Yearly Archives: 2013

From the Dean

The College of Education has long been known for the quality of our teacher education programs. As shown on the first page of our printed magazine (which you can tear out and display), our graduate programs in elementary and secondary education have been ranked No. 1 in the nation for 19 years in a row by U.S. News & World Report. We are the only educator preparation program in the state of Michigan, and one of few around the country, that offers a full-year teaching internship program—an intensity of training that principals and superintendents say results in a distinctive level of qualification for our graduates. Preparing the next generation of teachers and conducting research about K-12 schools will always be central to our mission.

But the College of Education does more than prepare teachers. Almost half of our undergraduate enrollment today is in our Department of Kinesiology, where the number of undergraduate majors has increased by 50 percent in just the last five years. Over two-thirds of our graduate students are outside of teacher education. In addition to our national rankings in elementary and secondary education, we have six other graduate programs ranked in the top 10 nationally (including kinesiology, where programs are ranked by the National Academy of Kinesiology). We have more programs ranked first or second than any other education school in the country.

In our cover story in this issue of the New Educator, we highlight some of the work being conducted outside the area of teacher education. We have faculty members across the college who conduct research and train students in the areas of autism and intellectual disabilities.

Assistant Professor Jodene Fine, of the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education (CEPSE), uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine anatomical differences in the brains of children with different types of disabilities. Functional MRI is a non-invasive diagnostic technique at the forefront of neuroscience that allows researchers to monitor the blood flow and oxygenation of the blood in the brain in response to different stimuli. This research may ultimately help professionals better distinguish between—and treat—children with nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD) and those with Asperger’s syndrome.

The College of Education is a lead partner in the DOCTRID International Research Institute, a collaboration between Michigan State, University of Massachusetts Medical School, eight Irish universities and the Daughters of Charity Service in Ireland. Scholars affiliated with the DOCTRID (Daughters of Charity Technology and Research in Intellectual Disabilities) Institute are focusing on empirical research to help inform policy and practice in the area of intellectual disability, with a special focus on technology. The institute, just formally created last summer, has already received an $11.3 million grant from the European Union to hire post-doctoral scholars to advance its research agenda, with up to seven of the scholars to be located in the College of Education for the next five years.

In other stories, we profile Elaine Tripi, a graduate of our former counseling program, who works with military victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. And we continue our Faculty Viewpoint series with a column on the topic of teacher evaluation by University Distinguished Professor Mark Reckase of CEPSE, who writes in relation to his work with the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, a gubernatorial- and legislative-appointed panel charged with creating a new system for evaluating teachers and administrators in the state.

And finally, we have a Faculty Perspective column by Professor John Carlson, who discusses the impact of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. Dr. Carlson provides very useful advice for parents and educators from a personal perspective on the tragedy.

I hope you enjoy the variety of stories about the College of Education and our people, and I look forward to hearing your comments.

MSU K-12 Outreach: Helping Priority and Focus Schools Improve Learning

By Angela Son and
Kathleen Snyder

Cheryl Irving, assistant superintendent of Lincoln Park Public Schools, presented challenges faced by her district during the Summer Institutes coordinated by the MSU Office of K-12 Outreach.

Cheryl Irving, assistant superintendent of Lincoln Park Public Schools, presented challenges faced by her district during the Summer Institutes coordinated by the MSU Office of K-12 Outreach.

For more than a decade, the Michigan State University Office of K-12 Outreach has been playing a critical role in supporting Michigan schools as they strive to improve. Since 2007, K-12 Outreach has been an integral part of Michigan’s MI Excel Statewide System of Support. Then, last year, the State of Michigan was granted flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The waiver initiated new accountability and improvement structures for K-12 schools, namely the inception of Priority and Focus schools. The Office of K-12 Outreach became one of the key partners in the effort to assist schools identified within these categories.

Barbara Markle, assistant dean of K-12 outreach, said the office designed, developed and implemented new interventions at the district level in order to further assist Priority and Focus schools.

“As the outreach arm of Michigan State University’s top-rated College of Education, we were well-prepared to draw upon the university’s deep capabilities, active network of top education experts and decades of work in the field to promote lasting performance at all levels of schooling,” Markle said.

The Office of K-12 Outreach just completed its first year of assisting Priority and Focus schools. Some of the highlights of the year included:

  • Specialists and facilitators at districts/schools: Intervention specialists and district improvement facilitators from MSU provided technical assistance to schools using customized data tools.
  • Summer Institutes: Superintendents, principals and teachers identified and strategized one of the four gap areas for their schools, such as English language learners, socioeconomic status, special education and African-American males.
  • National Coaching Conference: Teachers gained ideas to minimize the student achievement gap, especially for specific ethnic groups or content areas.

The work that K-12 Outreach has been doing in conjunction with its primary partners, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA), has been well-received by schools and districts. Even more importantly, many schools and districts have made huge steps toward raising student achievement.

Raupp Elementary School in Lincoln Park Public Schools is one of the 146 schools identified as Priority schools in fall 2012. According to JoAnn Andrees, an intervention specialist for K-12 Outreach, the principal at Raupp elementary encouraged staff to create a data dialogue in the form of data walls and binders, which elicited 100 percent participation among teachers.

“‘We’re all in this together’ was the idea,” Andrees said. “Unless you have the support of the central office, decisions cannot be made on the spot. Having decisionmakers with us at the table saves time and ambiguity.”

While strides have been made over the past year, there is more to be done, and MSU K-12 Outreach is in the thick of it, planning and implementing new tools, training and projects to help schools improve. The office recently launched MI Toolkit, a new website designed to provide tools, information and resources for both Priority and Focus schools.

“While oriented toward our Priority and Focus schools, any school or district will find the information on the website useful, particularly those who are seeking to address achievement gaps,” Markle said.

Another online tool, the Michigan Coaches Registry, also is up and running for fall 2013. This tool will help connect districts with potential educational coaches. Districts will be able to search the registry by location/region, school type, content area or coach’s name to find the coach who has the qualifications and experience for their needs. Coaches will also be able to utilize the site as a job board.

“The Michigan Coaches Registry is an innovative approach that will ensure that districts can find individuals who have the training and qualifications to be effective educational coaches throughout the school improvement process,” explained Markle.

Capitalizing and building upon a successful first year working with Priority and Focus schools, the Office of K-12 Outreach plans to continue its mission of increasing schools’ capacity to improve student learning. They will continue a multifaceted approach, engaging the school and district leaders in data dialogues and assisting them in creating a customized approach to improving student achievement. Help will be available online, in training and face-to-face.

