SOE News

Carolina Center for Educational Excellence opens new opportunities for educators

Photo of workshop

Dr. Bobby Hobgood of LEARN NC instructs teachers at a workshop on Technology Tools for Global Education.

Ten years ago, the leaders of the School of Education and officials of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools began to dream about creating an “educational park” in Chapel Hill/Carrboro. The district needed a new middle school to serve its students, and the School of Education wanted a satellite campus to expand its reach.

The University and public school leaders formed a partnership to build a new middle school located between an existing elementary school and high school, with a wing attached to be used by the School of Education as a facility for sharing new teaching approaches and research results and providing professional development to teachers. The end result was a P-16 (Prekindergarten-College) education campus.

“We were very excited about the possibilities this collaboration held,” said Madeleine Grumet, who was dean of the School of Education at the time and played a major role in conceptualizing and planning the new facility. “The building itself was just the beginning.”

Once completed in 2004, the School of Education’s new facility─the 7,300 square-foot Carolina Center for Educational Excellence (CCEE) equipped with state-of-the-art technology─became a hub of educational information, resources, training and advanced technology for North Carolina’s educators.

Attached to the R.D. and Euzelle Smith Middle School and located in close proximity to Seawell Elementary School and Chapel Hill High School, the CCEE focuses on using technological advances to enhance education and strives to continue implementing new strategies to improve teaching and learning.

Professional development for teachers

Some of these new strategies include an array of professional development options for teachers that are hosted at the CCEE site. In the past, such series have included Technology Tools for Global Education, the Project for Historical Education and workshops for teachers of English as a Second Language (ESL).

“I was a teacher in Germany for most of my career,” says Björn Hennings, who moved to the United States in 2005 and became director of the CCEE a year later. “I know how it feels to stand in front of a group of teenagers and try to implement new strategies and ideas.”

Hennings has been an educational activist all his life. When his two young sons were entering elementary school in Germany, he founded a school to better serve them and other children in his community. In keeping with this mindset, he has continued to promote the CCEE’s role as a link between the School of Education and the education community.

The Technology Tools for Global Education workshop series, which has been offered at the CCEE since January 2008, teaches participants how to integrate global education into their curriculum and create a global classroom using technology and international contacts. Instructors from LEARN NC and World View teach educators to use the technological tools the CCEE provides to better understand how different technologies are implemented across global classrooms.

“The Technology Tools series is very popular, as many teachers want to globalize their teaching but have not been trained to do so,” says Hennings. “In these workshops, they learn about technologies that many of their students are already familiar with, like podcasting, wikis and digital libraries. They also learn how to integrate these technologies into their teaching.”

Next fall, the Technology Tools series will be offered via videoconference, making it accessible for teachers who are interested in participating but unable to travel to Chapel Hill to attend the seminar.

Another popular professional development series held repeatedly at the CCEE over recent years is sponsored by the Project for Historical Education. In this partnership of the School of Education with the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of History, teachers have learned about a variety of historical topics such as the conflict in the Middle East, teaching religion in the history classroom, and race and revolution in Latin America.

In one of its latest ventures, the CCEE will host a workshop in August for UNC School of Education alumni who teach ESL students. The workshop, sponsored by the Carolina Teachers’ Connection, will address educators’ concerns about teaching students with cultural differences while demonstrating how different technologies can help teachers serve these students better.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to bring alumni teachers together for enrichment in this state-of-the-art facility,” says Lucy Williams, coordinator of the Carolina Teachers’ Connection. “The ease of accessibility to the community for the participants makes the CCEE an ideal setting.”

Professional development opportunities hosted at the CCEE have been offered to educators across the state. The CCEE has served teachers from all over North Carolina, administrators from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, teachers from North Carolina’s Virtual Public School and members of the N.C. Mathematics and Science Education Network.

School of Education classes

The CCEE facility also is used as a satellite campus for the School of Education. The site is mainly used for distance education classes, some of which are held partially online to better accommodate participants. Students using the CCEE are primarily “in service” or working teachers who are looking to earn a master’s or doctoral degree or to earn add-on licensure in an area such as literacy.

“One advantage of the Center is the possibility of connecting educational practitioners in the schools and central offices with educational researchers at the University on a regular basis in order to support and disseminate the research as well as better serve the students in the school system,” says Hennings.

The Master of Education program in School Counseling also is very active at the CCEE. In this 14-month program, students complete content and clinical class work and participate in a fall practicum and a spring internship in local public schools.

The School Counseling Program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Part of these accreditation standards require extensive use of the CCEE’s counseling clinic and associated technology, such as digital taping, for the hands-on acquisition and demonstration of clinical skills.

“Part of the utility of the Center is that students can create live counseling sessions and really demonstrate their skills and competencies,” says Patrick Akos, associate professor of school counseling.

Another aspect of the CCEE that is necessary for the School Counseling Program is the availability of observation rooms. The Center features rooms equipped with one-way mirrors that allow faculty and students to practice in a more realistic learning environment. Instructors can watch students in a real-life setting and offer them clinical supervision to better prepare them for their work in the field.

Often, the students are filmed while practicing their counseling and group leadership skills. The video is then deconstructed to look at components and skills of a counseling session, such as building rapport, immediacy and reflection of feelings. The session also is constructively critiqued as a whole by fellow students and instructors.

In addition, the video technology is used for career development purposes for these students. Practicing school counselors and administrators from local districts come to the CCEE and the students engage in mock interviews that are filmed and later reviewed.

“The long-term vision is that with the technology there for distance learning, for example, students who are seeing clients could be filmed and the video could be broadcast live to me in my office. With appropriate consent, we could create training videos or classes that could potentially be broadcast live to anywhere in the world,” remarks Akos.

Looking to the future

In the future, Hennings hopes to broaden the use of the Center’s technology even further in order to facilitate collaboration among faculty, teachers and students all over the world.

“In order to be successful in a globalized world, we need to go beyond the state’s boundaries,” says Hennings. “We need to build professional connections among countries and continents that will benefit everyone.”