Mizzou Academy Brings K-12 Spark to Higher Education Teaching

Posted in: News
Pictures of associated educators.
Top Row: Dr. Ta Boonseng, Dr. Adrian Clifton, Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Rebekkah Hanak
Second Row: Kimberly Kester, David Prats Vidal, Brian Stuhlman, Stephanie Walter

It was a snowy start to the new semester when Brian Stuhlman and Dr. Adrian Clifton skated, slid, and trudged across campus to meet their new group of college students. While both instructors currently live in mid-Missouri, most of their work is with middle and high school students who live 5,000+ miles away in much warmer climates. The two serve as academic leads in the Mizzou Academy CoTeach program, which supports partner schools in Brazil and Spain. This semester, Stuhlman and Clifton will draw on their collective experiences teaching and leading public, private, and international K-12 schools as they guide future educators through their college class.   

Stuhlman and Clifton represent a group of eight professionals who support both K-12 and higher education students here at the University of Missouri. 

“At Mizzou Academy, we celebrate that everything is connected,” says Executive Director Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver. “Our work in higher education reminds us how connected teaching and learning is across PK-20+.” 

PK-20+ is a term that describes educational contexts that span preschool through higher education. At Mizzou, the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis department offers a doctorate program for PK-20+ leaders. In addition to teaching undergraduates in the college, Fishman-Weaver also advises doctoral students in this program.

As the K-12 lab school within the University of Missouri’s College of Education and Human Development, Mizzou Academy is well-positioned to bring new perspectives and practical experience to the college. Fishman-Weaver is excited to see more of the Mizzou Academy team contributing to higher education teaching, learning, and advising. “The experiences and the expertise our team have developed in intercultural competencies and blended learning are valuable assets for college teaching and especially teacher education.” 

Teaching and Leading PK-20+: Everything Is Connected  

In the spring of 2022, Rebekkah (“Beka”) Hanak served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Stuhlman and Fishman-Weaver’s Tuesday/Thursday college class: Inquiry into Schools, Community, and Society I class (pictured below). Hanak loved the class, and the next semester moved into co-teaching her own section. Around this same time, we also needed someone to help develop our middle school math program at Mizzou Academy. Hanak jumped in there, as well, and has done important work in helping us reimagine our Grade 6-8 math courses. As a PhD student in Mathematics Education, Hanak says that “college teaching has helped me to broaden my approach to education through those shared lessons and perspectives, helping me to improve my work with younger students and their educators.” In addition to the Inquiry class, Hanak also teaches Quantitative Reasoning, and supervises student teachers. 

Group photo of educators and students.

Stephanie Walter, Mizzou Academy’s Director for Teaching and Learning, also celebrates the power of connection between K-12 and college teaching. Walter says that “Working with preservice educators energizes me. They are so sharp, funny, and creative. They ask thoughtful questions and share fresh ideas that help me in my work with K-12 students. Particularly this semester in working with an online class, I can see what lights them up online and gets them talking and what doesn’t work as well. This really informs my approach to writing curriculum for other online courses,” including the middle and high school courses she supports at Mizzou Academy.

Academic Leads and Assistant Professors Kimberly Kester and David Prats Vidal agree that their work in higher education reinforces the importance of teaching foundational skills in K-12. Prats Vidal reflects that his experiences teaching college students inspire him to “keep asking myself how our courses can prepare [K-12 students] better if they decide to take [world language courses] in college.” Kester also sees firsthand how teaching literacy and composition skills in her K-12 language arts courses translate to the college experience. ,. “Building a strong foundation is so important to success, and I want everyone to have the chance to meet their goals and excel.” Last semester, Kester developed and taught an undergraduate course in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

Assistant Professor Dr. Ta Boonseng teaches personal development courses to high school students at Mizzou Academy, as well as undergraduate and graduate courses in Educational Counseling and School Psychology. He says that “teaching at the university has deeply influenced my approach in K-12 settings. Engaging with students’ diverse teaching strategies has broadened my perspective in ways I hadn’t imagined. Their insights have sparked new ideas and methods that I’ve eagerly incorporated into my own classes. Moreover, witnessing their passion for teaching and learning has reignited my motivation to stay current with research and continually evolve both personally and professionally.”

Teaching for the Spark

Whether you’re teaching in early childhood or graduate school, every teacher knows about the spark. The spark is when a learner realizes there is a bright new skill, concept, or strike of courage inside them. 

Sometimes you can see the spark in the mastery of content: “Teaching elementary Spanish is very rewarding,” shares Prats Vidal, “because you see students who started the course with not much (if any) knowledge of Spanish, and they finish being able to introduce themselves and maintain a basic conversation. I like to see their expressions when they do that.”

Sometimes it’s a performance-based event that creates the spark: “One really positive experience that stands out,” says Brian Stuhlman, “is from Spring Semester last year (2023) when several of Dr. Fishman-Weaver’s and my students collaborated on a presentation at the CEHD Teacher’s Conference.  This group of hearty-yet-nervous students banded together to present on one of the assignments in LTC2040 which asks them to create an identity collage.  They introduced the work they had done generally, and then each presented about what they had produced and why.  It was so rewarding to watch the students navigate the experience and then celebrate their success.”  

Wherever and however it appears–from preschool through doctoral programs–that spark is what keeps hope alive for the ever-changing educational landscape.

Hope for the Field of Education

Our team has bright hopes for the field of education, and these hopes are renewed each semester in their work at Mizzou Academy and with future educators. Hanak says, as the semester continues, she “looks forward to simply being part of my students’ journeys as we discuss their future roles as educators, their expectations, challenges, and the overall excitement of stepping into their own classrooms. This ongoing engagement is not just about academic preparation but about supporting them as they transition into impactful and powerful educators.”

Stuhlman hopes to provide the future teachers in his class “with a few tools they can use as they head into their own classrooms.  My hope is that my students are in some ways more prepared than I was for the challenges and opportunities that may await them as they enter the profession.  I hope to give support to the dreams of their future classrooms.”

“Just like our K-12 students, our college students are unique,” says Walter. “They have their own special blends of wisdom, experience, humor, personality, and style. I hope each of our college students feels empowered to draw on who they are as they discover and celebrate the strengths of their students. Their authenticity and compassion are going to have a huge impact on their school communities.” 

Our team suspects these future classrooms will serve intercultural communities, that they will leverage technology, and that they will support global connections across teaching and learning. In short, they may provide the kinds of flexible learning opportunities where one can be skating across an icy campus in mid-Missouri one hour and video conferencing with middle school leaders in São Paulo the next, discovering together in these connected moments the spark that has been there all along.