TeachLINK Revised
Making the Connections
Issue: # 7
Spring  2013
The Oklahoma Teacher Connection 
 A Division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
A Message From the OTC Director:
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Goldie Thompson,
Director of Teacher Education and the Oklahoma Teacher Connection





We are nearing the end of another busy semester, with much happening in the world of education.  As we face new changes in the educational landscape, let us reflect upon our accomplishments and be ever mindful of the difference our efforts make in the lives of students.  Our work to ensure quality teaching and learning is always evolving and it is important that we continue to advocate for those practices that will enhance this process. 


We hope that this edition of the TeachLink will encourage you as you continue in your efforts to advance education in our state.  Enjoy!








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Goldie Thompson 

Direct from the Editor's Desk


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Deena Thomas, Editor

Spring is HERE,  and GROWTH is expanding EXPONENTIALLY!!!


Spring is in full swing, and with the newness of the season, Oklahoma's schools of teacher education are budding new programs and sprouting fresh academic developments! Growth is in lavish bloom!


As promised, premiering this issue is Creating New Discoveries, which parades a unique partnership between UCO's A+ Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools' Van Buren Elementary School. As an added bonus, TeachLINK would also like to introduce STEM Snapshots, a state and national forum that keeps you abreast of the most current STEM initiative and programs.
Coming soon, the Oklahoma Teacher Connection will have a Facebook page, another vehicle of communication to keep our shareholders talking and collaborating!

We hope you enjoy this issue, and remember, please contact us if you have something you would like to share, for our goal is to promote YOU!



Making the Connections,

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New Leadership

     Dr. Blake Sonobe Takes the Reins as OSRHE Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs


Dr. Blake Sonobe, a man who is no stranger to higher education, traded in a smaller hat for larger one when he accepted the position as the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.


Dr. Blake Sonobe, OSRHE's Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Sonobe vacated his post at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) at the start of the new year, where he served as the Provost for academic and student affairs since 2005. He began his tenure at SWOSU in 1990, holding the positions of chemistry professor, chemistry chair, and the interim chair/chemistry and physics chair consecutively.


The Vice Chancellor joins OSHRE at a pivotal point in higher education and, according to Chancellor Glen Johnson, the former senior academic officer comes well prepared. One of his new assignments is Complete College America, a statewide and national initiative.


"I have had a tremendous amount of experience in the classroom, understanding students and faculty, and basically, understanding what makes the system work. With that understanding, we can do the kinds of things that will actually improve what we do. My association with other faculty members, with administrators, and with students will help move forward Complete College America. It takes a complete package," Sonobe said.


Sonobe stressed that if the state is going to increase the number of college graduates, it starts early in the lower grades of academia. He said that the preparation process for college starts in the third and fourth grades.


"A student has to be in tune with going to college and with doing well in school, especially in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, where the governor is pushing so hard and emphasizing. It is important to create the proper mindset early with children in the lower grades, so that they can come prepared to work, and do the kinds of things that are necessary to eventually finish and graduate with a college degree," Sonobe said.


He shared that his experience running STEM camps for middle school students has proven beneficial. Involving kids early on is key to increasing their interest and keeping them connected to math and science.  


"We are working to put together as a complete package, starting with the Common Core State Standards, and making sure our students are learning the kinds of things they need to learn, demonstrating competencies in the PARCC assessments, which will prepare them to take the ACT and the SAT to enter college. This line of initiatives will improve Oklahoma's economic development," he said.


Sonobe challenged educators to find ways to make STEM content more intriguing, motivating and supporting their students to embrace and accept that STEM courses are difficult, but he emphasized that they are also fun.


Funding continues to be a challenge facing both common education and higher education. Both educational systems need an increasing continuous supply of money to help keep the current reform afloat, as well as introduce new programs and initiatives to move the state forward, and one being student services.


"I see the student services programs evolving to encompass more of what the students need to ensure that our institutions are meeting those needs. One of the things that the Chancellor has in his plans for Complete College America is that institutions are able to provide the counseling services needed on our campuses, more faculty, as well as other services," Sonobe said.


