Ashland University Provides Its Educational Leadership Students a Unique Experiential Learning Experience Using Simulations
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Ashland University, a small private university located in Ashland, Ohio, strives to provide its educational leadership students with unique experiential learning experiences with an emphasis on acquiring critical skills in areas such as school climate, professional ethics, school safety, and school administration programs.

Ashland’s educational leadership program required a three-dimensional tool that would be an authentic situation from the world of administration, provide an opportunity for the student to be immersed in the case and have decision points along the way for which they would need to choose a response and generate immediate feedback and the opportunity to go back through the experience any number of times to receive feedback (or feeding forward).

A further desire was to find a tool to allow students to make their own decisions without feeling they had failed. Ashland University wanted them to understand that this preparatory practice is a way to:

  • Build confidence to handle real-life situations after engaging in the simulations
  • Increase engagement in graduate courses
  • Deepen their perspective to think critically about issues they will face within the field.

SchoolSims was introduced as this much-needed, three-dimensional tool to Ashland University. SchoolSims provides a library of simulations to help school leaders and teachers, both current and aspiring, to manufacture experiences that they can tap into when on the job. Simulations are experiential learning tools that emulate real-world scenarios in a “choose your own adventure” format.

Aspiring school leaders can experience real-life scenarios that depict actual events in a simulated setting. Since there are only sometimes right or wrong answers to human behavior, experimentation is encouraged within the simulation, as there is no way to fail. Participants practice critical thinking and are encouraged to discuss the reasons behind their choices, allowing for peer-to-peer learning.

Students were assigned simulations closely related to their classes and were tasked with connecting the theories and best practices within the simulation to real life. They were also assigned mentors, which allowed them to not only learn from their mentor’s prior experiences but allow the mentor and mentee to grow together while working as a team. The students created a reflection log of their thoughts and lessons learned from the simulations below. 

What were the most important leadership lessons from this simulation?

  • (INTERVENTION!) Hurting kids, etc., warrant fast approaches, but we thought Henton might need to learn he was wrong, so we took a slower, more interventional route.
  • (COACHING!) Coaching over Discipline. Henton needed a coach to check in and be accountable to get support without discipline. Henton can improve his craft while receiving constructive criticism without a Principal overseeing. Adding a Principal can be intimidating!
  • (DOCUMENTATION!) We needed a written plan to show what happened, our response, and future planning to educate and avoid.

To connect the theories and best practices within the simulation to real life, “How does the information in this simulation apply to your current or future role?”

  • Our current roles as Teachers (esp. In Special Education) and maybe even roles as mothers/fathers made us more empathetic and more likely to give Henton the benefit of the doubt (at the beginning). We lead with the Social Emotional Learning aspects.
    • Also, ¾ of us are Coaches, and much that happens throughout the day comes back to how we would, as Coaches, handle something.
  • We have all met some people like the “teacher lounge leader” and the gossiper, so we all saw many parts of the simulation as true to life for us.
  • As future Admins, we all lead with SEL first, but we all hit a point where we gave a chance and then have to draw the line and get it sorted. We agreed to give everyone (including Henton) a chance before making judgments.

Which professional norms (integrity, fairness, transparency, trust, collaboration, perseverance, learning, and continuous improvement) were required to make good decisions in this simulation? Explain.

  • LEARNING – The best practice is to investigate the situation beforehand (meet with a teacher, Parents, and all major players). We made our decisions based on being fair and giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt first. We allowed him a space to explain. We also let him have room to learn and expand his cultural competencies.
  • PERSEVERANCE – because we did not want to delegate. We felt the relevant parties, not the assistant principal, came to us. We were also worried about losing information if passed to another admin.
  • TRUST – by telling Henton about opportunities to build his classroom management, discipline referrals, equity, and cultural competency.
  • FAIRNESS – listening to and communicating with PTO, Asst. Superintendent, Asst. Principal, Parents, Teachers, and especially Mr. Henton.

Identify and explain the unethical or unprofessional actions in play during this simulation.

  • We agreed Henton was not unethical (as we believed he did not know better), just unprofessional. Here are examples:
    • Henton’s disparaging remarks about the new student population and speaking English.
    • Using valuable class time to make buddies with athletes left others on the wrong side looking in.
    • He was airing dirty laundry on Facebook or other social media (especially if he is considered a Leader” in the building).
  • We also thought the principal’s chattiness with the “Cupcake Teacher” who monitored the Teacher’s Lounge conversations was unprofessional.
  • Draw the line to say you know the issue and will handle it. Give a no-nonsense un-interest in the gossip, but take the relevant information.

As seen above, the students could connect the events in the simulation to those that have happened or could happen at their job. They experienced unprofessional actions throughout the simulation and had to apply professional norms such as fairness, trust, and perseverance to make difficult decisions and choose the best course. 

While going through simulations such as Cultural Competency and EquityExploring Beneath the Surface:

  • 91.8% of the students found the simulations realistic.
  • 97.9% found the feedback at the end of the simulations constructive.
  • 93.8% of students were interested in seeing and learning about more titles within the SchoolSims Library of Simulations.

Simulations are a tremendous experiential learning tool for Ashland University students.

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