Says Markle: “Really, it’s about offering the support and resources schools and districts need, that’s what we do.”

The Future for Science Education

Helping Michigan educators understand the Next Generation Science Standards


Lately, the Common Core State Standards have been the subject of great attention as a potential guide for U.S. schools to ensure all students learn the mathematics and language arts skills needed to be successful.

Away from the spotlight, however, there is a growing movement arguing that new standards are equally critical in another subject area: science.

If the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are adopted in Michigan, and other states across the country, nearly every teacher and every child will be preparing for a fundamentally different approach to learning about science—and therefore about the world around them.

Science education experts at Michigan State University, including many who helped develop the standards, say the time is now for schools to focus on teaching core scientific concepts and, just as importantly, to connect those ideas to phenomena students see in their everyday lives.

The NGSS were built on that premise, and based on research knowledge about how students best learn science. The kinds of changes that will be needed to implement the standards—as with Common Core—are immense but within our reach and capacity, many education leaders say.

MSU is already playing a lead role in Michigan to begin tackling the issues, from changing teacher preparation and creating new assessments to providing professional development for working teachers. In fact, the university held an introductory conference focused on NGSS that drew more than 800 educators to the Kellogg Center in May 2013.

The standards do not prescribe specific curricula or lesson plans, Professor Joseph Krajcik told attendees. Rather, NGSS outlines expectations for what all students should understand and be able to demonstrate at the end of instruction.

“Every one of our children needs to have this depth of understanding to be able to live successful and fulfilled lives in this world. That’s what NGSS is all about,” said Krajcik, director of the CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU, which coordinated the conference in partnership with the university’s Office of K-12 Outreach and the Michigan Department of Education.

Krajcik was lead writer for the physical science segment of NGSS and on the leadership team for NGSS.

“The core ideas in science are thinking tools,” he said. “When kids have those ideas inside their head, they can actually use them to solve problems, to make decisions and, even more importantly, to learn more.”

Michigan has not yet adopted the standards but it is one of the 26 states that led the process funded by the Carnegie Corporation under the management of Achieve, Inc., an independent, bipartisan and nonprofit education reform organization. The standards are based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education that was developed by a team of scholars working with the National Research Council.

The first common science education standards were developed in the 1990s as a guide to the states and educators, but no single set of science standards has yet been broadly adopted by multiple states.

“Historically, we have not gotten past simply learning facts,” said Stephen Pruitt, a senior vice president at Achieve, Inc. who oversaw the development of NGSS. “What’s cool about science is those facts change. If we do a good job helping kids understand the dynamics behind science, then they can adapt when facts change.”

What’s next?

The changes outlined by NGSS are so fundamental that it will take time to make adequate changes to the preparation and professional development of teachers. In fact, teacher education expert and University Distinguished Professor Suzanne Wilson wrote in a recent Science magazine article that the teacher training landscape is woefully inadequate to handle NGSS.

“Science has been marginalized by the No Child Left Behind Act, so less science has been taught in schools, not more,” said Wilson, also a member of the National Academies’ Board on Science Education. “And now these standards are coming out that not only call for a renewed focus on science teaching, but the kind of science that many teachers haven’t taught and many teachers haven’t experienced.”

For its part, faculty and staff in the CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU plan to continue collaborating with the state Department of Education, the Michigan Science Teachers Association, the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network and teacher education faculty at MSU to develop resources for secondary science teachers as well as elementary teachers, such as workshops, instructional materials and online forums.

CREATE for STEM is a joint initiative of the College of Education and the College of Natural Science. Science education research at MSU ranges from studying the best teaching practices within disciplines to the best sequences for teaching concepts across time, or learning progressions—a key component in NGSS.

“MSU has really been a hotbed for science education research,” said Pruitt. “There is a tremendous amount of brainpower here.”

Faculty Viewpoint: Can You Identify a Good Teacher When You See One?

Thoughts on teacher evaluation from an assessment expert and member of Michigan’s governor-appointed task force

MarkReckaseA number of years ago, I was working on a project that focused on using portfolios high school students produced in their classes as a way of evaluating their level of achievement. This was exciting work because our team was able to see the types of assignments teachers were using to generate the student work, and the types of products students produced in response to those assignments. Although it wasn’t the direct goal of the project, we realized that students could not show high levels of achievement unless their class assignments gave them the opportunity to show that high level of work.

After we thought about this for a while, the result seemed obvious. When using portfolios of work to assess students’ achievement, the quality of their classroom activities is very important. There was another anecdotal finding that came out of this development project. The students of one teacher did not get very high evaluations for their level of achievement, possibly because the assignments in their portfolios did not call for that level of work.

When we reported the results, we received a number of negative comments from parents and school staff. The teacher was one of the most popular in the school. There must be something wrong with the way we evaluated the portfolios because this was one of their “best” teachers. We reviewed the results and it was still clear that the contents of the students’ portfolios were not up to the level of students from other classes and schools.

For years after, I have been puzzled by the result. Was that really a great teacher and our portfolio procedure was not very good? I believe the answer is “no.” Or, was that a really popular, entertaining teacher who did not demand a lot from the students, and who used fairly formulaic assignments? Of course, I had a vested interest in this project, so I think the answer is “yes.” But this leads me to the challenge that has been presented to educational groups in many states: How can we identify the “good” or “great” teachers and distinguish them from those who are “poor” or worse?

Start with definitions

The answer has to begin with a few definitions. What is the definition of a teacher? What is the definition of a good teacher? Defining who is a teacher is more difficult than it would first appear. Should a school administrator be classified as a teacher for the purposes of evaluation? How about a school librarian? What about a teacher’s aide? There are also counselors, temporary teachers, specialty teachers, etc. There are tutors and others working outside the school to help students learn. Are the parents of home-schooled students teachers for the purposes of evaluation? From the perspective of state educational systems, the following definition of a teacher is proposed:

A teacher is a person who is responsible for assisting a group of students to learn the content defined by a well-structured curriculum during a specified unit of instruction.

There are a number of important concepts in this definition. First, the teacher is responsible for helping the students learn. Those who are assistants to the teacher, such as teacher aides, do not have that formal responsibility. The person who is assigned as the teacher for a group of students is the person who formally assigns grades, and grade-giving is one way of showing the level of responsibility.

Second, the teacher works with a group of students. This eliminates the case of one-on-one tutoring, but teachers may work individually with members of their assigned group.

