Reimagining the college of education for the 21st century


Carole Basile

This article introduces a series on reimagining the 21st-century college of education by Carole Basile, dean of ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Read the other installments, Envisioning a 21st-century education workforce and Community Design Labs.

Four questions

Great people and great research have come out of our colleges of education, which have prepared fabulous, committed professionals to work in schools and other environments where teaching and learning happen. And yet our education system does not reliably do what we need it to do for nearly enough people and communities. Pick a metric: student achievement scores, the U.S. PISA rankings, dropout rates, college attendance or persistence, equity across geographic and socioeconomic demographics, happiness. Pick any or all of them. Our role in this disparity can’t be ignored. We can and should do better.

As dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, I want to take this opportunity to share our aspirations and the approach we are taking to realize them. Our aspirations are not modest. As an institution that excels at both educator preparation programs and world-class scholarly research, we are reimagining the role a college of education can play in changing systems, structures and cultures of education organizations, including our own. This should be of interest not only in the worlds of professional education and professional academia. It should be of interest to all concerned with improving education for the greatest possible number of learners.

Our approach at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is one of collective impact: We seek to align our broad array of programs and systems in support of strategic initiatives designed to address four of the most pressing, systemic challenges we face in education.

  • How do we develop and deploy educators?
  • How can we work with schools and communities to solve a wide range of contextually based problems at the school or district level?
  • How can we turn discrete, local successes into systemic successes?
  • How can we do a better job of connecting our research to schools and other places where teaching and learning happen?

Everything we do — degree programs, professional development programs, experiential learning, research and community engagement work — should be designed to address one or more of these questions.

Creative intrapreneurship

We live in an age that celebrates entrepreneurs — people and organizations that bring new practices, products and services into society. We need to accept — and develop — our educators as creative intrapreneurs. All four of our strategic initiatives — workforce development and deployment, community design labs, scale model implementation, use-inspired research — require educators to ask the right questions, navigate uncertainty and collaboratively design and test solutions that improve learner outcomes and experience.

In practice, creative intrapreneurship means that educators should be unafraid to look outside their professional orbits in order to innovate effectively in their schools, districts and communities. It means that, as a college of education, we should prepare educators who can work at different social and organizational scales: with individual learners and peers; with principals and superintendents; with parents and community organizations; with partners in both the private and public sectors. Above all, creative intrapreneurship isn’t about coercing change. It’s about collaboratively designing improvement.

This is a mindset that millennials and post-millennials evince as they look for work with social impact. However, this demographic demands a work environment characterized by qualities that education is not generally perceived as providing. They want flexibility and the freedom to think and act creatively as individuals and in teams.

If we want to attract people to the field of education — whether they are millennials, post-millennials or mid-career professionals looking for meaningful work — we need educators to be productive cage-busters. If we want to solve the big problems, we need less compliance and more creativity.

One of the most famous and infamous quotes to have come out of the entrepreneurial tech sector is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s directive to his company’s developers to “move fast and break things.” By 2014, Zuckerberg was walking this back, realizing that mere novelty, without care and responsibility, wasn’t helping his company produce good work.

When we talk about creative intrapreneurship, we’re not talking about moving fast and breaking things. We’re talking about moving together and fixing things.

Read the other installments in this series, Envisioning a 21st-century education workforce and Community Design Labs.