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Launch Fall 2019 - Purdue University College of Education magazine

Innovation Initiative: An energizing curriculum transformation

by Angie Klink

The College of Education’s Innovation Initiative has sparked the most comprehensive change in two decades for the teacher education curriculum, which will have a new focus beginning in 2021.

“The new curriculum is going to be a gamechanger,” says initiative leader Kathryn Obenchain, associate dean for learning, engagement and global initiatives. “It’s going to set the College of Education apart, and it’s going to set our graduates apart.”

The curriculum transformation started with a series of 2018 summits, convened to gather data via focus groups and surveys. Input was collected from college faculty and staff; current and former Purdue students; and superintendents, principals and teachers from across Indiana.

The initiative is led by Obenchain, who also is professor of social studies education; Rachael Kenney, associate professor of mathematics education; and David Sears, clinical associate professor of educational psychology and research methodology. A team of about 50 Purdue faculty and staff are guiding the initiative’s areas, and about 20 of them participated in a summer work week to hone skills and develop ideas in those areas.

TEACHER EDUCATION SIGNING DAY • In May 2019, we hosted a new event — Teacher Education Signing Day — at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind., and at Harrison High School in West Lafayette, Ind. High school seniors who plan to major in teacher education at Purdue were invited to attend the event, which featured letter of intent signing ceremonies for student-athletes going into teacher education. We honored 10 incoming Purdue students as well as three Ball State University students. In the future, we hope to grow this type of event as we welcome all who are ready for the rewarding and challenging field of teaching. Pictured left to right: Audrey Hornbeck, Jadah Horace and Natalie Ralston.


1.  Field and clinical experiences

Data show that students and partner schools desire earlier and longer field experiences, targeted in more meaningful ways, to make connections in the communities where they teach.

“The time in the field is important. It gives our students a chance to practice the theory they learn in class,” Sears says. “And they must customize their teaching to the environment. So what classroom are they in, who are they working with in their classroom, and how well do they understand their learners in the community?”

One idea is to start students’ clinical experience in a community organization, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, during the first semester of their freshman year. Our teaching alumni have indicated that understanding the communities where their students live helps them to understand outside factors that influence learning.

2. Induction and mentoring

The issue of teacher turnover was addressed. Nationally, 30% of teachers leave the profession within three years after graduation and 50% leave within five years.

The college currently has a first-year pledge in place stating that if a graduate is struggling as a teacher in the field, they can contact the college for help. In the future, the pledge will be treated differently.

3. Meeting the needs of all learners

The new curriculum will better prepare students to tailor instruction for different learners. It will provide students with strategies to facilitate confidence in meeting the needs of all learners.

“We’ve recognized that the pledge is structured so a graduate has to be struggling as a teacher first, and we don’t want the situation to go that far,” Obenchain says. “We plan to put the pledge up front and say, ‘We want you to know that when you begin to teach, we’re going to continue to work with you.’ Instead of ‘We’ll come and help you if you struggle.’ ”

“With a classroom of 30 different students — some with special needs, some whose first language is not English, some with high abilities, some with behavioral issues — a teacher must have the ability to differentiate,” Kenney says.

4. Teacher education research

Before the summer work week, each member of the Innovation Initiative team was asked to submit a minimum of two research articles that were meaningful to them in terms of how to prepare students for their teaching experiences. The summer work team looked at the research to identify themes, recognize research opportunities and visualize the big picture.

“The teacher education research group is thinking about our teachers as researchers as well,” Kenney says.

“It’s good for the College of Education to be able to say, ‘Here’s a call for future research, and we can contribute to the literature,’” Obenchain says.


Obenchain says the Innovation Initiative team is energized to kick off the new curriculum in fall 2021.

“A major takeaway at the end of the week was an idea that some of us have been dreaming about or thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if?’ became ‘I think we can actually do it,’ ” she says. “That was insightful. We are all committed to ensuring that the students who complete our programs are extraordinarily well prepared.”