Third, there is a structured curriculum. This means there are specific types of knowledge and skills that are the targets of instruction and it is the expectation that students will reach an acceptable level of competence in these areas.

Finally, the definition specified a unit of instruction. This means that the teacher works with the students for an extended period of time. It might be the full academic year, or a semester or quarter, depending on how the school is organized.

If this definition of a teacher is accepted, then it leads to a definition of a “good” teacher. A good teacher creates an environment and develops or selects a series of activities that will facilitate and encourage students to achieve the goals specified in the curriculum. There is an expectation that there is a well-defined domain of knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire by the end of the unit of instruction. If they acquire them, the educational system has succeeded, and the teacher is usually considered at least “good”—and we would hope that all teachers are at least “good.”

Student differences make a difference

The components of these definitions provide a framework that is often used for evaluating the educational systems of states. Curriculum documents are developed that describe the desired level of achievement for each school subject and each grade level. Tests are produced for estimating students’ levels of achievement on the defined curriculum, and standards of performance are set on the score scales for the tests. If students exceed the desired standard, the educational system is judged to be good.

Kindergarten teacher reading to children in libraryHowever, there is one very important point that is typically left out of this framework. It neglects to include the student as an active participant. Without the students’ cooperation, we cannot know how much they have achieved. They have to be willing to show us their skills and knowledge on tests and classroom activities. The students also have to be willing to learn the material in the curriculum. Unfortunately, there is an implicit assumption that students start at approximately the same place when they begin the work on a unit of instruction.

Once we bring the student characteristics into the discussion of what makes a good teacher, the concept of a “great” teacher can be considered. I propose that a great teacher is one who can help a student who faces challenges when entering the educational system to reach the desired level of achievement.

The challenge might be that the student enters the unit of instruction with less previous knowledge and skills than other students. Or the student might have a native language that is different than the language of instruction. He or she may come from an environment that does not encourage education, etc. Teachers who demonstrate the capability to help these students reach the desired level of achievement deserve the label “great.”

Observation and student growth = Only a rough estimate

Given this framework for teachers and teaching, can you identify a good teacher by looking at one? On a more personal note, was the popular teacher I described earlier a good teacher? Is it sufficient for students, parents and administrators to like the teacher, or is it more important that estimates of student achievement exceed expectations?

Many of the commonly used teacher evaluation systems now use a combination of performance measures from the students assigned to the teacher and observational tools that try to capture what is going on in the classroom. In some cases, the results of the two approaches are averaged using weights related to the judged importance of the two types of information. There is strong logic behind this approach because there is research showing that time on task in a classroom is related to the amount learned, and that the way learning activities are structured makes a difference. Based on other research, I am convinced that the ability of the teacher to observe students and determine how to adapt instruction to the needs of the group is very important. Teachers who are flexible in their approach get better results than those who rigidly follow a lesson plan.

Of course, classroom observational procedures used for evaluation need to focus on important features of the classroom activities and be conducted a sufficient number of times to get a sense of what is typical for the teacher. It seems unlikely that a five-minute peek into the classroom will yield a description that represents everything that happens in the classroom.

The use of student performance measures to evaluate teachers is somewhat more complex. The intent is to determine how much the teacher contributes to student growth after other factors are taken into account. The other factors typically include a student’s previous capabilities to learn the academic material, environmental components related to their home environment and peer groups, and school facilities that help a teacher accomplish educational goals. The intent of the statistical methods used to estimate the teacher contribution is to level the playing field so that all teachers are fairly evaluated. As part of a research team (with Jeffrey Wooldridge of MSU and Cassandra Guarino of Indiana University) that has been testing the trustworthiness of these methods, often called value-added models or VAMs, I know there are many features that cannot be brought into the statistical analysis because information is not available or it is too difficult to quantify.

Student growth measures, questions to consider:

  • How are students assigned to teachers?
  • Do teachers work as a team or have an intact classroom?
  • What professional development is supplied?
  • How much parental involvement is there at the school?
  • What is attendance like at the school?
  • How many contact hours does the teacher have with the students?

All of these things have an influence on the way instruction is carried out.

A consequence of all this complexity is that observations and student growth estimates only give us a rough idea of the capabilities of the teacher. Most procedures are good at identifying the top and bottom 1-2 percent, but they are not very good at accurately classifying a teacher as above average or below average (see figure below).


Our own research shows an above-average teacher has a noteworthy probability of being classified in the bottom 20 percent because of the limitations in sampling and uncertainties in all of the variables used to assess growth. For this reason, it seems better to give a probability that the teacher is in each of the possible evaluation categories (such as poor, average or above average) rather than make a fixed classification.

If the probabilities are about the same for all the categories, the information about that teacher is very imprecise. If one category has a high probability, then the results can be trusted as being accurate. We have found the level of accuracy has a lot to do with the number of students assigned to the teacher, the amount of contact hours and the accuracy of all of the other information collected about the students as well as the educational setting. Low accuracy is not the fault of the teacher, but of the environment within which the teacher works.

So, can we identify a good teacher when we see one? Maybe, if we watch them for a long time and we agree on the characteristics of a good teacher. But if the goal is an efficient and fair system of teacher evaluation, a quick look or a subjective judgment is not good enough. Carefully collected information and accurate analyses are needed, and even then, fixed classifications will have uncertainty. We need to embrace the uncertainty as diagnostic information that shows how much we can trust the results. High levels of trust are needed before we begin using teacher evaluations to make high-stakes decisions about the careers and livelihoods of our nation’s teachers.

About the author

University Distinguished Professor Mark D. Reckase was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE), a group tasked with defining the system for educator evaluation for the State of Michigan. In addition, Reckase is co-principal investigator on a research project evaluating value-added models funded by the U.S. Department of Education. He teaches courses on psychometric theory and applied educational measurement in the Measurement and Quantitative Methods area of the College of Education.

For more about the MCEE, including its recommendations for educator evaluation in Michigan, go to


  1. Guarino, C. M., Reckase, M. D., & Wooldridge, J. M. (2012). Can value-added measures of teacher performance be trusted? Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) Discussion Paper No. 6602.
  2. Harris, D. N. (2011). Value-added measures in education: What every educator needs to know. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  3. McCaffrey, D. F. (2012). Do value-added methods level the playing field for teachers? Stanford, CA:  Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Unfamiliar Places

Jack Schwille leads College of Education’s international exploration over three decades


by Nicole Geary

John (Jack) Schwille has always been fascinated by unfamiliar places.

“As a kid in a very small, rural and not at all cosmopolitan community, I had an unlikely passion for learning about other countries,” he wrote. And now, he says, that desire “has proved insatiable.”

