Five Questions for Ellen McIntyre
Ellen McIntyre is dean of the College of Education at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. The College enrolls more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students in its programs and has about 118 full-time faculty. The College of Education is one of seven professional colleges at UNC-Charlotte, which is the fourth largest of the 17 institutions in the University of North Carolina system.
What was your first role working in education?
I worked in many roles at the YMCA from the time I was a young teenager through college, as swim instructor and coach, camp counselor, and teen leader. These experiences confirmed my decision to work with youth as a career. After college I became an elementary teacher in a high poverty school, where I fell in love with the profession. When I was teaching first grade, my eyes – and mind – were opened to the fact that I really did not know how to teach a child to read! I believed that I had had good preparation as a reading teacher, but quickly learned that there was so much I didn’t know. This realization drove me to graduate school and to the understanding of the critical role of teacher educators. Both my successes and failures as an elementary teacher have shaped everything I have done since.
What is one pivotal moment in your career in educator preparation that left a positive impact on you or others?
I worked on a national study of instructional principles for diverse populations. My team and I visited the families of more than 50 poor urban and rural elementary students for the purpose of better understanding the children and their families. Our goal was to learn from them to improve what we do. That period was transformative for me, my research team, and many of the teachers we taught. We learned that all families care deeply about education and that by working with them we can best match classroom instruction to students’ knowledge, interests and ways of understanding. That work led us to keep asking: What can the families teach us? How is our instruction responsive to the cultural and linguistic needs of the students?
As a strong advocate for research-based instruction, I still ask of the studies backing these practices: On what populations of students was this study conducted? Is this practice research-based for the population we want to serve? I have written since about the relationship of research-based practice to and culturally responsive instruction.
Why did you decide to join Deans for Impact?
I joined Deans for Impact to work with other deans who are willing to look hard at our profession and hold ourselves accountable for meaningful outcomes. I know first-hand that teacher-preparation programs make a difference in the practices of teachers who then make a difference in how students learn. Yes, poverty and school context matter. But many studies have shown that teacher quality impacts what and how much students learn. We must prepare teachers to be successful in their first few years so they will stay in teaching and develop enough skill and knowledge to grow into the expert practitioners we need. A study I am conducting now shows there are differences in how teachers are prepared—what they read and talk about, what is demonstrated, and especially what experiences they have working directly with children. Those differences matter. I want to work with others who are trying to unpack these differences so all can benefit.
What most excites you about the opportunity to transform the field of educator preparation in the years ahead?
I am fortunate to be an education dean in a community galvanizing around education and economic opportunity. We have leaders in the profession, directors of nonprofits, and philanthropists working together like I have never seen to increase the number of children reading proficiently by grade three, change school assignment to be more equitable, and broaden access to economic opportunity. To reach these goals, colleges of education must be part of the solution. We must provide for our communities great teachers, counselors, and school and community leaders. We are part of the solution to the problems in our region, and it excites me to see the innovation and energy coming from my college to collaborate directly on these issues.
What is one surprising thing that everyone should know about the program you lead?
The size and quality of the UNC Charlotte campus sometimes surprises those not familiar with us. My College of Education is full of extraordinary, award-winning teachers and scholars. We bring in millions of external funding annually for really important work. But for all the accolades earned and grants won, one of the most surprising and impressive things to me was the intellectual engagement of so many of the faculty in making real change. I was emotionally moved by a discussion I listened in on only a few weeks ago held by faculty in one department. They were on laptops examining data about our graduates and their students’ performance. They were asking themselves critical questions about what the data mean and how they can improve what they do based on those data. There is a developing culture of data-based decision making in the college, and it came largely from the faculty, who are pursuing a vision of equity, excellence, and engagement.
Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring Q&As with all the member deans of Deans for Impact.