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Becoming ‘NIC Mindful’: The Local Impact of Working in a Networked Improvement Community

In fall 2014, AACTE formed a networked improvement community (NIC) aimed at increasing the number of Black and Latino male teacher candidates in teacher preparation programs. Our College of Education at William Paterson University was among the 10 member colleges selected to participate. As we’ve worked in this collaborative group toward the goal of boosting enrollment of men of color by 25% across our programs, we’ve enjoyed a local impact that reaches well beyond the anticipated range.

The NIC employs the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s “improvement science” methodology to help participants examine our current practices and create new ones that will support the recruitment and retention of more diverse teacher candidates in our programs, and ultimately, their entrance into the teaching workforce.

Through the NIC process, we formed a network within our own institution as well as through the broader collective of 10 institutions. Once we internalized the group’s focus and processes, we began recognizing many opportunities to apply them locally and found ourselves adopting a NIC state of mind in our daily work. Being “NIC mindful” in this way means that we orient our regular cycles of plan-do-act-study around an identified aim, and then test the efficacy of that aim as a driver toward reaching our common goal.

Once we became NIC mindful, we began to find other interested faculty, administrators, and campus leaders, many of whom are educators of color themselves, who share our dedication to the same aim. As we conducted regular meetings, it became apparent that the blending of expertise from across our university brought to light a collective expertise that would have otherwise been unnoticed.

Together, we have begun shifting some of our existing practices, such as increasing the visibility of our faculty of color on campus. Now they attend and lead new student orientations, open houses, field experience orientations, and the like. We also initiated new programs and practices such as the Teach-Inspire-Educate (T.I.E.) Scholars program, a mentorship program matching Black and Latino male faculty facilitators with Black and Latino male teacher candidates. Already, this program has connected with 73 teacher candidates already matriculated into our programs who had not previously been identified for individual support.

Adopting an intentional focus and improvement goal has set us on the path to exciting new opportunities. Becoming NIC mindful caused us to examine institutional structures and practices and work collaboratively with new partners and stakeholders to make needed changes in our programs.

We invite you to take up our aim at your institution, and become NIC mindful! For more information about AACTE’s NIC, visit http://theinnovationexchange.net/networked-improvement-community/.

Author acknowledgment: We extend special thanks to our dean, Candace Burns, for supporting this work and creating an environment that not only enables collaborative growth but allows it to flourish.

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David Fuentes

William Paterson University

Kabba Colley

Chair and Associate Professor, Secondary and Middle School Education, William Paterson University

Sharon Leathers

William Paterson University (NJ)