All posts by Ann Blackwell

Ann Blackwell

People Who Inspire

This week I spent time reflecting on the many opportunities afforded to me as an educator to be motivated and inspired by others.  It really is quite amazing.  I have the privilege of regularly interacting with people who care deeply about the welfare of Mississippians and who choose to invest their time, energy, and expertise in work that yields a positive difference in the lives of our citizens.  They are fueled by a level of commitment that accepts nothing less than work of the highest quality and work that produces a significant impact.  We have many such people in the College of Education and Psychology at Southern Miss and throughout the state of Mississippi.  They regularly motivate and inspire me by the work they do.

My reflection was actually prompted by three individuals who made a tremendous impression on me and our Southern Miss teacher interns at a Professional Development Seminar this past Monday.  Anne Travis, CEO, The Bower Foundation; Scott Clements, Director, MDE Office of Healthy Schools; and Larry “Coach” Calhoun, fitness instructor, Clinton Public School District; presented Move to Learn to a packed audience in a fast-paced, engaging, and informational manner.  To say that these individuals entertained and inspired those in attendance is an understatement.  They quickly won the audience over with fitness activities that elicited smiles and laughter combined with convincing facts that highlighted the impact of fitness on education.  Their message and unique delivery provoked a genuine response.

The impact of these three individuals through Move to Learn and in two short years is remarkable.   What is their secret?  They care deeply about the welfare of Mississippians.  They choose to invest their time, energy, and expertise in work that yields a positive difference in the lives of others.  They are fueled by a level of commitment that accepts nothing less than work of the highest quality and work that produces a significant impact.  I find it most inspiring.

For more information on Move to Learn and its resources for educators, please visit

Ann Blackwell

Supporting Student Success

Years ago in one of my doctoral classes the professor introduced a video entitled “Education from a Sparrow’s Point of View.”  The class was quickly mesmerized by the speaker, Dr. John Powers, and profoundly affected by the moving portrait of a human “sparrow” that he masterfully created.  Dr. Powers used the metaphor to passionately and effectively share his belief that all students have potential.  He cautioned, however, that students often need support in order for latent potential to be fully realized.  His message remains a timely one.

I am privileged to work with colleagues in the College of Education and Psychology (CoEP) that model Dr. Powers’ beliefs.  It is what we do.  We invest time, energy, and expertise in the lives of our students, and as a result, students’ life stories are dramatically altered and improved.  As one example, data from a program offered fall semester in connection with the CoEP Student Advisement and Support Center revealed that students benefitted from weekly opportunities to interact with faculty and focus on major-specific success strategies.   In fact, 67% of student participants improved both semester and overall GPA scores.  Kudos to the faculty for their participation and support and to the students for taking full advantage of the program.  I believe Dr. Powers would be pleased.



Ann Blackwell

Brand New Endings

One of the best things about the start of a new year for me is the opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future.  Although we cannot change mistakes we made this past year, we can certainly learn from them.  Although we will not control everything we face in 2014, we can still identify and diligently pursue noteworthy goals.  I like the quote credited to Carl Bard.  He said, “Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

In higher education, we have the distinct privilege of contributing to a “brand new ending” for each of our students by offering them the lasting benefits of a college education and degree.  What we do is important.  In fact, the systemic impact of a college degree is well documented.  A college degree benefits individuals, and in turn, families, communities, and our state by the positive impact it has on employment, salary, health, quality of life, and the economy.

Contemplating on the impact of our work serves to reaffirm the commitment of the College of Education and Psychology (CoEP) to vigorously support our students to be successful.   We intend to do everything possible in 2014 to offer each of our students a “brand new ending” available through a college degree.  Will it be challenging?  No doubt.  Will it require everyone working together?  Absolutely.  Will it change the landscape of Mississippi if we maintain our resolve?  That is definitely the plan.

Happy New Year!

