Associate Dean highlights teacher education evolution

August 10, 2022

The Teacher Education program has gone through numerous changes, including updates to how teacher candidates are recruited, how courses are taught and where and how practicum placements are made. Associate Dean of Teacher Education, Kathy Hibbert, discusses how the teacher education program developed over the last decade.

Western Education: Student recruitment has changed over the last 10 years. What were some of the challenges that were identified?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: Western is a very competitive teacher education program but our awareness of who is being admitted through our traditional practices have led us to think differently.

Research has shown diversity and representation in classrooms are important for the success of students. OUAC, the Ontario University's Application Centre, does not track student demographics in sufficient detail to give us the data that would be helpful. We reviewed our processes and metrics for admissions to see if our systems promoted our Faculty’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. We found a few things of interest.

The two metrics that we relied on in our admissions processes were undergraduate degree transcripts, (ensuring they have the courses required by the Ontario College of Teachers for entry) and Experience Profiles.

Our minimum admission requirement is 70 per cent. Knowing that different disciplines generate a range of grades that reflect ‘excellence’, in their field, we felt that this was worth interrogating.

The Experience Profiles had been in use for some time. Students were able to share experiences like volunteer work that they had engaged in to demonstrate how they had been preparing themselves for the profession. Too often, we recognized that they were sharing volunteer work started the year of application, and that not all students were in the same position to volunteer. As we engaged in ‘unconscious bias’ training across the faculty and with our board partners (who served as Experience Profile reviewers) we decided it was time to change.

Western Education: How has the Teacher Education Office made the admissions’ process more equitable to prospective teacher candidates?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: We did a couple of things. First, we worked with our Equity Committee to create an equity application that any applicant could choose to complete.

An equity application offered applicants an opportunity to articulate personal, systematic or academic barriers that they may have experienced in their learning to date that may limit their ability to be a competitive applicant. More applicants each year have chosen to complete an equity application, and those applications are also reviewed by the Equity Committee.

Similarly, in the Experience Profile, we foregrounded our commitment to social justice. The questions now ask applicants to tell us about how their experiences will prepare them to teach all students, from an equity, diversity and inclusion perspective. The result of this change has been quite remarkable, with our partners in the boards telling us that they have been ‘blown away’ by the responses.

Western Education: In terms of making admissions’ decisions, the Teacher Education Office is leading a research pilot on a situational judgement test called Casper. Why are you using it?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: Casper assesses for what are often described as the ‘soft skills’: collaboration, communication, empathy, equity ethics and so on. When we shared our intention to include Casper with our Equity Committee, they raised concerns about the situational judgment scenarios, and whether those would be appropriate applicants from marginalized or racialized groups.

Casper’s response was to welcome the pilot, establish an Indigenous Advisory Committee and improve equitable representation and training of reviewers.

Casper also shared some of the scenarios they've created so that we could work with our advisory groups to improve them. We have collected this data now for a couple of years and we are comparing it to ‘what does the z score generated by Casper tell us about students that we are not learning from the other two metrics we use?’

We wanted to do the research first to determine whether it was a useful tool for us in teacher education. We are in the process of analysis right now.

Western Education: In 2015, the Teacher Education program changed from a one year to a two-year program. How did this impact Teacher Education?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  When I hear from our alumni and they ask how things have changed, the most significant change was the shift from one year to two years, with half the number of students and 30 per cent less funding. The shift meant we lost our technology education program. That was a huge loss for us but we simply were not given the funding to run that program.

The two-year program meant that we were able to introduce specialization areas. There are different specialization areas depending on if you are in the primary, junior, intermediate or senior divisions. For example there are specializations in early childhood education, urban education, French, and international education.

We also expanded the experiential learning components. Students in the two-year program now have a minimum of 80 days of practice teaching, which is double the one-year program.

Western Education: Another change that occurred during this time was the creation of the Alternative Field Experience. Can you describe the AFE?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: Alternative Field Experiences are opportunities for students to work in the community or in related areas to their role as a professional teacher. An example would be the Children's Aid Society, the Boys and Girls Club, or with a mental health community organization. As a teacher, they may need to access services from those places and by working with these organizations in these Alternative Field Experiences, they have a much clearer understanding of what those organizations do.

This has been enormously successful and it's also meant the number of days teacher candidates spend in course is equal to the number of days they spend in experiential learning whether it's practica or AFE.

Western Education: Since 2015 there has been a growth in graduate programs at the Faculty of Education. How has the growth of these graduate programs impacted Teacher Education?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  The Ontario Ministry of Education has actively sought to increase accessibility for students in graduate programs since about 2002. The introduction of their ‘Reaching Higher’ plan saw a significant growth in graduate students and programs. Teaching in graduate programs requires a minimum qualification of a PhD which meant most full-time faculty members teaching assignments were largely graduate courses. The upside is we have opportunities to bring full-time practicing teachers or newly retired teachers or people with a wealth of field experience into our teacher education program to teach. Similarly, we have folks with deep field experience serving in the roles of practicum consultants and mentors.

Western Education: As part of the shift to focusing on professional development, teacher candidates now participate in a Master Teacher Mentor program. What is it?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  Master Teacher Mentors are carefully selected, experienced instructors who work with our Teacher Candidates in diverse groups of 12 over the two years they are with us. They serve as support for consolidation of learning and assessment that supports candidates’ growth toward meeting the OCT standards and competencies.  

Supported by their mentors, they maintain a professional practice record where they monitor their learning, set goals to improve and develop, and locate resources. It is a nicely supported transition to develop the kinds of habits of mind and practice that they are going to need when they enter the field before they are evaluated by their principal the first time.

