Kenneth Noble and the hypocrisy of a nation pushing democratic educational ideals


It was 1945. WWII had just ended and segregation was still in effect in American schools, when the U.S. government embarked on a mission to reform the Japanese education system to a democratic state. A group of 27 committee members, all educators, were pulled together to help. It took one member, the only black person on the team, to point out how our own education system was far from equal.

The School of Teaching and Learning’s doctoral student Kenneth Noble explores this paradox with his award-winning paper, “A More Meaningful Democracy than We Ourselves Possess.”

The idea started while in Dr. Sevan Terzian’s doctoral research seminar in Social Foundations of Education, where students ask an original question with hopes to produce a published research piece. In just two sentences, a class reading had barely touched on the mission, but it was enough to catch Noble’s interest.

Of even greater interest to Noble was the single black committee member, Charles S. Johnson, who helped develop the Harlem Renaissance. Delving into research, which included traveling to Tennessee to dig through archived papers written by Johnson, he started to uncover a clear picture of what was happening at the time.

Johnson questioned how the U.S. government could promote ideals that it did not practice, with race issues back home. Using this discrepancy as a vehicle, Johnson pushed for change.

For more information, read Noble’s full essay, published in the History of Education Quarterly’s Nov. 2014 edition, or browse through the interview excerpts below:


Why did the U.S. government target the Japanese education system for reform?

It was just one part of a larger operation to promote democracy during U.S. occupation in Japan. The idea was that the school system reflected a lot of nationalistic ideals, in opposition to democratic ideals. Part of the goal to kick out language that was ultra-nationalistic, and to prevent a Japanese communist ally in the Soviet Union. [/accordion]


Do you still see inconsistencies today between American ideals and its education system?

As a grad student, one of the difficulties I’ve had is reconciling the present with the past, and I think all historians have a difficulty with that. When I was looking at this discrepancy at that time, it was very clear. It was glaring. Obviously American education wasn’t supporting any kind of equality. There were many limitations.

But it’s harder to draw a straight line from those inconsistencies to today.

Honestly my background is privileged. The school I attended was in a wealthy part of Mississippi. I never experienced any kind of discrimination. But when I taught at the high school school in South Carolina, I would see how other schools had newer technology, while our school had textbooks that were falling apart. When you even compare resources, not every school is treated the same.

Especially when you’re looking at a standardized test, how can we expect all students to perform at an expected high level when the inputs that we’re giving them – the resources, even teacher pay – are different, or when the resources aren’t there? [/accordion]


What in your program has helped you with your research?

At the graduate level in Curriculum and Instruction, studying critical pedagogy and Dr. Dorene Ross’ course on race, poverty and other educational issues helped.

My background in history led me here: I knew about the reform that was happening, but not that education was a part of it. I learned about the education mission in Dr. Terzian’s seminar course in social foundations. Something we read mentioned it in two sentences. I just locked onto them and then dug.

I focused on Japan because not as much had been written there.  [/accordion]


Did your interest in this paper topic stem from teaching in an underserved community?

I taught at an underprivileged school and I was attracted to the issues. There are limitations to opportunity that many individuals have in education that really limit a large set of the population.

It’s why I was interested in the work of Charles Johnson. [/accordion]


Tell me about the research process.

A lot of it was sort of a narrowing down process. One way to make a topic relevant is to make historiographical connections, to answer why this is important. I found the purpose of the mission, who was involved, and I found the full report from the mission. (The whole committee went there for a month, and they’re government officials. That’s what they do, they make reports.) From the list of contributors, I started researching who they were. I believe all of them were in academia. Then I was interested in looking at the implications of the mission.

Even without Johnson, this mission itself doesn’t really match up with what was going on in America at the time. I think what makes it so interesting with Johnson is that he uses that as a vehicle to promote equality in education. It adds a whole other layer to this story.

Once I learned about Johnson, it was a matter of digging into the archives. I went to Fisk University in Nashville, where Johnson was a professor and president, and where his papers were. I found his book chapters and pulled info from there. I was there for a few days, which wasn’t a lot of time, but I was emailing the librarians back and forth before I even went up there. They already had the boxes pulled for me.

