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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Educate Magazine

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News on Innovations, Effectivness, Collaborations, and Relevance from the College of Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato


Spring 2018



Educate Magazine: News on innovations, effectiveness, collaborations, and relevance from the College of Education at Minnesota State University, Mankato

SUMMER 2017 Volume 7 | Number 2

Greetings,Jean Haar, dean of the College of Education

Education and learning often involve real-time application and experience. The stories shared in this issue show that applied learning and experience often occurs not only with our students but also with our professors.


~Jean Haar, Dean, College of Education





Lori Piowlski

Dr. Lori Piowlski

Cultural Proficiency for the 21st Century Classroom

In an online classroom post to students last summer, assistant professor Dr. Lori Piowlski wanted to demonstrate why she has such a passion for cultural proficiency in teaching—and why it matters.   

She started with a story from her first year as a teacher in West Covina, California. A Minnesota State Mankato grad, Piowlski accepted the job and quickly discovered it was way out of her comfort zone. Her students spoke six languages and represented three different gang affiliations. For the first time, she was the minority in the classroom.

It was her mentor who asked Piowlski a question that would become the foundation of her future teaching and research around the importance of cultural proficiency.

“[She asked]: How was I going to invite them in—to influence their children and ultimately these families—who at the time, I was literally scared of?”

Through her work investing in and getting to know her students and their families, who had vastly different cultural and lived experiences, Piowlski learned the true meaning of understanding beyond her own upbringing. She wrote to her students:

Wow, did I grow that year in my analysis of what “normal” is for others. I am sure many of you have experiences that were far beyond your upbringing, it is these moments of impact where we need to recognize the jewel inside everyone and look beyond our judgments, bias, and stereotypes to see the potential in others.

For Piowlski, that is what cultural proficiency is all about. And it’s what she tries to convey to her students on a daily basis.

“I bring my lens of admittedly working through my own homogenous upbringing to recognizing and adapting to diverse groups,” she says. “I will strive to help others work through and recognize their bias and stereotypes to be able to see through a new lens that is open to learning and understanding others who are different.”

She does this by integrating diversity awareness into her curriculum and classroom discussions, and regularly challenging students to confront their own assumptions, biases, and stereotypes.

Reaching Beyond Minnesota State Mankato

In addition to in-depth research and lived experience, Piowlski recently released the book, “Culturally Proficient Inclusive Schools: All Means All,” which she co-authored with professors from California State University and California Lutheran University.

Lori Piowlski


Working from the central vision statement that all students can learn, Piowlski and her co-authors tackle the reality of 21st-century teaching.

“With an increasingly diverse student population and the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classroom, educators are challenged to create truly inclusive classrooms that welcome, value, empower, and support the academic, social/emotional, language, and communication learning of all students in shared environments and experiences,” she says.

The book offers insight for all educators about equity and access gaps for students with disabilities and other learning, language, and communication differences; and why these gaps persist.

“Not too many years ago educators would proclaim, I believe all students can learn!” She says. “[But] the widely accepted statement developed silent exceptions: All students can learn—except the special ed kids; all students can learn—except those kids who live in the trailer park—except those kids who don’t speak English—except those kids who have an aide with them all the time. The responsibility for learning seemed to be on the students rather the educators.”

Piowlski’s goal is to turn the tide, placing responsibility for student success back on educators, school and district administrators, support personnel, and school board members.

“We believe all educators can educate all learners,” she says.

One powerful place to start is in the classroom where she works to bring her teacher candidates along the cultural proficiency continuum, and help them understand the essential benefit of diversity.

“Cultural proficiency is not a destination, yet a place to visit and constantly be striving towards,” she says. “This personal reflection is not something that can be taught—it has to be felt, it has to touch our core.”


Better Teachers Through Teamwork

Project TEAM faculty

Project TEAM Faculty

Project TEAM by the numbers


Elementary schools

St. Peter and Bloomington


Minnesota State Mankato faculty


Minnesota State Mankato undergrads


K-2 students

It’s no accident that the acronym for the new Department of Special Education targeted field experience spells TEAM. The project (Teamwork Enhances Application Meaningfully) began last fall as a collaborative effort between Minnesota State Mankato and St. Peter schools in which pre-service teachers design, deliver and evaluate the effectiveness of one-on-one math and reading interventions for low-performing students in grades K-2.

“It grew out of many conversations in our department about wanting to improve our pre-service teachers’ experiences in the field prior to student teaching,” says assistant professor Dr. Kiersten Hensley. “We wanted to give them opportunities to practice what they were learning in their coursework in a controlled environment with close supervision from faculty.”

Hensley and her colleagues, Dr. Kyena Cornelius and Dr. Dana Wagner, worked together to develop the project to coincides with three 400-level classes, allowing students to apply evidence-based strategies in reading and math while receiving support from faculty. Twenty-three Minnesota State Mankato undergrads worked with St. Peter students, while a metro cohort in Bloomington allowed an additional 13 undergrads to participate.

So far, the program has been a success. More than 75 percent of participating K-2 students met or exceeded their goals in reading and math.

Beyond the numbers, everyone involved—pre-service teachers, elementary students, and supporting faculty—benefitted from time spent in the field.

Project TEAM Teacher Candidates

Teacher candidates working toward their Academic Behavioral Strategist licensure. Aaron Hagen, Kaari Bly, and Kristine Lueck.

“I think for me the most valuable outcome was the student testimonials,” says Cornelius. “The students themselves felt more confident afterward, and reported Project TEAM was their most valued field experience. As faculty we were able to provide a targeted and supported field experience that allowed students to make the theoretical coursework practical.”

Project TEAM is already looking forward to another year of collaboration and targeted instruction. Pre-service teachers will be welcomed back to St. Peter in the fall, and spring semester projects are in the works.

“Seeing how powerful this practical application has been, I would like to look for other ways to work with schools and other departments within the College of Education to create the most meaningful field experiences possible,” says Hensley.


The Power of One

Kristen Dulas

Kristen Dulas

Since 1868, many have played a role to make this University HOME for our College of Education Students, Staff, and Faculty. Whether you remember us as Mankato State Teachers College, Mankato State College or Minnesota State University, Mankato we want to say THANK YOU!  Your passion and calling to support students is a gift that will be reflected in generations to come.  This could not be possible without YOU.

~Kristen Dulas, Director of Development, College of Education

To make a gift to the College of Education, contact Kristen Dulas at or 507-317-1381.