Combine lessons in lifespan development, teacher education and leadership, and what do you get? Central Michigan University calls it FELC: the Future Educators Learning Community.
Recreation, parks and leisure services administration faculty member Jamie Brown calls it a new way to cross departmental lines and immerse freshmen in fundamentals of becoming a teacher or other education professional.
"FELC has given me people to ask for advice, study with, rely on for problems." — Kassidy Cook, special education major
"It's good to be innovative," Brown said. "We have these great programs, and we need to avoid being in our own silos."
FELC merges three teacher education-related courses into one continuous learning experience, with lessons and assignments that complement and build on each other.
For example, students make a "life map" of their experiences in one course, write an autobiography in another, view it through the lens of leadership in another, then integrate everything in a five-minute presentation.
Students also volunteer and observe at one of five area schools, followed by a "FELC Tank" assignment similar to the invention-pitching show "Shark Tank": They present a plan that they think would help the school or community.
Three in one
Brown oversees CMU's leadership minor and teaches LDR 200, Introduction to Leadership. Suezell Francek, in teacher education and professional development, teaches EDU 107, Introduction to Teaching. Holly Hoffman, in human environmental studies, teaches HDF 100, Lifespan Development. All are three-credit courses within the College of Education and Human Services.
The same 25 students attend all three courses, taught back to back with short breaks in between. Throughout the semester they work in different assigned small groups.
"At the end of this, they will have worked with everyone in the class," Brown said. It's a way to build team spirit and learn to collaborate effectively.
"Having the same people in three classes in a row has helped us grow closer, learn better and stay engaged more," said Kassidy Cook, a freshman from Colon, Michigan, majoring in special education with an early childhood development and learning minor. "We have created such a community."
That's the idea.
Brown said FELC, now in its second year, grew out of a focus on shared educational experiences, or "learning communities."
Students in FELC also are part of the Education and Human Services Residential College on the second floor of Sweeney Hall.
The resulting team spirit supports students in teacher education.
"FELC has given me people to ask for advice, study with, rely on for problems," Cook said. "My professors show they care about us. We can come to them about anything, and that has changed the way I view class."
Although teacher education students need to take its three component courses, FELC is not mandatory — students can take the courses separately.
But there's an advantage in taking them together, said Mount Pleasant freshman Rebekah Christie, majoring in early childhood development and learning.
"One of the biggest benefits I have experienced by having the linked classes is realizing how intertwined a child's development is with adult influences," she said, "and how a teacher can aid or hinder a child's mental, physical and emotional development."
Cook sees another benefit: the motivation to get out of bed early on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"Having these three professors two days a week don't make me dread waking up at 8 a.m.," she said. "They help motivate me to want to wake up at 8 a.m."