There are other histories written about the mission from the Japanese perspective. I read the ones I could read in English. One is a study on the Japanese textbooks and how the language has changed, removing language with nationalism and replacing it with more democratic language. Others looked at structural changes to education, or what the Japanese did or didn’t implement.

On the American side though, focusing specifically on Johnson, that’s not something that had really been explored. So that left me my space to explore. [/accordion]


How can we improve education today?

The focus on standards and accountability is misplaced. If we want to improve education, too much focus is placed on the outputs to fix the achievement gap, but I think that politicians and powers that ultimately dictate what we do in schools are not looking at the inputs. Providing adequate resources, racial and socio-economic inequalities. If those aren’t fixed, then those problems aren’t going to be fixed.

Dr. Ross’ class covered this. We called it the opportunity gap, not the achievement gap. If you fix the opportunity gap, the achievement gap will follow. Focusing on more testing will keep the same cycles going. There’s a lot of teaching to the test. A lot of teachers feel pressured into doing that.

In my view of history, you can’t teach it with a standardized test, because history is not meant to be taught or evaluated through multiple-choice. History is to be discussed, talked about, written about, reflected on. If we don’t that, the students aren’t really learning much. They’re just learning trivial facts and dates. They might do well at a trivia night, but they’re not really doing any questioning, they’re not doing any critical thinking.

The way, in my experience, that history should be taught – and it’s the system that hampers this — is we should be asking: What historical perspective was used to ask that question? Are we considering the perspective of poor farmers vs wealthy industrials? Because in A, B, C or D, we’re not asking that. [/accordion]


While at UF, have any of your perspectives on education changed, or developed?

From a pedagogical standpoint, from teaching, yes. I teach a History in Education class here, and what I learn from my Curriculum and Instruction professors is from the way they conduct class, how they try to engage students, different discussion protocols to get us talking, different ways to approach a reading. That is something that I’ve changed in how I taught. My first semester here, I pretty much did straight lecture, and that’s boring. But that’s what you find in most history classes. Thinking back to my experience in undergrad and masters, that’s how it was: just lecture, someone talking at you.

Education classes aren’t structured that way, at least in my experience here at Florida. There’s no separation: we’re sitting in a circle, or we’re sitting in groups. I try to apply that. I do lecture from time to time because it is necessary, but I try to incorporate readings or activities.

I have one where they pick out a significant quote or idea, and they team up with a partner and just talk. They get to pick what to talk about. After that we open up discussion for the whole class. When we do that, most of the time they already hit all of the main points.

I work as a guide, but I let them direct as much as possible. Another activity is where students can bring something in to teach a history-related topic. It allows the students to take some control of the class itself.

A lot of that I’ve pulled from Curriculum and Instruction. The professors here, that’s how they teach. [/accordion]


What’s the most exciting part of the research you’re doing?

Part of the reason why I chose to study the history of education, with my interest in history, is that I was always troubled with the questions: “How can we use history today?” and “How is it relevant beyond just learning about the past?” I think by looking at the connection between history and education, I find that learning from the past can help inform the perspectives on current educational problems.

What’s exciting to me about what I do, is that maybe in some way I can affect change. Maybe even in educational policy. Perhaps somehow my research can contribute to bettering education in some way. That’s exciting to me.

And then history is cool, I just like learning about the past. [/accordion]


Tim Jacobbe – featured STL faculty member


His students are not only apprentices, they’re part of the team

The School of Teaching and Learning has a principle of scholarship that blurs the lines between faculty research and teaching. In the work of Tim Jacobbe, the school’s associate professor of mathematics and statistics education, graduate students participate as colleagues, learning from their experiences while contributing to the research.

Jacobbe holds a Ph.D. in mathematics education but became passionate about statistics after working as a primary test developer for the AP Statistics program at the Educational Testing Service. He is currently the principal investigator of Levels of Conceptual Understanding in Statistics, a grant funded by the National Science Foundation.

Student Involvement

Jacobbe credits the principle of student involvement as a teaching tactic to Boyer’s domains of scholarship, which is included in School of Teaching and Learning documents and is introduced to graduate students upon admission to their programs. The idea is that a well-rounded education combines research, teaching and service.

As a way of teaching, Jacobbe has his students join him in his research, and he not only encourages input, but he applies it too.