In the 50 years since starting as a doctoral student, Schwille’s obsession with understanding the world has taken him to 45 countries, earned him a place among the most well-known scholars in comparative education and—luckily for the College of Education—it landed him at Michigan State University early in his career.

He came to MSU in 1977 to join the pioneering team of researchers in the Institute for Research on Teaching. Seven years later, as a faculty member already known for introducing new ways of thinking, he was picked to be assistant dean in charge of the College of Education’s Office of International Studies.

At the time, it was a new position saddled with an ambitious list of expectations for elevating how the college engages in global work. But it was the type of job Schwille was passionate about—and prepared to do.

Since then, he has been generously leading the College of Education’s multifaceted approach to promoting international engagement among students, faculty, teachers and K-12 students.

Ask other university leaders about the college’s international achievements of the last three decades and, every step of the way, the answer is “ahead of the game.” Ask some of the hundreds of international students who have come through Schwille’s office and the answers become stories about packed community gatherings, about finding their academic footing and about becoming influential educational leaders on almost every continent.

This spring, Schwille received Special Recognition for Promoting International Understanding from the university’s central office of International Studies and Programs (ISP). He retired in May 2013—yet again venturing into unfamiliar territory—and turned his responsibilities over to Reitumetse Mabokela, a professor of higher education with extensive experience in international research and development.

“The College of Education has been a trailblazer in the international arena under the masterful leadership of Professor Schwille,” Mabokela said in a message to the college community. “We are strategically poised to train world-class graduates who can engage diverse students, domestically and internationally.”

Strength by infusion

Some people have argued that if MSU had graduate programs granting degrees in international and comparative education, they could be the nation’s—or even the world’s—best. However, Schwille says it’s actually the absence of such programs that has made the College of Education unusually strong in international studies.

Without pressure to recruit faculty and students into a particular program, he argues, virtually every job and degree program across the college can be considered open to international or internationally-minded candidates. The model Schwille adopted, an “infusion approach,” has led to a substantial increase in the number of international faculty and students. The goal has been to integrate global perspectives across all aspects of the College of Education’s mission: research, teaching and service.

“International work was not at all new when I started, but the approach was very new,” Schwille said. “No other university I know of has carried it to the extremes that we have.”

In his humble way, Schwille made a point to attract and encourage international scholars (such as Lynn Paine, Mun Tsang, Chris Wheeler and Maria Teresa Tatto) whose research could grow the college’s reputation and, more importantly, create new opportunities for student learning.

Whether it was a massive cross-national research project, a scholarship program, a study abroad experience or any other initiative that he believed would expand social and educational understanding, Schwille went for it wholeheartedly—and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. International work, he says, requires a “combination of vision and just crass opportunism.”

And so a long series of experiments and breakthroughs commenced.

Global research leadership

International research in education has been a top priority for Schwille. In the 1980s with colleagues at Harvard University and MSU, Schwille led the MSU BRIDGES team to research the quality of primary education in developing countries. It focused on Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burundi and Pakistan, and was funded by USAID.

With alumnus Martial Dembélé (PhD ’95), Schwille led a small team of consultants working with national leaders to introduce teacher-led professional learning in the West African nation of Guinea against the grain of a highly centralized education system. Funded initially by the World Bank, the model was developed with extraordinary success over a period of 10 years.

Doctoral graduate Martial Dembélé (center) and Jack Schwille pose while on a project trip to the African nation of Guinea, where they developed a model for teacher-led professional learning. Originally from Burkina Faso, Dembélé is now a tenured faculty member at the University of Montreal.

Doctoral graduate Martial Dembélé (center) and Jack Schwille pose while on a project trip to the African nation of Guinea, where they developed a model for teacher-led professional learning. Originally from Burkina Faso, Dembélé is now a tenured faculty member at the University of Montreal.

He traversed the globe conducting comparative achievement studies for the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), and he laid the groundwork for peers to follow their own international research ambitions. One of the most notable is William Schmidt’s role in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the famous finding that, compared to high-achieving nations, math instruction in the United States is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Also in mathematics, Schwille recently co-led the world’s first international assessment of student learning in higher education based on national samples. The 17-nation Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M), showed vast differences in what teacher education students know about mathematics and how they are prepared throughout the world. As Schwille says, the study has helped prove that teacher education matters.

IEA studies like TEDS-M figure among the most influential educational research of the last half century. Starting in 1972 with a research fellowship at IEA Headquarters at the University of Stockholm, Schwille went on, over 40 years, to work on international leadership teams for four major IEA multicountry studies, mostly in civic education and mathematics. In 2010 he was elected an honorary member of IEA, an honor bestowed on only 22 researchers since the organization was founded in the 1960s.

Internationalization at home

His projects based closer to campus were similarly bold.

With founder Sally McClintock (a College of Education alumna, now deceased), Schwille helped launch a long-standing program in 1995 that helps K-12 teachers add international perspectives to their thinking and practice through monthly interactions with international students at MSU. LATTICE, Linking All Types of Teachers to International Cross-cultural Education, still continues its work of K-12 internationalization.

“It was a concept that put the College of Education on the map nationally, and in the lives of a lot of international students,” said David Horner, former director of the MSU Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS).

An emphasis on integrating international elements into the K-12 curriculum and into teacher preparation began to permeate the college culture, leading to the development of new undergraduate course sections and powerful study abroad experiences for students. The Cross-Cultural Teaching Abroad programs were considered particularly unique for giving teacher candidates opportunities to actually teach in South African or Australian classrooms.

By 2006, MSU had received two major awards for the College of Education’s international initiatives: the Goldman Sachs Higher Education Prize for Excellence in International Education and the AACTE Best Practice Award in Global and International Education.

For Schwille, those honors proved that the infusion approach was working. But, ever ambitious, he also knew the college was just getting started. Since then, among other things, his colleagues were able to establish:

  • The Confucius Institute, which provides resources for K-12 students and other Americans to learn Chinese language and culture.
  • The Global Educators Cohort Program, which prepares students to teach abroad or in multicultural classrooms, starting with specialized experiences during freshman and sophomore years.
  • The Fellowship for Global Understanding, which provides college-sponsored international study trips available to doctoral students throughout the college.

A global family

Throughout his career, Schwille always made international students a priority. Finding strong prospects during his travels, he not only encouraged them to come to MSU but also helped them obtain assistantships and set up networks of support.

“That really has been his profound contribution to the college, his nurturing of international students, to integrate them into our college and be successful academically,” said Cassandra Book, professor and associate dean emeritus.

