Professor-in-residence helps classroom practitioners become Master Teachers at high-need schools

Meet Magdi Castañeda, a UF professor-in-residence with the college’s Lastinger Center for Learning, who instructs and mentors practicing teachers in 25 Miami-Dade County high-need schools participating in the Florida Master Teacher Initiative.


February 14, 2011



Magdalena “Magdi” Castañeda
UF Professor-in-residence, Miami-Dade County
College of Education Lastinger Center for Learning

Professor-in-Residence Magdalena “Magdi” Castañeda is everywhere these days: Working with elementary-school teachers in her home base of Miami-Dade County, meeting with policymakers, superintendents and educators in Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington, and sharing ideas with colleagues around Florida.

UF professor-in-residence Magdi Castañeda

Castañeda works with teachers in the 25 Miami-Dade County high-need schools that participate in the College of Education and Lastinger Center for Learning’s Florida Master Teacher Initiative, an on-the-job graduate-degree and professional-development program.

This program, which Castañeda joined at its inception in 2006, recently won a national $6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education (including a $1 million match from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) to add 25 Miami-Dade County schools. It aims to boost student achievement by improving instruction.

“Magdi exemplifies the type of professor we’ve been lucky to have join our team,” Lastinger Center Director Don Pemberton said. “She’s passionate, committed, experienced and she gets it – and so her students get her.”

A former Miami-Dade Public Schools teacher, Castañeda travels to the three aforementioned Kellogg Foundation Learning Labs states to help Lastinger-sister organizations improve early-childhood education.

“I facilitate conversations, offer norms, use different protocols to get to what challenges they have and come up with an action plan,” said Castañeda, who earned a Ph.D. in educational administration and supervision from Miami’s Florida International University in 2007. “I really believe in this work. It has transformed me as an educator and a person.”

Yendi Sotolongo, a math and science teacher at Miami’s Maya Angelou Elementary School who earned a UF master’s degree in 2008 through the Master Teacher program, notes that Castañeda’s classroom experience reinforces her credibility.

“She knows what to expect from us,” Sotolongo said, “and holds our hand through the entire program.”

Lastinger Center Associate Director Alyson Adams, who has observed Castañeda in action, credits the professor’s success to her ability to keep her eyes on the big picture and maintain a hands-on approach with her students.

“She truly understands it’s more than teaching them,” Adams said. “It’s connecting with them.”

Born in Madrid, Spain, to Cuban immigrants who fled the island for political reasons, Castañeda wanted to become a journalist. She changed her mind soon after becoming an FIU journalism undergraduate.

“I had my son the summer between my freshman and sophomore years,” said Castañeda, who remembers the name of every teacher she’s ever had. “I thought education would be a better choice for a mom. My mother, a teacher herself, had always told me I should be a teacher. I said many times I’d never do that …”

Today, Castañeda teaches teachers (incidentally, her son, Eric Diaz, studies business at UF).

“I’m working in the trenches,” said Castañeda, who wrote her dissertation on mentoring, “with the teachers who need our help.”


Writer: Boaz Dvir, communications-marketing coordinator, UF Lastinger Center for Learning, UF College of Education,; 273-0289