Open doors: Designing new pathways for the future of education

By Andrea McCaffrey, Illustration by Daryn Rowley February 27, 2023

Drawing of education graduates walking a lighted path through a window to share info with eager kids

Patrick Migliorati never imagined himself as a teacher. But one afternoon, while lending a hand in a classroom, the former insurance underwriter watched as understanding flooded the eyes of a child he was tutoring in the multiplication of fractions. In that moment, he found the fulfillment and inspiration he had been searching for in a career.

When it comes to the challenges facing the education system in America, Migliorati knew he had the drive and passion to become a part of the solution. But with a new job as a school-based behavior technician at Bennet Academy in Manchester, Connecticut, he didn’t want to leave his current position to return to college. It was through Quinnipiac’s School of Education and its new Resident Educator Certificate (REC) that he found the pathway he needed to earn his teacher licensure and pursue his career goal to be an elementary school teacher.

Designed for Connecticut residents who have already earned a bachelor's degree, this unique part-time graduate program allows non-certified teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff currently working in schools to complete the requirements for teacher licensure and graduate with a Master of Arts in Teaching in just 2-3 years.

The REC program is just one of the resourceful ways Quinnipiac is responding to the challenges facing today’s education environment. With national headlines touting teacher shortages, classroom burnout and dropping test scores, the School of Education continues to design new opportunities and innovative programming to advance education reform and champion successful outcomes for all students.

The state of America’s classrooms

The National Education Association estimates a shortage of approximately 300,000 teachers and staff nationally. With 2022 reading scores dropping to 1992 levels, nearly 40% of eighth graders are failing to grasp basic math skills, underscoring the urgent need for committed resourceful teachers.

School of Education Dean Anne Dichele notes that while the headlines are dire, they don’t adequately convey the entire situation.

“The teacher shortage does exist, but it’s not as widespread as generally assumed. There are pockets of shortages, often in the areas of greatest need, including rural and urban communities,” said Dichele. “The situation is actually more nuanced than it has been portrayed. The pandemic drew back the curtain and shined a light on some of the issues that were already troubling us before the lockdown exacerbated the situation.”

Dichele explains that the shortages are also evident in specific subject areas as well as special education, which has reached a critical level of need.

“Regardless of geography, nearly all school districts face chronic challenges finding teachers for math, science, special education, foreign languages and bilingual education,” said Dichele. “While the news is alarming, the situation has also provided an opportunity for an infusion of innovation and reform into one of the nation’s most important institutions — its educational system. As a university, there are things we can do to help address these issues.”

The School of Education recently launched several new initiatives to address the current challenges facing the nation’s education system.

These include:

Firmly grounded in the mission to prepare candidates as leaders in 21st-century learning environments, the School of Education is uniquely positioned to elevate learning, answer critical needs and ensure that all students, at all levels and cultural backgrounds, have every opportunity to succeed.

New pathways to jobs in education

The Resident Educator Certificate is just one in a series of School of Education endeavors to create new pathways and leadership development programs to address the demand for talented and caring educators.

Recent developments include the new Special Education Certificate of Completion. With the goal to support inclusive classroom environments that stimulate each child’s unique abilities, this new program provides much-needed classroom support in special education through the training of general education teachers and pre-service candidates in the skills and strategies for differentiation, collaboration and accommodation.

These new initiatives build upon the School of Education’s existing portfolio of specialized training and relevant coursework that include several Dual-Degree Accelerated (4+1) programs that offer students a streamlined route to earn their bachelor’s, master’s and teaching licensure in five years, saving both time and money. Accelerated programs also ensure that highly skilled educators are available sooner to help fill vacant postings.

Sylwia (Lewkowicz) Johnson ’20, MAT ’21, chose Quinnipiac specifically for its School of Education and the opportunity to pursue both her bachelor’s and master’s in the Dual-Degree  BA or BS/MAT in Elementary Education (4+1) program. Saving time meant that she was able to enter the workforce at a faster rate to put her talents to use in an area of critical need. She teaches second grade at Coon Rapids-Bayard CSD in rural Iowa, one of the nation’s hardest-hit teacher shortage areas.

“Quinnipiac was one of the very few schools offering a clear pathway to earn both degrees in five years rather than six,” said Johnson. “I wouldn’t be as confident as a teacher if it wasn’t for the experience I had at Quinnipiac. A specific detail I am grateful for is the gradual release the MAT program provided for us. From classes, both in person and online, to field experiences and student teaching, we were able to transition easily into full-time educators.”

Eager to make her classroom impact, the Connecticut native has found that despite perceptions, there are many benefits to teaching in a small-town community, including the sense of pride and identity tied to the local school system. With only 16 students in her class and an overall school population of just under 400 students in grades K-12, she credits the close-knit community for its strong support and values the personal attention she can provide each of her students.

While she has autonomy over what and how she teaches, challenges include limited resources, low classroom diversity and high-need areas of academic and behavioral support. She often relies on her Quinnipiac training to foster the emotional and social growth of her students to create a learning environment that is both supportive and engaging.

