Faculty chatting in hallway with school principal

Faculty toured Scott’s Branch Middle/High School in Summerton as part of the Listen and Learn Tour.

For the second consecutive year, the Clemson University College of Education went on the road for its Listen and Learn Tour, where faculty and staff met with teachers, students and administrators across South Carolina to hear their stories and explore how the college can learn from and support their work.

Nine members of the College of Education faculty and staff visited Scott’s Branch Middle/High School in Summerton (Clarendon School District 1), Manning High School (Clarendon School District 2), and the Chesterfield County School District, and also spent time with the college benefactor Darla Moore, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, and Summerton community leaders Bea Brown Rivers and Marguerite De Laine.

We asked College of Education Founding Dean George Petersen for his reflections on the trip, and its impact on the college and its work.

How did Listen and Learn come about? About 18 months ago, Call Me MISTER Director Roy Jones and Director of College Relations Dr. Lee D’Andrea approached me with the idea. They are well respected and know teachers and administrators across the state, and they thought it would be a good idea to not only meet teachers, administrators and students but also to visit them in their own communities to learn about their successes and struggles.

Why does the College of Education take these trips? We are doing this as part of our larger outreach to the state to be present and intentional and to listen and learn in the hope of affecting some positive change.

Faculty members listen to student speaking

Listen and Learn participants heard from Manning High School students about their experiences.

Why is it important for College of Education faculty and staff to travel to and learn from people in other parts of the state? Clemson is a land-grant university, and the state of South Carolina is our backyard in terms of our commitment to serve the state. Education is key to economic prosperity and workforce development, so understanding the multifaceted and complex challenges faced by educators and students across the state should inform our practice, research, outreach and partnerships. This trip helps us in that effort.

What assets did you see in the places you visited? I saw wonderful people, wonderful kids, wonderful faculty, wonderful staff, and wonderful administrators. I saw folks who are working at heroic levels to provide the best educational experiences possible. I saw people committed to the students, the community, and each other.

What challenges did you see in the places you visited? I think many challenges we saw involve how schools are funded and how difficult it is to retain faculty in some of these schools because of their location or resources. Another challenge is a lack of developed partnerships with institutions of higher education who could provide professional development supporting teacher retention – programs like our new teacher residency program or our “Perfecting Your Roar” professional development for first-year teachers.

How are these visits informing how the College of Education engages its work? First of all, it informs individual faculty members about significant challenges. Second, it allows us to have a more informed conversation about the actual needs of the state so we can begin in a more thoughtful and intentional fashion to consider partnerships, professional development, and program development in settings that merit a different perspective and approach informed by where they are.

Listen and Learn members with school superintendent at conference table

The Clemson team met with Chesterfield County School District Superintendent Harrison Goodwin (left) and his leadership team.

What have you personally taken away from these trips? In all of these schools, I see my Mom– a single mother who was a migrant farm worker until she earned a college degree and became a kindergarten teacher. These are people who desire and work to break through and succeed but who have a pretty steep mountain to climb. These trips reaffirm for me the need for us to be there. I have great admiration for the faculty, staff and students in these schools and enjoy engaging with them.

Reflections from other Listen and Learn Tour participants:

The Listen and Learn Tour emphasized to me the importance of continuing to develop innovative and responsive programs to prepare educators with the needs of the entire state in mind. As a College of Education at a land-grant institution, it is important that we continue to frame our work in this way. – Michelle Cook, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies

As a researcher of leadership development in high-needs schools, this trip provided me with an important opportunity to understand better the challenges of leading, teaching and learning in some of the rural areas of our state from the very people who work and study in them every day. Hans Klar, Associate Professor, Department of Educational and Organizational Leadership Development

I enjoyed every bit of the trip and can’t imagine a better way to get out and learn about education in South Carolina. This kind of invaluable experience cannot be duplicated by sitting in a presentation or reading a book. – Amanda Rumsey, Assistant Professor, School Counseling, Department of Education and Human Development

As a junior faculty member that’s new to this state, this opportunity was enlightening, educational, and eye-opening. Schools demonstrated a remarkable sense of hope and resiliency in the face of hardships and poverty. Each school district allowed us a few moments to walk through their schools to observe their successes and struggles while also exploring ways that others could offer support. Rachelle Savitz, Assistant Professor of Adolescent Literacy, Department of Education and Human Development