He always had time for them, and then some.

Jack and Sharon Schwille have generously supported international students in many  ways. Here they help celebrate a new baby with parents Mamadou Baldé and his wife  Aminatou, who brought the warmth and culture of Guinea to campus.

Jack and Sharon Schwille have generously supported international students in many
ways. Here they help celebrate a new baby with parents Mamadou Baldé and his wife
Aminatou, who brought the warmth and culture of Guinea to campus.

Schwille invited international students to mingle with faculty and peers during monthly breakfasts in Erickson Hall, to gather for an annual college-wide breakfast at his home and even to join his family for Thanksgiving dinners. So many were welcomed to the Schwille’s house that the holidays often became standing-room-only occasions.

“Nobody was a stranger, no matter what their ethnicity was,” said Marlene Green, who was Schwille’s administrative assistant for 11 years. “He would talk to anyone and try to get to know them.”
And he made sure other faculty members got to know the international students, whom he regularly challenged and put in the spotlight.

“The experience that international scholars bring to the college is taken very seriously and used to enrich the experiences of others,” said Martial Dembélé, one of Schwille’s main collaborators who is originally from Burkina Faso in Africa and now an associate professor at the University of Montreal. “I felt that I gained an understanding not just of issues in the U.S. but in many parts of the world.”

The Schwilles are Snyder Society donors to MSU, having begun a legacy of giving to multiple areas across campus three decades ago. Jack and Sharon believe so much in supporting international students that they established a fellowship primarily for non-U.S. citizens attending the College of Education. Since 2001, their gift has provided tuition dollars to more than a dozen students selected based on academic potential and, not surprisingly, willingness to work with persons from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

International students outside the College of Education also have been influenced by Schwille. Juma Mmongoyo of Tanzania, for example, was a star secondary school student of Schwille’s son and daughter-in-law during their Peace Corp teaching days. When Schwille learned that Mmongoyo had gone on from his village school to receive a master’s degree in chemistry, he met with him in Tanzania and helped him compete successfully for a U.S. scholarship program in agricultural studies.

When Mmongoyo arrived in East Lansing last summer, he stayed with the Schwilles until he settled into his new surroundings and an apartment with international students in the College of Education—an Indonesian, a Mexican and a Palestinian from Israel. He is now studying food chemistry and toxicology as a PhD student in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

“You can have good qualifications, but it’s not always possible to get to an American university like this,” Mmongoyo said. “You need people to support you, and Jack is one of the reasons I am here.”

Grounded at MSU

Jack Schwille (far right) with fellow College of Education researchers who worked together over three decades ago, (from far left): Andrew Porter, William Schmidt, Lucy Bates-Byers and Robert Floden.

Jack Schwille (far right) with fellow College of Education researchers who worked together over three decades ago, (from far left): Andrew Porter, William Schmidt, Lucy Bates-Byers and Robert Floden.

Along the way, Schwille’s big heart and critical mind have helped make MSU and the College of Education a place where everyone is free and willing to explore the unfamiliar—whether you are talking about a different culture, another nation’s approach to education or a new theory about teaching and learning.

As Dean Donald Heller said, Schwille has shown “the kind of impact that one person can make is immense.”

Schwille has started writing a book about the college’s approach to fostering international engagement to be published by MSU Press. He also remains working on his latest development project, MSU’s cross-disciplinary effort to find new ways to improve well-being and sustainable living in two Tanzanian villages.

His thirst for exploration could have sent him sling-shotting around the globe to different jobs—and he certainly had opportunities. But he believes he has learned more about the world by staying grounded at MSU, taking journeys surrounded by the diverse, world-changing spirit of fellow Spartans.

“When push comes to shove, what matters most to me are people,” Schwille said at his retirement reception. “And here at MSU I have worked with the most stimulating, productive people I could ever hope for.”

Serving All Learners

Expanding research on autism and intellectual disabilities across the lifespan


The commitment to serve all learners runs deep in the Michigan State University College of Education.

Every day, our faculty members are searching for new ways to help individuals with various disabilities, from brain injuries and physical impairments to emotional issues and academic challenges.

In recent years, this mission has shifted to focus more resources on a particularly fast-growing problem: autism. One in 88 children now have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to a rate of 1 in 125 less than a decade ago.

College of Education researchers Summer Ferreri and Sara (Bolt) Witmer made waves when they conducted the first statewide study of autism-related services in Michigan schools two years ago and found that more than 40 percent of educators weren’t using some of the most effective known teaching methods.

Since then, MSU Special Education leaders have hired more faculty members specializing in autism and launched new programs (see page 29 for the latest) designed to prepare educators serving children with ASDs. Autism-related research has been on the rise among Special Education, School Psychology, Rehabilitation Counseling and even Kinesiology faculty members within the college.

And now, the entire university is ramping up its capacity to conduct cross-disciplinary research on autism and other impairments. This year, MSU launched the Research in Autism, Intellectual and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND) initiative to connect researchers doing related work in medicine, social science, education and other areas across campus, and to provide centrally funded research grants that could support powerful breakthroughs in the future.

Not surprisingly, RAIND was sparked in part by the leadership of a College of Education professor, Michael Leahy. For the past three years, Leahy has been building a massive international research venture focused on finding new solutions for people with intellectual disabilities, which typically refers to what was formerly known as mental retardation and some forms of autism.

The DOCTRID Institute involves partners at the Daughters of Charity Service in Ireland, eight Irish universities and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Through a large network of scholars in multiple disciplines, the institute will be driven by many of the same goals and principles as the new coalition at MSU.

The bottom line? Improve more lives by working together.

CoverStory_1“There is a very clear call, not only in this university, for research to be more interdisciplinary,” said Leahy, who serves as co-director of RAIND with the College of Human Medicine’s Nigel Paneth. “We plan to bring all the contributors together to address a very complex issue.”

Technology will play an increasingly large role, providing opportunities for researchers in engineering, computer science and gaming to contribute expertise.

RAIND and DOCTRID are both set up to investigate the full range of function, from the very mild to most severe disabilities, as well as the entire age spectrum.

Leaders believe that MSU is laying the groundwork, backed by international connections, to become a go-to center for autism and intellectual disability research. And the College of Education will play a critical role.