Catherine Case remembers the first time she read something that Jacobbe wrote and made a comment. He made a change based on that input. “I thought, ‘Can I do this, am I going to be involved in what we’re actually doing?'”

“I was really surprised with how much my contribution would actually be used,” Catherine Case said. “I think I imagined that I would just be given assignments, but I feel like I’ve had a lot more responsibility than I expected to have, which is good.”

Currently on his LOCUS grant, Jacobbe has his doctoral students developing assessments and grading tests, bringing their own specialties to the table. They also travel with him around the country to committee meetings, where they meet and engage with leaders in the field.

“If we’re not directly working on it with him, he describes every part of his decision-making process for the research,” Steven Foti said. “He pretty much involves us in every step of the way.”

The professional-identity continuum

“He brought us with him to these meetings and we’re working alongside faculty members at other institutions, and people who are bigwigs in the field, Douglas Whitaker said. “We’re on these committees with them talking just as we’re talking now, getting into arguments with them.”

Whether some students come into the program with a clear idea of what they’d like to do, Jacobbe chooses to guide them in a big-picture way. His holistic approach to guidance is a push for overall growth in the student’s developing professional identity.

“My goal, no matter what the students say is their ultimate goal for their career, is to prepare them well enough that they get to make a choice in the end, so that if they change their mind about where they want to go, it’s not too late,” Jacobbe said.

Part of what helps the students to develop who they want to become is putting them in situations very much like what they will be in later on.

“He gives us the support that we need to make connections and he lets us have the role that we would have in five years, but with that safety net of him guiding us along the way,” Douglas Whitaker said. “So we get to have the experience of working as academics while we’re being nurtured, and learning is being cultivated to what we need.”

“I try to pay attention to who my students are and then help them become who they want to be.” Jacobbe said. “Often times they’re already there, but it’s providing the experience that they need to establish themselves enough to get the types of positions that they deserve.”

Students as Colleagues

IMG_3569cropAs the only professor specializing in statistics education in the College of Education, Jacobbe says he benefits from his students’ contributions, as the ideas they produce expand upon his thoughts alone. He provides mentoring but works with his graduate students as a team. At test development committees, the students debate like any other faculty and provide fresh observations.

“My students are statistics education colleagues that I can work with on an everyday basis here,” Jacobbe said. “They have impressed all these national leaders in how eager and passionate they are, as well as how much knowledge they have.”

A few of those observations that the students have brought include perspectives on introductory statistics at the University of Florida, which Jacobbe hasn’t taught here since his work has been focused on K-12, and also ideas for increased content knowledge in teacher training. One of the students is interested in adult statistical literacy, bringing questions about how to work with citizens so they can make informed decisions in political elections.

“We’ve all been really involved with the LOCUS project but also we get to come up with our own ideas for smaller projects, and we get to have the leadership role in those,” Case said.

Changing the way teaching happens

The end goal of Jacobbe’s current research is to change the way the teaching of statistics happens. Under the LOCUS grant, he and his graduate students administered assessments to 4,000 students across the country. They work to answer the questions: How do we get statistics education into the classroom? How do we train teachers to teach it? How do we assess it?

His graduate students also teach. The P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School didn’t offer AP Statistics before last year, but Jacobbe’s three doctoral students co-taught the class with a P.K. Yonge faculty member for the first time.

“They have just done a phenomenal job instilling the content knowledge of statistics in an active learning environment at the high school level,” Jacobbe said. “This experience is definitely pushing them, because they didn’t have any high school teaching experience, but at the same time, it helps the school to offer AP Statistics and try to get students exposed to that content.”

At the end of the year, 18 out of 21 of their high school students passed the AP exam, and a team of two students were selected for third place in the American Statistical Association project competition out of over 150 entries.

“If we ultimately change the way we assess statistics in our evaluative system that we have in education nowadays, we impact the way it’s taught,” Jacobbe said, “because if we can assess it at a deeper level, it can be taught at a deeper level.”

News Update, 10/15/14: Catherine Case, Steven Foti, and Douglas Whitaker — the three graduate students interviewed for this story — were selected to receive UF’s I-cubed Graduate Student Mentoring Award for the AP Statistics work they did at P.K. Yonge last year. The award will be presented on October 28th at the Graduate Student Research Day, where they will also be presenting.

