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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Curricular Gaps in Preservice Education

Curricular Gaps in Preservice Education

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Department Chairperson

Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Some argue that flexibility and adaptability in our nation’s educational workforce are skillsets that preservice training leaves out, whether in preparation for teaching or educational administration.  Others would say this is not so.

Yet, it is interesting to hear from undergraduate candidates and to envision how we could put science to the measurement and validation of a few anecdotal perspectives (a hint to those designing dissertations). Consider the following:

In a panel of those recently involved in preservice training, candidates said that their university experiences left them “completely unprepared” to deal with the number of days off from school due to inclement weather this past winter, and beyond, the many days that started with two-hour delays, where upon arrival, students often proceeded straight to specials (music, art, and physical education) and then to lunch, leaving core-content instruction for the afternoons.  All this took place amidst pressure for student performance on standardized tests.

Can we at the university do anything about this? 

No, not the inclement weather -- Rather, in helping candidates develop their flexibility and adaptability for educational careers without making them too uncomfortable?  And where does true learning exist, amidst a reasonable level of discomfort?

Let’s see – How to encourage flexibility and adaptability … We could:

1.     Ask students to prepare presentations and (to their surprise) ensure that the technology does not work for the presentation.
2.     Change the rules of an assignment a day before deadline, or the morning of the deadline … or ask students to develop rubrics for their presentations to include negative scores.
3.     Invite unanticipated visitors to class, including the employees or family members of candidates, to up the ante in class discussions or to simply make them nervous.
4.     Provide verbal directions to visual learners and visual directions to those more auditory … or ask individual learners to work in teams and team learners to work individually.
5.     Assign each person on the group project one of the following roles: leader, leader’s supporter, quiet worker, lazy slug, saboteur (without telling folks about others’ respective roles).
6.     Inform students that everything they create during the semester will be “open-source” and encourage everyone to borrow freely from their colleagues’ work.

We wonder how much of these techniques would engender adaptability and flexibility.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guesstimate that the level of angst and potential pushback for pioneering professors, courageous (or stupid) enough to provide these experiences, would assuredly offer its own disincentive.  Ironically, however, these approaches (to which many might cry afoul) may very well be the training our graduates need to handle the challenges provided to them upon graduation.

Some would say that we in preservice education circles are too pillow-soft to provide REAL, unanticipated experiences demanding the bottom-line risk or even the failure needed to effectively promote flexibility and adaptability in our future generations of educators.  In avoiding such, are we choosing instead a safer route for ourselves, and thus, leaving our newbies exposed to packs of jackals once in the workforce? 

Even more interestingly is what might happen if students manufactured experiences on their own that pushed the envelope – i.e. taking REAL risks of growth (and failure) by going where no current preservice training has gone before.

We heard recently of the student who responded creatively after hearing an instructor’s final essay directions, “Please offer an example of how you have exhibited COURAGE as a student of higher education.”  Shortly after the test commenced, the student approached the instructor’s desk, submitted his essay, and walked out of the room. 

It said, Give me an A.  How’s THAT for Courage!”

We wonder what curricular gaps this instructor’s approach might have addressed, depending on the response provided.


Dr. Ryan Donlan and Dr. Steve Gruenert are hoping that further research is conducted to determine, scientifically, what is left out of preservice education (and what are the results) for leaders and teachers in our nation’s schools.  If you would like to inform them of your research or pose research questions for others to consider, please don’t hesitate to write them at or 

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