Current projects, for example, include modifying an online reading curriculum for young children with autism, using video-modeling to teach social skills to teens with autism and developing interventions to help high-functioning young adults get and keep good jobs. One scholar is looking inside the brain for clues about the underlying causes of neurodevelopmental disabilities. And kinesiology researchers are exploring how exercise can enhance academic performance for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“Research and teaching about a variety of disabilities has long been an important mission of the College of Education,” said Dean Donald Heller. “As the impact of disabilities across the lifespan becomes better understood, we have been increasing our efforts to identify strategies to help people with disabilities—and train the next generation of teachers, counselors and researchers.”

On the web

Research on Autism, Intellectual and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities:

Faculty member Jodene Fine’s recent anatomical research findings:

Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies (Rehabilitation Counseling programs):

Special Education programs:

School Psychology programs:

Making a Global Impact: The DOCTRID Institute

DOCTORID researchers work with Professor Michael Leahy to build what is expected to become a trusted international source for evidence-based practices.

DOCTORID researchers work with Professor Michael Leahy to build what is expected to become a trusted international source for evidence-based practices.

Michigan State University is leading an international effort to create life-changing solutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

The DOCTRID Research Institute was launched three years ago by the rehabilitation counseling faculty in the MSU College of Education and the large-scale Daughters of Charity Service in Ireland. The interdisciplinary venture has since expanded to include eight universities in Ireland and one other U.S. institution, the University of Massachusetts Medical School—all with teams of experts ready to collaborate in fields varying from special education and engineering to medicine and genetics.

DOCTRID (Daughters of Charity Technology and Research in Intellectual Disabilities) will be one of the world’s largest connected efforts to improve life for individuals with intellectual disabilities such as autism and what was formerly referred to as mental retardation through innovative research.

As research priorities and shared resources were being finalized earlier this year, the institute received a major boost: $11.3 million from the European Union’s Marie Curie COFUND to fund 40 post-doctoral positions. The scholars selected for those positions will begin working at one of DOCTRID’s partnering universities starting in fall 2014.

“This gives us extraordinary capacity to address important questions at each university,” said DOCTRID Director and MSU Professor Michael Leahy, who has been establishing connections with European partners in the rehabilitation and disability field for many years.

MSU will get up to seven of the post-docs funded by the EU. In addition, three Hegarty Fellows joined the DOCTRID research team this summer, with funding from MSU. The fellowship is named after the late Sister Martha Hegarty of the Daughters of Charity, a visionary leader in developing DOCTRID.

More international grant funding is in the works.

Tackling the big issues

“This was my dream post-doc,” said Carolyn Shivers, who accepted the Hegarty Fellowship on the heels of completing her doctorate in developmental psychology at Vanderbilt University. “Everything I’ve learned has just amazed me—the number of people who are working together and devoted to improving lives for people with disabilities.”

DOCTORIDPartnersShivers and the other Hegarty Fellows, Stacy Clifford and June Chen, are mapping out the contributions they will make to DOCTRID. They are working closely with faculty mentors from the MSU College of Education and will be co-located at MSU and one of the Irish universities, rotating every six months over two years.

Like all scholars associated with DOCTRID, the goal is for the fellows to conduct some of their own research while also collaborating and sharing information with other researchers on the big issues facing individuals with intellectual disability, across the entire lifespan and range of function.

For example, Shivers is interested in a particular piece of the support network needed by children with autism: their siblings. She plans to create and test a program that would train brothers and sisters to provide interventions focused on teaching social skills to their siblings with autism. This is particularly important as individuals with severe autism live longer and outlive their parents.

What’s next?

DOCTRID held a conference in Dublin during October 2013, with participants including researchers and service providers plus leaders such as MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, Acting Provost June Youatt and College of Education Dean Donald Heller. The EU post-doc program will be officially launched, along with a series of meetings and research presentations.

Like all aspects of MSU, the institute will remain focused on making an impact on real people, and the homes and communities they live in.

“Our hope is that DOCTRID will become an internationally trusted source of information about evidence-based practices,” said Shivers. “The work we do should translate into laws and programs, and most importantly, new and improved services for those with intellectual disabilities.”

Faculty from across MSU, not just the College of Education, will be involved in DOCTRID-related work. Many projects will also tie into the Research in Autism, Intellectual and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (RAIND) initiative on campus, an effort to increase and connect existing research in those areas (see graphic).

“Disability clearly is part of MSU’s mission, and not just a program here or there,” said Leahy.

Anatomical Evidence

Research unlocks understanding of structural differences

A Michigan State University researcher has discovered the first anatomical evidence that the brains of children with a nonverbal learning disability (NVLD)—long considered a “pseudo” diagnosis—may develop differently than the brains of other children.

The finding could ultimately help educators and clinicians better distinguish between—and treat—children with NLVD and those with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. While NVLD and Asperger’s share certain characteristics, researchers and clinicians have been confounded as to the relation of these two groups of children.

“The reason why it’s important to understand the biological differences in children with learning and behavioral challenges is that it’s important to know where to intervene,” said Jodene Fine, lead investigator on the project and assistant professor of school psychology. “Children with nonverbal learning disabilities and Asperger’s can look very similar but they can have very different reasons for why they behave the way they do.”

Children with NVLD tend to have normal language skills but below average math skills and difficulty with solving visual puzzles. Because many of these children also show difficulty understanding social cues, some have argued that NVLD is related to Asperger’s—which this latest study suggests may not be so.

Fine and Kayla Musielak, a doctoral student in school psychology, studied about 150 children ages 8 to 18. Using MRI scans of the participants’ brains, the researchers found that the children diagnosed with NVLD had smaller spleniums than the children who had other learning disorders such as Asperger’s and ADHD and children who had no learning disorders.

The splenium is part of the corpus callosum, a thick band of fibers in the brain that connects the left and right hemispheres and facilitates communication between the two sides. Interestingly, this posterior part of the corpus callosum serves the areas of the brain related to visual and spatial functioning.

In a second part of the study, the participants’ brain activity was analyzed after they were shown videos in an MRI that portrayed both positive and negative examples of social interaction. (A typical example of a positive event was a child opening a desired birthday present with friend; a negative event included a child being teased by other children.)

The researchers found that the brains of children with NLVD responded differently to the social interactions than the brains of children with Asperger’s, suggesting the neural pathways that underlie those behaviors may be different.
“So what we have is evidence of a structural difference in the brains of children with NLVD and Asperger’s, as well as evidence of a functional difference in the way their brains behave when they are presented with stimuli,” Fine said.

While more research is needed to better understand how NVLD fits into the family of learning disorders, Fine said her findings present “an interesting piece of the puzzle.”

“I would say at this point we still don’t have enough evidence to say NVLD is a distinct diagnosis, but I do think our research supports the idea that it might be,” she said.