“Behavioral issues are always difficult, no matter the school setting. Thankfully, our QU faculty did a great job preparing us for these types of challenges,” said Johnson. “Being able to see reading and math growth in my students, especially in their data throughout the year, also lets me know which interventions are successful.” 

She hopes to inspire other teachers to follow in her footsteps and dedicate their talent and resources to education in rural areas.

“Teaching isn’t easy. But it is rewarding,” said Johnson. “In the words of Nelson Mandela, ‘It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education.’ As a teacher, you have the opportunity to provide a good education for children, no matter the setting or obstacles in your way.”

Preparing the next generation of educators

Removing obstacles and inspiring high school students to pursue a career in education was the motivation behind Quinnipiac’s recent collaboration with the Connecticut Department of Education on the nationwide initiative, Educators Rising.

With a national average of 60% of teachers in classrooms within 20 miles of where they went to school, programs such as Educators Rising help to increase the “homegrown” pipeline of educators to retain talent in communities that need it most. With a presence in all 50 states, this community-based movement was developed in direct response to the growing concern over teacher shortages and the lack of diversity reflected in America’s classrooms, two issues currently affecting Connecticut, according to Shauna Tucker, chief talent officer, Connecticut Department of Education.

“This is our third year running our statewide ‘grow your own program’ with Educators Rising,” said Tucker. “Quinnipiac has been with us since year one with support that has included the development of dual-credit courses for high school students. By the time they graduate, participating high school students have half a college semester under their belts. That is significant and really opens up options to pursue the field of education.”

Local program partners with Quinnipiac’s dual credit initiative include Hamden, Ansonia, Meriden and New Haven, with high school students allowed to take specific courses for free to earn college credit. This initiative has helped to build a pipeline to Quinnipiac’s Accelerated Dual-Degree (4+1) MAT programs for potential educators.

Quinnipiac Educators Rising activities also include an annual symposium and mentorship opportunities that guide young people on a path from high school through college and into successful teaching careers through hands-on experiences.

Hosted on the School of Education’s North Haven Campus, the second annual Increasing Educator Diversity Symposium was held in November with more than 170 high school students in attendance. The symposium explored ways to increase classroom representation of diverse educators, while breaking down barriers to meet the urgent demand for quality teachers. Educators Rising has approximately 350 students enrolled in 18 clubs across the state.

“Quinnipiac is invested in the future of education and has embraced diversity within their own leadership. I think that sends a very loud and clear message that QU is devoted to and believes in diversification and equity across the board. I can't say that for every institution, but I definitely see it when we come to Quinnipiac,” said Tucker. “I applaud the university for embracing the work that we are trying to do and for making a difference, not only in the state of Connecticut but also within the profession of education”

State grant supports community-based science program

That longstanding commitment to developing local leaders is also reflected in the School of Education’s impactful new program targeting college-readiness skills in under-resourced communities: Quinnipiac University Advancing Diversity in Science (QUADS).

“QUADS came from the desire to contextualize science learning and ground it in the interest, culture and passions of our students,” said program developer Cindy Kern, associate teaching professor of science education. “This generation is connected like no other generation before it. These students from underresourced communities have the ability, intellect, drive and motivation to affect change. We need to make space for that to happen beyond the traditional K-12 institutional model.”

Quinnipiac was awarded a three-year, $940,000 grant in 2021 from the state’s Office of Higher Education to launch a Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation (ConnCAP) program. The grant is renewable annually for three years and includes a 25% university match. 

QUADS participants include 110 high school students from Ansonia, Hamden and Meriden school districts, as well as 20 eighth-grade students from Meriden’s Lincoln Middle School. Through grant support, the program is free and includes the potential to earn college credits, saving time and money toward a college degree. Instruction examples include college readiness skills with students learning to ask questions, conduct research, hone communication skills and improve geography and mapping abilities. Students are also learning about the communities where they live and engaging directly with stakeholders such as parent groups, government officials and town boards. The program culminates in a community project that has been researched, proposed and developed by the student teams and their facilitators.

Sample project topics include the development of a Black and Latinx curriculum, addressing school safety issues and designing in-school green spaces to improve mental well-being. After studying the impact of mall closures in their community, one group has focused on creating a safe place where teenagers can gather and interact beyond the use of their electronics.

Kern’s work is a testimony to the school’s mission to develop teacher leaders and empower the next generation of educators with the knowledge, skills and confidence to be change-makers, both inside and outside the classroom. Her desire to empower the next generation is rooted in her personal experiences of finding acceptance and encouragement early in her career.

“I come from a generation of teachers who wore pumps, pearls and pantyhose, and I never fit into that stereotype. But I had wonderful leaders who embraced me and encouraged me to put students first and to challenge institutional and structural barriers that hinder equitable education for all students,” said Kern.

