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Teaching Collaborative Leadership Garners Rave Reviews from Students

RELEASED: March 5, 2008

students in collaborative leadership class
UW-Eau Claire teacher education students from various subject areas work together in a collaboratively taught methods and curriculum course. The course allows students to explore teaching methods and share strategies and techniques across subject areas, and the way the class is taught provides participants with a model of collaborative leadership. (Contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — When students repeatedly describe a class as a "fantastic experience" or "the best, most meaningful educational experience I've ever had," something powerful and interesting is going on, educators say.

Faculty in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's College of Education and Human Sciences have been hearing such praise from students in response to an innovative class they've developed that brings faculty and students from several subject areas together in a single course.

For the past five semesters, Dr. Susan McIntyre, Dr. Deborah Pattee and Dr. Michael Kolis from the curriculum and instruction department have taken four separate teaching method courses known as "the Block" (General Methods of Teaching, Middle Level Methods and Curriculum, Teacher Assisting, and Content Area Reading and Study Strategies) and collapsed them into one. They collaboratively teach a cohort of students from different subject areas. The students work together for several hours each day, exploring teaching methods and sharing strategies and techniques in common while still focusing on their own subject areas.

Dr. Alan Rieck and Dr. Vanissa Murphy from the music and theatre arts department, who used to work only with music education majors, co-facilitate the class and also teach the course in music methods.

Pattee said the cohort is guided not only by the five collaborating professors, but also by seven essential questions they apply to everything they do:

  • What atmosphere facilitates powerful learning?
  • Who am I as a teacher?
  • Who are my students?
  • What's worth learning?
  • How should learning activities be organized?
  • How do I know if my students have learned?
  • How do I demonstrate collaborative leadership?

According to students from the fall 2007 cohort, two things stand out in this experiment. One is the novelty of having three or more professors at a time working together in the same classroom, essentially modeling the skills of collaborative leadership. Students repeatedly mentioned the excitement created by watching teachers with different personalities work together to make decisions and solve teaching problems.

"With the team teaching, you can see the respect our instructors have for each other even when they disagree, and it helps you see there is not just one way of doing things," said Mike Kremer, who is student teaching this semester as he prepares for certification to teach social studies in grades 6-12.

The other element the students mention repeatedly is the sense of community and the benefits that come from working intensely, for several hours each day, with a group of peers. Sarah Riordan, a Spanish education major who plans to be certified for grades 6-12, said working as a group last semester helped build "a community of learners."

"Having people from different content areas with you in class really expands your thinking and makes for a more diverse community," Riordan said. "We learned to trust each other and share more. We even got together outside of class."

John Lydon, a music education major, agreed.

"The mantra of the class is collaborative leadership, so we learn not just how to work in our content areas, but also how to work together, and that's so imperative in a school environment," Lydon said. "The way we're being taught is different, so we'll teach differently, and I think we'll begin to revolutionize the way things happen in schools."

McIntyre said eight UW-Eau Claire students got international student teaching placements last year, and of those eight, six were students from the cohort class.

"That shows that teaching collaborative leadership tends to push out collaborative leaders — people willing to take more risks," McIntyre said.

For more information on teaching collaborative leadership, contact Pattee (715-836-5269 or, Kolis (715-836-4960 or, Rieck (715-836-3634 or or Murphy (715-836-2329 or McIntyre is on sabbatical this semester, and Carol Gabler ( is teaching in her place.

Read more student comments about the collaborative leadership class.



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