Leah Hellenbrand (Class of 2011) has been teaching third, fourth, and fifth grades at Kennedy Elementary School in Janesville, Wisconsin since 2006. Currently, she is teaching third and fourth grade in a looping classroom. Leah’s professional aim is to maximize students’ success through dynamic teaching and learning. She utilizes the Arts, particularly dance and creative movement, as a vehicle to teach across-the-curriculum and as a means for students to explore, express, and embody diverse academic concepts.
In her MSPE Capstone, Leah focused on building her knowledge of evidence for these practices: “A profound outcome of participating in the MSPE program was gaining theoretical support to make my tacit knowledge explicit. I have always relied upon intuition and passion as some of the primary agents for initiating my use of artistic pedagogy. I undeniably have witnessed immense benefits for my students; however, the research I conducted for my Capstone provided me with a significant body of justification for artistic pedagogy— now, I do not merely know that it works, but I have researched theory behind why it works, and I have evidence to support the value of my acquired knowledge and experiences.”
Teacher Leadership and Professional Development
In addition to the learning experience of the Capstone, Leah also believes that the MSPE program’s focus on teacher growth has had a significant impact on her career. “MSPE gave me confidence as a young educator and equipped me with a framework for communicating my ideas and experience. The MSPE program strongly emphasized the principle of teacher leadership. I came away from MSPE feeling empowered that I can act as an agent of change. Instead of waiting, or even advocating for, professional development to arrive, I recognized that I am the person needed to deliver it.” Taking this idea to heart, Leah has led professional development for her colleagues and her school district in the area of artistic pedagogy. Her passion for this topic has even taken her around the world: In June 2013, Leah taught and presented about Arts Integration at the First Elementary Education International Conference in Beijing, China. Furthering her own professional development, Leah also has participated in an Arts Integration Pilot Program with the Kennedy Center for the Arts Partners in Education Program since 2012.
Awards and Recognition
Leah strives to provide an excellent education for her students, and these efforts have been recognized and applauded. In April 2011, Leah was recognized by the School District of Janesville with the Making a Difference in Gifted and Talented Education Award for her work with innovative instruction and creativity development. Leah also was recognized by the School District of Janesville in the fall of 2014 as Teacher-of-the-Year. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Young Auditorium recognized Leah in April 2014 with an award for “outstanding work in classroom implementation of arts integration.”
Why does Leah recommend MSPE?
Leah would recommend the MSPE program to teachers who are interested in advancing their knowledge while practicing. “For a working practitioner, I believe the MSPE program provided an excellent blend of theory and practical application. Theory fueled my research process, while overarching MSPE principles, such as collaboration and partnership, provided a practical focus—thus serving as the catalyst for me to investigate the perspectives of various stakeholders and to draw upon creativity as the umbrella for my instructional design in the area of artistic pedagogy.”
Anders Rempel (Class of 2014) teaches seventh-grade English, social studies, and digital art at Stonybrook Middle School in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada. He is a motivated mid-career teacher who leads the school-wide behavior team and works as the school’s yearbook advisor. Professional development is important to him because it fuels his passion to teach. Anders is a lifelong resident of Manitoba and attained his undergraduate training in education at the University of Manitoba (B.Ed, 1999). Quality time with his wife and four young children are vital to his happiness. One of their favorite pastimes is travelling to Banff National Park in the beautiful Canadian Rockies to hike and enjoy the beautiful scenery as well as Canada’s best ice cream at Cows.
During his time in Dr. McGivern’s course, Designing and Managing the Learning Environment, Anders developed a specific interest in positive behavior as it connected to Stonybrook. It became evident to him that his colleagues and students could be supported by the development of clearly defined behavioral expectations through which a common language would be shared throughout the entire building. Accordingly, he focused on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in his Capstone: “My Capstone project, with a focus on positive behavior, enabled me to effect change at the school level. During my second year of MSPE studies I assumed the role of school-wide behavior team leader and initiated the process of implementing PBIS principles at Stonybrook. This work is ongoing and continues to be meaningful.”
In his late teens Anders made his first journey to Madison with his dad and uncle Wilmer, a UW-Madison graduate (M.A., 1964), to watch the Badgers play at Camp Randall. That trip proved to be a fantastic introduction to the city, campus, as well as university traditions. In the years that followed Anders developed aspirations to attend this world-class university but for a long time it seemed out of reach. However, through the MSPE program his longtime dream finally became a reality. While the summer residencies were busy, Anders and his family have special memories of the summer weeks they spent in Madison. He is grateful for the entire experience and is proud to be a Badger alumnus.