Highlighted Doctoral Fellow – Lindsay Vecchio

Experience of a current student

Just back from a conference in Illinois, where she spoke about the social theory of reflexivity in education, Lindsay Vecchio sat down for an interview to share a bit about her experience as a student at the University of Florida.

Vecchio, a Ph.D. student in the School of Teaching and Learning specializing in ESOL/Bilingual Education, has a diverse Curriculum Vitae and was nominated as a finalist in the university’s three-minute thesis competition for presenting her thesis topic “Haitian-American Generation 1.5 Students’ Writing Experiences.”

Before coming to UF, Vecchio was a lecturer at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne in Beauvais, France. She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Michigan and has an interest for ELI students in mainstream classrooms, especially Haitian language learners.

Q&A: Lindsay Vecchio

Lindsay Vecchio - outside library


You’re a Midwesterner who has traveled and taught abroad. How did you settle on the University of Florida to continue your education?

What bought me to the University of Florida was Dr. Candace Harper’s research on mainstream classroom teachers working with English language learners, which was exactly what I was interesting in studying. Also, I was attracted to learning in the state of Florida because of the large immigrant population, which could lead to many research opportunities.

What has inspired you to pursue language studies, and eventually teaching?

I’ve always had an interest in learning foreign language. I’ve studied abroad several times and was a French major in college. To me, teaching language is the other side of the coin. After I graduated with my Bachelor’s in French, I got a job teaching English in France. From that experience I realized that I not only loved to learn language, but I love to teach it too.

How do you intend to use a degree here to further your education and your career?

I’m going to use what I learn here to be a better language teacher. Both my in- and out-of-class experience have given me insight into how important context is for learning.

That field experience includes volunteering in an ESOL class at Gainesville High School. How do these local experiences compare to what you’ve learned teaching abroad?

I like that I get to see the children develop over time. Children abroad are comfortable in their own land while learning a foreign language, but children in this country are usually here for good. They have to adapt to the culture as well the language.

Have you had any unique teaching or learning experiences here?

When I first started volunteering at GHS, there was an ESOL student in the 8th grade who hadn’t learned to read or write at all. A few years later he was able to do both. I enjoyed watching him develop and felt proud of his accomplishments.

What has been the most helpful to you during your time at UF so far?

The most helpful experiences have been the opportunities I’ve had outside of the classroom, which includes volunteering at GHS, being a teaching assistant, and attending local and national conferences.

Lindsay Vecchio - cropped doorHave you had any shifts in perception about teaching?

Before I was more focused on teaching. Now I focus on how the context – the student’s background, culture, etc. – plays into everything else in education.

What kind of financial assistance do you receive?

The awesome thing about a fellowship is that you have a set amount of money coming in every year. It made me sure that I would be here for four years focusing on my degree while knowing that I’d have work as a teaching assistant.

Have you received any career counseling during your fellowship?

The professors I’ve worked with have strongly encouraged me to diversify my portfolio of work. To do this they recommended speaking at a variety of conferences in places outside Florida.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I would like to become a university professor or administrator.

Elizabeth Washington – Civic Engagement

Unknown-4Elizabeth Washington has been smitten with social studies and civics education since her 11th-grade American History class. She remembers dressing up as Eleanor Roosevelt for American Heritage Day as a class assignment and never looking back on her way to becoming a state and national thought leader in civics education.

“That definitely jump-started me and I got more involved in political campaigns my senior year,” said Washington, professor of social studies education in the UF College of Education’s teacher preparation program. “It made me see how much ordinary people can do to change things, but also how important it is to have good leaders who understand the constitution.”

Washington was recently named a Knight Effective Citizens Fellow at UF’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service, created in 2008 by former Gov. and Sen. Graham to give UF students an opportunity to experience political leadership and involvement outside of the classroom and a firm grounding in democratic government. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation created the fellowship with a $3-million grant to support the center’s development and sponsorship of new programs promoting civic involvement for undergraduate students.

“A lot of civic education focuses on kids in school, but what happens when they leave school?” Washington said. “Capitalizing on an interest they have in civic life is a unique focus, and the Graham Center is in a great position to do that.”

