert taught EDUC 201: U.S. Education Policy, an in-depth analysis of America’s overarching school policies and their implications for the schoolroom, as well as EDUC 306: Classroom Communication and Curriculum Integration, a rigorous preparation course for teaching effectiveness. Both classes broadened Wheaton student’s perspectives about their roles, responsibilities, and responses in their classroom context and their school contexts. He enjoys equipping his students with effective teaching tools and practices in order for them to help them become effective teachers.

Beyond his role at Wheaton College, Dr. Eckert assists states, districts, and individual schools across the country in their professional and leadership development. He meets with administrators and teachers from public and private schools in states such as California, New York, Texas, and South Carolina and facilitates a conversation about school improvement. He essentially asks, “What is one improvement goal for your school?” He encourages leadership teams of teachers and administrators to identify a shared goal, find two practices to discontinue and identify three observable pieces of evidence to track progress toward the goal. This goal-setting method helps school leadership to reflect on their school practices and approaches and take visible action steps towards their goals.

For his professional development method, Dr. Eckert uses a “collective leadership” model, where teachers and administrators gather and make school-wide decisions, forming their leadership team. In order to make effective decisions, the school is surveyed to collect actionable data, and after analyzing the data, the leadership team responds to the information to make well-reasoned decisions. This is crucially important because it allows the school leadership to understand their improvement needs. The leadership team, comprised of both teachers and administrators instead of solely administrators, share expertise among each other. Sometimes students are part of this planning process, too. This encourages a transparent culture across roles where knowledge and responsibility are shared.

He finds it especially fulfilling when administrators and teachers share responsibilities. Instead of asking “which role takes the responsibility,” the target question is “who has the expertise to take responsibility?” This allows teachers and administrators to try different tasks outside of their roles – which is not typical. Normally teachers are hired to teach, and administrators are hired to perform organizational tasks. However, with collective leadership, any persons can take on tasks regardless of their role. This sense of shared responsibility helps the leadership team trust and perform together.

As a consultant, Dr. Eckert's role is simply facilitation. He meets with schools once a month whether in-person or via video conference for progress checks. Teams review school goals, ask hard questions and provide insight into their decision-making. He works to see the big picture and the direction of the school’s decisions. These decisions ultimately benefit students. The behind-the-scenes actions of administrators and teachers cultivate a rich and healthy learning environment for their students. At times, his work is neither easy nor comfortable, but Dr. Eckert is passionate and persistent. He confirms this when he states, “I love my research and I love my work.”

Applications for 2019-20 Education Scholarships Due March 8, 2019

Those who have been accepted into the Wheaton Teacher Education Program (WheTEP) may be eligible and are invited to apply for a scholarship from the Education Department. Generous donors have funded ten different Wheaton College scholarships that provide funding each year for those majoring in education (elementary or secondary or special K-12). Some scholarships are need-based and require the 2019-20 FAFSA. Others are based on merit and the academic strengths of applicants are factored into scholarship decisions.

Each year between $75,000 and $100,000 is awarded to students, with individual awards ranging from $400 to $7,000 for the upcoming academic year. The application is relatively simple but also requires a 300 to 500-word general essay describing the rationale for scholarship consideration. A few scholarships may also require an additional essay or two, based on the focus of the scholarship and the agreement with the donors. See the online application for specific details on each of these essays.

Applications for the scholarship are completed online with the opportunity to upload the required essay(s). The scholarship application link is also found on the Department Scholarships page. Applications are due before spring break begins (March 9, 2019) while decisions are made in April and then announced at the end of the spring semester.

Mentoring Opportunities for Education Students

Due to the funding initiatives of Wheaton College, a mentoring line was added to the Education Department almost ten years ago. This resulted in the hiring of Dr. Jon Eckert and additional support for other department faculties in mentoring undergraduate students. Since that time, scores of education majors have worked closely with department faculty on a wide range of projects.

Currently, all eight department faculty are or will be working on different projects with small groups of students. Prof Vroom Fick has been meeting with students interested in the influence of language on education and has been analyzing classroom literature using culturally and linguistically responsive criteria. They presented their findings at the Illinois Resource Center Fall Conference. As the newest faculty member in the Education Department, Dr. Boehm is developing two mentoring tracks. One will support special education practitioners with their skill development, while the other will focus on special education research.

Dr. Kim's mentoring group consists of undergraduates heading toward Wheaton's MAT program. By his modeling and their research, they are growing as teacher/scholars and will be better prepared to conduct their own action research while student teaching. Dr. Jonas organizes a peer mentoring group each year to support the thinking and writing skills of the students who enroll in Educ 135, School and Society.

Dr. Eckert and Dr. Egeland also have ongoing mentoring projects. Dr. Eckert recruits interested freshman and sophomores and some continuing juniors who engage in the communication and support of recent graduates of the WheTEP programs. They assist with the annual education department alumni survey and update the WheTEACH website with that data as well as information about each state's teacher requirements. Dr. Egeland focuses on juniors and seniors preparing for student teaching abroad, exploring cross-cultural challenges and the survey responses of past international student teachers.

After student teaching, Dr. Lederhouse's group of seniors will explore how to more effectively teach struggling math students. From Jo Boaler's research on mathematical mindsets, participants will rethink their instructional practices with those in their student teaching contexts who struggled in math. And Dr. Morrison and those she mentors will lean into the work of John Hattie on making visible learning for literacy.

Wheaton students are fortunate to have these opportunities to work closely with faculty on projects of mutual interest. These mentoring interactions allow for further professional and personal growth for all participants.