On behalf of the agency, the Chancellor has presented a legislative agenda, requesting $1.05 billion in allocations, a 9.5 percent increase from last year's allocation of $955 million. The allocation increase Sonobe says the current request brings the state system back to the 2008 funding levels. The current budget lags a couple of years behind, and the allocations have not been able to keep pace with today's higher education expenditures, namely the rising cost of tuition.


"Over the past three to four years, we have taken funding cuts, and the funding cuts have impacted the kinds of things the state can provide byway of allocations to our colleges and universities; however, future allocations to institutions will be performance based, " Sonobe said. 


He explained that the universities have done a fabulous job in seeking out ways to cut costs through energy and program efficiencies, as well as reaping sizable educational discounts for services and equipment, a measure that takes a large degree of ingenuity.  


With less than three months on the job, Sonobe admits that personally adjustments are necessary as he navigates his way through his new role. "Procedurally, OSRHE is quite different from a higher education institution, but with the help of the OSRHE staff I'm getting there," he joked.


Synthesizing the Practice

Claudia Swisher Enjoys a Passionate Ongoing Commitment to Her
Students and Reading


Upon stepping into her classroom, a visitor is immediately engulfed and subdued by the sweet fragrance of jasmine, burning from a decorative Scentsy pot.  


Your eyes are captivated, scanning the dwelling, a tranquil, peaceful relaxation spot, furnished with soft, colorful, beanbag chairs, supersized pillows, and every wall is encircled by bookshelves, loaded with every genre of book imaginable.  

Claudia Swisher reads along with her students during each class period.


A low volume backdrop of soft classical music is playing, settling and releasing any tension brought on by a hectic day at school. The musical vibrations are projected onto a SMART board, redirecting your attention to the image that resembles ripples made by a pebble thrown into a pond.


A dozen or more bulletin boards are posted throughout the room, displaying pictures of her former students that she has taught over her 38-year career.


Are you wondering where this place is?


You have entered Claudia Swisher's Reading for Pleasure classroom at Norman North High School, where each day during every class period, her students' daily assignment is to read.


Read. Read. Read. They are reading for pleasure - it's that plain and simple.


Students read what they want to read.  Multiple grade levels make up a class of students, who read at their own pace. Periodically, throughout the semester, students write reflections about what they have read. There is no seating chart, for students sit where they choose, and they just read.


"And they pay me to do this," Swisher chuckles. 

Claudia kid
Students have the option to sit and read in desks or in beanbag chairs.


Claudia Swisher has been a classroom teacher just shy of four decades, a lifelong career that she obviously loves.


The National Board Certified Teacher has multiple certifications, which include English, library science, and reading specialist, and she lacks one hour from having a special education certification, all of which she says has helped shape the reading for pleasure course.


"This class is absolutely a byproduct of every single piece of what I have learned and the experiences that I've had. The English teacher in me knows that kids need to read. The reading specialist in me knows choice is vital. Students need lots of time with books, not worksheets, not little magazines. It has to be books large chunks of text, not all fiction either. Non-fiction chunks are important too, because we have got to build that stamina," she said.


Stamina is needed to build students' tolerance to read for long periods of time, Swisher explained. At the start of the semester, she said many students had a difficult time spending an enormous amount of time reading, and according to Swisher, that is the reason most teenagers dislike reading. Students have not been given enough time to read what they enjoy, she commented.


"I am also an Oklahoma Writing Project teaching consultant, so I know the connection between reading and writing is vital. If I don't have my kids reflect and write about what they've read, it is almost like it didn't happen. The special education part of me can look at these kids and read their writing and look at their choices, and I am able to figure out what needs to happen next. The librarian in me knows books. All this together this class was born from the very bottom of who I am as a teacher. Every little piece of the experiences and the training has gone into what makes up this class," Swisher said.