Washington will work with six other Knight fellows from around the nation to design and implement a novel online civics course for UF undergraduates. One of her former master’s and doctoral students, Emma Humphries, graduated in the spring and now works as an assistant scholar at the Graham Center who coordinates the grant projects. Humphries said her professor had a big influence on her decision to pursue her Ph.D.

“If civics is your passion and you’re at the University of Florida, then you probably want to make friends with Dr. Washington,” Humphries said.

Washington’s approach to social studies education changed 10 years ago when she attended a conference for social studies education professors. She said the conference inspired her to make it her mission to prepare social studies students to be engaged citizens by integrating civics education into everything she does in the classroom.

Her new classroom philosophy would coincide over the ensuing decade with a changing curriculum standard in Florida education. In 2010, the Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act established state standards for civics education by requiring a civics course for all seventh-grade students and an end-of-course examination in order to pass seventh grade – for a subject that had never been tested before in Florida.

Washington served on a state content advisory committee that designed the end-of-course exam—the first Florida statewide assessment for a social science discipline in more than two decades, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Washington and other social studies educators are hopeful that the subject’s inclusion on Florida’s standardized tests secures civics as a permanent fixture in Florida school curricula. Field testing of the civics exam will begin in middle schools this year, and the actual test will be implemented in the 2013-2014 school year.

Washington also serves as a senior fellow at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, a partnership between the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at UCF and the Bob Graham Center at UF. She is helping the Joint Center promote civics education by developing a curriculum and professional development programs for seventh-grade social studies teachers whose teaching assignments now include civics, which requires them to learn new content and teaching methods.

Civics education is making a comeback in Florida thanks to leaders like former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former U.S. congressman Lou Frey, former Gov. Charlie Crist and Rep. Charles McBurney, who influenced lawmakers to pass the O’Connor legislation.

“It didn’t hurt that (U.S. Supreme Court) Justice O’Connor made it her mission to focus on civics education after retirement,” Washington said. “When she addressed the Florida Legislature, they didn’t waste any time because she made it clear why civic knowledge and engagement are important.”

Washington stays civically engaged in her free time, too. Her husband, attorney Ray Washington, has a passion for Constitutional law and politics and ran for a Gainesville City Commission seat earlier this year. She said the experience with local government broadened her outlook on civic engagement and was a great learning opportunity for her entire family.

“I wouldn’t know how not to be civically engaged,” Washington said. “It’s my hobby to stay interested in politics and current events.”

Finally, the must-ask question: What does it mean to someone so civically smitten to have the same last name as one of American history’s most iconic figures—General George Washington, our nation’s first president?

“My students comment on that all the time, and I love mentioning it because it’s the perfect last name for a social studies devotee,” Washington answers without hesitation. “I like to talk about why George Washington is my favorite president, and I often begin discussions of civics with his famous Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”

“His portrait also hangs in my classroom,” she adds, “so, yes, I am a total fan of George Washington.”

Elizabeth Washington hopes to help raise a whole new generation of fans—of the Delaware River-crossing general with the same last name, and of social studies and civic engagement in general.


SOURCE: Elizabeth Washington, professor of social studies education, School of Teaching and Learning, UF College of Education, 352-273-4236,
Jessica Bradley, communications intern, UF College of Education
Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137;

Julie Brown – Doctoral Fellow in Curriculum and Instruction

IMG_0170Julie Brown, a UF doctoral fellow in curriculum and instruction, has been named as one of six Jhumki Basu Scholars by the National Association for Research in Science Teaching’s Equity and Ethics Committee.

Brown is a former high school science teacher and P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School’s elementary science coordinator.

At UF’s College of Education, Brown researches and designs professional development for secondary science teachers as a means of enhancing their ability to provide culturally responsive and inquiry-based instruction. Her STARTS – Science Teachers Are Responsive To Students – professional development model, for example, is designed to empower science teachers in high-need, urban school districts.

Brown’s professional development model is incorporated within a major partnership being forged between UF and the School District of Palm Beach County. It is part of an ambitious effort to position the school system as a national leader in the recruitment and retention of master teachers in the STEM subjects who can lead their students to the highest levels of academic success.