Preparation. Growth. Integrity.

Lakeya Omogun feels prepared to teach—finally

by Nicole Geary


Knowing what to teach is not the same thing as knowing how to teach.

Teachers must know how to manage a classroom and how to use data, yes, but most importantly, they must know how to help all their students achieve their goals as learners.

That takes time, strategy, reflection. It takes dedication, and for new teachers certified through Michigan State University, it starts with the internship.

The eight-month signature experience of the university’s Teacher Preparation Program can be hard to stomach, with its intense expectations and financial sacrifices following graduation. But the comparative success of Spartans in the classroom shows it’s worth the investment.

For Lakeya Omogun, it was worth coming back for.

A different path

When Omogun graduated from the MSU College of Education with her degree in elementary education, she initially decided to take a different path to teacher certification: Teach for America (TFA).

While the majority of her peers from MSU prepared to spend a full academic year teaching alongside mentor teachers in Michigan or Chicago schools, Omogun spent six weeks of the summer in an intensive training program.

She wanted to be placed in a TFA corps on the East Coast because she has family there. The first step was to complete the TFA training based in a New York City summer school classroom. There was a heavy emphasis on student data, she says, and using achievement information to plan lessons, develop curricula and assess progress.

It was a whirlwind experience that ended in celebration as she and her fellow novice teachers recognized the growth they had helped their students achieve. Omogun also felt a high level of support when she started teaching sixth-grade literacy that fall in Newark, N.J.

But along the way, she noticed something. Or something missing.

“I know that for me personally, there was a disconnect from what I had learned previously,” she said.

Her first year was successful. However, the second year in TFA started with her feeling less supported by leaders and fellow teachers in her school building (considering that there was so much support her first year). She felt less confident. She remembers calling former MSU classmates.

“I found myself looking back a lot, to say the least,” she says.

Omogun, who grew up in Detroit, returned to Michigan somewhat suddenly because of personal challenges unrelated to teaching. But the roadblock meant she likely would have to change paths again.

“It’s about taking control of your life”

At that point, the options for achieving state-regulated teacher certification became complicated. Go through TFA in Detroit? Return to New Jersey? Resume a traditional training program?

Meanwhile, there was an even more challenging problem to address.

“I realized I wasn’t really prepared as an educator, and that was huge for me,” said Omogun. “I was good at classroom management and data analysis but the core piece I was missing was HOW do I get my students there.

“And that’s why I came back to MSU.”

She put aside concerns about paying more tuition dollars, about postponing a paid position again and, well, feeling like she was years behind.

She was reinstated at MSU and completed the full-year teaching internship in a third-grade class at Gompers Elementary School in Detroit Public Schools.

During the past year, she says, she got what she was missing:

  • The ability to work on teaching each content area—mathematics, science, language arts and social studies—using research-based teaching strategies specific to each area
  • The skills needed to differentiate instruction for each student
  • A different understanding about developing meaningful assessments—to find out what students need but also to learn about herself as a teacher

To her surprise, the other Detroit-area interns embraced Omogun without judgment.

“The lesson that is most valuable is that you recognized, as they say, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ and I need to do something about this,” Sylvia Hollifield, MSU’s teaching internship coordinator in Detroit, told Omogun. “You sacrificed what people may have thought about you because it was about your preparation, your growth and your integrity.”

Time to grow

Omogun became immersed in advanced study and the camaraderie of her fellow MSU interns through weekly courses at the MSU Detroit Center near downtown Detroit. At Gompers, she had received the opportunity to work at a highly reputed urban school not far from her childhood home with an excellent mentor, LaDawn Peterson.

“She was always asking, ‘What are you going to do next and how are you going to do it?’” Omogun said.

Like all MSU interns, she assumed the full role of teaching in Peterson’s classroom over an extended time period. Along the way, Peterson and veteran field instructor Susan Florio-Ruane pushed Omogun to expand her teaching skills.

Teaching students the writing process and augmenting district-provided materials to better meet their needs were just a few of the things Omogun began to master. All of her students started the year behind grade level.

“But you wouldn’t know that seeing them now,” said Florio-Ruane. “She took the time working with them and getting them to a place they couldn’t get to on their own, or within the pace of the mandated curriculum.”

Florio-Ruane says teacher candidates must spend enough time in the classroom with a strong mentor to grow and work through their own challenges.

“With Lakeya, in terms of her ability to teach for understanding, the person who walked in the door in August and the person who left in April are just … night and day,” she said.

Meanwhile, Omogun left an impression on her fellow MSU students as well. Telling them her story helped many of them think about taking risks that could ultimately enrich their own careers, such as teaching out-of-state or in different types of schools.

Since then, Omogun has been accepted into the Literacy Specialist program at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. She also received a job at a school in Harlem, where she is teaching seventh-grade literacy while working on her graduate degree. Eventually, she would like to become a professor of teacher education.

She feels fully prepared for the next step—finally.

“I think it speaks volumes about MSU teacher education, that you can take what you are learning and apply it to any teaching context,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine going forward in my teaching career without having this foundation.”

Faculty Perspective: Tragedy at Sandy Hook

The unending need to improve school-based mental health services

By John Carlson


Less than a year ago, the school shooting tragedy unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A series of unfortunate circumstances and missed clues aligned in ways unimaginable. The result was a horrific event that was difficult to predict—despite important knowledge that had been gleaned from a number of recent school shootings.

It is a part of human nature to believe that such rare and tragic events won’t happen to us, that they won’t happen to our own children and families, and that they won’t impact those we care for in our classrooms and buildings. Only recently have schools begun to do drills in preparation for an active shooter scenario. Fire, tornado and now intruder drills are commonplace within our school systems. These drills clearly helped to save lives in Connecticut.

As a mental health professional who works closely with school-aged children, their families, schools and communities, gun violence and trauma in schools is an all-too-familiar and sad reality permeating many facets of my occupation. Yet, this incident was different from any that I have read about or experienced in over 20 years of providing psychological services to school-aged populations. Not only did the details and circumstances differ in many ways from prior school shootings, this one was personal for me. Members of my extended family were in the building that fateful morning. They were physically unharmed, yet they and those close to them will forever be changed.

Coping with reality

I am confident that the changes my family members experience will be primarily positive and that some type of greater good will come out of being intertwined in this tragedy. Yet, the battle between the positive and negative effects on the human condition is a tough one to fight after such a cruel event, as history clearly demonstrates. We know that important biological changes occur in those who have been traumatized, and even more so in those who have experienced repeated trauma. The balance between psychology and biology can be a struggle for many but especially for those who are coping with this type of horrific and random event. Fortunately, we also know that humans are extremely adaptive, and that biology can be altered or reversed with appropriate treatment and care.

