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Informing Your Teaching Practice With Dr. Grenot-Scheyer

The following article is an excerpt of a transcribed podcast interview on the GoReact blog with AACTE board member Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, who serves as the assistant vice chancellor of Educator Preparation and Public School Programs for California State University (CSU). Grenot-Scheyer also sits on the board of directors for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. In this episode, she discusses her experience in special education as well as CSU’s exciting initiatives and research.

Marquita Grenot-ScheyerWhen did you realize that you wanted to dedicate your career to teaching students with disabilities?

Grenot-Scheyer: I don’t think I realized it until I was a freshman in college, but my mother always reminded me that I talked about wanting to be a teacher from a very young age, and I just have no recollection of that. But my freshman year in college, at California State University, Los Angeles, I had an incredible field experience with some really complex and endearing young people. And that just set the path forward for what I wanted to do.

How Special Education Has Changed Over Time

So, as you mentioned, you began working with students with disabilities in the 1970s. What was it like to do special education at that time, and how has it changed since then?

Grenot-Scheyer: So when I began my career as a special educator, students with disabilities were predominantly served in isolated, segregated schools and classrooms. So that is, all students with disabilities in one facility. And so my first clinical experience was in a segregated school in a small community in Los Angeles, where students with the most challenging behavioral and physical and developmental abilities were all clustered together. And at the time, the feeling and the research said that was the best way to provide services to kids with disabilities. We now know, decades later, based upon research, based upon federal and state laws, that in fact, the best place to educate students with disabilities is in regular schools, alongside typically-developing peers. So the service delivery models have changed dramatically in some schools and in some communities, but in other schools and communities, students with disabilities are still being served in segregated settings. But we now know that’s not the best way to do it.

So we know that, but that’s still happening.

Grenot-Scheyer: It is still happening. For a number of reasons. Because educating a diverse classroom at a school of students is a really complex model, that there are new models, and not to use a lot of acronyms, but I think it’s important. In California and across the nation, there is a way of delivering services that’s called multi-tiered systems of support, or MTSS models. And this way of approaching education takes a whole-school reform look at how we deliver services, not just to students with disabilities, but all different kinds of learners. And it involves collaboration with all educators and all family members to deliver services to students with disabilities.

But education, it takes a while to change. We have to think about how we’re preparing our teachers, counselors, and leaders for these new models of schooling. I’m really optimistic, especially in California, we have really embraced this multi-tiered system of support. There are statewide initiatives in this, California State University, this is how we’re preparing our candidates so that the next generation of educators will be prepared for this new way of providing services to all students, not just students with disabilities.

Preparing Candidates in Teacher Education

Maybe this multi-tiered system that you’re talking about will actually inform the next question that I have for you. But you developed a lot of courses and curricula for special education over the years. What would be three pieces of advice that you would give to teacher preparation professionals so they can better prepare their candidates going into special education?

Dr. Grenot-Scheyer: I do, and it’s based upon my current role. I’ve had the opportunity to work with our deans and faculty on a project called the New Generation of Educators Initiative, or NGEI. And this project was funded by our foundation partner, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and they invested in the California State University about five or six years ago, and asked us to think about how we might transform teacher education. And so the deans got together with our faculty, and we developed a new framework for how we prepare candidates, with a specific focus on really deep and meaningful clinical experiences.

So I would say that one of the big lessons we learned from this initiative is how important those clinical experiences are for our candidates, from the very beginning of their preparation program to their culminating final field experience. So establishing authentic relationships with our district partners, working alongside mentor teachers and university supervisors, and having conversations about common metrics, assessment tools, and common observational tools has really strengthened the quality of our teacher preparation programs, so that our graduates are ready as a beginning teacher on day one. So that has been really illustrative, I think, for all of us in the California State University system. And we’ve been really fortunate to have that partnership.

Closing the Diversity Gap for Teacher Candidates

And you’ve actually alluded to this, by saying you’ve been doing this past few years. You actually serve right now as the assistant vice chancellor of Educator Preparation and Public School Programs for California State University. You mentioned just one of your projects. What other projects or accomplishments are you particularly proud of as you’ve been serving as the assistant vice chancellor?

Grenot-Scheyer: As you may know, the CSU prepares about 50% of the teachers in California. And so we’re able to engage in best practices, and because we are such a big system, really leverage the size of our system to implement these best practices across the system. So I have the fortune that I get to work with my dean colleagues, and the deans are their own professional learning community. So we share best practices, we shared data, and we do this all with the goal of improving our practice.

So one project in particular that we’ve engaged in recently, that I’m really proud of, is our learning lab for closing the diversity gap. This came about after the deans and I, and the director of our Educator Quality Center, sat down and looked at data of our candidates. We have always been committed to increasing the diversity of our teachers to meet the needs of students in our state. But when we looked at the data, it illustrated in a really striking way that while we are making strides towards diversifying the teaching pool, we have a long way to go when it comes to recruiting African American teachers of color, African American teachers. So under the director, under the leadership of the director of Educator Quality Center, we are doing a pilot where we’re taking a deep dive into why this is. So why are the percentages of African American teachers so low on our system, despite our best efforts?

So we’re using a methodology called improvement science, which is a way to look deeply at a problem, try out some hypotheses, and then make changes. So it is a long-term investment, a long-term examination of this chronic problem. And we’re just getting started with that, and I’m really looking forward to the work that the faculty are doing in this pilot. And this work is reflective of our larger vision and mission to ensure that we prepare diverse candidates for California.

Diversity for teacher candidates, and just teachers in our system, has been something that’s come up on our podcast, and I’m really glad that you guys are doing this research, because when I ask what can we do, there aren’t many tangible answers, you know? And so it sounds like that research is gonna be really important as we’re moving forward and trying to address that. That’s fantastic.

Grenot-Scheyer: I agree, and the research literature tells us what we should be doing. And what we’re trying with this learning lab is to really get into the weeds and understand what happens along the way. ‘Cause we’re recruiting young, diverse candidates, but we’re not graduating the same percentage. And so, faculty are taking a look at our admission procedures. They’re taking a look at our curricula. They’re taking a look at our advising structures, because again, we do have a commitment in the CSU to ensure that we’re producing a diverse set of candidates, and heretofore, the strategies that we’ve been using, and not just the CSU, other institutes of higher education as well, have not resulted in the proportion that we want to see reflected in the teaching pool. So we’re really excited about this new effort.

Read more to hear about Grenot-Sheyer’s advice for administrators in teacher preparation and preparing for the new normal amidst COVID-19.

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