The reading instructor said she has the philosophical background, which explains why she reads with her students instead of attending conferences or grading papers, all of which plays a pivotal role in why her students are successful and driven to read for enjoyment.


"I give my students respect, and day by day I earn their respect," she said, which is a piece of advice she specifically shares with new teachers, because oftentimes, they make the mistake of demanding their students' respect.


"Day by day, I earn their respect by creating a safe place for them, showing them attention, by building a relationship, trying to be the person that they will share those little stories with, the stories about the lives our children live, sharing the issues that fester life. As teachers, we must have absolute universal regard for every child you teach," she said.


She said she tries extremely hard to build relationships with her students, "There is a line and I never have been able to attribute it, which says no sufficient learning can occur without a sufficient relationship," Swisher said.


It was those same relationships that made her cry, when she began to reflect upon the driving force that encouraged and fueled her non-stop passion, energy, and longevity to teach.


A floodgate of tears filled her eyes, and as she attempted to regain control of her emotions, Swisher covered her face with her hands and spoke in a cracking voice, "I can tell you a story about each one of my children, and how they have touched my life," she said.


"Claudia Swisher is passionate in all that she does," Kyle Dahlem, former Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Director of Teacher Education and the Oklahoma Teacher Connection and a friend of Swisher, said. "She loves to teach. She loves her student, and obviously, she is very successful. Professionally, Claudia is an advocate for teachers and students in a variety of ways. That, to me, is Claudia."

Kyle Dahlem, former OSRHE Director of Teacher Education


The teaching profession has changed for the better, according to Swisher, who is also an Oklahoma University adjunct teacher education professor. She stated that our future educators are good stewards and our children are in good hands. She noted the impactful advancements in teacher education, citing technology and research.


Swisher said her greatest contribution to the teaching profession is that she showed up.


"It is so much fun to talk about what you have done, and why you've done it. I showed up every day. I showed up with who I am with my heart on my sleeve. I listen to kids. I tell them I love them," Swisher said.


On May 24, the last day of school, Swisher will write a new chapter her life, and the text will read the same as the message she recites to her students when they exit her classroom.


"Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Buckle-up. Hug a dad or a mother. Tell someone you love them," Swisher said.

Creating New Discoveries

A+ Schools' Project Arms Grant Extends Collaborative Partnerships While
Improving Reading Scores


Project Arms, an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) grant aimed at teaching teachers how to build literacy skills across the curriculum, has elevated the reading scores at Van Buren Elementary School, an A + Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS), by varying degrees.  


The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) A+ Schools and UCO's College of Education/Professional Studies and its College of Liberal Arts have partnered with 12 Van Buren, content-area and specialty teachers to connect, integrate, and vertically align current research, physical education, arts, reading, and writing strategies with Common Core Standards. 


Hair stylist, Jeff Johnson, held up his end of the bargain by performing the big cut.

According to Tyler Weldon, UCO's A+ Schools Project Director, the Project Arms grant has brought to life a more meaningful, student-centered, relevant learning experience for the students, which not only has improved the students' academic performance, but it also created an all-inclusive, collaborative culture.


"We share the common eight essentials framework - arts for everyday for every child that is connected to curriculum. This framework is mapped out across time and is collaborative in nature, extending to family to community, from community to teacher, from teacher to teacher, and finally, from teacher to student. It is a rich broad sense of what collaboration is all about," Weldon said.


A+ Schools is a whole school reform model that is research based, and it is one of the few in the state, Weldon said. "We use the eight essentials framework, working with literacy and connecting curriculum is what we do. Our primary focus is an enriched assessment, finding those moments every day, both summative and formative to encourage students' learning," she added.


According to OKCPS's 2011-12 statistical profile, Van Buren's enrollment is 408 and 65.7 percent of the school's Pre-K through grade 5 population is made up of English Language Learners.


Fifth grade teacher, Cheryl Thompson, challenged her students to improve their Accelerated Reader Points (ARP), and if they did, she promised to cut her hair, serving as their reward. Thompson's students, Andy, Rafael, and Brandon accepted the challenge, raising their ARP scores to 95, 39, and 34 points consecutively.

