Simon Fraser University recently adopted “The Engaged University” as its tagline, and the vision for the University speaks of engaging students, engaging research and engaging communities. This “new” vision for the University could not have been a better description of the first 50 years in the Faculty of Education; indeed, our entire history has been a testimony to the transformative power of genuine educational engagement on students, research and communities. The Faculty has always understood that “education” is a broad, multi-faceted and life-long construct and that we have a responsibility to attend to all aspects of educational experiences.
Teaching in the Faculty of Education is of the highest calibre. Students are actively engaged in the process and challenge of learning, and invariably deepen their conceptions, competence and connections with educational practice. Our programs are historically anchored in the desire to respond to educational need rather than to available delivery structures.
The first radical departure from accepted practice was the teacher education program that became known as the Professional Development Program (or PDP). We were the first to make extensive use of master teachers in the delivery of the teacher education program; the rich contributions of our Faculty Associates continue to transform education practice throughout BC. The traditional model of sequenced courses leading to brief practicum or internship experiences was blown apart in favor of integrated, problem-based, inquiry focused and reflective professional development for teachers, long before these became fashionable terms in educational circles. The model relied on close collaboration with educational partners—primarily school districts—which in turn fed the development of other programs in the Faculty. For example, the Diplomas in Field Programs arose out of the need to address specific professional growth issues for practicing educators. The Faculty also responded to the need to broaden access to educational opportunity: community-based M.Ed.’s were developed to provide graduate experiences in a wide variety of site-based educational issues in locations around the province. We were the first faculty at SFU to bring programs to the people, rather than relying on bringing people to the programs. Our innovative EdD program was designed to meet the demands for creative and effective leadership in educational settings. And, throughout all of these innovative programmatic responses to educational needs, the Faculty offered research-intensive programs of the highest quality, enabling students to develop and hone their research skills to answer critical educational issues.
The Faculty of Education is a community of world-class researchers engaged in the exploration of a wide spectrum of educational issues; we currently have 14 active research centres and institutes. Since our early days, we have characteristically “punched above our weight” in terms of both the volume and quality of scholarly contributions to the literature in and practice of education, and we have also historically “overachieved” in the rates at which our research is funded by external bodies such as SSHRC. Graduates of our research degrees can be found informing educational practice at educational institutes around the world, and students come from around the world to work with our faculty members. And, we have been leaders in recognizing and honouring diverse ways of knowing and learning. The extent to which our research has engaged both the scholarly and applied educational communities is truly phenomenal.
Our programs and our research have intersected in special and remarkable ways in our communities of practice. When people in BC’s northern communities described the difficulties of finding teachers to stay in those communities, we created the Alaska Highway Consortium on Teacher Education (AHCOTE) and brought our high-quality PDP to northern BC. When people working as aides within classrooms expressed frustration over the barriers preventing them from becoming certified teachers, we created the Professional Linking Program (PLP), and brought it to diverse communities such as Fort Ware and Quesnel. We created opportunities for reciprocal community development in the creation of the International Teacher Education Module (ITEM), giving students the opportunity to experience educational practice in places such as Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, China, Northern India and Mexico, and to develop a global perspective on educational practice.
The Friends of Simon Program reaches into our local community and links university student mentors with students in the K-12 system to help develop literacy skills. We share facilities with L.A. Matheson School in Surrey, and run our high-demand graduate counselling clinic from that facility. And, very recently, the Cmolik Prize was initiated to recognize excellence in educational practice in BC. In these and countless other ways, programs and research of the Faculty of Education have enriched, and been enriched by, our deep community engagement.
The story of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University is truly a remarkable one. In the sharing of these stories, we can only provide brief glimpses into what it has meant to be associated with the Faculty. Many of these stories are highly personal—amusing anecdotes, pride stories and depictions of experiences from another era weave together to form a tapestry of life in the Faculty. I hope they will inspire as fond memories and deepened sense of pride for you as they did for me.