With a spirit of hope and urgency, humility and commitment, I would like to share my vision for the Drury teacher education program. "When children are developing well, they learn well," asserts Dr. James Comer of Yale University. He identifies the following pathways along which children must develop well in order to be successful learners: physical, cognitive, psychological, linguistic, social and ethical.
Making sure each child is at a good place in his or her development is a guiding principle of teacher education at Drury.
The importance of some developmental pathways is already acknowledged. School breakfast and lunch programs were introduced to meet the physical (i.e., nutritional) needs of children to ensure they had enough energy to engage in a rigorous day of learning. School nurses have been added to improve children's health. But too often the psychological, ethical, social and even linguistic development of children is lost in bureaucracy and administrative detail.
I am burdened by the missed opportunity of so many children, especially those in low-achieving schools. America is sometimes described as "the land of opportunity," and while public schools do provide equal access, too often the potential for success is not recognized or children are not developmentally prepared and the fleeting chance for a better life is lost.
Certainly there are schools and classrooms in poverty-stricken neighborhoods where parents, teachers and administrators who have never heard of Dr. James Comer find their own ways intuitively to promote the whole child's development. But if you look at the big picture of American education, too often the children in low-achieving schools are tired and hostile. Worn down from too many hours in front of the television or working a minimum-wage job, and off-track in their social development, they disrupt the learning environment. Unable to master reading and writing, they become mired in low self-esteem. Teachers end up struggling with classroom control and have less time for teaching. A vicious cycle of poor performance and disruption builds quickly.
The solution is not in a teacher education methods course, technology or a more effective introductory reading book. National testing and report cards on schools may help, in that they create pressure for something to be done to improve academic performance. But in order for significant and lasting gains in student achievement to occur, parents and guardians must become more aware of their role in the child development process, and teachers must become skillful in creating and maintaining collaborative partnerships which address the child's developmental needs.
These changes are possible. Here at Drury we see them happen every day, and we feel the rewards deeply. I have witnessed the transformation in attitude and hope when an eight year old masters the skills of the language pathway. I have seen and heard the excitement of the child who proclaims, "I can read!" I have seen a pre-service teacher radiate with self-confidence after such a success. I have seen how a parent's pride in academic achievements spurs not just greater achievement, but psychological development.
Building a vision of the future, the partnership among the Springfield Public Schools, Drury and Yale demonstrates the importance of helping children grow physically, cognitively, psychologically, linguistically, socially and ethically. I foresee Drury becoming a regional center for the Comer School Development Program, forming affiliations with other colleges and universities throughout the Midwest. More teacher education programs, school districts and community action groups will study the Comer model as a concept, then visit Springfield to see it in action. The strength of our partnership will endure.
I look for a day when parents understand the benefits for pre-school children whose intellects are stimulated through programs like Parents as Teachers. I hope for a day when all parents understand how summer school programs continue a child's academic development. I dream of a day when the developmental approach embodied in the Comer process will be more fully understood and embraced by teachers and families. When children develop well, they learn well. When children learn well, they succeed. And successful children become successful adults: effective stewards of society and admirable parents to the next generation.