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Van Buren Elementary students Andy, Rafael, and Brandon were the most improved readers, and they have the scores to prove it.


Having lost the challenge, Thompson asked her stylist, Jeff Johnson, to cut off her hair directly in front of her students, a much anticipated comical event for everyone involved.  


"I waited three years to cut her hair," Johnson said smiling.


"I simply challenged the children to earn 500 ARP points as a class team, and the highest scoring students would be given the privilege of cutting my hair. They earned the points, but they didn't think that I would go through with it, but I did. The top three babes were allowed to choose the part of the hair they wanted to hold, and my stylist cut it while they held on to it. Rafael was so happy. He told the class 'I scalped her'," Thompson said smiling.


Thompson donated her hair to Locks of Love, a hair donation organization, which provides hairpieces and performs hair repairs free of charge and/or on a need bases for pediatric cancer patients.    


Weldon says she see A+ Schools as a bridge between higher education and what is actually happening in Oklahoma's classrooms. "We have been working as Common Core schools before there was a Common Core," she said.

State and National STEM Snapshots


The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Snapshots will serve as a forum to disseminate state and national news, informational links, activities, programs, and initiatives directly related to STEM disciplines.


State News:


The Oklahoma Department of Commerce is connecting kids to exciting careers! For details, visit http://www.okcommerce.org.


Great things are happening in Oklahoma schools. For more details, visit



First LEGO League promotes science and technology for kids through real-world research and interaction LEGO-robotics competitions!  To learn more, visit



OEMS Program:


Oklahoma Elementary Mathematics Specialist (OEMS) is a process that allows elementary and/or early childhood teachers to earn an elementary mathematics specialist certification in grades PK-5 http://okmathspecialist.org.


The below map show the current states offer OEMS programs. Oklahoma was the 11th state that offer the Elementary Mathematics Specialist Certification.


National News:


Over 90 percent of Washington voters think students will have more opportunities if they have strong science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills, while nearly 70 percent of Washington voters think schools expect too little of students in these areas, according to a new poll.




If you would like to learn more about STEM, visit www.okhighered.org/otc or contact Saeed Sarani at ssarani@osrhe.edu.


Professional Oklahoma Educators

Teachers CARE


In a statewide effort to celebrate and say thank you to Oklahoma teachers, the Professional Oklahoma Educators (POE)  have managed to capture a glimpse of the unconditional commitment educators' exhibit on a daily basis. Please take a few minutes to view the video Teachers Care. 



OTC News

House of Representatives Recognize Muskogee's Rougher Alternative School  as the Oklahoma State School of Character 


Oklahoma House of Representatives issued a citation proclaiming Muskogee Rougher Alternative Academy as an Oklahoma State School of Character. Representatives, Jerry McPeak and Arthur Hulbert, and Senator, Earl Garrison, presented the Muskogee Independent School district with the citation.


Muskogee Rougher Alternative school students, Karen Hernandez, Neeka Anderson, Breanna Smith, and the school district's Director of Staff Development, Melony Carey proudly displays the award.


Representatives from the Muskogee Independent School district will be the key presenters at the 2013 Summer Institute for Character Education. For additional information about Character Education and the Summer Institute for Character Education, visit http://www.okhighered.org/otc/character-education.shtml.

Langston University

  Langston University Professor Elected OKCEC Vice President


The Oklahoma Council for Exceptional Children (OKCEC) held their annual Special Education conference in Moore, Oklahoma and elected Langston University special education professor, Dr. Marsha Herron Vice President of OKCEC.


Left to right: Miles Kelly, Faith Gunn, Dr. Marsha Herron, and Janea Robinson

The OKCEC is a non-profit organization composed of the Council for Exceptional Children members of Oklahoma. CEC provides information for teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, students, parents, and related support services providers worldwide. Oklahoma CEC also supports the activities and positions of the National Council for Exceptional Children.