We also wish for good outcomes for the hundreds of others in that building who are victims of this tragedy—they were family members, friends and schoolmates of those killed. As it has been widely reported in the media, many were directly victimized, despite being a good distance from the active shooter. Having to listen to the broadcasted sounds of what was transpiring via the public address system during those minutes in and near the main entrance to their learning environment must have been both confusing and terrifying.

Coping with the reality of what they heard, on top of the fate of those around them, may pose a long journey toward healing for some of these victims. Some are likely to be currently struggling with daily functioning. Some may show little symptoms or signs of challenge for months and maybe years. Others may never reveal discomfort or typical signs of victimization. It is important to remember that response to trauma is as individualized as one’s own development and upbringing.

Addressing mental health

Carlson_RedFlagsWe must remember there are thousands of others who are indirect victims of tragedies like this one. Sadly, the events of 9/11 demonstrate there will be many more “delayed” trauma victims in the years ahead. Parents, siblings and relatives of victims will be challenged to find meaning and purpose from this unfortunate event that so intrusively impacted their loved ones.

First responders and investigators who possess direct knowledge of the details and images of the scene are likely to experience their own emotional and cognitive reactions. Mental health professionals working in and around Newtown too will need to find ways to cope with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that are likely to emerge as a result of secondary exposure to the trauma histories of their clients. The far-reaching mental health effects of this tragic December morning in 2012 will not be fully realized for many years to come.

What school or community is next to experience the unthinkable? Mass killings within schools are rare but history clearly shows they happen. The Bath, Mich. school disaster in 1927 demonstrated how an adult associated with the district could seek and get revenge on many innocent children and adults, all in the name of perceived injustice. The University of Texas massacre in 1966 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 showed how a distraught and vengeful college student can act out aggression and anger on people across campus. The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 showed the unthinkable can be carried out by two teenage classmates who brought premeditated horror to their school building, peers and community.

And the massacre in Newtown, Conn. revealed that a young adult who was described to be relatively isolated can exert violent, vile behavior on his own mother, young schoolchildren and their caretaking adults—all within his own community.

Warning signs

Each of the perpetrators of these school massacres took their own life or had planned in advance to do so. The act of suicide gives a public window into one’s extreme inner turmoil, and the inability to distance oneself from feelings of hopelessness, despair and/or feelings of helplessness. It is this inner, covert thinking (commonly thought of as mental health functioning) that needs refined attention in schools. Not only can one’s mental health create a barrier to the learning process, it can also wreak havoc on the learning community and classroom itself.

Carlson_2Another common thread that links these five school massacres is irrational thinking, faulty beliefs, deficient empathy and inhumane actions on the part of the killer. Access to guns was a clear variable present in each of these tragedies. Balancing the personal rights of individuals with the need for public safety will continue to require much attention and critical examination. Schools were created in part to socialize children and to reinforce societal norms. Bringing violence to a community of learners is a clear sign of abnormal behavior and a disregard for those societal norms. Such behavior must be prevented and dealt with appropriately.

Like suicidal thoughts, perceived injustice or an obsession with bringing justice onto others may be audible only to the mind of the beholder. Wishing to harm oneself, being fixated on harming another and a general disregard for the well-being of others are mental health issues that all of society needs to be concerned about. An attempt to “hear” these silent thoughts ruminating in the minds of others is a challenge that all school personnel should heed.

Many times there are signs and signals that one’s mind holds these disturbing and intrusive thoughts. In the majority of school shooting incidents, the message had gotten out to others; but some failed to act on those messages or brushed them off as just talk. There are times when the threatening message is shared with others at a distance, such as through posts to websites. Rarely does an individual fail to disclose some type of brewing trouble or pending aggression toward others. The best and most effective preventative action can occur through attentive listening and keen observation of behavior. Such actions of listening, watching, reflecting and acting on concerns can best be taken with those that we know or those we wish to know better. Student-teacher relationships are an essential component to preventing school violence.

Students who have few or strained relationships with peers or adults must be identified. Bullying prevention and mechanisms by which bullying behavior is closely observed, addressed and eliminated is essential to diminish strained peer relationships. To examine student-teacher relationships, a simple review of the enrollment roster to identify those who might not have established relationships with adults in the building can be completed. Such an approach requires little time or money to complete.

Close monitoring of discipline referrals and collaboration with law enforcement in the local community can help to identify students who are behaving outside of the range of normal behavior or societal standards. Working closely with parents, school personnel can identify those students who demonstrate acute changes in behavior. Unexpected declines in grades, withdrawal from peers, increased substance use, unexpected trouble with the law or drastic changes in mood or personality are important red flags that should be attended to and addressed. Showing concern or discreetly expressing one’s concern to another is an important part of the human relationship.

Plentiful resources

Efforts to prevent and treat trauma in school can’t wait on science to uncover definitive truths. Instead, we must do the best that we can with the information we currently have. Refinement of that knowledge will come with time, and we must be courageous to engage in the best course of action today—knowing tomorrow may bring different light to our current well-intentioned actions.

For those impacted by a school shooting, the odds were 100 percent that such a rare and random event would happen to them. School shooting victims and other victims of school- or community-based trauma don’t want to hear about the rarity of these events. Nor do they wish to hear statistics that indicate the rates of school and community violence have actually declined since the early 1990s.

Those working in schools must be prepared and ready for violence to occur within their learning communities. Traumatic events do and will happen to school-aged children and their caregivers. Gun violence does and will happen near or in schools. School personnel should be prepared to act to stop the series of unfortunate events from transpiring—and be ready to deal with the reality when they occur.

Efforts to prevent school shootings and violence must continually adapt to new details that emerge from past and future events. Concurrently, mental health treatment is paramount and resources must be fully brought into action in both the short and long-term treatment for direct and indirect victims of school-based crises.


School trauma resources

National Association of School Psychologists
American Psychological Association
National Education Association Health Information Network
Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress

Read more about specific ways you can help the Newtown community at

Please consider sharing the positive changes that you or your school have made as a result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy with John Carlson.


About the Author:

John S. Carlson is a professor and director of the School Psychology doctoral program at Michigan State University. He is a Licensed and Nationally Certified School Psychologist, and serves as a member of the American Psychological Association (Division 16) Working Group on Mental Health Issues in Schools.