STARTS has a cadre of Fellows (participating teachers) from five high schools in Palm Beach County that have been diligently working to make a difference in their students’ science achievement. As the Fellows participate in STARTS, they have been developing as teacher leaders in multiple capacities. Through their work in face-to-face Saturday Collaboration Sessions and online course tasks, the Fellows have already completed an entire Lesson Study cycle and are systematically studying student learning to connect these findings directly to their instruction. The Fellows will continue to build on this knowledge as they soon embark on a full Curriculum Topic Study, which facilitates their construction of innovative science instructional materials designed specifically for their students and tightly coupled with state and national science education standards. In addition to the design and implementation of these materials, STARTS Fellows will construct a case study around a select group of students to better understand the impact of their teaching on students’ science achievement and attitudes over time. Aiming to transform science teaching on a large scale through Palm Beach County, the Fellows will present their work in the upcoming Palm Beach Learning Showcase.

“Science education must be accessible to all students,” Brown said. “Increasing culturally-responsive science education’s presence on a wide scale begins with teacher preparation.”

The Basu Scholars Program supports and nurtures promising young scholars who promote social justice. The program also provides scholars with a $700 research scholarship.

Kenneth Noble Wins Best Essay Prize by a Graduate Student

Kenneth Noble, a PhD student specializing in Social Foundations of Education, has won the History of Education Society’s Henry Barnard Prize for the best essay by a graduate student for his research paper, “‘A more meaningful democracy than we ourselves possess’:  Charles S. Johnson and the Education Mission to Japan, 1945-1952.”  The History of Education Society meeting, to be held in Nashville in November 2013, will devote a session to Kenneth’s research paper.  He will also be publishing it in the society’s flagship journal, History of Education Quarterly.  Congratulations, Kenneth!

Conference Presentations May-June 2013

Kathleen Adkins, Jamey Burns, Leigh Farrington, & Cheryl Gaston, “Raise Student Achievement with Classroom Equity Audits.” Florida Association of School Administrators.  Tampa, FL.  June 2013.


Diedre Houchen, “The State of African Americans in higher education: A review of the literature.”  ISAAC Conference on Research Directions Third Bi-Annual Empirical Research Conference on African American Education.  Hilton Head, SC.  May 2013.


Mark McCallister & Craig Woolley, “Virtual Software Applications for Students.”  EDUCAUSE Southeast Regional Conference.  Atlanta, GA.  May 2013.

Mary Kay Rodgers,  “A Doctoral Student’s Journey in Collaborating for Capacity:  Understanding Best Practice in Teacher Education through Inquiry.” International Conference on Doctoral Education.  Orlando, FL.   May 2013.


Conference Presentations April 2013

Conference Presentations March 2013

Rose Pringle

Rose Pringle is the Co-Principal Investigator on a National Science Foundation grant designed to transform science teaching and learning in middle schools. The grant, known as U-FUTuRES (University of Florida Unites Teachers to Reform Education in Science), will accomplish this by training a cohort of 40 science teacher leaders over two years with continued support for three years as they begin to work in their respective school districts.

“As teacher leaders, they’re going to be leading transformation in their districts using a coherent research based curriculum called IQWST,” Rose says. “In U-FUTuRES, we’re preparing them to become science teacher leaders; we’re preparing them with deep knowledge of the science content related to the curriculum, with pedagogy aligned to how children learn, ways to involve formative assessment in their teaching, and specific leadership and coaching skills to facilitate their work with colleagues.”

Rose sees her role as a researcher in the context of contributing to the greater good. By developing a research-based model for preparing effective science teachers, she is helping to reach the goal that all students will be scientifically literate, be better prepared to participate in 21st Century workforce and with many choosing science related career pathways.

“I work at the elbows of teachers to scaffold the enactment of this new curriculum, to guide them into best practices, and help them understand how all children learn including those who traditionally are underrepresented in science,” Rose says.

U-FUTuRES uses a trickling-out model of teaching. The 40 teacher leaders trained in the program will in turn train 10 more of their colleagues in their districts. This trickling-out model will hopefully serve to encourage even more participants in the program, outside of the initial 40 teachers.

Message from Ester de Jong, Director of the School of Teaching and Learning

Welcome to the College of Education at the University of Florida. I am Ester de Jong, the Director of the School of Teaching and Learning.

