Suzanne Robinson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas and the Area Coordinator for High Incidence Special Education teacher education. Dr. Robinson earned her doctoral degree with a major in Special Education and a minor in Cognitive Psychology from the University of New Mexico. Dr. Robinson has directed 22 funded research and training projects and held eight different editorship positions.
Robinson - Philosophy of Teaching
My teaching load consists of core coursework for the High Incidence Special Education endorsement and masters degree. I advise students at the masters level enrolled in the High Incidence Special Education program and advise doctoral students with an emphasis in high incidence disabilities, educational systems reform (with a focus on Teacher Preparation and school level curriculum and MTSS reform). I am also involved in undergraduate general education Special Education experiences, specifically designing a blended General Education/Special Education initial license program and standards, and an online KU Special Education masters degree. My goal is to prepare students, regardless of their path, to be highly effective educators in addressing the needs of students with disabilities as well as other marginalized students, who struggle in their learning.
My philosophy of teaching is grounded by the goals and desired outcomes for students enrolled in our programs: professional practice as teachers/leaders, and knowledge about special education pedagogy and research. With these goals and outcomes in mind, my approach to instruction is based on student engagement, development of critical thinking, knowledge acquisition of evidence-based practice, proficiency in the application of evidence-based practices, and dispositions toward social justice and advocacy for those who struggle in school, specifically those with disabilities. I will explain the context in which I think about my instruction, and then elaborate on engagement, critical thinking, knowledge acquisition, development of proficiency, and dispositions clarification.
Most often, students come to our programs with experience as teachers, as employees within public school systems, and certainly as products of schools and personal experience with teachers. Yet their cognitive schema about disability in the context of current society, educational systems, their potential role and responsibilities to students, families, and other educators is often inaccurate, or at a minimum, incomplete. Therefore, it is important to both assess the prior knowledge of my students and build on it so that their experience in my classes moves them from novice to greater expertise. It is also important for my students to understand their instructional contribution in the larger context of societal expectations of schooling as well as their responsibility in informing others about the social construct of disability, its fluidity, and the impact of disability on the lives of individuals. Thus, my approach to instruction is to nest learning the knowledge and skills of teaching literacy and other academic disciplines, collaboration with others in creating a universally designed and accessible learning environment, etc., in this larger context, and to encourage students to think critically about how to apply what they are learning.
Engagement is critical to learning. Therefore my instruction incorporates many opportunities for students to engage by: summarizing what one understands, participating in critical discourse with peers, practicing learned strategies with others and by one’s self, with their students in classrooms, receiving feedback, and reflecting. I provide multiple pathways for students to engage in knowledge acquisition (text, web, video, audio, etc.), to choose source material and learning opportunities that best meet their needs, and to select from multiple options to demonstrate mastery.
Students also need to develop critical thinking skills in the context of their potential roles and responsibilities as educators in the area of special education. In this regard, it is important that they develop a clearly and specifically articulated schema on how learning occurs, how to scaffold learning, and how to support the development of confident and independent learners. They need to understand typical learning in a developmental context, so that when learning by an individual is atypical, they can match instruction to individual learning needs. To assist students in developing this understanding, I use concept formation strategies and techniques, and then provide practice opportunities with specific case studies to ground their understanding in practical applications. Regularly, I model the strategies I want them to use with their students in our learning, so that they can see, experience, and reflect on what strategy instruction looks like and feels like.
My instruction has to be grounded in the best information the field has developed, so I strive to be current and informed about evidence-based and emerging directions in scientifically sound practice. Students must have access to the best information the field has to offer, understand the science that underlies what they are reading, hearing or seeing, and learn how to translate research into practices that are individually and developmentally appropriate to the learners they will teach, or that will inform the research in which they will engage.
I must assist my students in the translation of knowledge into effective practice, either in teaching or research. To that end, I incorporate regular practice and application activities into my courses. I find that adult learners, who are transitioning from novices to experts who are confident and thoughtful implementers of pedagogy or research practices, require multiple opportunities to practice and receive feedback, reflect, and practice again. I use in-class, out-of-class, group, pair, and independent practice strategies. Within course constraints, I adhere to mastery learning principles.
Finally, I feel my role as a teacher in a professional school is to transmit and develop in students a set of dispositions and an ethical orientation that respects the individual, the family however it is constituted, and the limitations as well as advances in our understanding of disability. Further, I promote dispositions that respect individual rights and identity, and one’s responsibility as an educator and citizen to contribute to improving the role of institutions of education in our society. With this goal in mind, my instruction is permeated with opportunities for students to reflect on and discuss ethical issues and the range of appropriate response. My goal is for students to leave my sphere of influence with expertise and the ability to educate well; as a professional with strong critical thinking skills that are put to good use within a moral and ethical frame of reference where respect for the individual and furthering that individual’s independence and quality of life is at the forefront of their professional practice.
I advise two groups of graduate students; a) students completing an adaptive special education endorsement/masters degree, and b) students completing a doctoral degree. I approach both groups with a mentorship framework, providing accurate and timely information about their program, and then support, experiences, and feedback that facilitate their reaching their goals. The range and intensity of mentoring varies depending on student goals. However, by knowing one’s students, I strive to provide what is needed. For masters students, besides providing guidance and support, I try to help them envision their potential as teachers, change agents, or other leadership roles that might be in their future. For doctoral students, mentorship is a critical component of the entire doctoral experience. I believe doctoral education is equal parts coursework, engagement in ongoing knowledge creation work (research and development), and mentorship in professional roles in higher education or education leadership. Through attentive, informative, and collegial advising, my responsibility is to facilitate my students accomplishing their goals.
- Practice-based preparation, evidence-based practices, highly effective educators
My scholarly work is currently focused on systems change. One strand of that work is at the LEA level; specifically exploring how high schools might provide academic supports to struggling students within a multi-tiered system. The other strand of reform work is within the CEEDAR Center, which is a national technical assistance center with a mission to support states in developing aligned educator preparation systems that insure that all teachers are prepared to address the needs of students with disabilities they will have in their classes, regardless of their setting.
- Teacher education
- Multi-tiered systems of support
- Technical assistance
My service work is to the Special Education Department as Chair of Admissions Committee (September 2015 and ongoing), Director of Online Programs (June 2013 to June, 2015), member of Teacher Education Committee (ended September 2015). My service to the KU SOE has been as a SPED representative to the Teacher Education Committee. My service to the field has been as leadership within the CEC Division of Teacher Education (Presidential line 2010-2013).
- PhD, Special Education; Minor-Cognitive Psychology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, 1983
- MS, Special Education, George Peabody College, Nashville, TN, 1976
- BS, Elementary Education, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, 1973