Northeastern State University

Northeastern State University Honors the National and State Teachers of the Year


Celebration of Teaching

NSU's College of Education Dean, Dr. Deborah Landry,  2013 National Teacher of the Year, Robin Trimarchi, 2013 State Teacher of the Year, Elaine Hutchinson, and NSU President, Dr. Steve Turner.
Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University's Pre-Service Teachers Keep Oncology Studies on Track


On each Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30-4:30 p.m., 36 Oklahoma Christian University future educators and a higher education professor can be found lending their support by helping a number of pediatric cancer patients and their siblings stay on track with their school work.


This much needed extra assistance is therapeutic in and of itself and tutoring helps the cancer patients keep up with their studies, while undergoing ProCure Proton cancer therapy, a treatment that oftentimes results in developmental brain delay in children.


The ProCure Proton cancer therapy is controlled by depositing a large amount of radiation directly onto the tumor. The radiation is then stopped and initiated again later, allowing the patients to receive higher doses during the second treatment, which lessens the damage to the nearby healthy tissue.


Oncology pediatric patients also enjoy interactive creative and cultural activities, a curriculum created by OKCU pre-service teachers that benefit the children and their facilitators socially, as well as academically.

Oklahoma City University
Multicultural Education Is Necessary to Improve Academic Success Among
Diverse Learners

Multicultural Education Is Necessary to Improve Academic Success Among Diverse Learners Connecting Across Cultures 2.0, Oklahoma City University's cultural competency series, brought to the forefront the increasing number of diverse students within today's classrooms, a population teachers must learn how to teach more effectively, according to the conference's keynote speaker, Dr. Donna M. Gollnick.


"When the national accrediting groups come to your college campuses to see if the institutions are meeting the diversity standards, they are looking at what you're learning about these different groups. As you work with students, who come from these various groups such as ethnic, racial, class, gender, as well as sexual orientation backgrounds, you should be able to work with them to impact their learning," Gollnick said.


Dr. Donna Gollnick discusses research with pre-service teachers from across the state.

Gollnick stated studies show that students, who come from diverse backgrounds do not fare, as well as those from other backgrounds. She noted that teachers should be paying closer attention to all groups of children.


"The reason we should pay close attention to some groups is because some groups are just not performing at a level that they should be performing," she added.  


Gollnick explained that being from a certain race gives a person privilege over other groups. "Sometimes having membership in one of these groups will give us privilege over another group," she said.


Later in the session, Gollnick engaged the pre-service teachers in several group exercises that addressed the mountain of scenarios facing Multicultural Education, stressing that all people are Multicultural.


Pre-service teachers were presented a number of complex case studies and were asked to share how they planned to approach each issue, interject strategies to facilitate learning, and build and maintain relationships among all shareholders.


"As a teacher, our responsibility is to bring equity and equality to all students, so when they leave school, they will know what they need to do to be successful in life," Gollnick said.

Oklahoma State University

  OSU Stages Successful NASA Downlink For Stillwater Sixth Graders


In November, more than 400 Stillwater Middle School sixth grade students communicated directly with NASA Astronaut and Mission Commander, Kevin Ford, during the International Space Station Downlink with NASA Expedition 34. 


Oklahoma State University's (OSU) College of Education hosted the "Pioneers in Space," a NASA Education Project in partnership with Stillwater Public Schools.

OSU President, Burns Hargis, posed with pre-service teachers at the Pioneer in Space activity.


This joint outer space venture is one of six Downlink partnerships selected by NASA during the calendar year. In preparation for Downlink, OSU pre-service teachers taught sixth grade science lessons, highlighting space life experiments, which took place aboard the International Space Station. After the lessons, the sixth graders submitted questions, and some inquiries were selected and were answered by Ford during the Downlink session.


"It exceeded my expectations," Dr. Julie Thomas, Morsani Endowed Chair in Science Education, said. "We were especially interested in introducing the sixth graders to all the possible careers at NASA. We hope that introducing them to a career that is appealing will help increase their interest and participation in science and math courses through high school."


