Searching for New Markets and Sustained Growth: Transforming the Faculty of EducationElisabeth Rees-Johnstone | Executive Director of Continuing Education and Professional Learning at OISE, University of Toronto
Across the higher education space, leaders are searching for ways to reinvent their divisions and to serve new markets. There are few faculties on any campus quite as entrenched in a single industry as faculties of education, colloquially known as Teachers’ College. Traditionally focused on educating K-12 teachers, market shifts are prompting faculty of education leaders to reconsider their mission. In this interview, Rees-Johnstone shares her thoughts on what the future could hold for faculties of education, and discusses what it’s going to take to get there.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What is the role of the faculty of education—or Teachers’ College—on most campuses?
Elisabeth Rees Johnstone (ERJ): When you think Teacher’s College, or the faculty of education, you’re thinking teacher education. This leads us to question what a teacher is. It’s viewed primarily as a professional who’s operating in the K-12 space, but this definition doesn’t factor in the diversity of the teacher role, or what it means to be a teacher in today’s context.
Just to think of the faculty of education as a Teacher’s College is quite myopic. When you think about formal education, it’s a system and it runs along a significant continuum. It starts with early childhood education then moves to K-12, postsecondary higher ed, and then we move into corporate learning and development.
When many talk about lifelong learning and adult learning as critical to the health of the labor market economy, it leads to discussions around investment in employee learning and development. Employers are certainly considering that as they think about the various training opportunities to provide inside organizations. There’s a huge population in the corporate learning environment that needs to be served long-term.
Evo: Why is it so critical for faculty of education leaders to begin looking at ways to reinvent the traditional faculty of education?
ERJ: The postsecondary space is facing significant challenges; we are all well aware of the common challenges around funding and funding models. Those who are consumers of educational solutions have many questions and wonder whether a credential will give them access to various career pursuits. The consumer is more savvy at asking questions.
If you look at all levels, employers are spending significant dollars in training and are struggling with how best to operate these programs. The faculties of education have an opportunity but also an obligation to serve the community as well as ensure the long-term viability of the faculty of education within the university sector.
Evo: What is the potential for the faculty of education to expand its role into the corporate space?
ERJ: Part of it is redefining who is a teacher and who is an education professional. When you start with broadening the question, you start to realize that anyone and everyone can fall into that category of adult education, including communications, community development, counseling, entrepreneurialism, HR, public relations, whatever the case may be.
Evo: To your mind, how can the faculty of education expand its role within the campus itself?
ERJ: It would be great for other faculties to have more engagement with faculties of education and their partners in that space. I equate it to what it’s like in the consulting industry. In the corporate world, for example, you have your team and there’s expertise within that team but you’ll go outside of that team just to hear more or get an objective opinion or whatever the case may be.
Within higher education, there’s a bit of an assumption that everyone knows teaching and learning best practices. We’re learning that that’s actually not the case, which is why so many centers of teaching and learning have popped up and established themselves on campuses, providing a great service in trying to support teaching quality.
Evo: What do you think the first step needs to be for faculties of education to begin expanding that role towards this vision?
ERJ: It starts with a redefinition of “education professional.” It also requires an understanding of the various systems and the context we’re operating and moving outside of.
If we’re no longer just in the K-12 system, what are the other systems? When you start peeling back the many layers of this onion, there are segments including K-12, postsecondary, and corporate learning and development. There are also transferable skills that cross all the natural system segments. Technological competency is one skill that cuts across every single one of those systems, and effective teaching and facilitation practice also fall into that category.
Evo: What are some of the big hurdles to actually rising to the challenge of reinvention?
ERJ: I don’t know if there’s enough contemplation on the nature of change. One of the big hurdles is the mentality; understanding what’s required is to really actively listen, looking at various points of information and determining where the education industry is headed.
Active listening is a key piece. Like anything else, organizations can be extremely insular. Curiosity and being curious outside of one’s own space is critical. If we were to think about Steve Jobs, when he was looking to reinvent Apple in the retail space, so he didn’t look at Best Buy. In fact he didn’t look at what any tech retailers were doing. He actually went to the Ritz Carleton and looked at the hospitality industry.
If you’re going to stay within the boundaries and parameters of what is, it’s not going to generate new ideas or new thought processes. You’ll find in combination with your review and reading, some opportunities for innovation.
Evo: To your mind what happens to faculties of education that refuse to transform their approach to the market?
ERJ: The market will speak. The opportunities to participate and support a change and be a part of molding and having a say in terms of how our industry is evolving, that voice is going to be diminished. If we’re only going to sit on the sidelines and let things go as they’re going, then we really can’t complain if the market decides to move or go elsewhere.
This interview has been edited for length.