Western Education: How is the Master Teacher Mentor program evaluated?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: We invite leaders from partner boards at the end of each year and conduct an external review. One of the leaders joins each master teacher and mentor groups and teacher candidates present their learning from the year, identify what they struggled with, how they overcame that struggle, and what they are doing to grow further. The results have been quite spectacular. The mentors are really excited about the growth. It also helps us stay closely connected to emergent needs that we can respond to, such as the development of a course on parent engagement. That course is again being revised to focus on new families because of what is happening right now in terms of the number of students that have been arriving from Syria and Ukraine. It's a nice way to respond to the needs as they arise.

Western Education: Another significant change made to the program has been the adoption of a pass/fail model. Why did you decide to go this route?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: When I started as Associate Dean, we looked at how things changed since we went to the two-year program, and we conducted an in-depth analysis of how we've managed to meet all the requirements of the Ministry of Education, the College of Teachers, and Higher Education Quality Council.

However, we asked ourselves if we were still meeting the requirements as a profession? What came up repeatedly was how our teacher candidates are high-achieving students.

When we would bring them into the program, we would tell them that they were no longer in a regular undergraduate program; this is a professional school, a professional in training. And then we put them in classes that looked a lot like their undergraduate courses!

They were too focused on their numerical grades! The conversations I was having in my office were from students wanting to know why they got an 89 instead of a 92. It’s not about them at this stage. We want them focusing on how what we are teaching them is going to be useful in their practice with their future students.

We also looked at how they were going to be assigned and evaluated in practice. The new teacher induction program (NTIP) offered during their probation and the annual learning plan (ALP) they create with their principal, both require them to identify strengths and weakness, and sets goals, resources and timelines to develop those competencies.

We decided that this is what we ought to be reflecting in our assessment. The pass/fail progression requirement was one way to remove the focus on grades and have them scaffolded into a program that was more growth oriented.

Western Education: How has technology, and the teacher candidates comfort level with it, been included in the Teacher Education program?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  Engaging with technologies has long been a part of our program. However, during the pandemic we recognized our teacher candidates were going to need skills to teach online.

We work with over 40 school boards across Ontario, and there is not a standard platform or technology set that is used by every board. We needed our teacher candidates to be ready for all settings.

We worked in partnership with our associate teachers, teacher candidates and partner boards to create It is a free, publicly available micro credential that saw 10,000 people access it within the first month of launching. This summer it's getting a reboot with additional tools.

Western Education: As part of the online experience, teacher candidates also participated as online tutors during the pandemic. How did it work?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: We have always posted tutoring requests on our blog, ‘The Teacher Candidate’ to match needs with individuals who were looking for work. Once the pandemic forced everyone online, we looked for ways to support children and families.  With new flexibility from the Ontario College of Teachers, we were able to engage teacher candidates in virtual tutoring.

Being able to document some of the tutoring hours to count as Alternative Field Experiences, meant that we were able to support over 400 families. The families responded with a lot of positive feedback in terms of not just doing this online, but the one-to-one attention, and how meaningful that had been for their children and for the teacher candidates supporting them.

Western Education: Community involvement has also been important to you as the Associate Dean. What community partnerships has the Teacher Education Office been involved in?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  All teachers understand the value of community. We have been fortunate to have really strong community partners, including the wonderful support we receive from our alumni and our retired teachers.

Early on in the pandemic, the London Community Foundation reached out to us with a concern about the most vulnerable learners in the City of London. In particular, a South London housing project where children did not have the technology nor the support to use it as their classes went online.

As a result, we created a school under a tent  with teacher candidates and supervisors coming to the students’ back yard. Volunteer Associate Teachers worked with us to supervise the students. An onsite trailer housed materials, books, tables and chairs.

Western Education: What other organizations have you teamed up with?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert: Our ability to reimagine what a practicum might be during the pandemic has allowed us to create some interesting practica experiences with places like the Children's Aid Societies and Museum London. We have also had more flexibility to work with Special Education placements.  

Western Education: Input from teacher candidates is also important. How have you included them to improve the teacher candidate experience?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  We have included our teacher candidates in all aspects of our program; in hiring, governance, curriculum renewal, wellness and so on.

In 2019, we introduced an annual programmatic research agenda with funding from the university. We collaborate with our partners, (including teacher candidates advisory board and our school board advisory partners) to identify areas of strength and weakness, or to engage in collaborative planning for new directions. Special pandemic funding paid teacher candidates as researcher interns in the summer months to work with us on larger projects such as our curriculum innovation framework, which asks us to think about how we were serving the most marginalized of students.

Western Education: The Teacher Education Office is also involved in developing policy. Recently, your office provided a response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s ‘Right to read’ inquiry. Why?

Associate Dean, Kathy Hibbert:  All faculties of education in Ontario were required to provide evidence of reading instruction to the Ontario Human Rights Commission at the start of their inquiry, and then to respond to the report once it was issued.

The Ontario Deans of Education are currently working with the ministry and the Ontario College of Teachers, to examine which recommendations apply specifically to initial teacher education, and where changes may be needed. 

Western’s Teacher Education is always in the process of continual improvement. We are responsible for preparing our Teacher Candidates to teach all children. In this profession we are all positioned as lifelong learners. Our instructors include experienced practitioners and researchers working together to ensure that we provide evidenced-based practice where evidence has been collected, and to stimulate critical thinking about those areas yet to explore.