“I think we’re at a critical crossroads in education. These kids who want to become teachers are eager to look at structural inequities embodied in the K-12 model and challenge them. In the School of Education, we want to be the spark that lights that fire for these students. In my mind, there’s nothing more powerful.”

Building a healthier community

Another new initiative focused on building relationships is also tackling mental health and burnout within school populations. The School of Education recently launched a first-of-its-kind online program, the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and School Climate Certificate, which provides the technical and interpersonal skills needed to foster safer schools, positive student-teacher relationships and successful learning outcomes.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, maintain positive relationships, become lifelong learners and contribute to a more caring, just world. Spearheaded and designed by Assistant Teaching Professor of Education Jennifer Dauphinias, course topics expand on the understanding of structural oppression, implicit bias and microaggressions and include narrative explorations of “self” in service to others to promote resiliency, compassion and collaboration.

“The ideal school climate includes adults who model what a compassionate, inclusive and culturally responsive environment looks like through their actions,” said Dauphinias. “Practitioners must understand and practice self-care and promote resiliency in the classroom, but first they need to discern what that means through the lens of race, class, ability, gender and sexuality. If you’re burned out, how can you be expected to do that?’”

One unique aspect of coursework focuses on the significance of cultivating self-care and resiliency practices among educators, critical tools in today’s academic environment faced with COVID fatigue, threats of school violence and increased demands on time and resources.

Certificate candidates also learn effective strategies to nurture positive and lasting structural changes with a particular focus on culturally responsive practices, school equity, diversity and inclusion. The coursework culminates in a self-defined capstone project of an SEL-based action plan to be implemented in the school environment.

“The support for SEL has to permeate the entire system. It can’t be abandoned after two years because of a change in leadership,” said Dauphinias. “SEL strategies and systems need to be embedded in the curriculum and considered in all levels of decision-making.”

Despite the current challenges, Dauphinias believes there are reasons to be hopeful about the future of education.

“For as much as I hate the terrible headlines, I think social media and the internet have actually helped to open the conversation and create more public discourse around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice,” said Dauphinias. “I think it has helped to stimulate some really progressive work as a society and in our schools.”

Preparing highly skilled graduates who are in-demand

Underscoring these new initiatives is the School of Education’s commitment to provide an education that leads to successful outcomes, not only for Quinnipiac graduates, but for the students and organizations they go on to serve.

North Haven High School principal and local educational partner Russell J. Dallai notes that Quinnipiac graduates are considered highly esteemed and effective in the field.

“I feel confident speaking for myself and my colleagues when I say that Quinnipiac graduates are always given a very careful look because they come to us so well prepared,” said Dallai.

“The relationship starts well before the hiring point with education students as interns in our schools, which is excellent experience. They learn to handle every situation and arrive to work with a set of skills that have already been refined.”

Joining the School of Education staff as an adjunct faculty member, Dallai has been able to utilize his insight as a school principal to prepare future educators for the latest trends in school culture and academic processes.

“Many people think that you don't become a leader until you step into a leadership position. But the Quinnipiac program has a strong focus on teacher leadership skills that are in use from day one in a classroom,” said Dallai. “The power of a faculty to do great things is limitless when they believe in their abilities and know how to cultivate change or make programmatic decisions for their communities. Leadership might include advocating for a student who has special needs or a detailed data analysis with goal setting.”

By developing programs that immerse educators in the art and science of teaching and learning, School of Education graduates have found success in leadership positions not only within academia but also as trainers in corporations, healthcare settings, law organizations, athletic programs, career advising and community administrations.

It is that connection to the broader community and the stellar reputation cultivated over years of collaboration that continue to provide professional opportunities and personal fulfillment for graduates of the School of Education.

It is also the reason alumni such as Eric Rank ’09, MAT ’10, continue to actively support their alma mater. As principal of Nathan Hale Elementary School, Rank also finds time to serve the School of Education as an alumni council member, advisory committee member, part-time faculty member and community partner at Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut.

“I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the School of Education continue to grow over the last 15 years. The planning and preparation the school offers its candidates is certainly a hallmark of the program, with our data continuing to yield high and positive outcomes regarding job placements and pass rates on certification exams,” said Rank. “I have seen many students from QU enter our district and they’ve always demonstrated a higher level of skill and knowledge. From professionalism to pedagogy, they are by far more prepared than their peers. QU students are always in high demand for job openings.”

As a member of the advisory committee, Rank and his colleagues provide feedback and input to help determine if candidate assessments are appropriate and if clinical experiences are of sufficient depth and breadth. The committee also hosts roundtable discussions to ensure candidates are prepared with the knowledge, skills and professional dispositions necessary for a positive impact on students.

“Coming from a diverse background, it was important to me that differences were embraced throughout the learning process,” said Rank. “I’ve been very fortunate in my experiences at QU. As a result, I want to be able to give that back. At the end of the day though, the greatest success stories come from student interactions. For educators, seeing students safe, comfortable, engaged, and motivated each day is the true success. After all, isn’t that why we are all here?”

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