Abington education majors learn to teach with intention

Abington education majors

Penn State Abington education majors (standing) escort teachers from local elementary schools to a professional development session at the college.

Credit: Penn State

ABINGTON, Pa. — Penn State Abington education majors joined 32 teachers from Philadelphia-area schools for a professional development day with a nationally known education consultant.

The teachers, who arrived on campus aboard a yellow school bus, collaborate with the Abington undergraduates, or pre-service teachers, throughout the workshop. They shared their advice and experiences with the students, who major in elementary and early childhood education.

Consultant and author Debbie Diller said it was the first time she conducted a training for teachers and undergraduates simultaneously.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” she said. “I love that people training to be teachers are able to dialogue with current teachers.”

Abington education majors

Joyce Choe, a Penn State Abington elementary and early childhood education major, at a professional development workshop with educational consultant Debbie Diller.

Credit: Penn State

Diller's workshop emphasized the importance of the physical learning environment — how to set up or make over a classroom and develop effective literacy and math stations.

"Rearranging our room to support instruction ... can make way for our students in taking ownership in their learning," she said. 

"You give the student choices, but you have to control the choices," Diller added. "A cluttered classroom leads to chaos." 

She encouraged them to focus on research-based information, not Pinterest posts, because there are no shortcuts to developing effective tools.

"If it takes longer to make it than it takes kids to use, it’s not worth it," she said. "And don’t spend your last dime on pretty things for the classroom. It takes ingenuity, not money."

Diller recounted teaching experiences in kindergarten through 12th grade in different states: a classroom teacher, a reading specialist, a migrant education teacher in Texas, and a literacy coach.

The variety helped her realize the value of understanding children's experiences so that she could meet the differentiated needs of all students. 

"Encourage students to have hard conversations, and be honest with them," she said. "Visit the neighborhoods where they live. It may give you a whole new perspective."

professional development

Penn State Abington student Ashley Machon drew her notes during a workshop with educational consultant Debbie Diller.

Credit: Regina Broscius

Abington students said their takeaway was the engagement with Diller and the visiting teachers, who hail from the college's community partnership schools. The partnership schools, located in struggling socioeconomic areas, work hand-in-hand with Abington education faculty to develop a new type of professional: the teacher champion.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship: Abington students donate time, and talent while the schools allow the teacher candidates to observe and teach mini-lessons in classroom settings.

Diller, whose program was funded by a grant from the Penn State Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, said goodbye to the enthusiastic audience with these words:

“I teach teachers, and it makes my heart sing,” she said.