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Investing in teachers, investing in students

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Debates abound concerning key issues in education in America. Should we adopt the Common Core curriculum or allow for more diversity across our states? Does the new SAT predict college academic performance accurately and fairly and level the playing field for women, minorities and older applicants? Will children of affluent parents always have the advantage on standardized tests? Can the United States build a strong educational system that continues to compete with other international systems whose students have surpassed Americans in global achievement exams and international rankings?

While the debates continue, some educators are developing programs to invest in our teachers and encourage teachers to invest in our students. For example, in 2012, Lipscomb University’s College of Education announced its new Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation that focuses on improving teacher performance and student outcomes throughout Tennessee with a particular emphasis on teacher and leader development in turn-around schools and rural school systems. The Nashville institute helps extend the reach of the best teachers through a teacher development program that helps move good teachers to great teachers, provide unique leadership programming for instructional leaders and mentoring programming for aspiring instructional coaches and mentors, create professional development modules for instructional leadership teams and conduct best practice events and networking.

The Ayers Institute has also partnered with the Tennessee College Access and Success Network to produce an innovative professional learning tool for any college access professional. According to the leaders of the Ayers Institute, college access mentoring requires specific skills and knowledge that are rarely, if ever, formally taught. Their goal is to build a group of college access leaders across the state, equipped with the tools to be agents of change in their schools and communities. Focusing also on the non-academic factors of entering college, this course is a unique approach to training professionals, who work with young people, and high school counselors alike.

In a recent interview with Shana Garrett, vice president of Academic Affairs at Colorado Technical University, she discussed her views on the need to seek unique approaches to our educational challenges. Some of her works focus on creating a community of practice and support within an online learning environment. She has presented nationally and internationally on both topics as well as a third topic related to developing leaders in a remote environment.

Garrett, with 15 years of experience in the field of education, has developed an approach in leadership which is a transformational style that she refers to as a "pure heart" approach. “Given my experience in higher education and my training in the counseling field, I have many years of success in program management, developing and managing high performance teams, as well as implementing strong retention initiatives which are the real value in enhancing the student experience,” says Garrett. “My unique style has its roots in advocacy for the student, meeting people where they are in order to develop them to the next level, and making the best and balanced decision for all involved.”

Garrett’s experiences in the post secondary area and specifically with students and faculty in the for-profit sector of higher education have lead her to a calling of working with adult students within the online environment as they pursue their dream of achieving an education. “Some of the best experiences and memories I have had is watching students overcome life obstacles and challenges in order to achieve their dream of a college education, and it's amazing to know that you played some small role in that journey with them,” adds Garrett.

“My personal and professional experience has been that those educators who genuinely cared about me as a student, made the biggest impact in my academic endeavors as well as my decision to move into higher education as a career path. I would say that the chances of a successful mentoring relationship can make a positive impact in any student's life and open up possibilities and untapped resources which could benefit the student in making it in the front door of any college or university.”

Academic leaders such as Garrett and initiatives such as Lipscomb University’s Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation provide renewed hope for the challenges facing today’s students and teachers. Whether embracing the “pure heart” approach, mentoring, or increasing leadership programming, educators can find creative conversations and solutions among the debates in today’s educational arena.

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