New library, classroom set to create ‘teacher leaders’

August 23, 2021 / by / 0 Comment
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Assistant Professor Jena Akard celebrates the opening of the College of Education Lab Classroom.

Editor’s note: This is an expanded excerpt from the cover story on Lopes Live Labs in the August 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU Magazine

The second-story room of the Education Building has a big window that overlooks the center of campus, soon to be teeming with students of all backgrounds.

Inside the new Lopes for Literacy Multicultural Library, it’s easy to see why College of Education leadership was so excited to see what is going on in the world outside and reflect it.

The room is lined with books. The children’s books tell stories of justice, race relations, disabilities and other differences.

COE students training to be teachers can come here to be immersed in the language and stories of all children and learn how to relate to and teach them.

For example, “My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” is shelved near “We’ll Paint the Octopus Red” by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, which tells the story of another sister – a 6-year-old who finds out her new baby brother has Down syndrome.

Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick

“Students are going to be working with a variety of different types of students coming from a lot of different backgrounds,” said Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, COE’s Associate Dean who led the project. “They need to be familiar with them and conversant with them and be able to relate and connect with them when they design lessons for them.”

Gilpatrick worked with the GCU Library to compile the list of dozens of titles. The room is set up to discuss and record how children are taught these subjects through books with a nearby screen for viewing.

“One of the purposes of becoming a teacher is not only to help students understand themselves and how they can achieve their life purpose but to understand others on their journey,” COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield said. “So these books are essentially windows and mirrors. They give the opportunity to reflect who they are, but they also give the perspective into others’ worlds.”

The library will help future teachers develop lesson plans using the books but also provide fodder for such courses as early childhood education.

Holding the tools of the trade – books – while they practice is not just a throwback experience.

“So much of learning can be lecture oriented. But what we know in the College of Education, lecture is one mode of learning but it’s not the superior mode of learning. So we have to find ways to get our students involved actively in their learning,” Critchfield said. “This library and the classroom downstairs are ways we can get our students kinesthetically involved in their learning. That is critical.”

Downstairs, students can walk into a room and find it outfitted as if they were walking into a classroom to teach for the first time.

The new College of Education Lab Classroom is a model early childhood/ elementary education classroom where faculty will showcase state-of-the-art teaching strategies and techniques for teacher candidates.

In one corner are bins full of “manipulatives,” objects that help students use their hands to learn math, for example, and books to help them learn to read.

“We set it up as an experiential classroom,” said Assistant Professor Jena Akard, who led the design of it. “It’s a family life space where we can learn together and chat about what to do.”

College of Education leaders are proud of the new library, including (from left) Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Dr. Meredith Critchfield, Dr. Alicia Kozimor, Lauren Balsley and Jena Akard.

Decorations suited for early childhood, inspirational messages and even soft lamp lighting and homey wallpaper transform the room right into a space fit for kindergarten.

Akard said it’s important to give students a space that feels like their own and experience what an actual classroom feels like to show how teaching methods might unfold right in the space.

“We can’t always say what it will be like outside of GCU, but we can bring that to them. That is one of the goals,” Akard said.

It’s even outfitted with GCU pennants, something Akard encourages teacher candidates to do, and what she did as a young teacher — promote going to college.

“I told my kids, ‘You are going to college.’ I want to give that to my students to tell their kids, preschool all the way up – to see themselves as a lifelong learner,” she said.

Just as important is the “teacher leaders” banner, a reminder that when students leave GCU they are not only academically prepared, they are professionals. In this room, that’s exactly how they are treated – ready to lead.

The library and classroom fit snugly into the campus-wide effort that highlights applied learning where training comes to life.

Critchfield had a pithy way to put it, looking over the model classroom: “This isn’t sit and get. It’s learn and do.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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