Ann Blackwell

The Importance of Context

On Tuesday, June 18th the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) published ratings of teacher education programs in the U.S. News & World Report. The NCTQ Teacher Preparation Review collected limited data on more than 1,100 colleges and universities that prepare elementary and secondary teachers across the nation. The stated goal of this review is to serve as a consumer tool to prospective students when choosing a teacher preparation program and to principals and superintendents when recruiting graduates to their school districts.

At Southern Miss, we encourage prospective students to be informed consumers when choosing their teacher preparation program and principals and superintendents to be informed when recruiting graduates to their school districts. Therefore, the Professional Education Unit at Southern Miss maintains a public data website where all constituents can review our teacher candidate performance to make an educated decision about the quality of our programs:

It may also be useful to provide some context regarding the use of the NCTQ Review as a consumer tool. For example, it does not represent a comprehensive review of teacher preparation programs. Instead, the NCTQ Review relies primarily on the review of course syllabi and textbooks. It does not address critical outputs of teacher education programs related to knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions necessary to have a positive impact on students and increase student learning outcomes.  Furthermore, the NCTQ standards are not evidence-based nor does the research methodology meet the standards of basic scientific research. In fact, NCTQ acknowledges in its report that the review is not comprehensive, the data are document-derived and in some cases outdated, the sample is biased, and standards are not consistently applied across colleges and universities.

The Professional Education Unit at Southern Miss is dedicated to continuous improvement of our teacher education programs, and we embrace accountability and transparency through a number of performance indicators. All educator preparation programs at Southern Miss are fully accredited by the National Commission for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and participate in a continuous self-study process. The programs are also approved through the Mississippi Department of Education whereby we annually participate in the Mississippi Educator Preparation Program Process and Performance Review. Southern Miss also submits annual reporting data to multiple regulatory bodies including the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and the Federal Title II Institutional and Program Report Card. In other words, we understand and embrace accountability.

The fact is we take our responsibilities very seriously and remain committed to meeting and exceeding national standards regarding teacher preparation. The standards we are measured by, however, need to be based on sound  research principles. The process of evaluation should also represent recognized standards of research. Our prospective students, current students, graduates, and other stakeholders deserve nothing less.

Ann Blackwell

Impact of the Summer Program for Graduate Education

This past weekend I had the distinct privilege of participating in a reunion of graduates of the USM Summer Program for Graduate Education (SPGE).   Individuals attended from as far away as Australia, Alaska, and Michigan.  It was great fun to meet the graduates and hear them enthusiastically recall their experiences at USM and detail the impact of those experiences on their lives.

There were several recurring themes throughout the weekend.  First, the graduates expressed that the SPGE program deeply affected them and changed the direction of their lives.  Their testimonies reaffirmed that we must continue to measure the value of the education we provide in the College of Education and Psychology by including those two metrics.  We must remain committed to providing educational experiences that make a profound impact and lasting imprint on our students’ lives.

Secondly, SPGE graduates credited the quality of USM faculty as the primary reason for the powerful impact of the program.  They described the faculty as accessible, responsive, and engaged.  They shared entertaining examples of classes that were intellectually challenging and richly rewarding.  Graduates singled out Drs. Art Sutherland, Harold Knight, Hershel Peddicord, Charles Davidson, Bobby Moore, and William “Bill” Ferguson. I was reminded that our profession affords opportunities every day for faculty, staff, and administrators to intentionally invest in students.  The return on that investment is evident in the multiple ways that society benefits from an educated populace.

The last recurring theme involved the vision and legacy of Dr. Paul Peddicord, Director of SPGE, who was  responsible for its creation in 1978.  SPGE graduates lauded him for his leadership and work ethic.  Their tributes accentuated the warmth he extended to students, the personal interest he expressed in their challenges and goals, and the diligence he demonstrated in ensuring a quality academic experience for SPGE students.  Everyone understood that as an administrator and faculty member he intentionally invested in students.  As a dean, I celebrate the faculty members in the College of Education and Psychology that emulate him.

Christine French and Dr. Paul Peddicord, Director, USM Summer Program for Graduate Education