The program was streamed live at www.ostate.tv and included a presentation by NASA Education Specialist Brian Hawkins. It is archived at www.ostate.tv, along with other NASA-related content, and is available for use by teachers across the state and nationwide.


Mid-Winter Geoscience Education Events


OSU hosted two science education events in February. A Geoscience Education Retreat for Teachers was slated for February 8-10 at Roman Nose State Park in Watonga. Secondary science teachers were given the opportunity to work with geologist Dr. Jim Puckette and science educators, Drs. Toni Ivey and Julie Thomas, learned more about geology and how it connects biology, chemistry and physics classrooms.


An Earth and Space Science Education Stakeholder's Summit took place on February 15 at the Oklahoma State University campus. The geosciences are the most underrepresented fields of all STEM areas and Oklahoma has an immediate and growing workforce need for individuals educated in this area. The event was sponsored by a National Science Foundation grant, and was hosted by OSU's Center for Research on STEM Teaching and Learning. This venue provided an important conversation about addressing the issue. For details about both events, contact Dr. Toni Ivey at toni.ivey@okstate.edu.


Student Teachers Prepare for Internship Experiences Abroad


Twelve OSU seniors are preparing to depart in late January for England, where they will complete student teaching internships in the Department of Defense Schools at Lakenheath Air Force Base. These teacher education candidates represent elementary education, secondary education English and social studies, special education, as well as health and human performance degree programs at OSU.

University of  Central Oklahoma

Hundreds Gather to Celebrate UCO's 30th Annual Multicultural Institute -
A Work in Progress


More than 300 pre-service teachers and in-service teachers, graduate students, high school students, and professors took part in the University of Central Oklahoma's 30th Annual Multicultural Institute in March, featuring keynotes Mr. Jimmy Santiago Baca, author and poet, Yong Zhao, University of Oregon Associate Dean for Global Education, and Dr. Bill Pink, OSU-OKC Vice President of Academic Affairs.

UCO Professor, Regina Lopez, and her father, Frank Lopez, are members of their family band, the Mariachi Lopez band.  The performers entertained the crowd at the Multicultural Institute.


Thirty Years of Multicultural Education: A Work in Progress celebration 2013 award winners are as follows: Multicultural Teacher of the Year, Juan Iglesias, Southeast High School and Trudy Smith, Shawnee Public Schools; Multicultural Citizen of the Year, Carla Hinton, The Oklahoman; Friend of Diversity, Hope Alvarez, Moore, Ok; Teacher Incentive Grant Recipients, Janet Hall, Bethany Middle School, Anastasia Mendoza, Jackson Middle School, and Tiffany Bostic, Western Heights 9 Grade Center.


Essay contest winners are as follows: Dylan Trent, Mustang High School; Jenny Olguin, Edmond Memorial High School; Art contest winners are Cesar Reyes and Alejandro Vara, Putnam City West High School; Honorable mentions essay contest winner, Anna Nguyen, Mustang High School, and Honorable mention art contest winner, Eric Castro, Putnam City West High School.

The Oklahoma Teacher Connection TeachLINK


The Oklahoma Teacher Connection, a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, will electronically publish the TeachLINK E-newsletter three times a year.


The purpose of the E-Newsletter is to promote, market, and showcase news stories, creative features, curricular highlights, research data, and technological updates, which impact Oklahoma's Colleges of Teacher Education, common education, higher education faculty, students, and communities.


We welcome all comments, opinions, and/or concerns. Please forward your remarks to Deena Thomas at dthomas@osrhe.edu.

In This Issue
A Message From the OTC Director
Direct from the Editor's Desk
New Leadership
Synthesizing the Practice
Creating New Discoveries
State and National STEM Snapshots
Professional Oklahoma Educators
OTC News
Campus News: Langston University
Campus News: Northeastern State University
Campus News: Oklahoma Christian University
Campus News: Oklahoma City University
Campus News: Oklahoma State University
Campus News: University of Central Oklahoma