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‘Dogs With a Cause’: Raising the Prestige of the Education Profession One Athlete at a Time

This article is the second in a series of three showcasing the transformation of preservice field experiences at Louisiana Tech University. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

In fall 2016, Louisiana Tech University’s Clinical Residency Center established an 8-year partnership with the Louisiana Tech Athletics Council to collaboratively mentor students in TEAM (Teacher Educators and Mentors) Model schools, strengthening connections between the university and the community while exposing more college students to the teaching profession.

The program started after head men’s basketball coach Eric Konkol began seeking ways to plug his team into the community, followed very quickly by head baseball coach Lane Burroughs. The coaches had the desire to increase their teams’ connections with area schools and sought the expertise of the College of Education to establish quality partnerships.

To meet this goal, we developed the “Dogs With a Cause” program, which pairs athlete mentors with elementary students in a character-building literacy curriculum based on award-winning children’s books. This program is a logical extension of our TEAM Model, which engages multiple schools and districts in collaborative partnerships that support a full-year residency for teacher candidates.

Our clinical residents took the lead in developing the new program and switched their roles from mentees to mentors as they worked with the athletes to implement it. Using the framework of the TEAM Model, the residents designed the curriculum, coplanned with their assigned athlete, and team taught in each classroom on the school campus. School leaders were very willing to host the events knowing a quality program had been prepared for their students.

In the pilot year, more than 60 basketball and baseball players adopted two of our partner elementary schools and spent an afternoon quarterly on each campus. Through the watchful mentoring of TEAM Model clinical residents, the athletes had the opportunity to establish ongoing relationships with the students. Other key elements to Dogs With a Cause include an end-of-school-day send-off for all students as well as an opportunity for each school’s students to attend a game of their athletic team.

The impact these athletes have on the students will continue in the second year, as the teams and their coaches are expected to visit their adopted schools solo with the TEAM Model still scaffolding their experience through ongoing curriculum development. In addition, we have brought on two new teams for the 2017-2018 year: The football team (with coach Skip Holtz) and cross country/track team (with coach Gary Stanley) will be adopting two more TEAM Model schools. Clinical residents will focus efforts on scaffolding the adoption experience for these new teams while shadowing the basketball and baseball teams in their continued partnerships. The impact has also been noted by local companies that are offering to sponsor books for the children; our main donor this fall is Centurylink.

Listening to athletes reflect after our events is heartwarming and inspiring. This mentoring/coaching experience benefits not only the participants but the teaching profession, as the athletes and coaches gain an appreciation for what it takes to plan and implement purposeful learning opportunities with children. Every time someone outside the field of education has the opportunity to walk in our shoes as teachers, it raises the prestige of our profession.

This program has already become a wonderful way for the College of Education to deepen connections with partner schools, collaborate with our own athletic program, and share the hard work that goes into teaching children in the classroom. As proud members of Louisiana Tech University, these are definitely Dogs With a Cause!

TEAM Model clinical residents and members of Louisiana Tech’s basketball team wave good-bye to the school buses at Ruston Elementary School.
TEAM Model clinical residents and members of Louisiana Tech’s baseball team stand ready to send off Cypress Springs Elementary students at the end of the day.


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Amy Vessel

Louisiana Tech University

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