Why does Anders recommend MSPE?
The MSPE program comes highly recommended from Anders, who believes it has had long-lasting effects on his educational practice. “Completing the Capstone project and achieving a Master’s degree through the MSPE program has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on my life as a teacher. The expert instruction, cohort collaboration, and practical coursework helped invigorate my career on a day-to-day level in the classroom. It is gratifying to realize how my career trajectory changed for the better as a result of my studies in Madison.”
Richard Irvan (Class of 2013) serves as a Middle School History Curriculum Specialist at Democracy Prep, an expanding network of high-performing charter schools based in New York City that seek to close the achievement gap and prepare citizen-scholars for college and a life of active citizenship. His work in this leadership capacity focuses on developing high-quality assessments and instructional materials alongside teachers, as well as delivering bi-monthly professional development to the history teaching team.
Richard was a founding member of the network’s second middle school, Democracy Prep Harlem, and taught sixth-grade Global Literacy for two years. While a MSPE student, Richard also developed and taught a course on educational technology. He was able to use his Capstone, Advancing Digital Literacy in the Urban Middle School, to gather and analyze research to strengthen this course’s effectiveness.
Appreciation for the Curriculum
Richard found each course of the MSPE program to be relevant and meaningful to his work.
- Learning about technology’s integration with education sparked explorations of new ideas and provided opportunities to collaborate with peers, influencing his desire to develop his own educational technology course.
- Exposure to foundations of assessment gave him tools to develop and refine measurements of learning, which is a major part of his current position.
- Studying special education law and best practices for differentiation and motivation have helped him support struggling students in the classroom, as evidenced by steadily improved behavior and learning data.
- Gaining a deeper understanding of educational psychology research and developing a lens for identifying how systems can support the many needs of students and teachers have allowed him to become a successful leader.
- Finally, Richard appreciated the opportunity to learn about diverse learners: “Being part of a community that studied systemic racism and issues faced by low-income students (including cultural misunderstandings in the classroom) has been invaluable in developing the skills and understanding to work effectively with our school community.”
Why does Richard recommend MSPE?
Richard recommends the MSPE program to teachers who are interested in empowering themselves to take on new challenges. “The program helped equip me with a range of skills that have helped me in my teaching and transition to leadership. Taken holistically, MSPE gave me the language, research, and confidence to become a leader and agent for change in the New York City schools.”
Deborah Egly (Class of 2015) started and directs the All Aboard English Academy in Taipei, Taiwan. Debby has lived and taught English in Taiwan for more than seven years. Before moving overseas, Debby completed her undergraduate degrees in Chinese and East Asian Studies, as well as certificates in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Global Cultures, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008.
Starting a School
During her first few years in Taiwan, Debby began to notice that children often had negative learning experiences with English education. Her goal became to create engaging, positive English learning environments where children could excel. She enrolled in the MSPE program with the intention of applying the knowledge gained from the program to create her own English language school, and has found that her MSPE experiences guide her work each day: “As our school continues to grow, the education I received through the MSPE program is utilized more and more to enhance the learning experiences for students, develop new curricula, grow our school community, and improve upon our school culture.”
In her Capstone, Debby focused on the beneficial effects of connecting the home, school, and community: “I wanted to be able to start establishing positive spheres of support around children to promote academic and emotional growth, as I have found this sometimes to be lacking in traditional Taiwanese school systems.” This was an area of interest Debby developed throughout her time in MSPE, where she found that her coursework reinforced the importance of responsive classrooms that stimulate social, personal, and academic development.
Why does Debby recommend MSPE?
Debby recommends the MSPE program to teachers who want to build their capacity for positive change in their classrooms and schools. “The program set me up for success in so many ways. I am more capable of identifying both areas that are running smoothly at school and areas that may need improvement, and I feel very confident in my abilities to lead for change after my studies with the MSPE program. Additionally, since the coursework was related to a variety of topics, I could use what I learned and directly apply it to my school: adjusting and improving the curriculum; incorporating technology into the classroom; differentiating school materials and classes for individual and diverse learners; improving assessments for incoming and continuing students; creating better partnerships between home, school, and the community; improving collaboration among colleagues; and creating our school-wide classroom management model.”