Robert Mulvey ’12, M’20 had a degree in business from Stonehill and was working as a project manager for an electrical contractor. It was a good job, but his heart wasn’t in it. What he really wanted to do was teach elementary school.

“I believe in the value of public education,” Mulvey says. “You’re shaping young minds and educating students to become citizens.” Making a career change, however, is challenging. When he saw that Stonehill was launching a graduate education program, however, it pushed him to take the leap. “I knew Stonehill had a solid reputation in education. I also knew the College was small enough that I’d get personal attention from professors.”

Mulvey started the Special Education master’s degree program in May 2019, which was re- envisioned and relaunched as the Inclusive Education Master’s Degree in January 2020.

The change made sense to Mulvey. “All of the courses were geared toward creating an inclusive environment to reach all learners,” he says.

Director of Graduate Education Elizabeth Stringer Keefe was the driving force behind the change. “I started at Stonehill with the first cohort of students in May 2019 and began the work of creating and naming the new program right away,” she says. “I knew I wanted Stonehill to be a leader.” A former faculty member at Curry College and Lesley University, Stringer Keefe also knew that K-to-12 schools were way ahead of teacher preparation programs in paying attention to diversity and inclusivity. Developing a curriculum that would prepare teachers to address cultural, racial, ethnic and gender identity in the classroom would not only meet a critical need, it would also give Stonehill a competitive edge.

Leading with Strength

In recruiting students for the new program, Dean of Graduate Admission Melissa Ratliff has found this to be true. “When I talk to candidates, I tell them to compare our program against other graduate education programs out there. We’re intentionally different. We meet the state standards, plus,” says Ratliff.

When the program relaunched in January, Stonehill hosted a breakfast for area school districts; 27 sent representatives. Inquiries for the Inclusive Education master’s degree immediately surged, with admissions for the fall tripling.

I believe in the value of public education. You’re shaping young minds and educating students to become citizens.

The program’s strong start is good news to Dean of Arts & Sciences Peter Ubertaccio but no surprise. “Our strategy with graduate offerings is to build on our strengths. Our initial licensure program in education is strong. We know that graduate education programs are in demand and that inclusive pedagogy is an area of growth. Inclusive practices are more than just buzz words—they have to be taken seriously,” he says.

The rapid shift to all-online instruction necessitated by COVID-19 shone a spotlight on these very issues. “At this moment in time, we are very conscious of our inclination to ‘other’ particular groups,” says Stringer Keefe. “I have seen for a long time that we were ‘othering’ kids with disabilities. When schools closed in March, that inequity was on full display—for many groups of students.”

Mulvey, who was working as a paraprofessional in Stoughton at the time, saw this firsthand. “There were students we saw once or twice on Google Meet. We asked ourselves—do they not have the right technologies?

What additional home supports may be beneficial?” he asks. “In this program, we’re learning about closing the gaps that have plagued the public education system for decades so that we can get back on track to move in one direction: forward.”

At this moment in time, we are very conscious of our inclination to ‘other’ particular groups.

Learning While Earning

Another of the program’s points of distinction is the Stonehill Teacher Residency Program, where master’s candidates work full time in partner school districts while taking courses. “We now have five or six sites where we can place students for a year,” says Stringer Keefe. “These partners will either pay students a stipend or provide tuition support. We know that this support is particularly key in recruiting candidates of color.”

This includes Sydney Jordan ’19, M’21, who is doing her residency at the South Shore Educational Collaborative (SSEC) in Hingham. “The opportunity to get a master’s while working at the same time was huge for me,” she says. “It makes it affordable, doable and accessible. As a person of color, I can tell you that inclusivity and diversity is important not just in school but also in life. It’s important for students of color to see successful adults of color.

“I’m interested in figuring out how we make our classrooms more inclusive so that all students are being heard,” Jordan continues. “I’m glad that Stonehill is working to make education more diverse.”

I’m interested in figuring out how we make our classrooms more inclusive so that all students are being heard.

SSEC Director of Student Services Dr. Patty Mason sees a big advantage in becoming a partner site. “Working with teacher candidates will give us new ideas for our own program. When you are mentoring student teachers, it forces you to think about your own practice and reflect upon it.

What could we be doing differently or better?” she asks. In addition, Mason notes that SSEC teachers will also gain access to professional development through speakers and other programming at Stonehill.

And for the master’s candidates, “a year is so much more beneficial than a semester,” she says. “It gives the Stonehill students the opportunity to see how kids evolve, change and make progress over the course of the year.”

In the Randolph Public School District, another partner site, “there’s a huge need for more qualified paraprofessionals,” adds Alpha Sanford, director of special education and student services.

Also called instructional aides or teacher assistants, paraprofessionals provide different kinds of support that help make classrooms more inclusive. “Having master’s candidates in paraprofessional positions means our students will benefit from more pedagogical expertise," says Sanford. "And if we have job openings while Stonehill students are still finishing their degrees, they could interview for those positions. They’d have an edge.” 

Sanford is enthusiastic about the Inclusive Education master’s degree. “This is the program that every would-be educator needs,” she says. “Looking at the curriculum, this is what every teacher should know so that they are more prepared for the joys and challenges of the public school setting. If we had job openings, I would prioritize candidates from Stonehill because of this master’s degree.”

Learn more about the program

Fast, Nimble—and Published

One of the advantages of being a new master’s program is the ability to respond quickly to changes in the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic—which pushed all instruction online almost overnight—was one of those changes.

Director of Graduate Education Elizabeth Stringer Keefe’s spring course, Curricular Innovations and Assistive Technology, definitely had that ripped- from-the- headlines feel. “When schools shut down for in-person instruction, I said I can’t go back to my old syllabus,” explains Stringer Keefe, author of Remixing the Curriculum: The Teacher’s Guide to Technology in the Classroom and Reclaiming Accountability in Teacher Education. “Suddenly teachers, many of whom had no technology training, were forced to teach online…I knew that our teacher candidates would need those skills to be well prepared for the field.”

Stringer Keefe retooled the course to give students practice in planning and teaching both synchronous and asynchronous lessons, providing highly specific coaching and feedback weekly.

Students appreciated the preparation. “Dr. Stringer Keefe is so knowledgeable. She looks at what’s going on in the world and prepares us for that,” says Waverly Ciffolillo ’18, M’20, who now teaches in Stoughton. “When we went remote, she had us create our own remote lessons. Then she recruited as many students as she could to attend the online sessions: she reached out to neighboring districts to share the lesson schedules with parents. The practice was invaluable.”

The experience was so powerful that Stringer Keefe turned it into a research article, “Learning to Practice Digitally: Advancing Preservice Teachers’ Preparation via Virtual Teaching and Coaching,” and submitted
it to the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. The peer-reviewed journal received more than 300 submissions for its fall 2020 issue; hers was one of 30 chosen for publication.

“Candidates who develop digital literacy and have supported experiences teaching virtually will be better prepared for future school closures, which given the current situation, seems more of a certainty than possibility,” she writes in the article’s conclusion. “This international health crisis has put many of education’s shortcomings on full display, not the least of which is the urgent need to embrace digital technology as part of teacher preparation and digital teaching competencies as part of teacher preparation program outcomes.”