UF education, dentistry schools team up to sharpen dental faculty’s teaching skills

For years, University of Florida education scholar Linda Behar-Horenstein has dreamed of helping UF dental faculty sharpen their teaching skills and chairside manner as they perform precise dental procedures on […]

For years, University of Florida education scholar Linda Behar-Horenstein has dreamed of helping UF dental faculty sharpen their teaching skills and chairside manner as they perform precise dental procedures on their patients.

Behar-Horenstein, who has been teaching at the College of Education Department of Educational Administration and Policy since 1992, has always had an interest in the communication between health-care teaching professionals and their students and patients.

Her dream was realized when the College of Dentistry recently received a five-year $2.5 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Behar-Horenstein, co-principal investigator for the grant, has been working with the College of Dentistry since 1996, when she was asked

to observe the extent to which faculty were promoting critical thinking skills in clinics. Today, she is an affiliate professor in the college’s Department of Community Dentistry and Behavioral Science, as well as a Distinguished Teaching Scholar in both the colleges of Education and Dentistry.

The grant’s focus is on enhancing faculty’s teaching repertoire through instruction, and incorporating cultural competency and motivational interviewing, among other skills that are important for serving dental patients. The dental school received another grant three years ago worth $3.5 million aimed at providing pre-doctoral dentistry students with similar patient-centered skills.

“The idea is to help develop new and better skills in our faculty,” said Frank Catalanotto, who first invited Behar-Horenstein to the college about 16 years ago when he was dean. Catalanotto is the co-principal investigator for the grant. “If the grant is successful, our students will be better dentists when they go out into practice. Better dentists are going to improve the health of the public.”

Behar-Horenstein first became fascinated with professors’ differing teaching styles after taking a course with a frustrating professor in graduate school. When she realized she would have to teach herself the material, Behar-Horenstein started studying the styles of all her instructors, making a mental inventory of strategies that either promoted or prevented student learning.

“This issue is very important to me because I think professors’ research and training greatly affects the teaching that their students receive,” said Behar-Horenstein.

Over the years, she has traveled across the country showing instructors how to teach critical thinking and active learning skills. Behar-Horenstein now enjoys discussing with UF dentistry professors how to be engaging, interactive and productive in their teaching.

“The grant supports faculty in teaching pre-doctoral students how to become patient-centered in their communication,” Behar-Horenstein said. “If faculty haven’t had the opportunity to learn these teaching skills, it will be very difficult to model that.”

As a co-PI for the latest federal grant, Behar-Horenstein will lead online classes, webinars and presentations for faculty and help them with research projects and surveying their progress in the classroom and clinical learning environments

“I’m an internal resource because they can come to me seeking counsel or advice,” Behar-Horenstein said. “Talking with a colleague who understands teaching sometimes opens doors for others who may be experiencing challenges and reassures them that it’s really OK. We all go through this. Being an instructor requires growth and reflection.”

SOURCE: Linda Behar-Horenstein, distinguished teaching scholar and professor at UF College of Education, distinguished teaching scholar and affiliate professor at UF College of Dentistry; lsbhoren@ufl.edu; 352-273-4330

WRITER: Alexa Lopez, new media coordinator, news and communications, UF College of Education; aklopez@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4449

MEDIA LIAISON: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education; llansford@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4137