Laura Hedin, Ph.D.
Professor of Special Education
I feel honored and privileged to take the reins of the Morgridge Endowed Chair Office. Since coming to the College of Education in 2007, I have prioritized building and sustaining relationships with area districts, conducting professional development workshops and field-based research (e.g., co-teaching, inclusion and high-leverage practices). Foundational to these field-based activities was my desire to improve student outcomes through enhancement of teachers' effectiveness. Although most of my engagement with regional partners has centered on research-to-practice work, I am eager to support new and ongoing research set in partnership schools and agencies that serve all students, not just those with disabilities. The opportunity to focus Morgridge resources on problems of practice for pre-service and in-service educators represents a capstone experience for me.
The Morgridge Office's mission closely aligns with the College of Education's Strategic Action Planning Framework (PDF) with a focus on scholarship that informs educator preparation, effectiveness and retention.
The Morgridge Office advances educator effectiveness and student outcomes by supporting research and applied professional training in field-based settings. The Morgridge Office supports scholarship focused on enhancement of knowledge, skills, socio-emotional development and problem-solving of pre-service and in-service educators and their students.
My personal priorities have always revolved around issues of inclusion. More recently, I have focused on recruiting and maintaining an effective, stable educator workforce so that all students thrive, along with diversification of that workforce to reflect the rich diversity of our nation.
The Morgridge Office offers support for COE personnel seeking to engage with school district personnel to enhance student outcomes. Vygotsky (1978) described teaching and learning as a reciprocal process grounded in the relationship between novices and their more-experienced mentors/teachers. Mentors create scaffolds that assist novices in moving forward toward skills acquisition. Although district personnel are not education "novices" by any means, our regional partners frequently come to the College of Education because of our expertise in educator preparation, our ability to support teachers facing challenging situations that impact student success and our willingness to collaborate. Districts also look to the college for innovative programs that meet the needs of their teachers and students. The Morgridge Office represents just one brace that can be leveraged in scaffold-building with regional partners as they solve problems of practice and enhance their educators' effectiveness.
The Morgridge Office can act as a liaison between district and COE personnel but also provides resources to undertake field-based projects. Innovation, however, must clearly align with the needs of district partners. Developing that reciprocity occurs in the context of relationships, through collaboration, listening, responding, reflecting and evaluating possible solutions. I am proud to have been a part of several innovative collaborations with districts in the past, and I look forward to assisting other faculty as they establish and deepen partnerships in their own areas of expertise.
Because the Morgridge Office has finite resources, we hope to set priorities and establish procedures to guide allocation of funds to COE applicants over the next several months. All projects, however, should align with the Morgridges' vision of a stable, well-prepared educator workforce that benefits all learners. Many of the COE's innovative programs already share several themes with the Morgridges' mission: reduction of educator shortages through innovative recruitment and retention programs; improvement of educators' knowledge and skills (i.e., effectiveness); and maintenance of educator preparation program quality. For example, the COE has already established innovative pathways such as the Golden Apple Accelerator (online elementary education), PLEDGE programs delivered in different geographical regions (elementary education, ESL/Bilingual and early childhood), contract cohorts in leadership and behavior analysis and many others—I hope to learn about these from you!
During my three years as chair of Special and Early Education, I participated in the development and implementation of one innovative program: LEAP—the Licensed Educators' Accelerated Pathway. LEAP was a direct response to regional districts' difficulty in recruiting and retaining highly qualified special education teachers, and Black and Brown teachers—leaks in the teacher pipeline. High attrition rates are notable in high-minority, high-poverty schools; among Black and Brown teachers; and among special educators, resulting in chronic vacancies that negatively impact our most vulnerable students. Paraprofessionals, whose demographics often match student demographics in their districts, demonstrate an interest in teaching and a commitment to their districts and communities yet encounter barriers that limit their access to licensure, relegating them to low-paid roles. These factors and others lead to the development of LEAP, designed to meet the needs of paraprofessionals working in partner districts. LEAP paraprofessionals, approximately 50% of whom were Black or Latinx, upskilled to special education licensure while employed in their districts.
LEAP was structured to support working adults while retaining the rigor of the licensure program: two classes per quarter (four total per semester) taught in students' geographic location with no textbooks (readings and videos online); full funding by their home districts in exchange for employment after graduation; work-based field experiences; and a dedicated "completion coach" who provided dedicated support for participants. The LEAP model was delivered through contractual relationships with two of the largest Illinois school districts, Rockford 205, and Elgin U-46, with approximately 25 from each cohort graduating in summer 2023 and new cohorts continue to be scheduled. Despite its success, there is room for improvement, and licensure is by no means the end result. Now begins the hard work of supporting these first-year teachers with appropriate induction and mentoring to foster their effectiveness and the success of their students. Ultimately, retaining the LEAP teachers will help to alleviate chronic vacancies in their employing districts.
Because there is much work still to be done to enhance LEAP as a model for other licensure programs, the first project I plan to undertake through the Morgridge Office is a study of LEAP graduates — their strengths and needs as first-year teachers — to revise and improve the licensure pathway. LEAP by no means is the only innovative program in the COE. The Morgridge Office has plans to provide seed funds for small grant proposals and accelerator grants for larger projects—so stay tuned.
Laura Hedin, Ph.D.,
Morgridge Endowed Chair
The LD and Ruth G. Morgridge Endowed Chair emphasizes innovation and advancement in teacher education, particularly in relation to the integration of technology into classroom practice.
The first two Morgridge Chairs, Drs. Donna Wiseman and Sharon Smaldino, focused on building relationships with school districts and developing Partnership Projects aimed at infusing technology into K-12 and college classrooms.
Our third Morgridge Chair, Yanghee Kim, Ph.D., was an advocate for using advanced technology to innovate classrooms. She conducted research on the use of state-of-the-art technologies (pedagogical agents, humanoid robots and online learning) to support equitable and inclusive technology-based learning experiences.