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At Impact Academy, Dean Kathlene Campbell workshops equitable improvements to educator preparation

Deans for Impact

Category: Leadership

When Kathlene Campbell was studying to be a teacher, she received an unexpected student teaching placement. It was in kindergarten – not the grade she’d requested. Her undergraduate advisors explained: “The cooperating teacher in this classroom is also an African American woman, and we think that she will have conversations with you on topics that our educator-preparation program talked about, but are different to experience in reality.”

Looking back, Campbell marvels at the professors’ insight to create such a smart pairing. Not only did she receive the support she needed to feel confident as a novice teacher, but twenty years later, the two are still in touch. Now, in her role as dean of the School of Education at the University of St. Thomas — the largest private university in Minnesota, with campuses in St. Paul and Minneapolis — Campbell is working to create experiences for future teachers that lead to that same kind of real world learning.

“When I think about my own educator-preparation program, I feel lucky to have had professors who not only taught us theory but understood what it was like to be in classrooms,” she said. “Too often you hear from teacher-candidates around the country saying they didn’t really know what classrooms were like. I want to make sure our students know what the realities are. And I want every single class in the School of Education to address diversity, equity, and inclusion, so that candidates are able to talk about different intersectionalities and understand what it looks like to teach all children.”

She’s done that by creating space for honest conversations about race and education, modeled after the racial literacy roundtables hosted at Teachers College, Columbia University. She’s worked to increase clinical experience, so that in some degree programs, teacher-candidates spend nearly three times more hours in the field than required by the state. And she’s led her faculty through a comprehensive evaluation of every course, examining how well each addresses questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We’ve conducted an audit on our courses, so we know exactly where there are gaps in every single course for our teacher-preparation program,” she said. “And now, we’re trying to do the hard work of figuring out how to revise all those courses, so that DEI is not just an add-on, but truly embedded in the content and the way that we teach the course. That’s part of my adaptive challenge to work through in Impact Academy — asking, ‘How do I guide this work?’

As a 2021 Impact Academy fellow, she’ll collaborate with colleagues and a mentor coach to explore that question through a series of virtual convenings anchored on four core themes: Story of Self, Story of Us, Our Commitments, and Evidence + Impact. The leadership experience commenced with a three-day session in July, and Campbell is already thrilled about where the year will take her.

“Impact Academy, in my opinion, will help me bring my dreams and goals to life as a dean. Perhaps that’s the most important part of being in this cohort – it’s really allowing me to dream, but also to think about as a leader how I can connect my dream and actually get it accomplished and actualized, and then how I can make it sustainable. That’s what gave me life during those first three days, because I already felt like I was headed in that direction,” she said.

She’s excited to be able to join a collaborative, safe space, where leaders can ask the big questions.

“I knew I wanted to meet with like-minded deans to learn from their challenges and successes living and working in different parts of the United States,” she said. “This is different because it’s designed for leaders, and we’re able to be vulnerable. After a year and a half of dealing with the pandemic, this is what I needed.”

As she dreams, strategizes, and iterates on her adaptive challenge this year, Campbell hopes to empower faculty and staff to make equity-minded changes to their courses, based on an understanding of where their own biases lie.

“Classrooms should be a safe space for everyone. If we do the hard work on the front end, when candidates get into the classroom, we won’t see negative situations that impact kids,” she explained.

It all goes back to why she became a kindergarten teacher, and why she made the decision to embrace leadership: to make a difference in kids’ lives.