As educators, we are entering a new era. Karl Fisch, an education contributor for The Huffington Post, notes, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”  The ever-changing, diverse realities of our world today challenge those in our School to consider:

  • How can we create learning environments that foster 21st century skills for our learners across different teaching contexts (informal/formal, online/blended/face-to-face)?
  • How we can best prepare professionals who can design and construct such learning environments for diverse groups of learners in complex contexts, from pre-kindergarten to higher education?

To answer these questions, our faculty in STL pursues a diverse and rich research-driven agenda across disciplines, which has garnered state and national recognition.

Our mission in STL is to prepare our students to develop the knowledge and skills to contribute to our understandings about teaching and learning for the purpose of a just, compassionate, and informed citizenry. We have various degree and certification programs and each program provides students with a broad range of experiences, including robust course work, clinical and other practical experiences, and collaborative projects.  As a result, whether they become classroom teachers, teacher leaders, teacher educators, and/or researchers, our graduates will be leaders in their field.

Rachel Wolkenhauer

Rachel Wolkenhauer is a Ph. D. candidate in Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education. Rachel has a passion for practitioner inquiry as it relates to professional development and teacher preparation. It is a passion deeply rooted in her work as a student in the School of Teaching and Learning.

Rachel first learned of practitioner inquiry as a fourth grade teacher. When she enrolled in UF’s Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) master’s program she was frustrated. “I worked in a high poverty school and my young students were already having a hard time seeing themselves represented in the curriculum,” Rachel says. “They already felt like school didn’t fit them.” Rachel knew she couldn’t keep using the same ineffective model of teaching she had been using, but needed help in reforming the teaching and learning in her classroom. Practitioner inquiry, which she describes as the systematic and intentional study by educators of their practice, gave her the tools to make the changes she knew were necessary. Through inquiry she became a teacher leader, empowered to make key instructional decisions for her students and to share her practices widely with other educators.

So impassioned by the process of inquiry, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the School of Teaching and Learning with the mentorship of Dr. Nancy Dana, an international leader in practitioner inquiry.

While earning her Ph.D., Rachel worked closely with the University of Florida Lastinger Center, which is committed to working with and for teachers in high-needs, high-poverty schools. As the Center’s Teacher in Residence, she advocates for TLSI, designed to empower teachers by enhancing their knowledge, skills, and dispositions in teaching, research, leadership, and advocacy. In this role, she has spoken to prospective and practicing teachers and administrators, school boards, and boards of directors describing the potential impact of the program.

Rachel has also worked with the Lastinger Center to develop and implement research-based, long-term, job-embedded professional development for teachers who aren’t necessarily interested in earning master’s degrees. “Powerful professional learning lets teachers be innovative, and it raises the voices of teachers,” Rachel says. “It’s a tool for pushing back against those ideas of teaching as a business.” The Lastinger Center uses a blended professional development format to support masterful teaching, peer coaching, teacher research, teacher leadership, and advocacy. By working alongside teachers and administrators, Rachel has helped establish programs for school and district-wide practitioner inquiry, engaged student learning, and peer instructional coaching. She is now working on teams developing modules around inquiry for the Common Core State Standards, culturally responsive classroom management, and project-based learning.

Another notable experience of Rachel’s doctoral program includes working with Dr. Dana to develop and implement professional development conferences in Flanders, Belgium, and southern Netherlands. Through several keynote addresses and thematic workshops, Dr. Dana and Rachel coached educators through the process of inquiry and collaborated with leaders to begin systematic implementation of the mechanism for professional development. 

This year, Rachel is working on her dissertation, which connects her passion for practitioner inquiry and in-service teacher professional development with the complications of teaching and learning in today’s world. Rachel seeks to understand the ways in which those responsible for the professional growth and development of teachers within the newly designed 21st century community learning center at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School use the principles of practitioner inquiry to understand their experiences in supporting and mediating teacher professional learning.


Information Session on November 29th

Conference on English Education (CEE) Research Grant

Luke Rodesiler, a PhD student in English Education, has received a grant from the Conference on English Education for his research project, “Understanding English Teachers’ Experiences Performing Acts of Constructivist Teacher Leadership in Online Environments.”  Luke was recognized for this award at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in November 2011, and he has been invited to present his research at the NCTE conference in November 2012.  Congratulations, Luke!